Background information - This was my first time sailing on Princess. I had just taken a sort of impromptu Carnival cruise a couple of months earlier (probably won't sail them again), and based on what I knew about Princess, I was ... Read More
Background information - This was my first time sailing on Princess. I had just taken a sort of impromptu Carnival cruise a couple of months earlier (probably won't sail them again), and based on what I knew about Princess, I was looking forward to something more relaxed. I've previously sailed on Royal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America, and Carnival.
Travel information - We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and overnighted at the Embassy Suites near the port. The hotel is very conveniently located and handles a huge amount of cruise traffic. We thought the hotel was very comfortable and liked our room and the complimentary breakfast as well.
Travel to embarkation Port - We had rented a car with Avis, who maintain a rental facility at the Hyatt hotel on the causeway next to the port. It was perfect weather on the day our ship sailed, and we had several hours to kill so we drove along A1A, had some drinks across the street from the ocean, and then dropped our car off around 1pm. Avis provides a shuttle between their facility and the port, a service we had utilized last year, and it worked just great.
Embarkation - Smooth as silk. We weren't in a rush to get on board the ship and probably arrived at the port around 1:30pm. There were no lines at the Princess check-in desks and after we passed through security and filled out a quick health questionnaire, we were given our room keys and were walking on board in less than 10 minutes. The ship's crew took our pictures to match up to our room keys as we entered the atrium of the ship and that was that. Crowding around the elevators was not bad, but we elected to walk up to our cabin.
Ship information - If I'm not mistaken, the Ruby Princess is about six years old and it is one of the most beautiful ships I have ever been on. Everything, the public areas, the bars, lounges, rooms, etc. was very tastefully done, elegant, and comfortable. The ship was spotlessly clean, and everything was in good working order.
The ship's atrium, which they call the Piazza, is three decks high and is surrounded by shops, some bars and lounges, and a snack and coffee area. Two panoramic elevators travel from the ground floor of the atrium up to the top of the ship, next to the pool and the buffet area.
Navigating from one end of the ship to the other was easy, although depending on the elevator bank taken, there are some areas where you have to more port or starboard to move forward or aft as one of the dining rooms blocks your path. The ship is also fairly large so it was not until the second day that I felt comfortable with knowing where everything was.
Cabin - We booked a Vista Suite, which was located all the way aft on the starboard side of the ship. A bit smaller than the suite we had last year on Holland America's Westerdam, it was more than large and comfortable enough for two people. The balcony in particular was great. There was a walk in shower and a tub (we never utilized the latter) a walk-in closet, safe, two televisions, a sofa with coffee table, and a small bar/sink area.
Small canapes were delivered to the room each night, if we remembered to fill out the order form, and we were also given a complimentary mini-bar setup at the beginning of the cruise. A selection of alcohol minis, beers, and soft drinks were included, but there was not a complimentary restocking of anything we consumed. If we wanted anything replenished, that came with a cost. Complimentary fruit was also delivered during the trip, which we enjoyed.
Two service misses in the cabin were a shower door that leaked at the bottom so we were always throwing towels down to stop the flood, and no shelves in the bathroom. The shelf issue sounds very minor, but counter space was limited and there were a lot of wall space that could accommodate a few places to store personal items.
Activities - This was a more leisurely itinerary than what I had just experienced on Carnival, with two days at sea at the beginning and towards the end of the cruise. I enjoy sea days, feeling that they force you to relax. As mentioned earlier, the weather in Fort Lauderdale was great on the day of departure and this held true for the entire duration of the cruise. There were a few nights when it was actually a bit chilly out on deck, which did not bother me in the least. Daytime was sunny, not humid, and just great temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s.
Each night we received the "Princess Patter" at our cabin, which is the daily rundown of what's going on, on board and in port for the following day. There was a lot of things to choose from on board to stay busy. We utilized the ship's exercise room almost every day, which is located at the front of the ship next to the spa. A large selection of treadmills, elliptical bikes, resistance equipment and free weights were available. There is a water fountain in the gym but unfortunately the water was on the hot side of warm and tasted awful. We learned after the first day to bring bottled water with us. There is also a locker room with dry and wet saunas. Our cabin was a suite, which gave us complimentary access to the ship's thermal suite, which is located below the spa and gym area. It was nice with a selection of wet and dry saunas, as well as rain and mist showers, but no hydrotherapy pool. It was also in a bit of an odd location with no windows. It was extremely underutilized and I remember seeing no more than one or two other people in it the entire time we were on board. We liked the Westerdam's thermal suite much better.
Fellow passengers - A very mixed group on board, leaning towards an older crowd but not entirely. We saw some kids on board, but not too many, and a lot of passengers were our age, i.e. in their 40s. Princess apparently has a big appeal with international customers as there were a lot of British citizens on board, as well as Japanese and Russian. Not a big, party crowd on this ship like I experienced on Carnival, but the bars, lounges, and casino were well attended each night into the wee hours of the morning.
Service - Not as good as I expected it to be. Service in the up-charge restaurant, Crown Grill, was very slow both times we ate there, despite most of the tables being empty, and the main restaurant's service was rushed and informal, very much like a banquet meal in a hotel. Some wait staff were a bit cold and on the edge of unfriendly, so that was a bit disappointing as well. The standout was Sabatini's restaurant, where we enjoyed an excellent breakfast on several days, and dinner on two evenings. The staff there was just excellent, friendly, chatty, personable, etc. I can't compliment them enough.
Our cabin steward was pretty good and special requests were accommodated, but he was a bit cool towards us. We were always greeted by him in the halls, but we felt our cabin steward on Holland America to be much more friendly and the service better all the way around.
Service in the shops and the front desk was not impressive. I'd say it leaned towards a staff that was at best, indifferent and that was disappointing. One thing in particular that was bad was an order we submitted to have our luggage transferred directly from our cabin on the last night to our airline for the flights home. We utilized this service last year on Holland America and it was excellent. For $20 per person, you leave your bags outside your cabin on the last night and don't see them again until you arrive at your destination on the baggage carousel. Princess offered the same thing, or so we thought. I filled out the forms and turned them in but the crew-member manning the desk said he needed hard copies of our itinerary from the airline. The order form mentioned nothing about that and I didn't have hard copies to give him. He said he'd see what he could do and that was the last I ever heard about it. Our luggage did not automatically transfer and we received no notice that they couldn't accommodate our request. I'm inclined to think that our order form got tossed in the garbage.
Port & shore excursions - A good selection of things to do were available for each port, although we missed our opportunity to book in Grand Cayman ahead of time and wound up booking a quick island tour in port, which included Hell (yes, that's the name of the town), a Dolphin seaquarium, the Tortuga Rum Cake factory/store, and 7 Mile Beach. The stop in Roatan was actually at Mahogany Bay, which is something of a compound for Princess and Carnival cruise lines. Very safe and isolated, it's nothing more than a day on their beach with some bars/dining and shops. I'm not a big fan of the Roatan stop, having done it once before on an NCL cruise, so staying within Mahogany Bay was fine. Cozumel was a shopping day for us, and we walked up and down the waterfront and stopped for drinks before heading back to the ship. Again, we were blessed with wonderful weather so being out in the sun all day was not uncomfortable. Princess Cays, which is Princess' private "island" (actually it's a stretch of land on the island of Eleuthera) was beautiful, and here we rented dune buggies and were gone for 2 hours on some very bumpy, sandy roads and trekked to some local sights including a gorgeous beach and an old lighthouse. We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Princess Cays.
Dining - Unfortunately it was at best, marginal. The buffet was always easy to navigate, utilizing islands instead of a long buffet line, but the food was not particularly good. We tended to stop there only for lunch, and for dinner on just one occasion. It was very bland, and there seldom seemed to be a theme to the offerings, with the exception of Mexican food when we departed Cozumel. There was also another buffet area towards the back of the ship that was only open for 90 minutes in the afternoon. We tried it once when they were serving sushi and a selection of Asian dishes, but again the food was not very good. Crown Grill was a big disappointment, as I looked forward to the selection of steaks. Having eaten at both Cagney's on NCL ships (always outstanding), Scarlett's on Carnival (again, excellent), and Pinnacle on Holland America (delicious!), Crown Grill was a let down. The aforementioned slow service certainly negatively impacted my opinion, but the quality of the appetizers, steaks, and dessert was also a let down. In fairness I will say that the person I was traveling with said that his seafood entrees were always great.
We dined at Sabatini's twice for dinner. Again, my friend said his seafood was very good, but the chicken I ordered on one evening was bland and disappointing. The steak I ordered on the last night of the cruise, however, was decent.
We ordered room service a lot for breakfast, and it was always right on time and pretty good. We also received a "suite" breakfast menu each night but no indication on how to order any of the special offerings. The hang tag that got placed on the door to order food included none of the special offers, so we never experienced it.
Entertainment - Activities up on deck and in the lounges included several musicians and bands (all pretty good), a ship's theater with shows throughout the week (we caught part of one but didn't enjoy it very much), and a huge video screen out at the pool deck for watching movies. Princess places fabric covers on the lounge chairs and distributes very warm and comfortable blankets for the movies running at night. We watched one, Defenders of the Galaxy, on a chilly and very windy night but enjoyed it very much thanks to the amenities. Princess' staff also circulate during the movies with snacks.
Disembarkation - We had to be out of our cabin by 8am and then queue up in a lounge two decks down. There was coffee, water, juice, and pastries. We didn't have to wait long as about 20 minutes later, our group was called to disembark. The process was smooth and we were off of the ship, had our luggage, and cleared Customs and Immigration in less then 30 minutes. We purchased airport transfers and were quickly directly to the motor coaches that took us to Fort Lauderdale.
Summary - Coming on the heels of a Carnival cruise, I definitely enjoyed this much more. No offense against Carnival, they have a market they appeal to and are very successful with their niche. Princess' ship was beautiful and the entire week was very relaxing. The disappointments on this cruise pertained to the food and several service misses. I would sail on Princess again to give them another shot as the positives outweighed the negatives.