We chose Alaska as the destination for our 30th wedding anniversary and we chose the Ruby Princess because we had read good reviews of the ship. We booked 9 months in advance and our Princess vacation planner (Leticia Woolum) was terrific ... Read More
We chose Alaska as the destination for our 30th wedding anniversary and we chose the Ruby Princess because we had read good reviews of the ship. We booked 9 months in advance and our Princess vacation planner (Leticia Woolum) was terrific at walking us through all the options. We took our adult daughters with us (ages 22 and 20) and booked adjacent rooms where the balconies connected once the partition was removed. Our oldest can become seasick so Leticia chose the Aloha deck (higher up) and cabins that were mid-ship (A619-A623) to minimize the amount of motion we would likely feel.
We flew into Seattle the night before the cruise and stayed at the W Hotel near Pike’s Market. It’s a trendy, hipster place with a great staff. We took an Uber XL over to the pier around 2:15 pm (our assigned time to board was 2:30 pm). We used the porters to take our luggage and walked right into the terminal – there were no lines at any of the checkpoints. We were literally on board in about 5 minutes. After checking out our cabins and meeting the steward, we got a bite to eat and the luggage had been delivered to the rooms by the time we returned.
We used the Princess@Sea app on our iPhones (in addition to the Princess Patter newsletter) to decide on board activities. The app is terrific, and we used it extensively to message each other while on board. The only negative is that you do not receive a push notification when someone sends you a message (as you typically would for normal texts). So, when we were separated on board, you had to remember to look at the app every few minutes to make sure you didn’t miss a message (for example, “hey, bring me back a piece of pizza”).
As for activities, we especially loved the trivia contests, the True or Moo contests, Movies Under the Stars, and Blingo. The fitness center was much larger than we expected and there were several exercise classes to choose from each day. We steered clear of the (never ending) EFFY jewelry promotions, the art auctions and the Lotus Spa treatments.
Our favorite activity though, were the wine tastings – not the large gathering in the Botticelli dining room that get so-so reviews, but the small group setting (8 people) in the Vines wine bar. The sommelier, Alan, had a signup sheet on a table in the Vines wine bar – had we not stopped while walking by to see what the clipboard was for, we would have missed out on our favorite experience. For just $37 per person, we tried 5 fabulous reds paired with various cheeses and meats. An absolute bargain. At the end, Alan mentioned he was planning a white wine tasting on the afternoon of the sea day spent in Glacier Bay, and everyone at the red wine tasting signed on for that too. Alan paired 3 whites with a delicious sushi offering and then ended the tasting with champagne. An absolute steal for $15 per person! If Princess was smart, they would do well to expand these small group wine tastings from just 2 per cruise to many more.
The service was exceptional and friendly – from our cabin steward to the dining rooms, bartenders and activities. Our steward (Joseph D.) made a lovely swan and heart towel sculpture for us on the first night and then made a few for our daughters the rest of the week. Every time we left the room, our steward had refreshed the room before our return. Before the cruise, we had preordered some alcohol, soda and water and the vouchers were in the room on the desk when we arrived – I called room service and they were brought to the room in about 30 minutes. Our steward always made sure we had plenty of ice cubes in the bucket.
About two weeks before the cruise, we finally started to review the shore excursions available in each port – the shear number of options was mind boggling. It took at least 2 hours to read the excursions, find ones that interested everyone in the party and then do a quick check on whether someone had left a recent review on-line. I booked a few through the Princess web site and planned do book more but the web site cuts off on-line bookings 5 days before the cruise (seems dumb to me and I still haven’t really received a satisfactory explanation as to why they wouldn’t let people book on-line right up to the day of embarkation). Anyway, once we boarded Saturday afternoon, my first stop was to the shore excursion desk and I booked the remaining excursions I had planned to do on-line.
Here’s the rundown with letter grades for Juneau: Interactive Self-Guided Jeep Tour (B+), Mendenhall Glacier River Float (A+, and you will get wet), Skagway: Red Onion Saloon (A-), Musher’s Camp (A+), Ketchikan: Adventure Kart Expedition (A+, and you will get muddy) and Victoria: Butchart Gardens (A+). Because the ship is only in Ketchikan for ½ day, you can only do one excursion and even then, there’s not really time to see the town itself before you must be back on board. And the time in Victoria is even less (scheduled for 4 hours) – but strong winds delayed our ship by an hour, so we only had 3 hours in Victoria – and thus we had to walk briskly through Butchart gardens in order to see everything. (Princess did offer to refund the cost of the excursion to those people that chose not to go to Butchart because of the compressed time.)
Prior to the cruise, we had booked dinner reservations at the Crown Grill on Saturday and at Share on Sunday. Both restaurants were fantastic – the quality of the food, the presentation of the food, and the broad wine and food menu selections. We thought the up charge for each restaurant ($29 per person) was more than reasonable. We also ate at the Salty Dog Gastropub on the other sea day (Wednesday) and the service and food were also excellent (Thank you Artha, Pamela, and Vicky). As for the main dining room, we chose anytime dining and never had an issue calling down for a reservation the same day…although that could have been the case because we generally ate at 8 pm or later.
On the last day, in the main dining room, we actually ordered entrees from the Crown Grill menu – it’s a different kitchen but the same delicious food – and yes there was an up charge for that as well, but again, we felt it was reasonable.
The Horizon buffet was good although we mainly used it for breakfast and the occasional snack. The made-to-order omelettes were very good. The only negative was the weak coffee – not good at all. On the third day we started to go to the International Café instead. The expresso and specialty coffees were excellent (yes, an upcharge of $2.50 and up) but well worth it. The Café also offers breakfast sandwiches, salads and paninis, plus cookies and sweets (no upcharge). The other cool place we discovered on day 3 was the Wheelhouse Bar, which is co-located with the Salty Dog Gastropub. A wide array of available spirits and cocktails, each made expertly by the bartenders (thank you Romero!). They also have live music (mostly piano, guitar, sax, bass) that sets a nice club mood.
Side note on the Speakeasy Cigar Lounge adjacent to the casino. As an occasional cigar smoker, I was looking forward to going there at night to have a few puffs. The cigar selection was ok, not great – maybe ten brands to choose from. However, a big drawback is that Princess allows cigarette smokers in the cigar lounge – which is a big turn off for most cigar smokers – and totally unnecessary since they can smoke in certain sections of the casino and at designated outdoor locations. If Princess was smart, they would have cigar and bourbon tasting promotions or cigar and port tasting promotions, charge $15 for the cigar and comp the tastings – but first they would need to not allow cigarette smokers in the lounge. It’s has big revenue potential and Princess is missing out.
As for entertainment, we didn’t make it to any of the production shows. However, we saw the “house” comedian (Michael Wilson) on both nights he performed. We thought him very funny. Our daughters didn’t get all of the jokes (e.g., Johnny Carson impression) but I think he skews his material to an older age demographic given the make up of the passengers. We also saw the French magician the night he performed, and he was very good. The only disappointment was the “guest comedian”, Jim McDonald – low energy and not very funny.
Disembarkation was easy. We didn’t follow our assigned time since we had a later flight home and wanted to stay a little longer on the ship rather than at the airport. Eventually we left the ship, picked up our luggage at the pier and proceeded to the busses. We had pre-purchased transfer vouchers to take us from the pier to the airport. No one ever asked to see them – I wonder how many people just got in-line and boarded the bus without knowing they were supposed to pay?
One last suggestion…bring some cash on the trip just for tipping. The bus drivers and guides for the shore excursions are typically seasonal workers and they rely in part on gratuities. On the ship, whenever you ordered something with an upcharge and the server brought the receipt to sign, they would usually ask for a cash tip instead of putting the gratuity on the room charge (because those gratuities are shared across all workers).
In summary, this cruise is a “bucket list” trip and the Ruby Princess is a good way to experience Alaska. Read Less