My partner and I are on our 26th and 25th cruise respectively and had previously sailed on the Ruby Princess three times, all in the Caribbean. When we saw her itinerary for the summer, we started planning our vacation. Fortunately, we were able to get the same cabin we had the other three times, a roomy cabin on the Lido Deck.
We flew from Miami to Rome three days early and stayed in a nice, very reasonable, and convenient boutique hotel (Hotel Caprice) near the U.S. Embassy. Our reservation also included breakfast daily. We toured on our own and went to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and the Vatican to do some shopping. On our last trip to Rome, we had toured the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.
We booked flights through Princess EZ Air and also took the transfers from Princess. Princess had a city pick-up at the Crowne Plaza and we did not need to return to the airport. We took a cab from our hotel to the Crown Plaza in Rome to catch the Princess bus to the port. Princess Representatives were waiting and immediately took our luggage. The coach bus arrived a short time later and we had a nice ride to the ship (from Rome 1-1 1/2 hours). The luggage arrived in our cabin 45 minutes after we arrived; the ship embarkation was fast and easy. The Princess Representatives were courteous and efficient. We highly recommend the ship's transfers both ways, as we did hear a few horror stories from several people taking the train from Termini station in Rome and then had to walk to the ship, as the Port busses were overcrowded, as other ships were in port. It was the best money we spent on the transfers.
The ship was beautifully decorated, just as we left it last year. We went to our cabin on the Lido deck, which is a spacious inside handicapped cabin with a large bathroom. We met our new Steward, Taslim. He was wonderful throughout the entire cruise and took care of all of our requests.
Our next stop was Crown Grill to make reservations for a mid-cruise dinner. We had chosen late seating in the Botticelli Dining Room (traditional dining), so we stopped by to see our table location. After lunch, we went back to our cabin and unpacked our luggage. After Muster Drill, we met about 35-40 of our fellow Cruise Critic members at the Tradewinds Bar for a Sail Away Party. It was so nice meeting everyone and many members did excursions together.
We were fortunate to have a nice table for 10 (Table 118) in a good location with Natalie as our Waiter and Lovika as our Assistant Waiter. They did an excellent job and were happy to bring you whatever you wanted. We had fabulous tablemates from Australia and Great Britain.
The food in the dining room was very good to excellent. The menu was different from the one we were used to in the Caribbean, as Princess was trying to accommodate people from 64 countries. They did have Prime Rib, Medallions of Beef, Lobster Tails, Lamb Chop (mixed grill), as well as fish and chicken dishes etc. Don't miss out on the Goat Cheese Souffle, Fettuccini Alfredo or the Pasta with Fresh Clams. Our Maitre d'Hotel was Giorgio Pisano. He assisted all of the Waiters and Assistants and took care of any request we had.
If you are going to make a reservation for Crown Grill or Sabatini's, the specialty restaurants, do it as soon as you get onboard. We dined in Crown Grill this time. The food was excellent, and the service was very good as they were not overly crowded.
In this venue ($25 cover charge), you can select whatever you like. We shared several appetizers, but the Spicy Shrimp with the Thai Chili Sauce was outstanding. I had the Rib Steak and my partner had the Filet Mignon. We both added a lobster tail and had most of the side dishes, which were properly portioned for two. We both had the Sampler Dessert (excellent) and coffee.
The buffet was generally good to very good. The buffet area at the back of the ship normally has a different "theme" each day, i.e. Asian, Mexican and Italian. With such a port intensive itinerary, the theme lunches were limited, as most people were off the ship for the day. We never went away hungry; pizza and burgers at the outside grills were very good. Soft ice cream is available near the pizza area in the afternoon at no charge. Don't miss the Belgian waffles for breakfast.
The production shows were very good. One show called "Once Upon a Dream" was truly awesome. With a large and talented cast of 17, this show was the most creative undertaking, using moving projections throughout the entire show, paired with a wonderful selection of musical numbers. "Broadway Ballroom" was beautifully performed by the singers, dancers and orchestra. The costumes were magnificent and the choreography was done by those on "Dancing With The Stars." Generally, the outside entertainers were fair, as this is an area Princess should work on. There was one exception. A group of four men called the Beatlemaniacs boarded in Athens and did an outstanding show with standing room only in the theater.
Many activities took place in the Piazza --The Champagne Fountain, The Captain's Welcome Party, various entertainers throughout the day, etc. Cruise Director Dan Styne did an adequate job. The Officers were also visible and mingling with guests, unlike some other ships. We were glad to see Commodore Giuseppe Romano. We had sailed with him before and we had a brief conversation at the Captain's Circle party.
There were several other venues for entertainment-- the Crooners Bar is their Martini Bar in a great location. Unfortunately on this trip, Crooners did not have their strongest bar staff in that bar and we had drinks incorrectly made. We hope to see better more experienced bartenders back in this location, as was the case on past cruises.
The Skywalkers Disco was active every night. Princess has a policy that you can be 18 years of age to enter Skywalkers, but you cannot drink alcohol unless you are 21. In my opinion, this is sending mixed signals to the kids. This trip they made a separate venue in the underutilized Club Fusion for the 18 to 20 age group and it worked out much better. We had made this suggestion numerous times and we were glad to see Princess acted upon it.
At Skywalkers, our favorite waiter was Jerome and the Bar Supervisor Sandeep. They did a wonderful job. They were warm and personable; all were sad to say goodbye on our last night. Other lounges had piano players and smaller ensembles, which was nice.
Casino staff were also quite welcoming. Black Jack tables were busy and amounts to play were generally $5 - $10 per hand. They also had Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Craps, etc. My partner didn't win on slots, but I actually won on my favorite - Three Card Poker.
We took all of our excursions through the ship and though a bit more expensive it is a lot less hassle and we were quite pleased with the tour guides. Also, watch the information from the ships Port Guide on the Ruby TV, as he provided some valuable information before arriving at each port.
Naples - We visited the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento and Positano. It was lovely drive and we had a nice lunch overlooking the coast. This was the "easy" excursion, as the others were much more challenging, as you will see below.
Santorini - We took the tour to Oia and Fira and it was very nice to see the shoreline and explore the towns. We were happy we took the tour through the ship avoiding crowds at the cable cars and avoided taking the donkeys up the mountain or walking 600 -700 steps. This was a somewhat strenuous excursion between walking and steps. We took the cable car back to the tender mid-afternoon before the crowds arrived back.
Kusadasi - We took the tour to the final house of the Virgin Mary and to St John's gravesite and Ephesus. We did find out after we got there that John's remains had been moved to Rome. The highlight of the trip was Ephesus. This is a must see and do and should not be missed. It is amazing to see all of the reconstructed ruins from 500 B.C. and to walk the 3,000 year old marble streets. We will say this is a lot of walking and you must be in fairly good shape for this excursion. Also, very little shade is available; wear sneakers or rubber soled shoes - no flip flops, open backs, etc.. At the end of the tour, we received a tour of an oriental carpet weaving store where carpets are made by hand. It was quite interesting and informative and no obligation and they provided welcome refreshments.
Mykonos - We had a day at the beach. We took the bus in from the ship out to the edge of the port and then walked to the city bus to the beach. It is too far and dangerous/far to walk - take the bus from the ship. We had a lovely day at Paradise Beach, food and restrooms are available and we had two lounges and an umbrella for 12 Euros/$15US.
Piraeus - This is the port for Athens. We booked an all-day tour with Princess and it was fantastic. First stop was the Olympic stadium; then on to The Acropolis. We climbed what seemed like hundreds of white marble steps up to the Parthenon. This had to be another major highlight of the trip - not to be missed. They then took us to the Plaka, a quaint shopping area in Athens. Afterwards, we stopped at the Chandris Hotel for a wonderful Greek buffet. After lunch, we drove quite a distance through the countryside to Poseidon's Temple. It is on a windy mountain top overlooking the Aegean Sea. It was built during the 5th Century B.C
Katakolon - This is a small seaport so we walked into town and looked around at the shops. The village is only a few blocks long but we needed a break in the action anyway.
Corfu - We took a local bus to Old Town and explored the narrow streets and charming shops. We were hesitant to make it a beach day because it was Sunday and the buses were on a weekend schedule. This is one stop we would like to return to someday.
Dubrovnik - This is a beautiful harbor with a towering contemporary bridge nearby. We boarded a bus (on our own) to the walled Old City. Inside, we climbed to the top of the wall and proceeded to walk all the way around. It takes about two hours or more and you can take a few rest breaks. Wear good walking shoes or sneakers and be careful as stairs are steep and you need to be n fairly good shape. We had a lovely lunch by the water after the walk. This was as a great photographic opportunity.
Venice- This was our first visit to Venice, so we took a Princess tour. A boat picked us up directly off the ship and took us to San Marcos Square. Our guide took us inside the Doges Palace (no waiting in line) for an informative tour and on to San Marcos Basilica, ending with a glass blowing demonstration at a Murano glass store which was quite interesting. We then had lunch at a canal-side cafe and on to our gondola ride which was great. We were so tired from the day we did not have the energy to return at night.
The service overall was very good to excellent. There were some wonderful standouts on the ship, as noted above, and they were rewarded accordingly, beyond the daily automatic tips.
Overall it was a wonderful trip and we highly recommend the Ruby Princess. The layout of the ship is very good (much better than Golden/Grand). Though many children were aboard, they were generally well behaved. The Captain and his staff were personable and visible the entire cruise.
It was very nice meeting all of the people that turned out for the Cruise Critic Sail Away Party. It was sad that we could not do more activities, but with such a Port intensive schedule, it would have been very difficult.
Debarkation was smooth and our luggage was sent ahead to the Venice Airport and was waiting for us when we arrived. The Princess transfers and flights were flawless. We flew home and arrived back in Miami right on time. We look forward to returning to the Ruby in the future.