My family and I are seasoned cruisers. Over the past 15 years we’ve sailed a total of 29 times on Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America, Cunard, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL, and MSC. This was our third sailing on Princess Cruise Lines. We picked this cruise over our preferred line, Celebrity, largely because of itinerary and the sailing date.
The Ruby Princess is a lovely ship with a pleasant crew, average to above average dining and good maintenance. Basically, it had everything what you would expect from a more upscale cruise line with a few significant weaknesses: their wait staff and specialty dining.
The embarkation process was relatively average. After a quick check in we waited about one hour for them to call our boarding group. This was a refreshing contrast to our last cruise on the Crown Princess when sailing out of Galveston, which was one of the slowest we’ve experienced. Also, similar to our experience when we sailed on the Diamond Princess, our baggage made it to our stateroom before we did.
The ship is relatively new and in great shape. All the public areas are modern and in good repair. Carpets are clean in both in the public areas and the staterooms. We especially liked the decor of the lounges and bars which were all done in wood. They reminded us of a high-end English pub.
It took us several days to get our bearings. This is one of those ships where some of the pubic decks do not span the length of the ship as the kitchen is midship on decks 5 and 6. This requires you to climb a few levels of stairs and then descend back down to reach the Botticelli dining room on deck 6.
One nice option offered by Princes is that you could choose from “anytime” seating or the traditional early or late seating. In the main dining room the food quality was average to slightly above average for an upper end cruise line.
We opted for the more traditional early seating dinning option, which put us in the Botticelli dining room, which caters only to fixed seating. The anytime dining rooms are the Michelangelo and the DaVinci. Unlike the Diamond Princes that had several smaller, more intimate dining areas, the Ruby Princess dining areas are large and surprisingly noisy. They leave you feeling you are dining in a banquet hall as we had to shout at our table of six to be heard. Maybe that is just the difference of being on such a large ship.
We found the wait staff was not up to par with most of our other cruise experiences. While our servers were polite, it didn’t seem some of them really liked their jobs and were just going through the motions.
They also didn’t go much out of their way to do any “extras” as we have experienced on other ships. I had to personally leave my dinner guests and hike from Botticelli’s on deck 6 to Sabatini’s on deck 16 to retrieve my unused bottle of wine from the night before. Usually a waiter or wine steward will track down your unused bottle for you, regardless of which dining room you purchased it.
We were especially pleased with the coffee on the ship. That may sound like a little thing unless you are a coffee drinker. One of our perennial complaints on other lines is how weak the coffee is. We found the coffee on the Ruby Princess quite acceptable.
The International Café served good espressos, gelato ($1.50 a scoop) and pastries. It was usually packed in the mornings.
One annoying difference on the Princess line is that the only time juice is available is in the mornings. After then, you’ve got to pay for juice. Most others have complimentary juice available all day
The specialty restaurants are the Italian restaurant, Sabatini’s, and the Crown Grille. The additional charge is a reasonable $25 as compared with other cruise lines that charge $40. However, that extra $15 does buy you a slightly better dining experience onboard Celebrity, Holland America, and Cunard. They have a Michelin Star experience, which is largely missing from the Princess ships. Princess specialty restaurants allocate one waiter to a table. Better specialty restaurants have a team of three wait staff serving you, most of whom exhibiting a palpable passion for food. The food preparation and presentation is also a step above. However, and let me emphasize, the cost of Princess is 40% less than the others, so this isn’t a complaint as much as it is information
The Crown Grille is a seafood and steakhouse restaurant with dark wood and small dining areas that give it an intimate feel. We found the Crown Grille to be a good value and probably a notch above Sabatini’s. While the appetizers and salads were average, the steaks and lamb we had were done to perfection.
Sabatini’s is more open and has less of a feeling of intimacy than the Crown Grille, however, the experience is still a step above the general dining areas.
We thought there was no Chef’s Dinner offered on our 12 day cruise, which we found atypical. When time came to disembark we voiced out disappointment to the Executive Chef who was wishing passengers a safe journey home. He told us there had been a Chef’s table. This was confusing to us, as we had called Dining Reservations the day we embarked and had our names added to the list of those interested in the Chef’s table. We generally look forward to these dinners and were very disappointed we were not able to enjoy this experience. The same thing happened to us when we sailed on the Crown Princess. While we have no explanation for the secrecy surrounding the Chef’s dinners on Princes, we are guessing they are by invitation only and made exclusively to passengers in suites.
Drink Packages, Avoid Them On Princess!
Like most lines, Princess offers a number of various drink packages, covering soft drinks, wine, and coffee. While you will save a little bit if you buy a package and fully use it, I would highly recommend you do not buy a drink package. Why? Unlike other lines that record your name and cabin number when you buy a package on the drink card, Princess does not list any ownership information on the cards. They only have a line for the Ship’s Name and Voyage Date. This means if you lose your card, or even worse if a server doesn’t return your card, you are out of luck. Princess will not replace the card or in any way compensate you for your loss without some extra diligence on your part.
I learned this the hard way. I had a server either not return my card, or I forgot to pick it up from the table, early in the cruise. I didn’t receive any help or compensation from the International Café, where I had last used it. The front desk logged the fact I had lost the card and told me to check back daily with them. After checking for a few days to see if my card had been turned in, I asked to have the Food and Beverage manager contact me. Two days before the end of the cruise the Food and Beverage manager kindly sent me a replacement that at least allowed me to get a little benefit out of my initial purchase.
In this day and age of technological efficiencies, it’s just unforgivable a line can’t mark a beverage package so it can’t be stolen or at lease print two lines on the back of their card for your name and cabin number. It is little things like this that will negatively impact my future decision to sail with Princess.
The wine experience on the Ruby Princes is a mixed bag. After experiencing how the Diamond Princess catered to wine lovers, we were especially disappointed at our experience on the Ruby Princess. Most of the wines were priced at 3x’s retail, which were slightly below the 4x’s retail charged on Celebrity. However, we really commend Princes for keeping their corkage fees reasonable at $15 a bottle, as opposed to HAL and Celebrity who charge $25.
The Ruby Princess has two reasonable wine tasting events, one for $10 and one for $25. We had attended the Sommeliers wine tasting ($25) on the Diamond Princess were very impressed as we tasted 6 wines ranging from $32 to $150 with the average being about $80 a bottle. The Sommeliers wine event on the Ruby Princess didn’t feature as many high priced wines as the Diamond, the average cost was about $60. Also, the event was narrated by three waiters rather than a sommelier, a first for us.
The reason the event was narrated by waiters is because the Ruby Princes does not have a sommelier, another first for us. All of the traditional duties carried out by a sommelier are carried out by the waiters. Unfortunately, most of the waiter’s wine knowledge is severely lacking.
Being wine aficionado’s, we brought our own wine on board to enjoy, happy to pay the corkage fee. We had learned from our previous cruise on the Crown Princess not to ask the staff to decant a wine prior to dinner. On that cruise our bottles were never decanted, or even opened, upon our arrival in the restaurant. This time we took our wine to dinner and asked for a decanter. Most of the waiters had no idea how to properly decant a wine. One waiter dumped our 1990 Bordeaux upside down into the center of the decanter while we looked on in horror. Let’s just say there is a general lack of wine knowledge by the wait staff.
Laundry rooms are available to passengers on all floors with staterooms. The laundry on our floor, deck 8, was exceptional. The room was large with four coin-operated washers and dryers and four ironing boards, which is very unusual in most cruise ship laundry rooms. The machines were in good repair and washed clothes at a standard speed, though it was hard to tell since the machines do not have timers on them. Another nice feature of the laundry room was a system of double doors to limit noise. Usually we book our rooms as far away from the laundry room as possible due to noise as people usually congregate by the doors to chat while they wait for their laundry. This would not have been a problem on this ship as the laundry room was insulated by two doors to cut down on noise and crowding. Over all, the laundry rooms provided a pleasant way to ensure you have clean clothes for the rest of your trip.
This is an area in which the Ruby Princess is above average. There are a satisfactory number of treadmills and elliptical machines. They also have a good set of barbells and a minimal variety of weight machines. They appear to keep their equipment in good repair as all but one of their cardio machines were in working order the full length of our 12 day cruise.
The men’s locker room and saunas were a big improvement from the Diamond Princes and were some of the best of any of the 29 ships I’ve sailed on. The Ruby has both a public and private dry and steam sauna that were acceptably hot, which is a huge improvement from the 105 degree maximum temperature I experienced on the Diamond Princes.
Another great feature with their fitness area is the size of the lockers. They are the best designed of any ship I’ve ever sailed. They have plenty of depth and a separate section for your shoes. The combination locks eliminate having to register at the front desk and that makes a big difference in getting in and out of the locker room in a timely fashion. It’s often the little things that count!
The only problem I ran into was that the lockers were often full. I tried to leave my valuables with the front desk, but they refused to keep my valuables for me. This meant not being able to use the sauna on several occasions which was particularly disappointing.
Unfortunately the Ruby Princess doesn’t have a spa bar featuring a lighter, healthier fare and a selection of fruit juices and smoothies. The Calypso bar on Deck 15 is the only place on board where you can get a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for $2.75.
We thought the entertainment was average for most cruise lines. The singers and dancers were talented and performed the standard musical reviews ubiquitous to most cruise lines. The guest comedians and vocal artists were also very good.
The theater is unique to most modern ships, which often have two levels and spacious seating with tables interspersed for holding drinks. The Ruby Princess Theater has no balcony and the seating is very much like any theater with no center isle and compact seating. Small fold-out tables located in the arms of the seats (like in the emergency row of an airplane) do resolve the issue of what to do with your drink.
The one area that didn’t meet the standards of other lines was the nightly lounge entertainment. On our cruise they seemed to have over-weighted pianists, quartets, and guitars playing elevator music. There just wasn’t much selection of music before or after dinner or charismatic performers that we looked forward to listening to each night.
I run a small business and being connected to my staff is imperative, even on vacation. I depend on having a functioning Internet while on board any ship. The Internet was easy to sign up for and operated flawlessly on our cruise. Also, unlike other lines, they didn’t terminate the package immediately on the morning of debarkation.
There is a $4 “activation” fee which increases the cost of usage above what is advertised in the package. Internet speeds are ubiquitously slow on cruise ships. I am wondering why airplanes seem to have much faster speeds. Maybe someday the same Internet technology used by planes will become standard equipment on ships!
The shopping experience is ubiquitous to most every other cruise line. There is nothing exceptional to highlight here.
Port Talks and Shore Excursions
Port and cultural talks were average on this cruise. Getting information on the ports was available via pre-recorded port talks that were not always completely up to date. Information for independent travelers not doing an excursion was minimal. As seasoned travelers, we don’t appreciate cruise lines that push their shore excursions by starving you for general information on port stops.
We used the Internet onboard the ship to contact several tour companies that were highly rated by Trip Advisor. Another great place to book private tours prior to departure is by looking under “Tours” and on the chat boards on Cruise Critic. We have never been disappointed following the advice of previous travelers and typically save 25 to 75% off the ship’s prices. We ended up doing relatively well by booking taxis and tours on the dock at about ½ the cost of the ship’s prices.
Guernsey was a fairly sleepy stop that required us to tender in, so allow an additional 30 to 60 minutes to wait in line each way. We walked into the town and took in the German Occupation Museum, which was interesting. This is a port that we would not be excited to visit again.
Cork was a port we enjoyed. It’s easy to do on your own and for simplicity, was one of the best ports for ease of transportation on our itinerary. The train station is literally on the pier and the cost is an inexpensive 9 EU for the roundtrip, 30 minute ride into the city center. As a bonus, the trains have free WiFi! Once at the central station you will have an easy 20 minute walk into the heart of town. We especially enjoyed the English Market.
Dublin is a great stop with much to see and do. The port is almost in the city center, maybe a 30 minute walk from Trinity College. However, we recommend you take a taxi, as opposed to the more expensive ship’s shuttle, into the heart of town if you are in a party of two or more. You will find the cost of a taxi is the same for two as it is on the shuttle bus and much more convenient.
We visited the Dublina Museum, St. Michan’s, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Marsh’s Library, Grafton Street, The Old Storehouse (music pub), and the Book of Kells/Long Library.
Belfast is another great stop. We recommend a city tour with a private driver who will take you to all the neighborhoods to view the murals and graffiti. We then took off to the country to see the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmill’s Distillery.
Glasgow was a tougher stop for transportation. The pier requires a 20 minute walk to the train station and a 45 minute train ride into the city center. The shining star of Glasgow, the School of Art, had been badly damaged by a fire and closed as a result just four days before we arrived. We went instead to the Museum of Modern Art, but half of it was also closed and it was forgettable.
Orkney requires that you book any private excursions or car rentals well in advance. We didn’t, so we had to endure the ships tour to see the prehistoric sights. If you are a whisky aficionado, call ahead to Highland Park Distillery and book a tasting for 35 to 75 UK. They will pick you up at the pier and deliver you back. Our three hour tour and tasting was one of the highlights of our trip, and a far better buy than going with the ship’s tour!!
Invergordon is located a good 45 minutes from Inverness and requires a 10 minute walk to the train station and a 30 minute ride into town. We recommend you hire a driver or rent a car and head out into the country side to see Cawdor Castle or Dunrobin. There are a number of distilleries in the area, Balblair being one of the smaller distilleries that offers a great value tour and tasting.
Edinburg is similar to Inverness, in that getting into town takes time and can be expensive. First, we had to tender so that takes a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour to get to the pier. The train station is then a 20 minute walk, uphill and a 30 minute ride into town. You are let off below the castle and the High Street, meaning if that is not your destination you will need to hire a cab to take you up or hike uphill for another 20 minutes.
My suggestion, bag all that messing around and take a 30 minute taxi ride from the pier directly to the castle. The cost is about 25 pounds with tip, making it a much better buy than even the 10 UK per person shuttle bus that still will drop you down below the castle, requiring you to hire a cab for another 5 UK to the castle. Even more, you can fit up to six people in a cab with no additional charge! So get some ship mates together and pay less than 5 UK per person for pier to castle delivery.
We toured the castle, did the Whisky Historical Center, had lunch at the Castle Arms Pub just around the corner (try their Haggis, seriously, it was fantastic), walked the Royal Mile to Holyrood and toured that, and then grabbed a cab for the 30 minute ride back to the ship.
Movies Under the Stars,
Our family enjoys this feature of Princess. The movies on a big screen are a great experience….weather permitting….which wasn’t very permitting on our early summer itinerary of the UK! While they have warm blankets to snuggle up in, my kids especially complained about the poor speaker system and tiling in the big screen.
Our kids have always enjoyed the kids programs on board most ships…on this cruise they opted to stay with the parents and enjoy reading in their cabin, so I don’t have much to report on the Ruby Princess kid’s club.
The Ruby Princess is a lovely ship with a pleasant crew, average to good dining and good maintenance. For most people, it has everything what you would expect from a more upscale cruise line.
However, we are serious foodies and wine aficionados. While we appreciated their lower corkage and specialty dining fees, we got what we paid for. The wait staff, wine knowledge, and specialty dining was not up to the other upscale lines.
This was our third experience on a Princess ship. We will think twice before booking with them again if the main focus would be the ship, like on a transatlantic or transpacific crossing. Still, we would certainly sail with them given the right itinerary where there was no option on one of the better competing lines or they were offering an especially inexpensive rate. For us, the ship’s culinary weaknesses keeps it from playing more than a supporting role in a successful cruise vacation.
We do like the cabin layout of Princess, which is different from other lines. Their cabin layout results in a little more space and privacy with a little less storage room for clothes. Our room steward, Julius, was very attentive and helpful and went out of his way to help us secure an extension cords and distilled water. Our particular room was quite far forward and located just above the anchors, which were a bit noisy when anchoring on days we had to tender.