Review of August 27- September 22, 2014 Cruise on Ruby Princess
This cruise was a back to back including an initial 12 day cruise from Southampton around the British Isles and a subsequent 14 day transatlantic cruise calling in Bergen, Norway, the Shetland Islands, Iceland and Newfoundland before terminating in New York City (Brooklyn Red Hook Terminal). This review will be organized in the style of a Consumer Report test with categories from Recommended without reservation, to Recommended with reservations to Not Recommended.
Recommended without Reservation:
Itinerary. This itinerary was exceptionally well chosen giving an opportunity to visit and experience a wide range of cultures, customs and sights both around the United Kingdom and Ireland (with a brief digression into France) and on the Transatlantic where each port offered a new, interesting and educational experience. The unusually good weather we experienced certainly helped make this a most enjoyable cruise. Each of the ports offered something of interest to us, even those ports we had visited in the past. It is almost impossible to enumerated highlights as there were so many, but Belfast, Bergen and Akureyri (Iceland) were exceptional. Commodore Romano, the Captain if the Ruby Princess for this voyage, did an excellent job monitoring the weather and adjusting the ship's speed to anticipate any rough weather and to accommodate it by reducing speed to maximize comfort.
I will comment on Entertainment in the next section but here I want to highlight the excellent String Quartet on board throughout the 26 day voyage. The quartet called itself La Boheme Strings, four young musicians from the Ukraine who played with great technical skill and fine emotional balance. The quality of playing and the extensive repertoire exceeded anything we have ever experienced on board a ship. Princess is to be commended for finding this outstanding group.
The vessel. The Ruby Princess is not a new ship but she has been very well maintained and looks really good. In our experience, on an extended voyage, something usually goes wrong, most often the toilet system clogging for a period of time. For us, there was no such occurrence on this trip. The systems all worked, maintenance was impeccable, she looked really good. It is cliché to call any cruise ship,”the beautiful” followed by the name of the ship. In this case that title is warranted.
International Cafe. Princess has a winner in the International Cafe. Starting with the “real” brewed coffee, to the large selection of pastries and sandwiches to the “bargain” gelato, the 24 hour service in the International Cafe is unmatched in our cruising experience. We just hope the upcoming refit of the Island Princess will include an International Cafe on that ship.
Fitness Center. Wife and I had undertaken something of a fitness campaign in the months before this cruise and were concerned that we would not be able to duplicate our routine onboard. Not to worry. I had never paid much attention to the Fitness Center on cruise ships before, so did not exactly know what to expect. The Fitness Center on the Ruby was as well outfitted as our gym back home and we were able to exactly duplicate our routines and even add some features not available at our home gym. A pleasant surprise indeed.
Recommended with reservations:
Staffing. As a general rule the crew was pleasant, hospitable and competent. Some were exceptional, such as the Commodore (to be expected I guess) and at the other end of the spectrum, the early morning attendant in the International Cafe (Ashley Fernandez, 3rd cook) and our cabin steward (Jordan from the Philippines). One was exceptional in the opposite direction. I ran into the Staff Captain in the Lotus Spa several times, usually flirting with the attractive staff there, and on one occasion found him to be rude, arrogant and uninformed about the ship ( a Schettino in the making??). Others, such as the majority of the staff at the Customer Service desk, seemed not to understand that their central task is to be pleasant and accommodating, as well as reasonably well informed. On one occasion, I asked at customer service which function would handle requests for transfers from the pier in NYC to Laguardia Airport, was told talk to the Excursions desk, went to the Excursions desk when they were open only to be told that the forms necessary for purchasing transfers were at the Customer Service desk. Such a failure of internecine communications was to be repeated when our disembarkation tags arrived. So, overall, the crew gets a recommended but there are exceptions that dented the enjoyment of an otherwise very enjoyable cruise
Princess Transfers. A tale of two cities. The transfer in London from Heathrow to Southampton was flawless. Luggage collected immediately outside the Customs area, reappearing in the cabin in a timely manner after boarding. The transfer in Brooklyn was a disaster. Luggage had to be maneuvered to the buses outside the terminal area, at a significant distance from the end of the Customs area. Once in that area, chaos ensued. Busses were loaded in a haphazard manner with no one seeming to be directing traffic and no concern about flight times. Fortunately, the driver was very competent and everyone got to Laguardia in time, but for us it was close. We arrived at Laguardia at 12:05pm for a 12:59 flight.
Entertainment. As reported earlier, the excellent String Quartet was the highlight of the entertainment program. George Casey (Irish Comedian) was also excellent. The production shows by the resident company were better than normal cruise ship fare, with one production using the LED wall, truly outstanding. Micheal Ziegfield (ventriloquist/comedian) was very entertaining. And, the resident orchestra, especially its leader on keyboards, Jane did a fabulous job, especially with the Dixieland Jazz shows. Other entertainers were average or below, with one ego-centric violinist so proud of his crystal encrusted violin he didn’t realize the acoustic one sounded so much better.
Early Seating Dinner/Other dining issues:. Preboarding, the early seating traditional dinner time in the Botticelli dining room was 6pm. Early, but given medical advice to allow 3 hours after a meal before retiring, not unreasonably so. Upon arrival, the time had been set forward to 5:45, and for the second leg of the cruise, to 5:30. Even if one wants early seating, 5:30 is too early, as least for us, so we switched to “Anytime.” One of the enjoyable experiences of cruising was effectively taken away as we enjoy the camaraderie of a set table for the duration of a cruise. Not sure how Princess could address this, but some form of staggered “traditional” dining, allowing for seating at 6:30 or 7:00 should be feasible. Small issue, the Cafe Caribe aft of the Horizon Court, had indecipherable hours. We much preferred its more intimate space to the Horizon Court but could almost never figure out when it would be open, at any meal of the day. On one occasion, they held a “Pastry Extravaganza” in the Caribe that ended at 1:30 pm, now really who is finished with lunch and ready for a “Pastry Extravaganza” by 1:30? Sabatini's was excellent as usual but our experience with the Crown Grill left much to be desired, the steak was exceptional but service and all ancillary items were well below par.
Internet. It goes without saying that the internet speed is atrocious on board. Surely, some technological genius can fix this problem.
Finally, a small pet peeve. Why are waiters in the dining rooms trained to ask about beverage preferences, especially wine choices, before meal selection has occurred? How does on know which wine to order, or which to recall from the cellar, before even looking at the menu for the evening? A small issue, so easily corrected and so annoying to be asked every meal about wine choice prior to meal selection.
If anyone is still with me, congratulations. I don’t usually go on this long but this was a really great cruise with great ports of call, a fine ship and generally great service. The dining experience on the Ruby was better than average in our experience with some creative touches. We especially appreciated that Princess has figured out how to make really tasty and satisfying sugar-free dessert options.
Convenient to Horizon Court, Club Fusion and Botticelli Restaurant. Long way to the Theater. Convenient to Promenade Deck for walkers. Classed as OE, oceanview not obstructed, but in fact the view is more obstructed than E633, just three doors forward, which is classified as OY, obstructed.