The Ruby Princess is a very young ship that is the largest in the Princess fleet. They kept many of the basic layout and design elements from all of their other ships, but also made some rather notable changes. The Piazza is much larger and capable of holding more traditional entertainment events; the down side is that it interferes with the programming of Crooners (their piano bar). The Horizon Cafe is larger and joined by a Pastry Shop and the Horizon Bistro; in addition they have changed from the racetrack serving areas and gone to walk through serving areas. These changes to Horizon have allowed for greater variety and more ease of service. The Princess theatre is larger but feels more intimate. They added a “bridge” which is a curved outcropping on the pool deck that has a see-through floor, allowing for a different view of the water and, when positioned right, the port; this is a real waste as few, if anyone, walked it more than once…after all, how many views of the water do we really need. The have failed to improve the layout of the basic staterooms (I can’t speak for the various size suites). The shower is larger and no longer the tube units, but the overall size of the bathrooms doesn’t fee any different (if anything, they feel smaller). They still have an extremely limited number of electrical outlets (2) and they’re located at the desks; this means that if you have a CPAP or want to have an alarm or backlit clock next to your bed you need to run extension cords and risk overloading one or both of the outlets. A recent voyage aboard a Royal Caribbean vessel showed that having outlets on either side of the bed is possible so I don’t know why Princess couldn’t have done the same. There are still three elevator areas, but only two of them (the ones on either end of the ship) have stairwells that go from the lowest passenger floor to the top of the ship; the middle stairs stop at the 8th floor. Considering the demand for elevators at peak periods, this is a serious problem and creates significant irritations to those of us who would use the stairs rather than stand around for 10 minutes (I kid you not) or more. The Casino seems to be smaller, but that could be an illusion caused by space utilization. The Passenger Services desk, as well as other service desks, are down a hall instead of in the Piazza area; not necessarily an issue but it can make them a little more difficult to find. There’s an additional specialty restaurant, this one featuring seafood (we didn’t try it so we can’t say if it is any good); the information provided indicates that the pricing is “ala carte” so I can’t speak to the cost. The Grill specialty restaurant is located behind the Wheelhouse bar, losing whatever intimacy and formality it formerly had. All in all, a beautiful ship which, other than the Horizon areas, is not a marked improvement over previous Princes ships and, in many ways, a step down.
The staff was, far and away, the best I have experienced in my two dozen plus cruises. I never met one staff member who didn’t have a great grasp of English; so much so that they understood the nuances of American humor and could dish it out, as well. We weren’t too thrilled with our cabin steward, who we rarely saw except on chance encounters and consistently forgot requests or would leave too few towels, but leave tray linens that had no purpose in the room; but everyone else seemed to be happy with their stewards so I suspect it was the individual. The first two nights in the Anytime Dining Room seemed to take forever, but this may have been due to the sheer volume of guests using the facilities; it was markedly better after that. The food, by the way, has been a real step up over previous Princess Cruises (and we enjoyed the food on those cruises). There are the occasional misses, and the expected over promised entree names, but otherwise it made it all too easy to over eat.
The cruise director was not very good. She did appear in one of the programs and wasn’t too bad, but her after show comments were flat devoid of the humor that other cruise directors had shown to great effect. Unless she was taking part in a program, I can’t remember seeing her around the ship.
Most disappointing was been a feeling of disrespect and uncaring from Princess’ management. We had arranged to take a Princess bus from Victoria Station in London down to the ship in Southampton, as did scores of other passengers. The process was chaotic and disorganized. We were told to be there by 9 am with a 9:30 departure; we left the bus terminal a little after noon. When we arrived at the bus station we stood in line for 30 or 40 minutes before being given a ticket which would dictate when we’d actually leave for the ship. They took our luggage while we were in line, but didn’t tell us that our luggage would be taken by truck instead of on the bus with us; thus we wouldn’t have our carry on luggage when we arrived at the ship. That morning we all received an email from Princess saying the ship would be at a different pier due to weather conditions; evidently they never told the bus driver because he went to the originally scheduled pier. When we finally got to the ship terminal, it was a zoo with no one giving anyone any instructions.
Not only was the management of the boarding process faulty, but once on the ship the feeling continued starting with the Captain. It might be unfair to characterize the Captain as uncaring, he could have been merely incompetent. The departure from Guernsey was a fiasco with people waiting 90 minutes or more to tender back to the ship. The official line was that there was a second ship in port, which had not been anticipated, and a ferry interrupted the process; an obviously bogus explanation as ships don’t just pop up unannounced in ports of call and the ferry would not have been a problem had the tendering process run smoothly. Had they planned correctly, and/or sprung for additional tenders, the process could have run more smoothly and the comfort of the passengers been assured. [The cruise director said that they had never seen this situation before, but a review on Cruise Critic from 2012 describes exactly the same scenario. This implies that either Princess did not learn from the experience and devise procedures for handling it, or the Captain decided to ignore those procedures despite the affect on passengers. It also implies that the Cruise Director either was uninformed or a liar.] This fiasco delayed departure by a matter of hours, causing us to be an hour late into Cobh; the result was the truncating, if not outright canceling, of many tours. Dublin was also scheduled to be a tender port, but the Captain decided that if he hit the tides right he could dock in the port. This sounds good, but it caused us to be in port 3 hours early, at 5 am, when nothing is open and there’s nothing to do. More importantly, it caused us to have to leave by 3 pm, four hours early; this forced the canceling of many more tours and the rushing around for those of us who chose to be on our own (it also caused a half-dozen passengers to miss the ship, having to find their own transportation to, and accommodations in, the next port - Liverpool). Liverpool went off without any real hitches, but the Captain mistimed the tides going into Belfast causing us to be about 30 minutes late into port and, again, to truncate our visit and rush back to the ship. Given the limited window in which to depart (again, because of the tides), I wonder what would have happened if a cruise arranged tour was not back on time (given their guarantee that the ship would not leave without them). The next stop was Greenock from which most passengers went to Glasgow, followed by a day at sea and stops in Invergordon (the port from which one made their way to Inverness) and Edinburgh. After another day at sea, the ship ported in Le Harve for people to transport to Paris or Normandy. Aside from some weather which caused an unplanned closure of the casino, the porting (and tendering) in these locations seemed to go well.
The ports, themselves, were all wonderful. We either arranged our own tours or just wandered on our own. The excursions that Princess provides are all much to overpriced and have huge crowds of people; our arranged tours were much more reasonable (in one case the savings was over $100 per person) and the groups smaller allowing for more interaction with tour guides. Guernsey was a quaint, friendly port; be careful with purchases there, however, as they sometimes give change in the local currency (Guernsey pounds) which other countries, and the ship, won’t take. Cobh is a launching point to Cork, as Greenock is to Glasgow. Between those two ports were Dublin and Belfast. We didn’t explore the launching points much, the main destinations were all fascinating in their own rights. Cork was more urban than I expected, but still managed to maintain a quaintness to it. On the way back from Cork we got spend a little time (too little due to the aforementioned bridge decisions) in Dinsale which was very charming. Belfast was very intriguing as the city’s history of tension between Catholics and Protestants continue to this day, punctuated by the wall which separate the two communities; the sights outside of Belfast were awe inspiring. We did Glasgow on our own, mainly walking around the downtown area, shopping, eating, and marveling at the mix of old and new architecture. Glasgow was followed by much needed day at sea. We tend to prefer cruises with a maximum of ports, but we had been on the go since before the cruise (we spent three days in London after flying across the Atlantic) and really needed the downtime. I don’t know if there was some sort of practical reason for the scheduling, but if it had been possible to have the sea day prior to Glasgow, instead of after it, it would have been much better. My sister is an avid follower of the Outlander series (both the books and the television adaptation), so we took a tour in Inverness which was focused on the locations and history related to that program. In Edinburgh we went about on our own. We started at Ediburgh Castle where we spent several hours; our trip there was extended by the delay caused by the changing of the guards at 11 am…you don’t want to plan your arrival or departure from the Castle at that time. We had intended on following a Rick Steve walking tour but quickly decided we didn’t want to do a bunch of museums so we set about walking across Edinburgh to the Holyrood Castle (the summer home of Queen Elizabeth), seeing sights and snapping pictures. At Le Harve we had arranged for a tour of Normandy which, due to a virus which had spread through the ship, I was unable to join.
The disembarkation process was exceptionally smooth. Considering the way the embarkation process ran, it made me feel that they were more concerned with getting the ship ready for the next group than they were for our group’s enjoyment of the cruise experience. This was my 8th voyage with Princess; before this I was always very pleased with the organization and professionalism of their operation. I am hopeful that this experience was merely an aberration and not a sign of things to come.
As noted in the main review, the cabin was the typical Princess balcony cabin. A bit cramped on space; only 2 poorly located outlets, flimsy balcony furniture. The shower was better, but the bathroom otherwise the same.