We arrived in FLL airport on November 14th at 1130AM, and were at the port by 12PM. Easy and smooth embarkation. We were given orange "number 1" cards and grabbed a seat near the entryway to paradise (in reality, an oversized cubicle wall that would give Dilbert heart failure, which separated us from the convention style desks marked with deck designations). After a 40 minute wait, our "number 1" cards were called and we cavorted through the cubicle. After a quick processing and interrogation by Helga the Terrible (check in)we were in our cabin by 1 PM. In all seriousness, the embarkation staff were wonderful.
We called the dine line immediately at 1 PM to get a spot at the Holy Grail of all princess cruises, the Chef's Table. A nice fellow named Icky (yes, that was the name he gave me) took our information and lack of allergy needs, and told us we would hear from his office about whether we would be attending the event. I felt like we were aspiring Hollywood actors, and Icky the agent had just told us "Don't call us, we'll call you." Since I had called by 1 PM, I thought we had the part. That'll teach me to be so smug, but later on that one.
Oh yes, I also had Icky book us at the Crown Grill and Sabatini's, per the advice of my well travelled CC peers. Apparently, those shows were hard up for even bad actors, as we got in at both without issue.
Armed with special knowledge from the CC boards, my DW and I marched to the Pursurs desk to ask which dining room was open for lunch. We were told that they were all closed. Hand to the side of my face, I confided in the Princess Rep that we had special knowledge that one DR was indeed open, all she had to do was tell us which one, and we wouldn't let the secret out. She again said none were open.
Fine then. I collected myself and decided to investigate this one on my own, DW shaking her head sadly behind me. The first DR we came upon was the DaVinci, and low and behold, staff was in there and pax were seated at tables! I marched in triumpant and asked to be seated. "Sorry sir, we are closed," was the reply. How could this be, my inside info was wrong! "Sir, we closed at 2:30, it is now 2:45." Yes, I was so secure in my knowledge that I forgot to think "lunch" had an expiration time. I guess that's when "dinner" starts. Oh well, off to the buffet and a shrimp fest that would make Red Lobster blush.
The next heavy lifting activity was the Muster Drill. I was confident in the knowledge that I could handle a life jacket, and quite certain the proper direction to abandon ship was down, so I wanted to skip this one. I had read on CC that the crew hadn't gotten the card scanning thing down at the muster stations, so I could get away with it. My DW, however, pointed out that the Muster flyer said this was REQUIRED BY LAW, so my logic was a bit flawed. Of course, I took a stand on this one, as all husbands must......You know what, they DO scan cards now. I realized this as we entered our muster stations during the drill. Did you know that a human female can speak the words "I told you so" with just a glance?
Sailaway was breathtaking. We found the CC secret spot above the bridge. Just as we arrived at the first door from the Lido deck to this spot, DW said "I don't think we are meant to go through here." I confidently opened it and looked down a short, dismal hallway to another nondescript door. She KNEW we shouldn't go through that one. I did anyway and we were there! Best view on all sides, high above the ship, spectacular. And for the first time on this cruise, I was actually right! I tried to bask even slightly in my glory, because it might be my only chance.
We passed the Allure of the Seas on the way out, and that ship is huge. I managed to get some great camera shots of the Allure, setting sun, and planes taking off from FLL above. Ah, the sights and sounds of sailaway, and the anticipation of a great week at sea. I won't forget it, at least not until we take our next cruise.
Dinner that evening was to be our first taste of specialty dining, the Crown Grill. We had reservations at 6 PM and arrived 10 minutes early, so we opened the front door and walked right in. Ooops. The place looked deserted, with maybe one chef in the back and no one at the podium up front. That prompted me to keep walking in further. I realized after a bit that I was now alone, as DW had stayed cautiously by the front door, perhaps sensing impending danger or outright doom. From out of the elegant, dimly lit atmosphere, or shadows, came a huge fellow with a Russian accent, who told me they were closed, sir. As a brave American who weathered the might of the cold war, I naturally retreated, gathered my DW, and waited outside. Fashionably early at the Crown Grill is not a good thing, tovarish.
When we entered properly after 6, our maitre d', whose name escapes me but whose size never will, cheerfully showed us to our table. He didn't look as imposing when armed with a smile, better lighting and the fact that they were now actually open. Our server was a dynamo named Nestor. He exuded friendliness and let us know right away we could have whatever dining experience we wished, whether slow and savory or fast, like "Speedy Gonzalez". This caused me to picture Nestor as a rodent in white peasant garb and a big sombrero for the rest of the night. He probably still wonders why I had to suppress a giggle every time he walked by. Other than the long ears and whiskers, he was a truly fine server. We ordered cobinations of different appetizers and entres, and he never said no. We even ordered six extra lobster tails (which I guessed would get us a Speedy kick right out the door) and he said "right away." Nestor was top notch, as was the food at the Crown. I had the scallops and foe gras appetizer (that's leeeever, i theeenk), and loved it. DW had the filet, and it was cooked to perfection. The lobster tails were incredible...we cut them with a fork! Dessert had to be sent to the room for later.
After dinner, we explored the ship a bit. I confirmed that the Ruby is exactly like the Crown (we sailed the Crown last November), with some minor exceptions, such as the location of the excursions desk. I then decided that it was my time to start divesting the Ruby of its money by way of the casino. Since I am an expert blackjack player, this was to be an easy process. Unfortunately, someone before me had taught the Ruby's dealers how to play, and play well. So well that I was not going to be anything but broke if I kept this up. Exit stage left.
We played cards with my in-laws later that evening, and I watched the lights of passing ships out on the balcony. A very peaceful end to the first day onboard. Yes, I said peaceful and in-laws in the same paragraph, we actually do get along very well.
Day two was a stop at Princess Cays. We planned to tender over later, let the crwods beat us, in effect. I ventured out at 8 AM for my daily walk.
Since I had lost a bit of weight (truth be told, the Michelin Man had nothing on me until recently, when I could finally be considered in the "normal" body mass range), I was determined to complete my very own "cruise marathon", or 26.2 miles of walking during the cruise. I had heard on CC that the Promenade deck of the Ruby was a 1/3 mile walk on level ground, so three laps were a mile. This was almost true. I noticed that tape had been placed on the outer edge of the deck, marking every 10 meters. As I walked along, I looked down carefully at the markings to figure out the length of a lap. Suddenly, my foot, followed by my body, bumped into a set of steps which had no business being on a flat deck. Apparently, the forward section of the Promenade deck is actually the Emerald deck, separated by about 20 steps up, then down. My marathon would now be a mara and stair climber thon. The deck ended up being 610 meters, slightly more than 1/3 mile, for those of you who could use this info.
I thought I might be the only person up this early. However, about a dozen people had joined me on my walk. It was interesting. I speed walked, which meant I passed other walkers. Some folks ran, which meant they passed me. Other runners and walkers were going the other way. Even worse, the deck became a one lane road at the stern. The whole scene resembled a demented Autobahn full of drunk or Sunday drivers in the wrong lanes. "Excuse me" turned to "on your right" and quickly became "ouch!" Note to self: get up earlier tomorrow.
By the time I returned to the room, DW was ready to eat, and didn't even comment on the musty smell accompanying her to breakfast. We tried the Horizon Court buffet, and it was a winner. We ate breakfast there every day. An omelette station was hidden next to the scrambled eggs, and the sky was the limit. They even offered Egg Beaters. I'd like to think the veggie/egg beaters omelette balanced the bacon very well, but I could be kidding myself.
The tender to Princess Cays was a breeze. We sat in the Michaelangelo dining room for about 5 minutes, then off we went. Princess Cays (PC, for short, although some of the bathing suits I saw were anything but PC) was fantastic. Nice sandy beaches, but the water was surprisingly cold for the tropics. The cookout was delicious. Plenty to choose from, even for dieters like me. I had a salad and grilled chicken, and it was delicious. Very fresh fruit was served near the picnic area.
After a quick tender back to the Ruby, we ate dinner at the DaVinci DR. We had assigned dining at 5:30 PM, which was a newer concept. I had read complaints on CC about anytime diners being put out by this, since DaVinci was previously anytime only. I can understand this. When we walked in, we were asked if we had a table and were shown in right away. Others waited in line outside, as they had anytime dining. I can see why this would ruin the anytime experience, and I would not opt for anytime until they fix this.
We met out servers, Lorentz and Suppon. Both were fabulous, and catered to anything we asked. Iceberg lettuce wedge as a salad? No problem. Balsamic dressing? Sure. More than one appetizer? Absolutely. Can you make my food spicy? Huh? What? But you are from the U.S.! We aren't used to that one.
They passed the baton to Filipe, our head waiter. Within a few minutes, he had the chefs dice up some jalapeno peppers, which I sprinkled on my food. Tasty, but not hot enough. Felipe promised to call in the troops and be ready for me the next night with the big guns, the Indian and Thai chefs. I'm not so sure I like this.
Day three began earlier, at 6:45 AM. As I tried to go out the doors to the Promenade, I noticed they were taped off. They apparently clean the decks until 7. Great. I could just see myself slipping on a wet deck and becoming either a railing ornament or a fishing lure. No need to worry though, they dry the decks too. The walk was easier today, since I had beaten the walker's rush hour. The winds at the bow were brutal. I felt like the guy sitting in an easy chair in front of the stereo in that older commercial, with everything blowing off of me as I walked forward. After I turned the corner at the bow, the tail wind doubled my speed and practically threw me down the steps. Exercise, meet the X games.
Since today was a sea day, it would be total relaxation. DW spent a good portion of the day laying out at the pool, while I was layed out flat by the dealers in the casino.
At 2 PM, we went up the Skywalkers for our CC role call "meet and greet" event. We were a bit nervous, since I had only "met" any of these people on the CC bulletin boards, and I really hadn't posted much to our role call. Everyone on there semmed to have cruised together before or been friends since birth, as inside jokes or perhaps cult codes were often passed back and forth on the roll call. Not to worry, they were just really nice people who had a lot more cruise experience than we did. Conversation flowed and I understood it all, including the jokes. Not one cup of kool aid was passed either.
Just as the atmosphere started to get festive, the wedding party shows up. Ummmmm, we do intend to renew ours vows eventually, but no one told us to dress up and we just can't afford to rent these people! But they wouldn't leave.
Apparently, Princess had double booked the room, and the wedding party had security with them, so they won. We were sent off before anyone could even schedule another room or suggest another day to meet. Great people on our roll call, luckily none of them named Jones.
Just before dinner, we received notice that, to the great regret of Princess, the roles of leading man and lady would be given to ten other passengers. We missed the Chef's Table for tomorrow night. No white coats, free books, free flowing wine, stellar food, or behind the scenes looks at the kitchen. We tried to beg our way in with the maitre d', Generoso who despite his name, could not be generous. He did try, and even went to our table personally to apologize. Fine, I will exact payment in the form of spicy food.
Formal night dinner started with a visit from our head waiter. Felipe was grinning ear to ear, mumbling something about Thai spice powder. I was presented with a shrimp dish in a tomato based sauce, with lots of suspicious looking little seeds. Felipe couldn't tell me what it was, just that it was HOT. It was indeed delicious, but still not spicy enough.
Wednesday began bright and early, after the cleaning crews quit for the day. It was amazing to walk the decks and watch as we approached the island of St. Martin, entered the harbor and docked. Thw whole docking process on such a huge ship amazes me, as I grew up around smaller boats. Same concept, just on a massive scale.
St. Martin is a split island. We had docked on the Dutch side. I understand the French side is rich in culture, french cooking and fine architecture. It was also a $38 cab ride, so we stuck with the Dutch side. Lots of nice shops, a McDonald's (so there is grest food on the Dutch side too!), and an adorable little town hall. We passed a bar called the "Blue B*tch" (add an "i" for the *). It made for a good picture, but I wasn't going in there. The casino on the island had relatives dealing on the Ruby, so they knew me. Bad idea there.
Dinner that night was a shrimp and scallop concoction that was spicy, just not quite there yet. Felipe left unhappy, but determined. I mentioned habanero or ghost peppers, but they had none on board and had no pepper dealers in the islands. The fine cast of the Chef's Table walked right by us, white coats on display, on their way to the kitchen and culinary nirvanna. May your Dramamine patches fall off in rough seas, grrrrrrrr.
Thursday was St. Thomas, where my in-law's family jeweler was to meet us at the dock and drive us to his shop and then to lunch. Now, if you are wondering why my in-laws have a jeweler, I'm right there with you. This did not bode well for me. The island is great for shopping, with two cruise docks about five miles apart, both full of every shop you can imagine. DW did well. The blackjack dealers on the ship were kinder to me than this island was. I did get some spicy Chinese food out of the deal, though.
Friday brought a new island, Grand Turk. We debarked (pulled the skin off of a tree?) quickly, since we had a snorkelling excursion planned. Reef and Ray, oh my. It sounded fabulous. At the reef, I had to be the first off the boat. That was when I felt the current pulling at me. DW joined me and we both swam around, marvelling at the sea life on the reef. Then I met the reef up close and personal. I felt my flipper hit something, then turned around and was up to my neck in coral. My left forearm and right leg were on fire. I managed to warn DW in time and extricate myself, but the damage was done. My arm was red and swollen, with little bumps on it like I was in a cold climate. I thought, "this is pretty cool" and kept swimming around. Apparently, the strong current had tossed me into a higher reef that was just at the water's surface. When we were called back to the boat, the current slammed DW into the ladder as well. I was sitting on the boat bench a bit later, when another passenger said, "hey, your leg is bleeding!" I looked down and my leg was bloody from the calf down due to two cuts from the coral. Cool again. Good thing there weren't any sharks in the area. Well, the crew had me fill out a thorough incident report, and seemed really worried. I suppose other might try to take advantage of such a situation, but accidents happen. The "ray" stop consisted of one sting ray held by the crew and shown to passengers. I think they took it there by leash in its own tank. One of them slipped up and called it Fido. The trip could have been better without that nasty current, but c'est la vie. I wouldn't take this excursion again, but would instead follow the advice of other CC members and book ahead via the web.
After the bloody snorkel and ray, Grand Turk got better. The dock there is obviously brand new, as are the shops. Ron Jons Surf Shop is there, so T shirts had to be purchased. I had to get a shirt from Margaritaville as well, since it was this very song that got me tossed out of the Princess Pop Stars competition. Yes, I found my lost shaker of salt.
Since we had a reservation at the Crown tomorrow, tonight was Felipe's last shot at me. He did well, as his last dish had me sweating just enough to declare it spicy to my tastes. Not the hottest I've ever eaten, but don't tell him that! Felipe was by far the crew member who went out of his way for us (well, me) most. He took me on as a personal challenge, and succeeded in his mission with what he had on hand. Bravo Felipe!
Saturday was a sea day, which gave me one final shot at redemption in the casino. While DW fried her body at the pool, this lilly white boy sat in the casino for a few hours, bound and determined to go broke or at least take back what I had given them for 6 days. After a hard (and fun) fight, I managed to end up slightly ahead for the cruise, which is a win for me. After a nice tip to the dealer, I walked out with a big smile, never to return (for this cruise).
Dinner that night was at the Crown, where Speedy worked his magic yet again. Great food at the Crown. Service at the DR's is top notch, and they go the extra mile for you, but the best food and food quality is at the Crown, hands down. It helps to be served by a fast mouse, too.
Sunday came too quickly. The first thing I noticed was an attitude change in the crew. These nice, wonderful friendly people were getting moody. It must have been that time of the....week? My guess is that turnaround day is so hectic that it brings out the worst in people, and they don't have to see me tomorrow, so why bother so much? Understandable, logical, but fun to observe.
Debarkation was hectic for us, as the purser's desk made a bit of an error. This can easily happen, but it sure seemed like they wanted us to miss our flight and stay with them. I'd be fine with that, but my relatives only offered to babysit for ONE week. They sent us to the wrong room to debark, so we ended up leaving the ship an hour later. We did make our flight, so they failed in their attempt to keep us. However, it was frustrating.
All in all, this was a dream vacation for us. Princess was the right choice and did a fine job, with just a few understandable exceptions. Did any of the issues really matter in the big picture? Not at all. Can Princess make up for it by sending a chef, some wine, a couple of white coats and a cookbook to our house right away? Yes.
So, if Princess thinks I will ever cruise with them again, they would be correct. Read Less