Princess Cruises Ruby Princess by Jody Brown Western Caribbean December 6, 2008
Ruby Princess Cruise Review 12/6-12/13, 2008.
Pre-Cruise >We drove from Columbia, SC (9.5 hours there, 9 hours back) and stayed at Embassy Suites on 17th St. When we left Columbia at 6:00 am it was 50 degrees, when we arrived in Ft Lauderdale at 3:30 pm it was a sunny 75 degrees!
I have stayed at ES before several years ago and it has been renovated very nicely since then. We chose this hotel because of its excellent location (near the port) and we could leave our car there for the week ($10 a day) in a secure area (TIP -- we are starting to find that most hotels in Ft Lauderdale will not allow you to leave your car there for an extended period of time, so please call ahead).
ES still offers many items that only a full service hotel can offer. An example is having a bellhop take the luggage to the room when you arrive and check out. I also like the feeling of being in a suite (divided living room and bedroom). Rooms here have always been clean, with a very comfortable bed, a small fridge, comfy couch (that opens up into a bed if needed), and a decent sized widescreen LCD television in each of the rooms. The atrium is noisy, however when you close the bedroom door, it obstructs most of the clatter.
The hotel is also next to a nice shopping center which has a Publix grocery store (where we picked up a few last minute items for the cruise) and a few restaurants. We had dinner at Angelo's (dined there before) and it's been remodeled since June of '07. The food was tolerable; however I think we'll look elsewhere next time we're here. Embassy Suites still offers a pretty good breakfast and for the early risers like me, they have drinkable coffee available around 5:30 am in the buffet area. Bonus for us is at sun rise going up to the top floor and looking at the port and seeing the Ruby Princess for the first time in person.
Unless we found a great rate at a similar class of hotel in the area, we would stay here again with no hesitation.
Embarkation A+ -- This was the best ever embarkation I've ever experienced. We left Embassy Suites at 10:50 am (on a reserved mini-bus), arrived at the port at 11:05 am. After dropping off our luggage with the ship porters, walked over to the security/screening line and we were sitting down at 11:15 am (I am a Princess Platinum member and have priority status) in the port passenger waiting area. At 11:30 am they opened up the partition, we were the first ones in the 'Dolphin' line, received our cruise card and then up the escalator to the ship holding area. We waited there for a couple of minutes and the ship photographer said we could get our 'Welcome Aboard' photo taken now instead of waiting. At 11:40 am we walked on the gangway (one of my favorite moments!) to the ship, had our security photo taken for our cruise card and we were in our cabin at 11:50 am. Total time from hotel to our cabin was an incredibly quick and smooth one hour.
Cabin/Room Steward A+ -- We stayed in cabin D730, a mini-suite near the aft of the ship on port side. Suzi and I have stayed in cabin number D730 on every Princess cruise. We enjoy the quiet location and the cabin has plenty of space with very little foot traffic in the hall. Robes and my tux were already in the room when we arrived.
Fridge stayed nice and cold all week. We brought along a gallon of Arizona Southern Sweet Tea and it fit in the fridge just right!
Room temperature was a nice 72 degrees and the only time we had to touch the thermostat was after we had the sliding glass doors open in the morning to get some fresh air in the cabin.
We noticed three items different than the same cabin on the Caribbean Princess -- both TV's are now 26" widescreen LCD's; the individual lights by the bed do not have dimmer switches on them anymore; and we had a TV guide for the first time. To the best of my knowledge, everything else was the same.
Saturday Port/Sailaway I tried calling 'Dine' to make dinner reservations for Sabatini's, which didn't work. Then tried calling the 'dinner reservation' number and you are placed on hold until it disconnects after 45 seconds. We decided it was time for lunch, so we went upstairs and ate by the pool. Next we did a little ship exploring and around 1:00 pm we went up to Sabatini's (according to the Princess Patter they would have someone there from 1 to 4 to take reservations). No one from Sabatini's was there, so we stood around and finally someone (who did not work in the restaurant) asked if they could help. We explained what we wanted and he went over to the phone and dialed in a number and handed me the phone. The lady took our dinner reservation request and said we would receive a confirmation card (which did arrive on the day we requested).
Jojo (our room steward) came by to introduce himself after we returned to our cabin (hoping to see our luggage, which had not arrived yet, however several cabins by us had theirs waiting for them). He came back about thirty minutes later with our welcome aboard glass of champagne for each of us. We spent most of the afternoon watching the 'Love Boat' on TV as we waited for our luggage. Around 3:00 pm Jojo was in the hallway (he was already calling us by our first names) and asked if he could help us with anything and I told him no, I was just looking for our luggage. A few minutes later he knocks on the door and walks in with a bottle of champagne and apologizes for the wait. We went to muster drill at 4:00 pm (nice having this indoors!) and when we returned, our luggage was just arriving. We unpacked and since it was getting close to changing clothes for dinner, we skipped the usual activities on the pool deck and decided to go out on the balcony for sail away.
Another great moment for me is to watch the other ships leave and then look at the condos and small boats pass by as we sail out of the port to begin our week at sea on a cruise vacation.
Sunday -- Sea Day Weather -- partly cloudy 75 degrees. We are both early risers and after trying a cup of coffee (yuck!) from the buffet, we were both thankful the atrium coffee bar serves something drinkable around 6:15 am. Room service breakfast arrives 15 minutes early today (7:15 am) and then we spend rest of the morning exploring the ship again. Then we sit out on the promenade deck watching our ship glide through the ocean to give Jojo a chance to clean. Suzi and I have lunch together in our cabin as it has become a tradition for us to order room service (usually club sandwiches and a salad) on sea days and enjoy it by ourselves in the comfort of our room.
Most of my afternoon is spent in the casino and I won the blackjack tournament ($500) before heading back to the cabin for dinner.
Formal Dinner was ok and most men wore suits. First time in a long time I saw very few tuxes on a Princess ship on formal dress night.
Monday -- Ocho Rios, Jamaica Weather -- sunny 84 degrees. Not really much to report here that has not been said a million times before and nothing has really changed over the years. Within a couple of seconds after leaving the port area we were asked several times from several people if we wanted to 'party', have our hair braided, need a taxi, going to the falls, need a 'guide', need an island tour, etc. We try our best to avoid these people and simply say no, however some of them still follow you and repeatedly ask what we are doing or where we are going.
We spent a couple of hours walking and shopping at the Taj Mahal shopping center, Harbour Shops and Island Village, bought several items (including three pounds of Blue Mountain coffee at $16 a lb.) and then to Margaritaville for a cold drink and appetizers (too early for lunch). We had a brief ten or fifteen second 'sprinkle' which ruined our morning. For those who have not been here, it's a great place to kick back and relax, nice music and on the beach. Plus it's a great location for ship photos.
Tuesday -- Georgetown, Grand Cayman Weather -- sunny 80 degrees. Suzi and I were married here, so this place always brings back the best of memories for both of us. We had an excellent morning walking around and doing some shopping. I spent a few minutes at La Casa Del Habano looking at the cigars and purchased some excellent Cubita whole bean coffee. We had lunch at Margaritaville (had a table on the balcony that overlooks the main street) and did some shopping in their store.
Not sure why, but the streets did not seem as crowded as they have in the past. I think it has something to do with all of the businesses being open now since the last time we were here when they were still in hurricane recovery mode.
Of all of the islands I've been to in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman is the one place I feel the safest at. The island is always clean and no one gestures you into their store.
We had dinner at Sabatini's and to be honest, I was not that really impressed. The service was excellent, however the concept of bringing out a dozen or so 'samples' before the main entrée doesn't really work for me. Most of the food was not eaten and I hate to see it go to waste. The restaurant does have a beautiful location overlooking the aft of the ship; however the place was close to empty. We were the first couple to arrive at 6:00 pm and when we left at 8:30 pm, I would estimate less than a dozen people arrived for dinner.
Wednesday -- Cozumel, Mexico Weather -- sunny 82 degrees. Another great day here walking around and shopping. We always take a taxi from the port to the forum shops and start our little walking journey there. The shops are lined up against the beautiful water front which has some outstanding photo opportunities. Many stores still have the usual 'hawkers' trying to get you inside to shop, however I will say the people who work there are generally very helpful and cheerful. While shopping, I found a Christmas present for Suzi at DI that she has been wanting for a while. When we were done shopping, we took a horse/carriage ride to -- you guessed it -- Margaritaville for lunch and drinks. The fish here is always excellent!
This is one port where you really have to pay attention to the prices while you shop. Suzi and I both saw the same exact item in one place for $18 being sold a block away for $10.
Thursday -- Sea Day Weather -- mostly cloudy 77 degrees. I spent most of the day in the casino and walking around the ship. Suzi continued her usual sea day tradition of reading and relaxing in the stateroom. Since I was inside all day, I wasn't aware until someone in the casino (who had been trying to get some sun by the pool) said that it was overcast with some intermittent rain.
Formal Dinner was excellent and we went to a show afterwards. I did get several compliments for wearing a tux so maybe I'll wear one again next year.
Before turning in for the night, I went to the Purser's office to break some large bills to smaller ones for our tip money. From past experience, I know the last full day of a cruise that this place will have a long line almost all day. Besides the tip money employees receive from the 'Princess auto-tip', we also give a few people additional money for the great service they provide us throughout the week.
Friday -- Princess Cay Weather -- partly cloudy 75 degrees. It was mostly cloudy and some very light rain in the area; however the ship arrived on time as we hear the anchor drop. Then I see a tender boat head out as we discussed when we were going to go downstairs and get off of the ship. Before we can come to a set time, the captain announces that because of inclement weather (choppy seas), our stop at Princess Cays had been cancelled (FYI -- port tax was refunded and put on account). The captain said he was waiting for the tender to arrive back from island and then we would cruise to port Everglades for our scheduled arrival on Saturday morning. This worked out pretty good for me as the casino opened early and I won some money! Since we were now ahead of schedule, the ship slowed down and made a leisurely journey through the many islands in the Bahamas back to the port.
Dinner was excellent and it was nice Monica had some time to talk with us for a while. It was hard to say goodbye to her and Jimmy after having a great week with them. After dinner we went back to the cabin to pack (not one of our favorite things to do!) and then watch a movie.
Saturday -- Debarkation A. This is always a hard day for me as I hate to leave a ship and end our vacation. We had coffee from the atrium coffee bar (need to have exact amount in cash as your cruise card no longer works) and wait in our cabin before heading down to Club Fusion (another Princess Platinum perk) at our assigned time so Jojo can clean our cabin for the next lucky folks who are staying here.
We are supposed to get off around 7:30 am; however they are behind schedule unloading the luggage in the port area. Around 8:15 am our luggage tag color is called and it takes less than ten minutes to get off of the ship, claim our luggage, go through customs and grab a taxi back to Embassy Suites. Princess handles the debarkation process so well. It is always smooth and quick and only a few rule breaking stragglers blocking the exit route.
Ship A+. What can I say; the Ruby Princess is a brand new ship (we were on its fifth cruise) and is very similar to the Caribbean Princess (that we've been on twice) and just as easy to navigate. The ship layout was excellent (no art auction in the isles!), very few announcements, colors were tasteful and Princess also had Christmas decorations in the Atrium and dining room.
It should be noted we do not eat at buffets, but overheard several people say the lay out is still a PITA.
My favorite change to the Ruby Princess compared to the Caribbean Princess is the casino & cigar smoking lounge. The casino feels much better organized and easy to walk around. The cigar smoking lounge is much smaller than the one on the Caribbean Princess and it only has one television. However I really like its new location in the corner of the casino and it is open all day (compared to the Caribbean Princess where it was only open in the evenings).
FYI -- the casino was packed almost every evening and it was hard to find a seat at a blackjack table after 8:00 pm. I saw a woman win $7,100 playing slots late Friday afternoon. I think everyone on the ship 'heard' about it!
Food Service A. Food C+. Food and service are both subjective and I will say upfront I am a very picky eater; however the new 'Chuck Wagon' approach in the dining room (chili, meatloaf, fajitas, etc) had me scratching my head wondering if I was on a Princess cruise or at a truck stop restaurant.
While the food was average at best (meals -- 2 excellent, 1 very good, 1 average, 2 below average/poor), the service was excellent (dinner waiter team was Monica & Jimmy). We ate in the dining room for six nights and at Sabatini's one night. I can honestly say that this is the worst dining room food I've had since my first Princess cruise in 1994. The food on our two RCI Mariner cruises was even significantly better than this cruise. Did this ruin our cruise, no; however it will make us look at other cruise lines where we think the food is better and has similar service.
The only other incident to report was we had asked to sit at a large table (traditional dining, 6:00 pm) when we booked the cruise over a year ago. On the first night we were escorted to a table for four. Another couple did show up, however they told us they were not happy with the table location and were going to change tables. They stopped by the following evening after we already had been seated and asked if we wanted to sit with them at another table. We saw it was a table for four and it was with a different wait-staff team. We declined as we were very happy with our service and to be honest would feel bad that they would loose our tip money.
Entertainment B. CD was ok, honestly nothing noteworthy about him or the staff. We attended two shows (actually tried to attend another one, but found out if you did not show up 30 minutes in advance you had little chance of getting a seat) and both shows were very good. The daily activities show that is on the Princess channel every morning advertised as a 'Live' show was actually taped the day before.
Casino layout was excellent and most of the staff was pretty cheerful.
We also missed a couple of the usual activities we like to attend as they didn't start until 10:30 pm and 11:00 pm and that was too late for us.
Miscellaneous LCD Television was excellent and the satellite service was great the entire week. Think we lost the signal for a few hours on two days. Several really good movies and programs to watch in the mornings and before going to bed. ESPN actually was the US satellite feed instead of the Spanish feed we've had the last few cruises.
Coffee -- once again, this is just my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. The buffet coffee is still disgusting, room service coffee was not bad, and dining room service (after dinner) was pretty good. The coffee bar coffee ($1) was pretty good, latte's ($2) were very good (best I could find on the ship that I could drink everyday) and so was the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee ($2). Note: The coffee bar is not supposed to open until 6:30 am, however the same guy was there everyday and served me around 6:15 am without me even asking (IOW, he asked me what I would like, I didn't ask him first). The bakery next door still has great chocolate frosted donuts and excellent sugar donuts.
We did notice the average age was significantly older then our previous cruise last December. We saw a handful of children throughout the week and maybe a dozen teenagers. I would estimate approximately one third of the passengers were retired. These are not bad things, just comments of what I noticed.
We did not like the new Princess Patter look and layout as too many items are left off compared to the previous Princess Patter.
Captain was Tony Yeoman's. Never saw him or his staff, however enjoyed his noon update from the bridge.
We had two big groups on this cruise. A large group from the Mirage (saw them every day in the casino), and Vacations to Go (travel agency) had a singles group (although I never saw any of them after the first day).
When shopping, do yourself a favor and check the ship prices on items you are looking for. We both saw several items that used to be less expensive on the islands and now the ship prices are actually cheaper.
Conclusion We had a very nice relaxing cruise, great weather on a new ship with the best service from almost all of the staff. I can say without a doubt our room steward and our dining room staff would both rate in my top three for service out of sixteen cruises.
This was my tenth Princess cruise and last one for a while.
We're looking forward to our next cruise (10/09) on HAL Westerdam.
If you have any questions, comments or looking for help that I may provide, please contact me (Jody Brown) at firstname.lastname@example.org.