Discovery at SEA programming brings popular TV shows onboard
Plentiful deck pools, sports court and miniature golf to spread guests around
Most rewarding loyalty program in the cruise industry
Interior design is mostly unimaginative
The Horizon Court buffet is a congested cul-de-sac of food
Traditional observation lounge is lacking onboard
Missing the theme park-like features or waterslides of other ships
Stateroom showers are small with flimsy clingy curtains
Balconies are primarily exposed with limited shade and privacy
Delivering on Princess Cruises’ signature "come back new" promise, the upper-middle-range, 3,080-guest Ruby Princess is strongly focused on rejuvenation, both for its passengers and for the ship itself. New enhancements are elevating the line back to premium, including more comfortable accommodations, livelier activities, tastier food, and grander entertainment, with programs headed up by theater legend Stephen Schwartz and celebrity chef Curtis Stone. And rates have remained reasonable across stateroom categories. That said, decor feels a bit staid here, and while the ship is family-friendly, it lacks some of the theme park-level attractions of other kid-centric ships. Still, several passengers here are repeat customers, as the line has one of the best loyalty programs in the industry tempting guests to return again and again.
What's Included (and What's Not)
In terms of price, cruising in general is a mostly inclusive affair, and the Ruby bundles your cabin choice, most activities, dining and entertainment in the fare. That means guests can freely use the pools, hot tubs, fitness center, library and the youth and teen facilities; as well as enjoy Discovery at SEA programs, production stage shows, comedy sets, Movies Under the Stars, ScholarShip@Sea enrichment, gaming lessons, Zumba classes, trivia, karaoke, theme parties, and other diversions.
Free dining is available to guests at a trio of main dining rooms, the Horizon Court buffet, International Cafe, Trident Grill, pizzeria, room service (some selections are extra), and soft-serve ice cream and select Chocolate Journeys creations from Norman Love.
As for specialty dining, SHARE by Curtis Stone is available for $39 per person, and the Crown Grill is priced at $29 per person. Meanwhile, The Salty Dog Gastropub has a cover charge of $12 per person, and the Crab Shack costs $29 per person. What’s more, the Chef’s Table Experience can be enjoyed for $85 per person or $95 with wine, and Ultimate Balcony Dining serves breakfast for $45 or dinner for $100.
Iced tea, lemonade, water, hot tea varieties, and basic coffee are included beverages onboard, but sodas and alcoholic beverages incur an extra fee. An All-Inclusive Beverage Package is available for $59.80 per person per day ($57.45 if purchased pre-cruise), or five-for-four beer packages can be bought at different prices per brand. An Unlimited Soda & More Package is $8.05 per person per day. Additionally, 12 bottled waters can be bought for $6.90, and six cans of soda can be purchased for $11.50. There’s also a Premium Coffee Card for 15 espresso-based drinks costing $35.65.
Also excluded from the cruise fare are Creativity@Sea and Ceramic@Sea activities, specialty group fitness classes and access to The Sanctuary and Lotus Spa. Other extra fees apply for shore excursions, gratuities, laundry services, art auctions and shopping, gambling, stateroom calling, and internet access. Internet connectivity can be bought onboard in timed increments with the value increasing as more time is pre-purchased. A package of 120 minutes costs $69, 240 comes in at $99, 460 at $159, and 680 at $199.
Gratuities are automatically applied to guest portfolios, or they can be prepaid prior to the cruise. The daily breakdown is $15.50 per guest in suites, $14.50 per guest in mini-suites and club class, and $13.50 per guest in interior, oceanview and balcony cabins. Tips are shared among support crew such as waitstaff, stateroom stewards, buffet stewards and housekeeping staff. Passengers may modify gratuities prior to disembarking the ship should they feel obliged. Additionally, a 15 percent gratuity is tacked on to bar charges, dining room wine accounts, and Lotus Spa services.
Note that Princess may update its prices or policies at any time, so it’s advisable to verify fees before setting sail.
New technology and programming paired with old, outdated interiors
The Ruby Princess is the last of the Grand-class vessels launched in 2008. Like its sister ships, it sports a bold exterior with a beautiful curvaceous bow pinched off down the center. Thankfully, the questionable "shopping-cart-handle" architecture of some predecessors was swapped out for the Skywalkers Nightclub being perched immediately behind the smokestack instead of bridged across the stern.
Despite such bold design choices on the outside of the ship, the interior remains rather uninventive. The Piazza atrium is undeniably striking with imposing marble and intricate flourishes and detail. Beyond it, however, monotonous beiges and golden tones are far too abundant with few unique venues. The Explorers Lounge -- a wonderfully themed space with interesting Egyptian motifs -- is an exception. Even Princess’ latest Royal-class ships have unfortunately done away with this room.
The layout of the ship will be very familiar to anyone who has been on others in the fleet, and such consistency affords great comfort among loyalists. It's never too terribly busy nor noisy, but elevators are notoriously slow to be called and the buffet is a point of congestion. This ship is also missing the traditional observation lounge that gives a spot to get away from it all and simply relax. (Many competitors do offer forward-facing observation lounges.)
The family-friendly Ruby caters well to multiple generations from grandchildren to grandparents, although it tends to skew older in its demographic and it's missing the theme park-level features of other ships (think bumper cars or multi-story waterslides). Discovery at SEA programming as well as entertainment including The Voice of the Ocean are working to bring a more youthful vibe back. The ship is also set to receive Princess’ Ocean Medallion technology for even greater modern connectivity and digital concierge services, giving another welcome update.
Input from sleep expert and HGTV designer inform these inoffensive cabins.
Like the rest of the ship, accommodations continue a decor of plain beiges and golden brown woods. The interior design is equally inoffensive and unimaginative never veering from vanilla. However, staterooms and suites are comfortable, even more so now with The Princess Luxury Bed developed in collaboration with sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV designer Candice Olson. Olson at least delivers a much needed edge to the proceedings with updated linens.
Interior staterooms are entry-level accommodations but each still comes with a closet, desk, single queen or two twin beds positioned on the back wall, flat-panel TV, mini-fridge, hairdryer, and safe. Bathroom configurations common to most cabins are decidedly standard with three basic shelves and small showers enclosed by cheap flimsy curtains (solid shower doors would be better). Showers do offer a dish for soap bars in addition to shower gel and shampoo/conditioner combos in pump bottles. Only brown floor tiles and a blue-tiled backsplash jazz up the otherwise beige surfaces here.
Oceanview staterooms are nearly identical to Interiors save for a window, with the layout not changing. But Balcony cabins switch things up. In these, the beds are turned to a side wall as a veranda opens up to the outside. Rather than a sofa, the desk area is split in two with a separate minibar area beneath the TV and a full desk across the way. This means a third passenger, sadly, can not be accommodated with a sleeper sofa. And while the balconies are nice, the wedding cake terracing of the ship’s superstructure leads to most being unshaded and exposed to decks above, limiting privacy. On the plus side, storage is plentiful in these cabins.
From there, mini-suites increase in size and add a sofa bed (perfect for groups of three) and coffee table in an extra living area with its own TV. In the bathroom, shower stalls swap out for larger tub-and-shower combos. Guests here also get a free welcome glass of Champagne upon embarkation. Club Class adds to mini-suites priority embarkation and disembarkation at the beginning and end of the sailing, one-time free wine set-up, evening canapés, luxury bathrobes and exclusive dining. There is a special Club Class area of the main dining room set aside with faster seating, added menu options, dedicated waitstaff, upgraded table linens and table-side preparation.
Of course, full suites are even bigger with a tub and separate shower, walk-in closet, one free minibar setup, and daily bottled water, priority tender disembarkation, priority dining and tour reservations, and a free specialty restaurant dinner on embarkation day. Plus, occupants receive free laundry and professional cleaning services as well as free Lotus Spa Thermal Suite access.
Ruby Princess also has accommodations that are specifically wheelchair accessible with full turning room, roll-in showers with grab bars and fold-down bench seats, roomier closets, and convenient writing desks.
On our sailing, we experienced a Balcony cabin, which was never noisy nor did it exhibit any unpleasant odors.
From butter-poached lobster to one of the best burgers at sea.
Dining on the Ruby Princess has been recently upgraded by three culinary heavy-hitters: Curtis Stone, Norman Love, and Ernesto Uchimura. The trio’s fare can be enjoyed for a surcharge at specialty experiences, but remarkably, cuisine from two out of the three is featured to a degree in the free main restaurants as well. Either via traditional fixed seatings or anytime, meals at the Botticelli, Da Vinci, or Michelangelo dining rooms may showcase dishes “Crafted by Curtis Stone” such as his gourmet Mac & Cheese with gruyere, cheddar, and bacon as well as desserts from Love. During a couple of separate tastings, we savored the chocolatier’s Orange Pain de Genes, Dark Chocolate Chantilly Eclairs, and even confections paired with wine.
Other fee-free dining includes the International Cafe, a great 24-hour location for snacks. Room service is free too, although delivery of soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, and pizza will costs extra. However, the pizzeria itself is free of charge if you feel inclined to head out for an excellent pie. Poolside soft-serve ice cream and freshly prepared items from the Trident Grill are free of additional cost, too.
The included Horizon Court buffet serves a good selection of food as well. However, it suffers from a significant design flaw. Its food stations on either side of the ship are crammed inside a cul-de-sac configuration that is only accessible by one small entrance and one small exit. It makes for a very restricted flow. In the evenings, Crab Shack is available here for a $29 per person surcharge. The premium experience serves up steamer pots with snow crab, jumbo shrimp, clams, and mussels.
One of the better designed spaces onboard Ruby is SHARE by Curtis Stone. Here, for $39 per person, the celebrity chef’s cuisine shines in an elegantly rustic setting filled with stained and textured glass, bronze metals and handsome dark woods. Standout dishes include Tagliatelle with roasted Alaskan king crab and Butter Poached Lobster. Also, the Crown Grill definitely remains Princess’ signature steakhouse with gourmet salts, in particular, adding a level of fun experimentation to $29 per person dinners.
The Salty Dog Gastropub is another newly added venue, tucked inside the maritime Wheelhouse Bar. At only $19 per person, it’s a great specialty dining value, especially since that affords an appetizer, choice of three entrees, and a dessert. The “Ernesto” is the best of the bunch as one of the greatest burgers at sea comprised of ground rib eye and short rib patty, grilled pork belly, cave-aged gruyere, caramelized kimchi, beer-battered jalapeno, charred onion aioli, and smoked salt and pepper on a brioche bun.
Several romantic dining options can be arranged such as the Ultimate Balcony Dining experience, which is essentially elevated room service with a dedicated waitstaff for a $45 breakfast or a $100 multi-course dinner. Alternatively, in the main dining room, the Chef’s Table Experience starts with pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the galley before the executive chef introduces a special menu and suggested wine pairings. It’s available for $85 per person without wine and $95 per person with wine, which includes an autographed copy of Princess’ cookbook, a handwritten copy of the menu and a free photo for each couple.
The nightly dress code is either smart casual or formal with only two of the latter evenings occurring on a weeklong cruise. Smart casual means skirts/dresses or slacks and sweaters for women, and pants and open-neck shirts for men. Formal is defined as evening gowns and cocktail dresses for women and tuxedos and dinner jackets or dark suits with a tie for men.
Signature Seawitch beers and an extensive whiskey menu just scratch the surface.
Drink bar coverage is uniform across the Ruby with a good variety of beverages available from Princess label beers to specialty coffees. In fact, the aforementioned Salty Dog Gastropub is home to three craft bottled beers named after the cruise line’s logo symbol: Seawitch IPA, Seawitch Blonde, and Seawitch Denali Red. There’s also an extensive whiskey menu featured here. Elsewhere, classic cocktails can be had, and Princess has always made some of the best blended frozen drinks, extending to the tasty specialty coffees of the International Cafe. Wine and chocolate connoisseurs should make a beeline to Vines to experience the two together via pairings by chocolatier Norman Love.
As noted above, iced tea, lemonade, water, hot tea varieties, and basic coffee are available for free onboard, but sodas and alcoholic beverages cost extra. For those looking to stretch their dollar versus paying for premium drinks one at a time, value packages can be purchased. The All-Inclusive Beverage Package is available for $59.80 per person per day ($57.45 if bought pre-cruise). This one bundles individual soda, water, cocktails, spirits, wines, beers, coffee, and tea up to $10 in retail value. The package does not apply to bottles of wine, but it does offer a 40 percent discount off menu prices for those under $100. Also, there are five-for-four beer packages that can be purchased at various prices depending on the brand.
Alternatively, the Unlimited Soda & More Package gets guests unlimited fountain soft drinks, mocktails, juices and hot chocolate for $8.05 per person per day including the service charge. A bottled water one is available at $6.90 for 12 bottles, and any six cans of soda can be bought for $11.50. Plus, the Premium Coffee Card is available for $35.65, which is good for 15 espresso-based hot or cold specialty coffee beverages with free brewed coffee and premium tea during the voyage.
Guests are not permitted to bring on any alcoholic beverages of their own with the exception of one bottle of wine or Champagne per adult for cabin consumption free of a corkage fee. Extra bottles are subject to a corkage fee. Liquor, spirits, and beers are completely banned. Any alcohol purchased in the shipboard shops or ashore in port will be gathered and delivered to guests on the last day of the cruise.
Stephen Schwartz defies gravity while guests show off their voice in a heated competition.
On the entertainment front, Princess has recruited theater legend Stephen Schwartz to boost its productions, and added “The Voice”-themed competitions, too. For the former, the Princess Theater now presents “Magic to Do,” a revue of Schwartz’ songs narratively linked with expert illusions and stagecraft. Classic number such as "Day by Day" and "Defying Gravity” join the original "A Little Magic” in a fantastical journey that impresses with a wonderful cast of not only singers and dancers but magicians as well. Princess has regained our attention with one of the best production shows at sea.
While it may be less of an ensemble endeavor, “The Voice of the Ocean” provides guests the opportunity to compete for the individual title with the unique support of fellow passengers. Just like on the television show, the “I Want You” chairs are in play as three crew members and entertainment staff coach eight selected singers to the near end. Inevitably, though, the audience decides who wins by voting on wireless tabulation devices. It’s a fun jam-packed event.
Guest entertainers like comedians are also featured onstage while live music fills the ship beyond, and out on deck, Movies Under the Stars shows alfresco films, concerts, and sports games throughout the day and night. Padded chairs, blankets, and snacks like popcorn or cookies and milk crank up the coziness here.
Other entertainment can be had by trying your luck at Gatsby’s Casino complete with slot machines and table games like blackjack, roulette, craps, and poker. While the casino is technically nonsmoking, there are still some slots that are designated for smoking, and the enclosed Speakeasy Cigar Lounge is attached. For nonsmokers, there are nonsmoking nights available depending on the length of the cruise.
Plenty of pools for everyone, plus the ultra-tranquil Sanctuary -- for a fee
There is an ample amount of pool options to spread Ruby’s thousands of passengers around on a sea or port day alike with two central pools and four hot tubs, plus an extra pool each at the front and back of the ship. Because of this, the pools are never too crowded, with only the Calypso Reef & Pool liable to ever be noisy as it’s below Movies Under the Stars.
Neptune’s Reef & Pool is a quieter alternative as a main pool, but the smaller Terrace Pool at the stern is even more secluded, albeit without an attached whirlpool. Higher above, however, a whirlpool and splash pool sit behind and below the Skywalkers Nightclub. There’s also the forward Lotus Spa Pool with another two whirlpools, ideal for those seeking a dip before or after a treatment. For a spa pool, it’s distinctively outside but also nestled enough to often find a patch of shade.
Just a deck above is The Sanctuary, an exclusive alfresco retreat in lieu of an observation lounge. For $20 per person per half day, guests can access solitude under a canvas cover with premium padded loungers, chilled face towels, and MP3 player with noise-cancelling headphones -- all attended to by Sanctuary Stewards. You can also order signature drinks, light meals, Evian face mists, and outdoor massages at added cost. Such treatments include a free hour of access to The Sanctuary.
The welcoming Lotus Spa is positioned indoors wrapping around the outdoor pool. Just inside from the starboard entrance is a beauty salon followed by a fitness center and sizable aerobics area while a long row of treatment rooms line the port side of the ship. In the center are female and male changing areas next to saunas and steam rooms for each, and downstairs is a thermal suite with tiled reclining loungers.
Continuing the Norman Love collaboration are antioxidant chocolate body treatments, which members of our party said were quite invigorating. More traditional massages, facials and wraps are also available for the less adventurous. Meanwhile, the salon offers styling for women and haircuts and shaves for men, as well as manicures, pedicures, and teeth whitening.
The Lotus Spa fitness center and Zumba classes are freely available, but specialty group courses cost more. Such classes are pilates, yoga, body sculpt boot camp, results-based training, and TRX suspension training. Other exertions onboard can be had at Center Court, Princess Links, and the jogging track.
Kids' clubs and sweet welcome gifts -- though big, theme park-level attractions are missing
Princess ships are quite family-friendly, but they can play second fiddle to Royal Caribbean or Carnival, whose latest ships boast big, bombastic theme park-like features such as bumper cars, towering waterslides, or zip lines, which appeal to kids on a high-energy level. That said, the more straightforward attractions on Ruby are a welcome diversion.
The children’s and teens’ facilities are morphing into Camp Discovery (for ages 3 to 7), The Lodge (for 8 to 12), and The Beach House (for 13 to 17). The Discovery at SEA programming is popular among kids and parents alike including stargazing, speaker series, and “Shark Week”- and “Finding Bigfoot”-themed activities, as well as Discovery- and Animal Planet-suggested tours. Also, the Jr. Chef@Sea cooking workshop is available for $25 per child.
Kids and teens clubs are fully supervised by managers and counselors. Children under the age of 3 are not permitted in the youth facilities unless accompanied by a parent at all times. Private in-stateroom babysitting services are not available onboard, but group kid-sitting is $5 per hour per child between 10 pm and 1am.
Cabin accommodations are available for up to four guests each with connecting stateroom options. There are also Two Bedroom Family Suites complete with two bathrooms (one with a full bathtub and one with a walk-in shower), expansive balcony and shared living area – all for up to eight people.
The anytime dining option’s increased flexibility makes it especially good for parents wanting to eat with their kids, and children’s menus are available as well. Other family alternatives include the buffet, pizzeria, and room service.
Welcome gifts for kids include plush teddy bears like Princess’ signature Stanley character or even playing cards and chocolate-covered strawberries for older children and teens.
Like on most cruise ships, those under the age of 6 months are never allowed to sail and those under 12 months sometimes can’t either. Pregnant mothers entering their 24th week by the final day of the voyage are also not permitted onboard.
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