TravelPulse On Board: Ruby Princess Review
Above photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Remaining photos by Jason Leppert
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
In the recent past, Princess Cruises was kind of bland, standard and considerably off from the line's earlier heyday. With the introduction of the brand's Come Back New enhancement and marketing program (reviewed in video above), I'm happy to say that Princess has regained its premium status, now more on par with Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line, but there's room for improvement. From a design standpoint, the Ruby Princess exhibits the line's typically inoffensive pastel and beige color palette.
The most architecturally wild feature is the Skywalkers Nightclub perched high right behind the smokestack and cantilevered a bit over the sides of the ship. During the day it functions somewhat as an observation lounge too, but the forward facing wings lack comfy seating. The ship's best interior feature is The Piazza (pictured above), the central atrium and social gathering space filled with excellent dining, entertainment and other activity options.
Flexing more design muscle are newly added dining venues like SHARE by Curtis Stone (pictured above) and The Salty Dog Gastropub. The former is a handsome complete restaurant combining dark woods and light floor and ceiling accents for a modern open and airy effect. The gastropub, on the other hand, is shoehorned into the existing Wheelhouse Bar, displacing some comfortable chairs with raised bar tables. But the most disappointing design element remains the seriously congested cul-de-sac of food arrangement of serving stations at the Horizon Court buffet (pictured below).
The staterooms aboard Ruby Princess continue the unexciting decor of the rest of the ship, but welcome improvements are on their way in the form of The Princess Luxury Bed (as seen in the photo at the bottom of the review) in partnership with sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and design guru Candice Olson. Only the mattresses, which were both comfortable and supportive, had already been replaced when we sailed. The new premium linens had not yet been swapped out, but the forthcoming ones look considerably fresher than the current spreads.
Of course, if you can afford a balcony stateroom, the views from them are always stunning. Just keep in mind for privacy that some verandas look down on others terraced below. Only mini-suites feature a sofa, as balcony cabins instead have a desk across from a mini-bar. Bathrooms are mostly functional with little to write home about, and showers are small and confined compared to more spacious ones on Princess' competition and even corporate cousin Holland America Line.
The pinnacle of activities onboard the Ruby Princess is the simple relaxation of The Sanctuary, a signature Princess feature that I had not tried until now. Originally, I couldn't understand how an adults-only section of the ship that is complimentary on Carnival Cruise Line would come with a surcharge on Princess, but the experience is definitely an upgrade over that found on the standard line. In fact, the convenient ability to order food up to your private padded lounger, while enjoying the al fresco sun or shade, is well worth the cost.
Another Princess staple – Movies Under the Stars, an outdoor cinema around the main pool, playing recent hits like "The Martian" – continues to be a fun diversion, especially with free popcorn and cookies. Although for a ship that had just emerged from a dry-dock refurbishment, I was surprised to see so many dead pixels on the expansive screen. As for partnerships, Discovery at Sea is an enjoyable one from trivia to stargazing, but I'd really like to see the return of the Princess Fine Arts auction program as something unique again, not generically run by Park West.
Princess is making great strides with its updated dining program, and it shows in the complimentary main dining room as well as in the specialty restaurants. The food quality and selection are definitely back up to premium standards, and it's nice to see Curtis Stone menu items in the free restaurant as well as in SHARE (dish pictured below). The chef's new dedicated venue offers an exceptional culinary experience based around sharing exquisite dishes, but diners are discouraged from ordering more that the standard set of courses, making the meal more meager in portion considering the cost.
The best value is actually had at The Salty Dog Gastropub in collaboration with chef Ernesto Uchimura where the small surcharge includes a filling three main plates, a substantial appetizer and dessert offering. And it just so happens that The "Ernesto" burger (pictured below) takes the crown as the best burger at sea, in my opinion. It was seriously juicy, and every individual flavor popped. Even the rest of the items are not to be missed. With a selection of food, beers and cocktails this diverse, the eatery easily warrants repeat visits.
Entertainment is another area where Princess was once a leader but faltered, but now the line is back in its groove with new productions and interactive shows from heavy hitters. "Magic to Do" is more than just a revue of Stephen Schwartz' musical numbers. It weaves a story and classic illusions into a performance that is quite unique for onboard a ship. Live magicians, musicians, vocalists, dancers and puppeteers bring a fantastical world to life in a mostly outstanding show.
If there's any question as to the popularity of "The Voice" TV show, just show up to "The Voice of the Ocean" onboard version where there's literally standing room only. The interactive experience is a blast for guest contestants and the audience alike as members of the ship's crew and entertainment staff coach eight chosen singers from legitimate "I Want You" replica rotating stage chairs. Once whittled down, the audience votes and decides the winner on wireless tabulation remotes. It's a fun evening, but be sure to arrive early for a seat.
Overall service is very good and friendly on Princess Cruises, and stateroom stewards are particularly attentive. I can never forget Sofía Avila Escamilla on the Royal Princess who playfully posed our teddy bear companions daily in fun tableaus, even going so far as to tuck them in at night and make them fun paper clothing and luggage. While our bears didn't get that kind of attention on the Ruby Princess, our cabin steward was still excellent at accommodating our requests and foreseeing our needs.
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