Summary Cruise Review
One of the best cruises ever. Top 5 for sure. Rivals the 35 day Asian cruise on the Diamond and the 12 day 30th anniversary cruise Western Med on the Grand. The sights of the ancient world, the melding of modern day life with ancient cities, the different cultures, the history. It was a great cruise to see sights that you've only read about, or seen on TV.
But the highlight of the cruise was the great times we shared with the crew. From the shore excursion staff to the cruise staff to the bar staff to the bands to the cooking staff, we had an absolute blast on this cruise. We got to know a lot of them on a first name basis and there was more than a few tears shed when we finally had to say goodbye.
That's the mark of a great cruise.
The Ruby Princess
The ship is absolutely gorgeous and the culmination of the Grand - Caribbean - Emerald - Ruby evolution. She has Club Fusion, a really spacious Piazza and the non-shopping cart handle Skywalkers. Crown Grill is on Deck 7 just aft of Explorer's and the wheelhouse is forward on Deck 7 of the Piazza. The casino is on Deck 6 forward of the Piazza.
Yes, she can be crowded at times. Especially when the theater lets out, or there is an activity in the Piazza, or on days people are waiting to go to shore. But overall, she's a great ship to be on.
Decorating the ship for Christmas was a really nice touch. She was absolutely beautiful with the trees, decorations and lights. Princess has really stepped up the quality of their Christmas decorations over the years - the old pine tree next to the funnel on the Sun Class ships is gone for good!
The food was pretty good. We really don't go gaga over ship good anymore, except when something really gets our attention. In 51 days you could count the number dishes we didn't like on one hand. We ate in Horizon Court a lot, the Main Dining Room rarely, the International Cafe quite a bit, Skywalker's Elite lounge the most and a lot of time haunting the grill and pizza shop. I must say our overall favorite was the snacks at the Elite Lounge. Especially the fresh veggies and cheese. The nightly snack, especially the chips and guacamole were also especially tasty.
We typically had a nice lunch, but then only had the snacks in the Elite lounge for dinner. Only on a few occasions did we have both, mainly to have dinner with Paul and Elizabeth in fixed early seating.
We did not do Chef's Table, but we did do Crown Grill twice. As usual, the best service and food on the ship. We did not do Sabatini's. With Italian food on shore at almost every port, we deferred to experiencing pizza and pasta from the natives.
I do have to mention the head chef - Paolo Mario and his staff. He was one of the most visible chefs we've ever seen. Constantly moving from place to place, checking things out, making sure the displays are right, the food is fresh. We almost ran into him twice a day, once in Skywalkers, then again in either the HC or the IC as he checked, double checked and triple checked all of the various food venues. But what I really appreciated was the team spirit his staff had. One night in the HC, the line at the soup station and the first hot app station backed up and both he and his sous chef that traveled along with him both quickly pitched in and in 10 minutes cleared the lines. I like bosses who are not afraid to jump in and help out.
Entertainment was very good. No real misses like the April Caribbean Princess Transatlantic, and some really great moments like the debut of Colors of the World (on the Ruby) and the International Crew Show. The comedians were all pretty good, the dance and vocal troupe really good, and Dan Styne and his cruise staff were just phenomenal the entire cruise.
There was more than adequate dance opportunities. Dan did not use Fusion for activities on the first 3 cruises, but he did have production put on canned dance music starting at 1700 to 1900 or 2000, almost every night. Now some of the canned dance music was just not right, polkas anyone?, but it certainly helped fill our needs for dancing at night. The cruise staff themselves were wonderful. Eve with Zumba and line dance, we wish her the best on her upcoming marriage, Cat and Sam helping out where they could, Chris stuck up at Skywalkers, same old Boogie from the April Caribbean and Jamie, who can really sing. We interacted with them every day, looked forward to seeing them and had a hard time saying goodbye.
As a B2B2B2B, it's not really fair to judge the itinerary as one cruise. There were essentially 3 different cruise types - two Eastern Meds, a Grand Med and a Transatlantic. With the exception of the transatlantic, these cruises are extremely port intensive with only two sea days out of 12. Quite frankly food, entertainment and night life is not going to be a big issue on these types of itineraries. You are up around 0600, out to the busses, or your transport, and dragging tail back around 1700 just in time for dinner, a show and bed, before you get up and do it all over again. The luxury we had in a B2B2B2B was only having to do that on the first couple of cruises and then relax and DIY on our own schedule.
Let's discuss each in turn.
The Eastern Med itinerary included Greece (Athens, Corfu, Mykonos, Katakalon, Santorini) Italy (Venice, Naples, Rome), Croatia (Dubrovnik) and Turkey (Kusadasi). This was a fantastic itinerary in which you can see most of the important Greek/Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine ancient ruins along with the fun ports of Venice and Santorini.
It's extremely difficult to talk about which one was our favorite. One port that stood out as just so-so to us was Santorini. The surprise port to us was Kusadasi. We saw St. John's basilica, or what was left of it, the House of the Virgin Mary and most impressive, Ephesus. Of them all, Ephesus is an absolute do not miss. The Travelog gives more details below as to what we liked and what we didn't.
The Grand Med itinerary adds Barcelona, Florence, Toulon and Istanbul to the itinerary, while dropping Dubrovnik, Corfu, Santorini, Katakalon and shortening the day at Kusadasi. If one was to do a single 12 day Med cruise, this would be the one. It touches all the biggies. Istanbul, because of the intense sales pressure in the Grand Bazaar, was not as enjoyable as it could have been, but it was still a must see and experience.
All transatlantics are different. This one stopped at Maderia instead of the Azores, and we really liked Maderia more than the Azores. It was one of our favorite stops on the entire cruise. The island is incredibly beautiful.
The best thing about west bound transatlantics are the hours ahead, as opposed to losing hours on east bound transatlantics. It does make a huge difference when you get home.
And I have to add that the entertainment on the transatlantic (courtesy of Lee Childers, the new CD), could not have been better. He packed the schedule and used every available space on the ship for all kinds of stuff - not just extra trivias.
We really rolled the dice on these cruises - and really lucked out. Even starting in October is into the rainy season, but the first two cruises were actually quite warm and comfortable at all of the stops. Very little rain in Athens, but we could have easily been washed out as we missed the rain by hours. Our second stop at Katakalon was cancelled due to wind, we had fog and Aqua Alta in Venice, rain in Rome, really cold in Florence, heavy rain the second time in Toulon and a couple of rough days at sea, but overall we really only had 5 or 6 bad weather days in 51 days of cruising.
That's not bad, but again we really think we lucked out on this cruise with the weather. There were several cases of just missing bad weather.
The Food Ashore
Food ashore was highlighted by our crew cooked and served BBQ in Kusadasi. Indian curry fish stew and spicy stir fried prawns fresh from the ice downstairs. It was an absolute pleasure and an honor for us to be included in this outing.
The pasta and fresh calamari in Venice, the pizza in Naples, the octopus stew in Dubrovnik and the picnic in Ephesus were the highlights of food ashore. As the travelog notes below, we tried to find those top rated establishments, but ended up going more on instinct and the people around us more than anything else.
I think our absolute overall favorite meal was the second time in Venice. We had just finished walking around Lido and was really hungry. We ended up in a restaurant just north of the train station in Venice and had the absolute best calamari we’ve ever had in our life. Along with a pizza that rivaled Naples and an Italian house wine that rivaled the best we’ve ever had in the states or in France, it was a leisurely and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Princess personnel made this a memorable cruise. It is that simple. Yes we really liked the sites, the ports, but when you came back from a hard day excursioning, there was always a person with a smile on their face welcoming you back. No matter how tired you were, you looked up at the big beautiful white ship and thought - this is so nice to be home.
Yes, we enjoyed the ship itself very much. But that ship was staffed with some incredible people. A special section at the end of the travelog attempts to point out those people and what they did. It won't even begin to give credit where credit is due. We were on the ship for 51 days and a lot of those people become friends, part of the family almost.
I simply cannot keep saying it enough: Without dedicated people like this, Princess would simply cease to exist - because people like us would simply quit cruising Princess.
I had several lessons learned on this cruise. The most important was to no longer rely on electronics for navigation or even research on locations in foreign ports – while in the port. Hard copy maps and lists is where I am going from now on. The reason is simple. GPS and 3G/4G signals were very spotty, slow to load and quite frankly, weirdly inconsistent. In the old towns of Dubrovnik, Venice, Naples, location mapping using GPS was really hard in the narrow alleyways.
Another important lesson learned is that Rick Steve's descriptions, recommendations and walkthrus in his Med Cruise book are spot on. We relied heavily on his writeups for our DIY trips in Athens, Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Santorini. Rome, Athens, Naples and Venice were the easiest to get around in. Crowded, and slow at times, but really easy to navigate, catch trains, use metros and busses, etc.
Another is not to rely on TripAdvisor locations completely. Several of the marked places, even in their city guides, are simply in the wrong place on the map. From now on I will use TripAdvisor, Google Maps and Tripomatic information, all recorded on hard copy and printed before I leave.
What a trip!
the full travelog can be found and downloaded at:https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4U_Mo-ITYDEQ1puTHhydzdVejg/edit?usp=sharing