It’s no secret that when it comes to cruising, Disney Cruise Line has my allegiance (and heart, and wallet). With #20 coming up in just over two weeks, DCL and I have had an ongoing love affair since 2006.
In all those years, I have only strayed one time – a Princess cruise where my husband and I joined my parents and their friends for 7 nights up and down the California coast. (I am not counting the Mediterranean cruise back in 2018, as what happens in Europe stays in Europe.) It was all about spending time with them, something that, living many states apart, has always been at a premium. I remember booking the cruise – a little shocked at the minimal price tag (but then, years in a monogamous Di$ney marriage will do that to you). Arriving in LA, we headed to the port, and I took a deep breath. Call me crazy, but I literally felt like I was cheating on my spouse, er mouse.
The ship, the Crown Princess, was sadly underwhelming to me. Visually fraying, stains here and there in the stateroom, and a general feeling of boredom and indifference from all the crew I encountered – well, let’s just say, my husband and I buckled in with a focus on family, not the finer things. With a new port each day, we enjoyed breakfast with my parents and friends, then off we went to escape the Crown, returning at All Aboard to head to the buffet for dinner with them again. Even the couple nights we opted for finer dining left us wondering how such subpar service, food, and optics were somehow “acceptable” in the Princess realm. (I can report that the Crown was drydocked in April of 2018 and received a much needed facelift.)
Long story, short – we did not “come back new” – their tagline – but disembarked knowing we had zero desire to ever cruise with them again. Never. Nevernevernever.
Fast forward three years to three weeks ago – my parents and those same friends were counting down the days to their 15 night Princess cruise to Hawaii. I wobbled. None of us are getting any younger, and with the emotional landscape around me being steadily filled with friends diagnosed with cancer, others dying, and my father struggling with Parkinson’s, I made the decision to join them. Very short notice – like two days before their cruise.
Driving to LA, I reminded myself that like the last cruise, this was about quality time with my parents, regardless of how lacking in quality I considered my previous Princess cruise experience.
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Well, Princess got one. And I am happy to report that my impression did, in fact, come back new.
Arriving at the port, I immediately noticed the ship – the Ruby Princess – was larger than the Crown. Boarding, my hospitality career eyes began looking for signs of decay, lack of attention to detail. I could find none. Hmmm, pleasantly surprised. My stateroom, while only oceanview and not my spoiled girl’s preference of a balcony (beggars can’t be choosers two days out), was lovely. No frayed carpets, no indeterminate stains, and while I had two twins beds, the bedding and pillows were some of the best I have encountered on land and sea.
Exploring the ship for 15 nights was also a revelation. While the spaces were familiar (Princess has an atrium concept, bars in same places, specialty restaurants by the same names, etc), everything was more spacious, and everywhere I looked – scrupulously clean, a Disney standard I absolutely love.
The Ruby holds 3,599 passengers, and 1,200 crew. Over 15 nights, I was able to meet, interact with, and even become friends with many of those crew members. Without fail they were friendly, funny, helpful, and most of all, engaged. And while it is definitely easier for them to invest in guests who will be with them for a long haul, that interaction was something sorely missing on my Crown experience back in 2016.
Spaces that stood out and made for a truly enjoyable two weeks+ at sea:
Gatsby’s Casino – on embarkation day, I had to laugh when I arrived at what was to be my muster station in case of emergency. Sitting at a Blackjack table during the drill, I smiled to myself as I looked around. What had been a terribly small and awkward space on the Crown was the size of a small Vegas casino. The feel, the machines, the table games – a grand space I enjoyed often with my father during this cruise.
The Atrium – three stories tall at midship, the Atrium space holds not only the guest services desk, but is a piazza of bars, food, and shopping. I especially enjoy Vines – voted one of the best wine bars at sea. A truly great selection of wines by the glass or bottle, along with munchies, it was nice to sit and watch the various activities always taking place in the Atrium – music, contests, dancing.
Quick Service Food – located on deck 15 by the two main pools, there were sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and a variety of ice cream and smoothies available.
Bars – From the pools to the Promenade deck, there are innovative adult beverage options galore. Favorites – their Cosmopolitan and their Hurricane, both made with premium alcohol.
Lotus Spa – Even on DCL I typically eschew the spa. Past bad experiences with less than stellar treatments and terribly pushy sales quash any chill I may have received from the previous 50 minutes of massage. But on Day 1 on the Ruby I encountered two lovely young spa specialists from South Africa, hit it off immediately, and found myself in their care throughout the cruise. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and while items were offered for sale, no one was pushy or aggressive about it.
The Sanctuary – as my parents and their friends returned to their cabins each day to read, sit on their balconies, or nap, I invested in my own peace and rejuvenation a few afternoons as well. Located one deck up from the spa, The Sanctuary truly is. $40 for a whole day, or only $20 for half, you choose your plush lounger, lay back and drink in the relaxation. Multiple attendants check on you, bring you water, take drink orders for the bar, and bring you spa food items (included). And most unexpected? Each afternoon around 330pm, tea is served. Now, it seemed a tad incongruous the first time they set everything up and poured hot tea for me – after all, I was in a bathing suit soaking up the hot sun – but I came to look forward to the experience – the tea, the plate of scones and tea sandwiches, all of it.
As I was focused on time with my folks, I did much of what they enjoy on a cruise – TRIVIA. Seriously, I averaged twice a day, competing as a team with them and their friends against others from the cruise. We won twice, scoring bottles of champagne each time. And yes, my youth (I messed up the core demographic of retired people) came in clutch a couple times in pop culture and soccer questions.
As one day passed to the next, I found myself truly enjoying my time aboard the Ruby. Her last drydock was in October of 2018, so she is updated and outfitted with large flatscreen TVs in cabin, On Demand movies, TV series (seriously, Princess, only FIVE Love Boat episodes? I expected the entire run), documentaries, and best of all, what truly does live up to its rep as “the best wifi at sea.” On day 1, I purchased the 15 night package for $149 – at no point in the entire cruise did it not work. Upstairs, downstairs, on deck, in the casino, in my stateroom, at the buffet – it was always solid, strong, and reliable. Pay attention, Mickey – it is time to upgrade the floating mouse houses.
And coming soon, MedallionClass – an innovative feature that will see each guest receiving an OceanMedallion (Much like the technology behind Mickey’s land based Magicbands.) The sleek screens were already in place outside stateroom doors on the Ruby but not yet functioning – the Medallion may be worn as a pendant, on a sportsband, a bracelet, or a clip. Waterproof, salt and sand proof, and never needs charging, it will function as roomkey (the screen senses your approach), be connected to your preferred device onboard for ordering of drinks (waiters will locate you via the Medallion), be used for slot machines and gaming, and making purchases onboard. Technology being used to take your cruise experience to the next level.
Spending 15 nights with my parents, both on the ship and at the Hawaiian ports, was wonderful. Again, life is short, none of us is getting any younger, and saying YES to things when you can is important. Yet I suppose the best outcome I can report from my second chance at Princess is this – I booked a placeholder for a future cruise. While I am not certain when that will be, I now have two years to figure it out and get my husband back on Princess so he can give them a second chance as well.
But worry not, Mickey, I am back in your loving, large gloved hands in just 17 days, and again at the end of August … we just need to discuss having an open relationship now.
Princess, Disney, a riverboat in Europe, or a luxury cruise around the world, Archer Luxury Travel will insure you have smooth sailing all the way.
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