Princess fans will find all the tried-and-true favorite spots onboard such as Sabatini's or the Wheelhouse Bar. But new features with this ship are heavily product focused.
Among the new perks is a complimentary pub lunch on sea days in the Wheelhouse Bar (shown at right*).
SouthernCruising.com tried out the pub lunch during a two-night visit onboard the new ship Nov. 6-8. We ordered the fish n'chips and would rate the British dish as light, crusty and tasty.
Our tablemates sampled the Bangers & Mash and Cottage Pie, two other decidedly British offerings. They enjoyed their food as well.
While we had a glass of wine, most of the folks around us were sampling traditional pub brews such as Stella Artois, Bass Ale and Guinness. Pub lunch meal service is free of charge and will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
In addition, Princess is launching a new breakfast in Sabatini's (shown at left*) for its suite guests.
Starting with a “Good Morning Mimosa,” the menu features such breakfast favorites as brioche French toast with apple and cinnamon compote; yogurt and super granola parfait with raspberry swirl; soft-poached egg over potato and vegetables with hollandaise sauce; and Belgian waffles.
Suite passengers also will enjoy dramatic top-of-ship views from Sabatini's. Hours for the suite guest breakfast are 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Rai Caluori, the line's executive vice president of fleet operations, says that if the breakfast is a hit, the line will consider expanding that to lunch and brunch -- again for suite guests only.
From the entertainment side, the line will offer new enrichment programs ranging from astronomy to mixology.
The Art of Entertaining offers passengers the opportunity to learn party-planning tips from lifestyle expert Susie Coelho via a multimedia presentation hosted by the cruise director.
Navigation@Sea focuses on the history of navigation as well as the complexities of plotting the route of a modern cruise ship, with a presentation by the ship’s navigator.
Mixology@Sea lets passengers channel their inner bartender with a hands-on course taught by the ship’s bar manager.
For star gazers, the new Astronomy@Sea program provides passengers with the opportunity to explore the night sky through a telescope on the top deck, with the expert guidance of a ship’s bridge officer.
Developed in conjunction with Dr. Thomai Serdari, Professor of Art History and Director of Research Collections for New York University, Art History@Sea: Botticelli to Warhol, The Evolution of Art makes 500 years of art come to life with a special hour-long presentation.
Two new stage shows have also debuted on Ruby Princess. Just head for the Princess Theater (shown at right*).
"Broadway Ballroom” presents the music of the ‘Great White Way’ with a ballroom flair, pairing the songs of hit musicals with dance numbers ranging from foxtrot to rumba. The show also features the talents of a costume designer and choreographer from the TV hit “Dancing with the Stars.”
The second show, “Once Upon a Dream,” uses unique multi-dimensional cinematic projection. The audience will accompany a young woman’s journey as she dreams of everything from an English garden tea party to singing camels in the desert, from a trip through a waterfall to a brief nightmare before waking to a new day.
New audience-participation events have debuted -- from karaoke to a talent show.
Street performers also provide entertainment. During our time in Vines, we observed a juggler, unicyclist, and even two "chocolate-covered-in-appearance" mimes strolling around the atrium area in slow motion, much to the delight of guests.
Princess also has expanded its wireless Internet and cell phone access on this ship.
We tried the wireless Internet using a laptop in our mini-suite (shown at left*). It worked fine -- once we figured out how to adjust settings on our computer.
In Ruby Princess' piazza-style atrium, guests often gravitate to Vines (shown below*) famed for its wine flights and pairings, as well as more than 30 wines by the glass. Chefs also prepare fresh sushi at the bar.
Newly introduced at Vines on Ruby Princess is "Artisan Cheeses." For a nominal fee, guests may select from 12 varieties of domestic and imported cheeses.
These include such choices such as boschetto al tartufo bianchetto, reblochon, and cambozola; we opted for the parmigiano regianno.
Also new onboard? In the Horizon Court buffet, new waffle stations will offer fresh cooked-to-order waffles at breakfast and throughout lunchtime. The buffet has added complimentary lemonade as a beverage choice.
In the evening, passengers will find a selection of canapés in several of the ship’s public lounges.
Passengers arriving back from shore are now greeted with chilled face cloths.
If you're relaxing by the pool, “misting stewards” will offer a quick refreshing spritz with Evian to cool you off. (See photo of one of the pool areas at left*).
Young passengers can enjoy a new Wizards Academy, an exclusive presentation from the award-winning California Science Center.
Kids will also enjoy activities and projects from the arts-and-crafts-company Klutz. They may also participate in Yoga for Kids.
The Ruby Princess, the last new build in the Grand Class series, will operate western Caribbean itineraries in winter 2008-2009.*
The granddaddy of new options is the Ultimate Ship Tour, a chance for guests to experience "back of house" areas that are key to a ship's daily operations.
Passengers usually experience a ship from its public areas (such as the atrium shown at left*).
But on this tour, instead, they'll explore the ship’s engine control room, medical center, print shop, laundry, photo lab, funnel, bridge and other spaces normally not accessible by passengers.
A limited number of passengers -- 10 to 12 -- may book this tour onboard, on a first-come, first-served basis.
The cost is a hefty $150, but the tour is highly labor intensive and guests receive gifts. For example, in the laundry tour participants will receive a fluffy robe to keep, they'll get a set of personalized stationery in the print shop, and in the galley they'll receive a cookbook.
But even if guests don't opt for this tour, they'll have plenty of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. One out-of-the-way spot to relax is the miniature golf putting area on the top deck (shown at right*); two high-tech golf simulators are just inside.
Of course, Ruby Princess features the many brand-specific hot spots you've come to know and love onboard a Princess ship.
These include the adults-only oasis called The Sanctuary; Sabatini’s Italian restaurant; the Crown Grill seafood and steak house; "Movies Under the Stars" giant outdoor movie screen (shown at left*); and the Hearts and Minds wedding chapel.
The best meal we had onboard was at the Crown Grill. Course after course -- appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert -- was excellent. The cuisine was mouthwatering. It was also presented creatively and in perfectly sized portions.
For my entree, I chose the medallions of beef and pork, but requested two beef medallions instead of the pork. The kitchen was happy to oblige and the dish (shown at right*) was superb.
This was the best alternative dining experience I've had in many years -- in terms of culinary excellence in every course.
What else did we like about Ruby Princess? We enjoyed our mini-suite with balcony. The blue balcony chairs were comfortable, unlike some on other ships.
The mini-suite is the same configuration Princess has had for some time in this category. It's always a pleasure to relax in this stateroom -- with separate sleeping and living spaces; plenty of storage space; dual televisions; a nice desk; and a tiled bath with a full tub.
In terms of public areas, we liked the Explorer's Lounge with its exotic decor touches; Skywalkers for scenic views during the day but a fun nightclub aura after dark; the art gallery area which presented the art well for guests to peruse while walking through the ship; the pizza station for its savory pie slices; and the piazza-style atrium.
Service staff at bars and restaurants, as well as the cabin stewards were exceedingly friendly. Our cabin steward called us by name from the get-go.
Princess' disembarkation process is better than that of many lines. Guests from various decks head to a specific public lounge (One nook in the Explorer's Lounge is shown at left*) to be called to disembark.
While it's still not a perfect system -- primarily because guests don't listen and still congregate in the atrium or they don't appear at the appointed time -- it's still relatively good way to go.
Because my mother was using a wheelchair to cover the long distances to walk on and off the ship, we appeared at the wheelchair assist area to disembark. We were immediately helped off the ship in a smooth process.
What could be improved on Ruby Princess? We felt the buffet restaurant food was average at best. From my personal taste, this restaurant definitely needs an infusion of more variety and more exotic dishes with a dose of seasoning.
Were will you find Ruby Princess? The new ship will sail this coming winter on western Caribbean itineraries roundtrip from Port Everglades.
The ship (its elegant atrium skylight is shown at left*) will then reposition to Europe -- specifically the Mediterranean -- in summer 2009.
For more information, call 800-PRINCESS.