Review of Ruby Princess: Elegant Beauty Celebrates 15th Birthday

The Ruby Princess certainly lives up to her glistening name. She is an elegant beauty. Boarding the ship, I had to stop and admire the dazzling Piazza, a golden atrium that spans three decks.

Marble floors, sweeping staircases and a domed chandelier help the space sparkle. Glass-enclosed elevators glide up and down to give a bird’s-eye view of the plaza.

The central meeting space for the ship, the Piazza is also where entertainment will take place, where folks can sit to enjoy drinks and snacks and where passengers can show off their smooth dance moves on the circular floor.

Of course, the ship has many more wonderful spaces, including four outdoor swimming pools, jogging/walking track, kids club, outdoor movie screen, basketball court, miniature putting course, golf simulator, fitness center, tennis court, spa, library, art gallery, shops, medical center, internet café, laundry, casino, hot tubs, photo gallery, theatre, wedding chapel and much more.

Inaugurated Nov. 8, 2008, the Ruby Princess is a grand old lady wearing her age well despite some wrinkles here and there. After all, the Ruby Princess is a descendant of the original “Love Boat,” the Pacific Princess that starred in the popular 1970s television show “The Love Boat.” Airing on ABC from 1977 to 1986, the series helped make Princess Cruises a household name and popularized cruising.

The TV series is credited with showing viewers how much fun a cruise can be and what a great vacation choice it is to book a journey on a modern cruise ship. That was certainly the case for my weeklong cruise from Galveston, Texas, to the Western Caribbean. My cruise included stops in Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Cozumel, Mexico.

The Ruby Princess offers a guest capacity of 3,080 with a crew of 1,200. On our cruise, the ship had 3,050 passengers and 1,164 crew members. Most passengers were from the United States and Canada with Texas and Louisiana the home states for the most cruisers.

Rating: 9/10

Boarding the Ship

My brother Joe joined me on the Ruby Princess cruise. Joe lives in Colorado. I live in Indiana. So it was great to meet up at the Houston airport to catch a Motev car for the 50-minute ride to the Harbor House Hotel & Marina at Pier 21 in Galveston.

If possible, I always suggest that cruisers spend the night before a cruise in a local hotel. With the way flights are cancelled and delayed, it is wise to arrive the night before. That way, cruisers can get a good night’s sleep and have a leisurely breakfast before boarding the cruise ship the next day. And they have extra time to arrive if those horrible flight problems happen.

What I liked best about the Harbor House Hotel was its comfy rooms, complimentary breakfast and close proximity to the cruise pier. Our room had a bedroom and a living room with a fold-out sofa bed. A small dining area had a table and chairs.

When we checked out the next morning, a complimentary shuttle was waiting to take us to our ship. We could easily have walked from hotel to ship if not for our luggage. The shuttle was a wonderful perk.

Boarding the ship was quite easy. We had done the important paperwork before boarding so easily walked aboard where a buffet lunch was waiting.

For those who would like to take the same itinerary we did, Princess Cruises is offering it again on Nov. 5, 12, 26 and Dec. 10 on sister ship the Regal Princess.

Rating 9/10

 Our Stateroom and Lovely Veranda

Seeing my cruise ship stateroom for the first time is always exciting. Opening the door to C219, I was happy to see the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door leading to the balcony with its two chairs and table. If I could take two cruises with an inside room or one cruise with a balcony, I would choose the balcony every time. Sitting on the balcony and watching the ocean flow is one of my favorite pleasures of cruising.

Our stateroom had two twin beds, two bedside tables, a desk, desk chair, large flat-screen TV on the wall, dresser, mini-fridge, safe and plenty of drawers and closet space. The bathroom was big enough with a shower and Lotus Spa eucalyptus and sea salt soaps and lotion.

The cabin décor was soothing with blues and browns and lovely wood. A mirror over the desk and a large mirror on the wall behind the beds made the room seem even larger.  A hair dryer on the wall by the desk mirror made it obvious where the appliance was located. Sometimes it appears the dryer is a bit hidden in a bathroom cabinet, a desk drawer or closet. Joe and I don’t use hair dryers but I’m sure many passengers are happy to see it so easily visible and centrally located.

Cabin attendant Victor knocked on the door almost as soon as we entered our stateroom to see if we had any questions or needed anything. He already knew our names and greeted us every time afterwards. Don’t know how cabin attendants and cruise ship servers can remember so many names. Victor also kept our stateroom well attended and clean.

Rating 9/10.

Many Dining Options and Culinary Choices

For dining, the Ruby Princess has three main dining rooms – Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, plus the Horizon Court buffet near the top deck which offers food from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

For an extra price, cruisers can dine at the Chef’s Table, Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, Crown Grill and Salty Dog Gastropub. The Ruby Princess has 13 bars and lounges.

New cruise friends William and Carolyn of Houston told me they plan to eat most of their meals at Horizon Court. They like the abundant choice of food; the notion that they can just walk in at whatever time suits them; the comfort of dining in shorts and T-shirts; great views from large windows overlooking the ocean; quick service of choosing from the buffet line as soon as they enter and the ability to go back for seconds of food they like.

I sure understand those reasons to choose Horizon Court. I ate lunch there many days for those same reasons. I also made it a habit each time to walk through the entire massive buffet to see what is being offered before I started filling my plate. It’s good to see all the day’s offerings before making a commitment. Helps prevent waste.

Although I like dining in the big open buffet for lunch, I prefer having dinner in the Botticelli dining room where the atmosphere is more quiet and elegant. The menu changes daily and has a good variety of choices. One side of the menu, however, does not change. It is called Princess Favorites and those are available every evening. That list includes shrimp cocktail, classic Caesar salad, French onion soup, seared salmon and pan-roasted chicken breast. Each comes with sides, of course.

I have never ordered anything from the Princess Favorites because the evening specials are so good. The “starters” themselves sound like a meal. One night, the starters were a cocktail of bay scallops, calamari, shrimp and black mussels; poached pear and blue cheese crumbles; escargots bourguignon; Jamaican pepper pot soup; roasted tomato cream soup; chilled goat cheese and apple soup; or Belgian endive, Boston lettuce and tomato salad.

One night the entrée choices were veal pasta, pan-seared snapper, broiled lobster tail and king prawns, roasted farm-raised pheasant, Beef Wellington, red wine braised beef short ribs, and vegetarian pumpkin, walnut and mascarpone filled crepe. Tough choices. All sounded great. I chose the lobster and it was delicious.

Of course, it is not surprising that the food on Ruby Princess looks good and tastes good. Culinary icon Rudi Sodamin is head of Princess Culinary Arts. The foremost cruise culinary artist in the world, Rudi Sodamin has more than four decades of experience for some of the world’s best cruise lines.

If a later snack is needed, the International Café on Deck 5 is open 24 hours a day and offers complimentary pastries, paninis, pastas and salads. I’ve noticed many passengers getting an after-dinner dessert at the Café, then carrying it over to a table in the Piazza to enjoy the band, dancers and other entertainment.

Rating 9/10

Specialty Restaurant Sabatini’s

If I didn’t see the ocean waves outside the dining room window, I might think I was in some elegant restaurant in Italy. Instead, I was enjoying a leisurely meal at Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria specialty restaurant ($35) aboard the Regal Princess.

 The Tuscan-inspired décor features beautiful murals, warm woods, etched glass, Roman columns and grandiose chandeliers. A large glassed case displays special wines. Bookshelves showcasing art objects and books provide private nooks for diners. A very pleasant and quiet place to dine.

Seated at a lovely table, Joe and I could watch the sun slowly beginning to set and the sea turning a darker blue. Candlelight lowed softly in frosted glass vases on the tables.

Our server quickly brought a menu and a basket of warm herb bread nicely decorated with rosemary twigs. A grape flagon of olive oil was placed next to the bread. The bread was delicious and the best I have had on the cruise.

But I had to make myself stop eating it or I wouldn’t have room for the multi-course dinner offered by Sabatini’s. Diners are expected to take their time in Sabatini’s – to savor, relax and enjoy the atmosphere and the food.

The menu is long, varied and definitely Italian. I don’t have room to list all the offerings so will just share what I ordered. But I will emphasize that there are many different choices on the huge menu.

Everyone starts with an appetite enhancer – roasted tomato and bell pepper passata (thick sauce) with prosciutto, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Served with a crispy fried bread.

For appetizer, I chose the burrata – a fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream. It came with roasted golden beets, fava beans, mint basil vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts. Delicious and this was only the beginning. Next was soup or salad.  My mushroom soup was very rich and creamy, filled with fresh mushrooms and served in a big bowl. A meal in itself.

 Then came pasta. My choice was seafood linguine with shrimp, clams and the classic Mediterranean flavors of tomato and prized ligurian olive oil. Entrees include chicken, veal, filet mignon and lobster tail. I tried the scallopine di vitello al marsala and was glad I did. Very good with creamy mashed potatoes, sliced champignon mushrooms in marsala wine and sautéed garlic spinach.

I was going to pass on dessert until I saw what the couple next to me ordered. Our server suggested it, too. It was Rocher, a blend of chocolate, pralines and hazelnut ice cream sealed in milk chocolate and surrounded by crushed candied hazelnuts.

Good thing I didn’t have to do anything after dinner except stroll around the upper deck, watch a bit of Movies Under the Stars and go to bed. That was certainly a sleep-inducing meal. Now I know why Sabatini’s has so many devoted fans.

 Rating 9/10

Crown Grill

During my leisurely dinner at Crown Grill on the Ruby Princess, diners toasted a birthday and an anniversary. That might tell you that the ship’s specialty restaurant is a place for celebrations.

It certainly is.

I had no special reason in mind when I paid $39 to dine in the Crown Grill. I had just heard that the dining spot was popular with passengers and wanted to see for myself.

First, of course, is the great food and the friendly servers. I was quite pleased with both. Crown Grill is famed for its steaks and chops but it also offers lobster tail, prawns, mussels and Chilean sea bass.

Located on Deck 7 aft, Crown Grill has a rich wood décor, stately wooden chairs with arms or comfy booths and artwork reminiscent of jolly old England. Crown Grill is only open for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations are necessary and it is best to reserve early.

Crown Grill also features three different gourmet salts for diners to try. I enjoyed all three. That might seem strange but each of the salts added a different flavor to my food. The server would put a bit of each salt or all salts on the edge of a plate so we could add them to our food ourselves.

The Smoked Applewood Salt from the Yakima Valley of Washington state is fired with sweet apple wood which flavors the smoked seat salt with a subtle fruit wood taste.

The Himalayan Mountain Pink Salt is robust with a mineral flavor. Along with being tasty, the salt also is said to provide many health benefits and to remove toxins from the body.

The Hawaiian Black Salt is a solar-evaporated Pacific sea salt combined with activated charcoal. It has a stunning black color, silky texture and natural saline flavor.

The menu is quite long with difficult choices. For appetizer, I had the hand-cut beef filet tartare seared on a plancha-type griddle. It was served with a smoky dressing, crispy polenta sticks and a fried quail egg on top. I’m going to have to look for quail eggs at home because that one was very flavorful.

Next I had the black and blue onion soup which is made with a dash of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. The soup had a great Roquefort cheese crust.

For entrée, I went with the ribeye steak, 14 ounces cooked to perfection. Other steak choices were a 12-ounce New York strip, 22-ounce porterhouse, 16-ounce Kansas City strip and 8-ounce filet mignon.

Side dishes were baked Idaho potato, garlic and herb French fries, red skin mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, creamed spinach or sautéed wild mushrooms.

For dessert, the server suggeested the warm chocolate mousse trifle. Warm chocolate mousse is layered with light and airy cinnamon sponge cake, spiced cream, cookie crumbles and creamy vanilla gelato. Fresh grapefruit segments add a tangy accent.

The server was right. I would have been sorry if I didn’t get to taste the chocolate mousse. The perfect way to end a meal.

Rating: 10/10

Chef’s Table

The most expensive dining option on Ruby Princess ($95), the Chef’s Table is an unforgettable experience. The seven-course meal with wine pairing seats 10 people at a special table at the back of Sabatini’s dining room. Each place setting was marked with a name card.

After we were seated and introduced to each other, server Luca poured a glass of champagne and Executive Chef Dirk Daumichen described the menu he had created that is not offered anywhere else on the ship. Chef Dirk also shared a bit of his background and the preparations for each dish.

The hors d’oeuvres alone were a meal – escargot, tomato soup, sea scallops and baked red bliss potato. Then came the appetizers – creamy mushroom risotto with parmesan cheese topped with a lobster medallion. A palate cleansing sorbet came next – a strawberry and passion fruit sorbet with fresh strawberry bits with passion fruit nectar and Grey Goose Vodka.

For the main entrees, the chef chose a Caribbean duo with herb cruised lamb chop and grilled duck breast, pineapple salsa, berry confit, chateau vegetables and baked potato. For the cheese entrée, we were served French brie with carrot spice sponge, walnut brittle and port wine glaze.

As a sweet treat, we enjoyed bittersweet chocolate mousse with a salted caramel center. The meal ended with coffee or tea with Chef Dirk’s homemade petit fours. Altogether, Chef’s Table lasted almost three hours and Chef Dirk was very gracious in answering questions.

For wonderful souvenirs of our special dinner, Chef Dirk gave all the women a rose. We also received an autographed copy of the menu and wines served as well as a 5×7-inch color photo of the diners, chef and serving staff plus a photo of the chef with Joe and me.

Rating: 10/10

Entertainment and activities

Almost any hour of the day or night, it seemed as though entertainment and activities were offered on the Ruby Princess. Thank goodness for the two-sheet newsletter we received at turndown every night in our stateroom.

Events included classes in tai chi, yoga, Zumba and line dancing, plus tournaments for golf putting, bean bag tossing, ping pong, darts, paper planes, basketball and more. Demonstrations showed how to create fruit and vegetable carvings, napkin folding, towel folding, paper flowers, quilling, cross stitch and more.

Trivia games tested passenger knowledge while open-air movies offered a chance to relax. Live music entertained in the Piazza and bars around the ship as well as evening entertainment in the Princess Theater.

Always something to do and somewhere to be. Or a chance to just sit in a comfy chair and watch the ocean and the changing sky as the Regal Princess cruised toward our next stop.

Rating: 9/10

Shore excursions

Part of the joy of cruising is the stops along the way where passengers can choose from a multitude of shore excursions or opt to stay aboard the ship. When my brother Joe donned a white chef’s hat, I knew that the Tabasco Chef Maestro Cooking Class in Cozumel, Mexico, was going to be a memory keeper.

I’ve never seen Joe cook but there he was slicing and dicing along with Chef Luiz. At individual cooking stations, class members followed Chef Luiz’s instructions to prepare our lunch – ceviche, chicken enchiladas and rice pudding. Along the way, Chef Luiz provided plenty of cocktails and beer. A master mixer, Chef Luiz upended bottles of booze into a blender for tasty margaritas.

In fact, Chef Luiz was the reason this class was so super. He seemed to be always on the move, keeping a close eye on his student chefs and offering an endless supply of jokes and mischievous looks. Definitely the star of the show as well as an excellent cook.

Rating:10/10

Cruise Fare Includes

Three main dining rooms, buffet and some other eateries

Water, coffee, hot tea, iced tea and select juices

All theater shows

Most daily activities

Movies Under the Stars plus complimentary popcorn

Use of the gym

 

Not Included in Cruise Fare

Transportation to and from ship

Overnight hotel accommodations before cruise

Gratuities

Automatic beverage and spa tips of 18 percent

Specialty dining

Soft drinks, cocktails, beer, wine, specialty coffees and some juices.

Spa treatments

Access to Lotus Thermal Suite

Adults-only Sanctuary deck

Shore excursions

Bottom Line: The Ruby Princess is a beautiful and comfortable ship. She is not as flashy or big as some other vessels sailing the world but she wears her years well. The crew was top notch and always attentive, going an extra mile to ensure that our cruise was a pleasure. Sailing from Galveston was a nice change with a laid-back vibe and friendly passengers. Now celebrating her 15th birthday, the Ruby Princess must have helped create loving memories for many passengers. I hope she continues to do so for many more years to come.

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Cover photo of ship courtesy of Princess Cruises

See Ruby Princess cruises here:

www.cruisecompete.com/ships/ruby_princess_cruises.html

 

 

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