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Cruise Ship Review

Ruby Princess - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

The most recent jewel in Princess' crown and the line's last new-build to debut for the time being is Ruby Princess, a sister ship to Emerald Princess and Crown Princess. For the most part, Ruby is not an innovator. The ship has all the most popular Princess features -- such as the three-deck Piazza with its on-site bakery and whimsical entertainment -- of its nearly identical siblings, as well as many of those found on older ships, including the Sanctuary sun deck for adults and specialty eateries Sabatini's and Crown Grill.

But although there aren't too many surprises on this newest ship, there are some gentle improvements and enhancements. On Ruby, Princess has expanded the appeal of the Wheelhouse Bar, its pub-like venue, to include casual, English-inspired lunches. Suite passengers now have the option to enjoy intimate breakfasts in Sabatini's, and the new Ultimate Ship Tour affords passengers the opportunity to explore areas of the ship that are normally never seen, like the engine control room, the funnel, the photo lab and the bridge. Expanded ScholarShip@Sea programs like Mixology@Sea, which allows people to experiment with their bartending skills, and Navigation@Sea, where the ins and outs of navigating a cruise ship are taught, enrich the onboard experience. And audience-participation events, like The Wake Up Show, a morning show of sorts at sea that's broadcast shipwide, and Oceans of Talent, where passengers display their own talents, are being introduced to the already extensive array of onboard activities for passengers.

What lies beneath the surface of some of the more celebrated aspects of Ruby Princess and its fleetmates is a staff of more the 1,200 crewmembers dedicated to providing an excellent experience for passengers. I specifically recall embarkation day at the Trident Grill: I began walking away with my plates, but without any silverware. Upon turning around, without having to ask, a crewmember saw me eye what I needed and promptly handed me just that.

Dining

Princess' main dining rooms present a choice of traditional or anytime dining to accommodate passenger lifestyles. For those passengers who prefer a set-seating, assigned tablemate and same-time-every-night option, The Botticelli Dining Room, for traditional dinners, is located all the way aft on Deck 6. Seating times are at 6 and 8:15 p.m.

The menu offers a range of dinner choices. Marked on each menu with what resembles a lotus flower are Lotus Spa dishes, which are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Similarly, selections marked with a V identify vegetarian options, like Moroccan vegetable ragout and baked zucchini stuffed with cheese and onions. Typically, one main course, sans meat, is available each night, but there are plenty of soups, salads and pasta options on the menu for vegetarians. In addition, a home-style dish, like meatloaf, pot roast or another comfort food, is featured on the menu each night.

Being that we aren't rigid schedule-keepers, we opted for anytime dining, which allowed us to visit either the Da Vinci Dining Room, midship on Deck 6, or the Michelangelo on Deck 5. These two restaurants, which have unique color schemes, but offer identical menus to that of the Botticelli, are open from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

During peak times, between 7 and 8 p.m. on most cruises, there may be a queue; passengers can opt for beepers that will alert them when their tables are ready.

I found a good rule of thumb: the later, the better. Earlier dining times required more of a wait, but if your plans for the night aren't binding, it's nice to enjoy a meal later in the evening without the wait. You can dine for as long as you like or shorten the process by just ordering an appetizer or two.

The food there was very good (one woman couldn't stop raving about the prime rib), and great care was taken with the plate presentation. Our favorite dessert was the decadent Princess Love Boat Dream, a creamy, rich chocolate mousse atop a thin chocolate brownie in the shape of a lovely little heart. Luckily for us, it appeared on the menu every night.

One feature I loved was that, upon ordering a bottle of wine and not being able to finish it, the bottle was stowed away so we could revisit it at a future meal. I asked one night at Vines if I could have the bottle retrieved to enjoy a glass of wine while watching some of the performers in the Piazza, and the crew was more than happy to oblige.

For those who prefer the slightly more formal atmosphere of Princess' main restaurants for breakfast and lunch, the Da Vinci dining room is open for breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. In both cases, it's open-seating.

Ruby Princess also offers boutique dining options for dinner at a pair of alternative restaurants.

Crown Grill, one of Ruby Princess' for-fee venues, is located aft on Deck 7. It's furnished with lots of cozy booths in addition to larger tables, and dark wood paneling gives the space a very upscale vibe, while dim lighting inspires a feeling of intimacy. For a cover charge of $25, menu items at the Crown Grill include mostly steakhouse fare, such as rib eye, filet mignon and seafood. There's an open theater-style kitchen where passengers can look on as chefs prepare tender steaks and shuck shellfish for them. And, while most menu items are included in the cover charge, be aware that some -- like Brazilian lobster tail and whole Maine lobster, which are removed from their shells tableside and served with plenty of drawn butter (a treat!) -- will cost an additional $9.

Sabatini's is the second of the ship's alternative dining venues. Perched high atop the back of the ship, it's beautifully decorated with Roman pillars and Italian art, and Mediterranean tile-like designs appear on the china. A word of caution that we heard countless times prior to dining at Sabatini's: Bring your appetite. This is a culinary event consisting of so many items that you can't count them with both hands. You'll try everything on the menu, unless you kindly decline, but, thankfully, portions are not huge. The experience starts with eight different hot and cold antipasti, including prosciutto and melon and fried calamari. The second course offers soup, salad and two palate-pleasing pasta dishes. Your stomach may feel finished by this point, but it's only time for the main course.

Knowing that the market price of Chilean sea bass can be very high back home, we tried that. Lobster, stuffed chicken, sea scallops and veal, prepared Italian-style, were other options on the menu. For dessert, choose more than one if you've got the room. I paired the Crema al Caffe, an espresso flavored creme brulee, with a frothy cappuccino to finish off the meal. The cover charge here is $20 and is worth every penny.

For those looking for a more casual dining experience, head up to the Lido Deck for Horizon Court, the ship's casual buffet, open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes, eggs, bacon, pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, bagels and lox are on offer. There's really a large selection of just about anything you could want, but the food is certainly not on par with the main dining rooms; eggs didn't taste real, and pancakes were on the rubbery side. At lunch you can expect to find grilled panini sandwiches, club sandwiches, antipasto, hot wings and an extensive salad bar with tons of toppings and dressings.

I found there's not a clear traffic pattern when you're piling up your plate, so things can get a bit jumbled here. One bright spot, and different from other ships I've been on, is that the stewards will bring beverages to the table for you. Iced tea, coffee, water and lemonade are available on a complimentary basis.

Right next door, Cafe Caribe, a secondary buffet area, is open between the hours of 5 and 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. for lunch (on sea days only), 5:30 (when Horizon Court closes) to 11 p.m. for dinner and 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. for late-night bistro service. At Cafe Caribe, you'll find a changing menu of Caribbean and international cuisine. We found ourselves enjoying German-themed cuisine one night for dinner and chose from a large spread of almost nothing but German fare like bratwurst, spatzle, sauerkraut and a host of deli meats and cheeses. Disappointingly, the theme of the night is no longer displayed near its doors or announced in the Princess Patter, so if you're curious what's on offer that day, you'll have to go in and find out. Although the menus are creative, they're not quite the same quality as Princess' main restaurants, but they're adequate.

Cafe Caribe is also where night owls will find the late-night bistro with table service, offered from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fare on offer in the wee hours of the morning includes breakfast items like Western omelets and pastries, as well as dinner plates of broiled salmon, sauteed chicken and other dishes.

Carve out time on one of your sea days to take part in an authentic English-style pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is one of the many new-to-Ruby features onboard. The menu offers cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash or a ploughman's lunch. The tempura-dipped fish and accompanying chips are, by far, the most popular items with two-thirds of guests ordering it. I must say that it does hit the spot. Guinness and other popular pub ales flow freely (at additional cost of course). Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Casual dining options in the whimsical Piazza include Vines, a combination wine and sushi bar, and the International Cafe.

Located right on the Piazza, the International Cafe is the best place onboard for a casual nosh, but the service here could use a little work. A unique European sidewalk cafe feel has been achieved there, and it's a good place to talk over coffee, freshly-baked pastries, donuts and muffins in the morning. From lunchtime onward, there are tea sandwiches (the chicken salad is not to be missed), light salads and other snacks. You can also swing by the International Cafe for chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping ($5 per pot) or chocolate covered strawberries ($4).

Specialty coffees -- including espresso, cappuccino and flavored lattes -- and hot tea range in price from $1 (for regular coffee) to $3.50 (for specialty beverages). Every afternoon, there's a cookies-and-milk break, and you'll see crew offering the same poolside, too. It's a nice Princess touch. Also be sure to taste some of the cream-based gelato, which comes in vanilla, honey-almond, egg-nog, chocolate, strawberry and lemon flavors. Three scoops go for $1.50.

Vines, situated at the edge of the Piazza, quickly became one of our favorite places. Wooden barrels decorate the bar that houses more than 30 different selections of wine. In all, there are only 12 tables -- mostly tables for two -- and the quaint, old-world ambience and dim lighting make it a nice place to sit and chat. It's a great place to watch the street performers while enjoying a glass (or three!) of wine. And the sushi bar at Vines offers a small snack of Nigiri- (with rice) or Sashimi-style sushi. (You won't find bamboo-rolled Maki sushi here.) We tried oysters, halibut and lobster, which were all fresh and delicious. New at Vines is the selection of 18 different artisan cheeses from around the world -- three ounces will cost you $4.50. Hours vary depending on the day. In port, Vines is open from 4 to 11 p.m., and at-sea hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Trident Grill on the Lido Deck is a great place to grab a quick burger, dog or chicken sandwich with fries. You'll also find free pizza by the slice and an ice cream bar with all the fixings (including sprinkles) for a nominal fee, poolside.

Princess has a broader offering of in-cabin options than most other lines, especially if you're occupying a balcony stateroom. Passengers who have balcony cabins (which, on Ruby Princess, is some 80 percent) can enjoy intimate meals in the comfort of their own cabins. The Ultimate Balcony Dinner ($50 per person) is a privately served, four-course meal (which includes the option to order surf-and-turf), enjoyed at a beautifully set table with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Sea views, of course, are free of charge. One of Princess' photographers will come to snap a few photos and will deliver the best one to your cabin the next day. For a daytime twist, try the Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($28 per person), complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne.

Continental breakfast items like fruit, cereal and yogurt (or sandwiches and salads for lunch) can be arranged to arrive at the time of your choice, compliments of the room-service staff. To have pizza delivered to your stateroom, it will cost $3.

Public Rooms

Most of the public areas, aside from the entertainment venues described further down, revolve around the Piazza and its atrium. Besides having small-bite eateries on its outskirts and entertainment at its center, the Piazza also serves as a good central meeting place. So if you decide to split up from others in your group, this is a good place to meet back up with them for the next round of activities.

The Internet Cafe, near the Piazza on Deck 5, has 25 computer workstations, and black-and-white printouts are free. Internet usage can be bought on a pay-as-you-go basis for $.75 per minute, or you can buy packages if you know you'll be online a lot. Plans are 250 minutes for $100 or $.40 per minute; 150 minutes for $75, or $.50 per minute; and 100 minutes for $55, or $.55 per minute. Ruby Princess is the first Princess ship to implement Wi-Fi access in staterooms, but in my experience, using the computers at the Internet Cafe or bringing my laptop down to the tables in the Piazza (the ship's hot spot) were much more reliable ways to go.

There are five shops onboard, all located off of the atrium on Decks 6 and 7. The usual duty-free liquor, tobacco, jewelry and such are sold there. We would have bought some single malt scotch for my fiance's father, but the prices didn't seem that great, considering we'd have to lug it home.

The library, a bit small in size, is tucked away off to the side on Deck 6.

The wedding chapel is modest in size, but it's beautifully decorated in clean whites and light yellows. Webcams are built into the ceiling so that family and friends not sailing with the happy couples can watch the ceremonies online from computers at home.

Cabins

A Princess trademark has been to offer plenty of affordable balcony cabins, and Ruby Princess is no exception.

Staterooms are outfitted with cream-colored furniture and light maple wood trim. Soft jade greens, robin's egg blues, light golds and muted corals appear in the pillows, chairs and window treatments for a splash of color. Crisp white linens dress the beds, and pillows are plentiful -- our bed had four, plus the two accent pillows.

Standard cabins are laid out in a way that separates the bathroom area from the sleeping area with a nice-sized closet that runs perpendicular to the stateroom walls. This creates a small nook to change in if a bit of privacy is desired. In most cases, two twin beds can be pushed together to create a queen-size bed, and all of Ruby Princess' cabins come with flat-screen televisions. The bathrooms have stand-up shower stalls with curtains (sorry, no glass doors here) and adequate space to store belongings, both inside the bathroom and out. Plus, you'll find a mini-refrigerator to store beverages.

Inside cabins are 163 square ft., and outside cabins range from 158 to 182 square ft. With the addition of a balcony, the square footage of a cabin jumps up to between 233 and 285 square ft., including the verandah.

Our mini-suite (324 square ft.), of which there are 178 onboard, was located on Dolphin Deck and was very roomy for just two people, sporting an extra living area with a sofa, a coffee table and an extra television. Televised quite frequently were episodes of "The Love Boat," along with CNN, the Discovery Channel, ESPN, movies and more. The balcony comfortably fit four white-framed chairs with blue plastic meshing and a small table. Since the balconies on our deck were the lowest on the ship, they jut out farther than all the rest, and folks higher up could see right onto them. This is not so conducive for privacy, but it does work out well for stargazing on clear nights.

For tall people booked in mini-suites, be prepared to bend at the knees to get under the shower head, as it's positioned a bit low (but once you're under there, the water pressure is actually quite good). Be sure to try out the fresh, eucalyptus-scented products, which are Lotus Spa branded. All cabins are stocked with shampoo, conditioner, body wash and bar soap.

There are 31 wheelchair-accessible cabins on Ruby Princess -- 21 balcony, four oceanview and six inside cabins.

Suites onboard range from 461 to 687 square ft. -- the one I was able to peek into was a spacious 533 square ft. These staterooms are set up in a roundabout way, where you can pass through the bathroom one of two ways -- toward the sleeping areas or toward the living areas. A teak table, four chairs and two loungers furnish each balcony. A whirlpool tub and glass-enclosed shower stall make up one area of each of the bathrooms, while a sink with marble counter tops and a toilet are found in the other. Walk-in closets, DVD players, deluxe canapes (delivered daily) and fresh flowers are some of the amenities.

Passengers who book suites also enjoy free access to the Thermal Suite at the Lotus Spa, laundry and dry cleaning services, complimentary Internet usage and the new-to-Ruby Princess Sabatini's breakfast. Greeted with a "Good Morning Mimosa," suite passengers can enjoy an exclusive breakfast in the ship's specialty restaurant, featuring brioche French toast and poached eggs dressed with potatoes and vegetables. Seating for suite passengers is from approximately 7:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Two family suites, which are, in essence, two staterooms joined together and accessible by a common living room, sleep up to eight people.

Entertainment

Following in the tradition of Ruby's sister ships, the Piazza serves as the "Main Street" area of the small town that is Ruby Princess. Located on Deck 5 (and extending to deck 7), two sets of winding staircases and glass elevators with a beautiful all-white piano placed between them make up the atrium. There, street performers sing, dance and perform amazing acrobatic tricks. One day, there was even a bottle-juggling bartender who drew quite a crowd. People gather en masse on the three decks of the atrium for the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party and the famed Champagne Waterfall, where the maitre d' helps passengers pour bubbly over the tower of glasses.

The Princess Theater, situated forward on Decks 6 and 7, has traditional, theater-style seating with small, wooden platforms tucked away into the arms of chairs for those who have drinks in hand. Seating 800 people, the venue hosts two main production shows. "Broadway Ballroom," features the talents of the choreographer and costume designer from the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars," and I loved "Once Upon A Dream." The technology used to produce this show is unlike anything else at sea with a set that is, in essence, made up of three walls that project colorful video scenes around the cast of performers.

In an effort to make these two popular shows available to just about everyone onboard, each show runs for two nights at two different times. Finding a seat was much easier at later show times or on the second day of each show. Offering the shows more often so everyone can see them is working; however, passengers complained that there weren't enough show options on nights a show they'd already seen was in progress.

A variety of programming, ranging from movies and concerts to kids playing video games, is shown on the giant Movies Under the Stars big screen at the Calypso Reef Pool and keeps passengers occupied both day and night. After the sun sets, stewards lay burgundy covers over the loungers, making them resemble movie theater seats, and the crew passes popcorn to those enjoying a flick. It's a great place to cozy up and relax at night after a long port day.

Seriously though, finding something to do on this ship should never be a problem. In fact, the challenge here is deciding exactly what to do out of the large assortment of options. Consult your daily Princess Patter, and even stash one in your pocket or purse for a quick reference to the happenings throughout your days and nights onboard.

The large number of bars and lounges on the ship allow for a less-crowded atmosphere at any venue. Crooners, midship on Deck 7, serves up a large variety of martinis and live piano music nightly. It's a great place for an intermezzo between shows or activities in the evenings, and we found it to be an ideal place to people-watch, since it opens up right into the atrium of the Piazza below. The Wheelhouse Bar was another of our favorites because it had a comforting, pub-like feel with its leather wing-back chairs, dark wood and low lighting. The music there was consistently pleasant, and the volume was low enough that passengers could still enjoy good conversation.

The Explorers Lounge and Club Fusion, both equipped with stages, are frequently home to events. The Explorers Lounge hosts comedy shows, movie trivia and live music with more than 250 seats to accommodate. During the day, scheduled Champagne art auctions are held in this lounge, as well.

Thanks to its high-tech capabilities and high-definition video screens, Club Fusion is the spot for interactive entertainment, both day and night. Offered are line-dancing classes, bingo, game show-style games and more. Plus, popular onboard events there include Ballroom Blitz and Princess Pop Star -- Princess spins on the hit TV shows "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol," respectively.

Adagio, next door to Sabatini's on Deck 16, has a much more upscale and elegant vibe, with a live pianist starting nightly at 7:15 p.m. For two nights on our sailing "Jazzio in the Adagio" featured the music of Ruby Princess' Rhythm and Brass players, which gave the bar a very smoky, New York jazz club feel.

Skywalkers Nightclub is the onboard disco for night owls. The club dons star-shaped lighting fixtures, and a cool dance floor with spotlights and strobes is pretty theatrical.

Gatsby's Casino is very quiet during the day, but at night, it's quite busy with its Las Vegas-style table games and more than 250 slot machines. Tucked right into the corner of the casino is the Speakeasy Cigar Lounge, where you can enjoy a stogie in between hands.

On the enrichment front, Princess' ScholarShip@Sea program offers creative daytime diversions. An extensive lineup of computer tutorials, arts and crafts -- such as ceramics-painting and scrap booking -- and odds and ends like galley tours, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, dance programs and classes to power up your golf game are available. Some, such as ArtHistory@Sea and "Ballroom Blitz" dance classes, are complimentary. Others cost extra. For instance, taking computer classes to learn Photoshop or the ins and outs of e-mailing costs between $25 and $30, and the ever-popular Ceramics@Sea class costs between $15 and $30, depending upon the piece you choose to make.

There is also a broad offering of shore excursions that are sufficient and what one would normally expect -- some on the more adventurous side, some more historically centered, as well as the usual water sports activities. Nothing, save for the Mayan Sweat Lodge Experience, stood out as truly unique. On the other hand, tours didn't seem all that crowded, and I never heard anyone say the one they preferred was sold out.

Fitness and Recreation

Located midship on Deck 15 are the two main pool areas. Neptune's Reef and Pool is where you'll find fun activities like ice-carving demonstrations, ceramics-painting, silly pool games and more. Plus, you can count on live Caribbean music each day. Calypso Reef and Pool, just next door, is designed with tiered lounge seating for viewing the Movies Under the Stars big screen above the pool. Each of these pools is equipped with two hot tubs for relaxing soaks.

There are also quieter pools onboard. At the adults-only Lotus Spa Pool (just outside the spa on Deck 16, forward), there's swim-against-the-current technology and two warm whirlpools. Tiered wooden benches at the foot of the pool and a few loungers are the extent of the seating, so arrive early to snag a space, or head upstairs to the Sanctuary.

At the Terrace Pool, aft, views of the ocean passing underneath the back of the ship are calming, and although there are no hot tubs, it's still a terrific place to congregate. It's equipped with plenty of tables and chairs, and the Outrigger Bar is up just one flight of stairs. There is stadium-style seating at the end of the pool. Neither the Lotus Spa Pool nor the Terrace pool are as crowded -- or as noisy -- as the pools found midship.

The Lotus Spa onboard Ruby Princess is Asian in theme and offers a wide range of treatments like deep-tissue, Swedish and hot-stone massages; detoxifying ionithermie therapies; facials and even acupuncture sessions. A full menu of salon services, including barbering options for men (ranging from a cut, style and dry for $35 to a Pro-Collagen grooming treatment for $95), is available, as well. Hair styling starts at $29, hair coloring ranges from $55 to $95, and polishes and manicures go for between $19 and $85 for a full set of acrylic nails. It's a good idea to pre-reserve desired spa treatments in advance, especially for sea days. (You can do so via Princess' Web site before you even leave home.) On port days, especially good bargains like the 20-20-20 -- where you choose three treatments from a list that includes facials, collagen eye zone treatments, hot-stone massages, back massages and the like, for $99 -- can be found. And youth spa services are available for teens, ages 13 to 17, with the supervision of an adult.

Two new treatments on the menu are the Bamboo Massage, which involves warm bamboo shoots immersed in essential oils rolling over tense muscles, and the Cooling Hot-Stone Body - Facial, a three-step process meant to achieve deep relaxation. A cooling gel, which boosts circulation, is applied to the feet and legs, and heat-retaining volcanic stones are placed in problem areas to loosen deep muscle tissue. This is followed by an anti-aging facial.

For romantics, Princess has made sure to include a couple of treatments. On our trip, we opted for a romantic Couples Cabana Massage, which is administered in one of the two private cabanas in the Sanctuary, unless you'd prefer to be indoors. Two massage tables, positioned side-by-side, are covered with colorful, oversized sarongs, and sounds for relaxation play on speakers in the corners of the cabana. After a quick consultation, masseuses go to work. For our massage, the cabana was closed at our feet for privacy from the passengers in The Sanctuary, but it was open in the back for a nice, airy feeling during the treatment. (Note that on days in port when the ship's not moving, these cabanas can be rather stuffy.)

Another element of the Lotus Spa is its Thermal Suite, located just downstairs from the spa's waiting area. It resembles a Turkish bath, and you can purchase access to the suite's sauna, two aromatherapy steam rooms and five hot-rock beds (made of maize-colored terracotta tiles) for the week at $99 per person or $150 per couple. For those with back issues, the heated beds support the curvature of the spine and warm muscles up for proper relaxation. Be forewarned, though: This is a windowless space and not as cheerful or atmospheric as thermal suites on some other cruise lines' ships.

There are also fee-free saunas in the mens' and womens' locker rooms in the Lotus Spa. (They're not co-ed.)

The Sanctuary is a highly coveted, adults-only space for serenity and ultimate tranquility. With 47 lounges touting extra-plush cushions (20 of them are reserved for weekly pass-holders), Sanctuary passes go fast, so make reservations on day one if you want to ensure a chair for your entire sailing. Passengers were raving about the excellent service in The Sanctuary -- stewards happily fetch drinks and snacks or even help to adjust your towel, should you make a move for maximum comfort, as one passenger told me. The majority of The Sanctuary is covered with a sun shade, but it's not seamless, so little spurts of sunlight will shine into the area. You can easily avoid the sun with a minor chair adjustment.

If shade isn't what you're after, there are also two portions of The Sanctuary that are situated entirely in the sun, each containing six to eight lounge chairs.

You can order as many healthy food items as you like -- the spring rolls are particularly good -- for a $3 service charge. You can also borrow MP3 players with Bose headphones that are loaded with playlists that range from island and new-age music to country and reggae, free of charge.

To gain access to the Sanctuary, located forward on Deck 17 just above the Lotus Spa Pool, there's a $10 cover for a half-day (choose between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.) $20 gets you a full day's pass. Reservations are taken in person at the Sanctuary on a first-come, first-served basis, starting at 7 a.m. each day. A limited number of weekly passes, which cost $105, is made available, but beware: they usually sell out on the first day of the cruise.

The ingenious placement of the Lotus Spa, Thermal Suite, The Sanctuary and the adult's-only pool area in proximity to one another on the ship creates a kind of adult haven and makes passing between these relaxing spaces effortless.

Ruby Princess' fitness center comes equipped with plenty of treadmills, elliptical machines and exercise bikes, overlooking the bow of the ship as it steams along. Open each day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the fitness center also has circuit machines, free weights and an aerobic studio, where exercise classes and health seminars are held. Aerobics and "Absession" -- an intense 20-minute abdominal-focused workout -- are free, but spinning, Pilates and the like cost $10 per class.

Family

Kids' centers are located aft on the Sports Deck (Deck 17), which features Princess Links, the ship's mini-golf course. The basketball court is just above on Deck 19. The placement of the facilities gives the feeling that kids have an onboard place designated just for them.

Youth centers break down into three main groups. Princess Pelicans, for 3- to 7-year-olds, comes complete with its own outdoor play area. Shockwaves is decked out with colorful leather couches, gaming stations and its own air-hockey table for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd. And Remix is the ship's hip hangout for teens, ages 13 through 17. All of the youth centers offer a wide array of things to do each day, from arts and crafts to games and themed dinners. For many activities, the youth activities coordinator will further subdivide kids into specific age groups and specially tailor the fun to them. After all, a 3-year-old certainly would not have the same interest in investigating sharks as a 7-year-old would.

Kids can visit youth centers on sea days between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon, 2 and 5 p.m. and then again from 7 to 10 p.m. On port days, hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. Times may be adjusted as demand warrants. On our sailing, we found these hours to be accurate for Princess Pelicans, but Shockwaves remained open until 11 p.m., and Remix entertained teens until 1 a.m. Group babysitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the rate of $5 per hour, per child, and reservations must be made the day before by 8 p.m.

Princess incorporates plenty of activities into its programs for kids, both day and night. Among the newest additions to the roster is Princess' new partnership with Klutz, a company that makes toys and activity-oriented books; it provides fresh, new arts and crafts projects, like creating spiffy spiral drawings and making fun friendship bracelets. The California Science Center has teamed up with Princess to offer science enrichment; among the hands-on projects is one in which kids can build miniature loop-de-loop roller coasters.

Ruby Princess' youth centers tout the newest video-gaming systems in the fleet. Nintendo Wii and Sony Play Station 3 are all the rage with kids, and stations with multiple systems are set up in Shockwaves and Remix. Plus, children are invited to give their best performances and play the recent video-game hit, Guitar Hero, on the Movies Under the Stars big screen. Wii Fit challenges are also a mainstay on the kids' schedules each week.

Fellow Passengers

The passenger base is mostly couples of all age groups, both young and more mature. Children tend to make up a small portion of the demographic -- usually less than 10 percent. One loyal Princess couple mentioned that they liked sailing with the line as a family because the facilities for children are more than adequate but subtle enough that the adult experience onboard isn't lost. So, naturally, Ruby Princess is a good choice for multi-generational groups, too. On this Western Caribbean itinerary, North Americans made up the majority of passengers, but there were folks from England and other countries, as well. For Mediterranean itineraries, there will be a rise in the number of Europeans traveling, but the core demographic is still North American.

Dress Code

On seven-night itineraries, Ruby Princess hosts two formal nights. Most women do without the glitz and glamour of formal evening gowns, instead opting for tasteful cocktail dresses or fit-for-a-special-occasion pants suits. Men mostly dress up in ties and jackets, but some do go all out with tuxedos, which can be rented onboard. Daytime wear varies, depending on where you are. Outdoors, you'll find comfortable clothing -- shorts, T-shirts and such -- suited for a day in the sun, but indoors and during meals, passengers donned the type of resort-casual clothing you'd see at land-based vacation spots. A good casual bet is a nice pair of slacks, a button-down shirt or blouse and, for women, a bit of jewelry to dress up the outfit.

Gratuity

Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard spending accounts, are $10.50 per person (including children), per day, for standard stateroom passengers and $11 for mini-suite and suite guests. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Lotus Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.

--by Kimberly Kazell, Assistant EditorThe most recent jewel in Princess' crown and the line's last new-build to debut for the time being is Ruby Princess, a sister ship to Emerald Princess and Crown Princess. For the most part, Ruby is not an innovator. The ship has all the most popular Princess features -- such as the three-deck Piazza with its on-site bakery and whimsical entertainment -- of its nearly identical siblings, as well as many of those found on older ships, including the Sanctuary sun deck for adults and specialty eateries Sabatini's and Crown Grill.

But although there aren't too many surprises on this newest ship, there are some gentle improvements and enhancements. On Ruby, Princess has expanded the appeal of the Wheelhouse Bar, its pub-like venue, to include casual, English-inspired lunches. Suite passengers now have the option to enjoy intimate breakfasts in Sabatini's, and the new Ultimate Ship Tour affords passengers the opportunity to explore areas of the ship that are normally never seen, like the engine control room, the funnel, the photo lab and the bridge. Expanded ScholarShip@Sea programs like Mixology@Sea, which allows people to experiment with their bartending skills, and Navigation@Sea, where the ins and outs of navigating a cruise ship are taught, enrich the onboard experience. And audience-participation events, like The Wake Up Show, a morning show of sorts at sea that's broadcast shipwide, and Oceans of Talent, where passengers display their own talents, are being introduced to the already extensive array of onboard activities for passengers.

What lies beneath the surface of some of the more celebrated aspects of Ruby Princess and its fleetmates is a staff of more than 1,200 crewmembers, dedicated to providing an excellent experience for passengers. I specifically recall embarkation day at the Trident Grill: I began walking away with my plates, but without any silverware. Upon turning around, without having to ask, a crewmember saw me eye what I needed and promptly handed me just that.The most recent jewel in Princess' crown and the line's last new-build to debut for the time being is Ruby Princess, a sister ship to Emerald Princess and Crown Princess. For the most part, Ruby is not an innovator. The ship has all the most popular Princess features -- such as the three-deck Piazza with its on-site bakery and whimsical entertainment -- of its nearly identical siblings, as well as many of those found on older ships, including the Sanctuary sun deck for adults and specialty eateries Sabatini's and Crown Grill.

But although there aren't too many surprises on this newest ship, there are some gentle improvements and enhancements. On Ruby, Princess has expanded the appeal of the Wheelhouse Bar, its pub-like venue, to include casual, English-inspired lunches. Suite passengers now have the option to enjoy intimate breakfasts in Sabatini's, and the new Ultimate Ship Tour affords passengers the opportunity to explore areas of the ship that are normally never seen, like the engine control room, the funnel, the photo lab and the bridge. Expanded ScholarShip@Sea programs like Mixology@Sea, which allows people to experiment with their bartending skills, and Navigation@Sea, where the ins and outs of navigating a cruise ship are taught, enrich the onboard experience. And audience-participation events, like The Wake Up Show, a morning show of sorts at sea that's broadcast shipwide, and Oceans of Talent, where passengers display their own talents, are being introduced to the already extensive array of onboard activities for passengers.

What lies beneath the surface of some of the more celebrated aspects of Ruby Princess and its fleetmates is a staff of more the 1,200 crewmembers dedicated to providing an excellent experience for passengers. I specifically recall embarkation day at the Trident Grill: I began walking away with my plates, but without any silverware. Upon turning around, without having to ask, a crewmember saw me eye what I needed and promptly handed me just that.The most recent jewel in Princess' crown and the line's last new-build to debut for the time being is Ruby Princess, a sister ship to Emerald Princess and Crown Princess. For the most part, Ruby is not an innovator. The ship has all the most popular Princess features -- such as the three-deck Piazza with its on-site bakery and whimsical entertainment -- of its nearly identical siblings, as well as many of those found on older ships, including the Sanctuary sun deck for adults and specialty eateries Sabatini's and Crown Grill.

But although there aren't too many surprises on this newest ship, there are some gentle improvements and enhancements. On Ruby, Princess has expanded the appeal of the Wheelhouse Bar, its pub-like venue, to include casual, English-inspired lunches. Suite passengers now have the option to enjoy intimate breakfasts in Sabatini's, and the new Ultimate Ship Tour affords passengers the opportunity to explore areas of the ship that are normally never seen, like the engine control room, the funnel, the photo lab and the bridge. Expanded ScholarShip@Sea programs like Mixology@Sea, which allows people to experiment with their bartending skills, and Navigation@Sea, where the ins and outs of navigating a cruise ship are taught, enrich the onboard experience. And audience-participation events, like The Wake Up Show, a morning show of sorts at sea that's broadcast shipwide, and Oceans of Talent, where passengers display their own talents, are being introduced to the already extensive array of onboard activities for passengers.

What lies beneath the surface of some of the more celebrated aspects of Ruby Princess and its fleetmates is a staff of more than 1,200 crewmembers, dedicated to providing an excellent experience for passengers. I specifically recall embarkation day at the Trident Grill: I began walking away with my plates, but without any silverware. Upon turning around, without having to ask, a crewmember saw me eye what I needed and promptly handed me just that.

Gratuity

Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.

Dining

Princess' main dining rooms present a choice of traditional or anytime dining to accommodate passenger lifestyles. For those passengers who prefer a set-seating, assigned tablemate and same-time-every-night option, The Botticelli Dining Room, for traditional dinners, is located all the way aft on Deck 6. Seating times are at 6 and 8:15 p.m.

The menu offers a range of dinner choices. Marked on each menu with what resembles a lotus flower are Lotus Spa dishes, which are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Similarly, selections marked with a V identify vegetarian options, like Moroccan vegetable ragout and baked zucchini stuffed with cheese and onions. Typically, one main course, sans meat, is available each night, but there are plenty of soups, salads and pasta options on the menu for vegetarians. In addition, a home-style dish, like meatloaf, pot roast or another comfort food, is featured on the menu each night.

Being that we aren't rigid schedule-keepers, we opted for anytime dining, which allowed us to visit either the Da Vinci Dining Room, midship on Deck 6, or the Michelangelo on Deck 5. These two restaurants, which have unique color schemes, but offer identical menus to that of the Botticelli, are open from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

During peak times, between 7 and 8 p.m. on most cruises, there may be a queue; passengers can opt for beepers that will alert them when their tables are ready.

I found a good rule of thumb: the later, the better. Earlier dining times required more of a wait, but if your plans for the night aren't binding, it's nice to enjoy a meal later in the evening without the wait. You can dine for as long as you like or shorten the process by just ordering an appetizer or two.

The food there was very good (one woman couldn't stop raving about the prime rib), and great care was taken with the plate presentation. Our favorite dessert was the decadent Princess Love Boat Dream, a creamy, rich chocolate mousse atop a thin chocolate brownie in the shape of a lovely little heart. Luckily for us, it appeared on the menu every night.

One feature I loved was that, upon ordering a bottle of wine and not being able to finish it, the bottle was stowed away so we could revisit it at a future meal. I asked one night at Vines if I could have the bottle retrieved to enjoy a glass of wine while watching some of the performers in the Piazza, and the crew was more than happy to oblige.

For those who prefer the slightly more formal atmosphere of Princess' main restaurants for breakfast and lunch, the Da Vinci dining room is open for breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. In both cases, it's open-seating.

Ruby Princess also offers boutique dining options for dinner at a pair of alternative restaurants.

Crown Grill, one of Ruby Princess' for-fee venues, is located aft on Deck 7. It's furnished with lots of cozy booths in addition to larger tables, and dark wood paneling gives the space a very upscale vibe, while dim lighting inspires a feeling of intimacy. For a cover charge of $25, menu items at the Crown Grill include mostly steakhouse fare, such as rib eye, filet mignon and seafood. There's an open theater-style kitchen where passengers can look on as chefs prepare tender steaks and shuck shellfish for them. And, while most menu items are included in the cover charge, be aware that some -- like Brazilian lobster tail and whole Maine lobster, which are removed from their shells tableside and served with plenty of drawn butter (a treat!) -- will cost an additional $9.

Sabatini's is the second of the ship's alternative dining venues. Perched high atop the back of the ship, it's beautifully decorated with Roman pillars and Italian art, and Mediterranean tile-like designs appear on the china. A word of caution that we heard countless times prior to dining at Sabatini's: Bring your appetite. This is a culinary event consisting of so many items that you can't count them with both hands. You'll try everything on the menu, unless you kindly decline, but, thankfully, portions are not huge. The experience starts with eight different hot and cold antipasti, including prosciutto and melon and fried calamari. The second course offers soup, salad and two palate-pleasing pasta dishes. Your stomach may feel finished by this point, but it's only time for the main course.

Knowing that the market price of Chilean sea bass can be very high back home, we tried that. Lobster, stuffed chicken, sea scallops and veal, prepared Italian-style, were other options on the menu. For dessert, choose more than one if you've got the room. I paired the Crema al Caffe, an espresso flavored creme brulee, with a frothy cappuccino to finish off the meal. The cover charge here is $25 and is worth every penny.

For those looking for a more casual dining experience, head up to the Lido Deck for Horizon Court, the ship's casual buffet, open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes, eggs, bacon, pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, bagels and lox are on offer. There's really a large selection of just about anything you could want, but the food is certainly not on par with the main dining rooms; eggs didn't taste real, and pancakes were on the rubbery side. At lunch you can expect to find grilled panini sandwiches, club sandwiches, antipasto, hot wings and an extensive salad bar with tons of toppings and dressings.

I found there's not a clear traffic pattern when you're piling up your plate, so things can get a bit jumbled here. One bright spot, and different from other ships I've been on, is that the stewards will bring beverages to the table for you. Iced tea, coffee, water and lemonade are available on a complimentary basis.

Right next door, Cafe Caribe, a secondary buffet area, is open between the hours of 5 and 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. for lunch (on sea days only), 5:30 (when Horizon Court closes) to 11 p.m. for dinner and 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. for late-night bistro service. At Cafe Caribe, you'll find a changing menu of Caribbean and international cuisine. We found ourselves enjoying German-themed cuisine one night for dinner and chose from a large spread of almost nothing but German fare like bratwurst, spatzle, sauerkraut and a host of deli meats and cheeses. Disappointingly, the theme of the night is no longer displayed near its doors or announced in the Princess Patter, so if you're curious what's on offer that day, you'll have to go in and find out. Although the menus are creative, they're not quite the same quality as Princess' main restaurants, but they're adequate.

Cafe Caribe is also where night owls will find the late-night bistro with table service, offered from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fare on offer in the wee hours of the morning includes breakfast items like Western omelets and pastries, as well as dinner plates of broiled salmon, sauteed chicken and other dishes.

Carve out time on one of your sea days to take part in an authentic English-style pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is one of the many new-to-Ruby features onboard. The menu offers cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash or a ploughman's lunch. The tempura-dipped fish and accompanying chips are, by far, the most popular items with two-thirds of guests ordering it. I must say that it does hit the spot. Guinness and other popular pub ales flow freely (at additional cost of course). Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Casual dining options in the whimsical Piazza include Vines, a combination wine and sushi bar, and the International Cafe.

Located right on the Piazza, the International Cafe is the best place onboard for a casual nosh, but the service here could use a little work. A unique European sidewalk cafe feel has been achieved there, and it's a good place to talk over coffee, freshly-baked pastries, donuts and muffins in the morning. From lunchtime onward, there are tea sandwiches (the chicken salad is not to be missed), light salads and other snacks. You can also swing by the International Cafe for chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping ($5 per pot) or chocolate covered strawberries ($4).

Specialty coffees -- including espresso, cappuccino and flavored lattes -- and hot tea range in price from $1 (for regular coffee) to $3.50 (for specialty beverages). Every afternoon, there's a cookies-and-milk break, and you'll see crew offering the same poolside, too. It's a nice Princess touch. Also be sure to taste some of the cream-based gelato, which comes in vanilla, honey-almond, egg-nog, chocolate, strawberry and lemon flavors. Three scoops go for $1.50.

Vines, situated at the edge of the Piazza, quickly became one of our favorite places. Wooden barrels decorate the bar that houses more than 30 different selections of wine. In all, there are only 12 tables -- mostly tables for two -- and the quaint, old-world ambience and dim lighting make it a nice place to sit and chat. It's a great place to watch the street performers while enjoying a glass (or three!) of wine. And the sushi bar at Vines offers a small snack of Nigiri- (with rice) or Sashimi-style sushi. (You won't find bamboo-rolled Maki sushi here.) We tried oysters, halibut and lobster, which were all fresh and delicious. New at Vines is the selection of 18 different artisan cheeses from around the world -- three ounces will cost you $4.50. Hours vary depending on the day. In port, Vines is open from 4 to 11 p.m., and at-sea hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Trident Grill on the Lido Deck is a great place to grab a quick burger, dog or chicken sandwich with fries. You'll also find free pizza by the slice and an ice cream bar with all the fixings (including sprinkles) for a nominal fee, poolside.

Princess has a broader offering of in-cabin options than most other lines, especially if you're occupying a balcony stateroom. Passengers who have balcony cabins (which, on Ruby Princess, is some 80 percent) can enjoy intimate meals in the comfort of their own cabins. The Ultimate Balcony Dinner ($50 per person) is a privately served, four-course meal (which includes the option to order surf-and-turf), enjoyed at a beautifully set table with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Sea views, of course, are free of charge. One of Princess' photographers will come to snap a few photos and will deliver the best one to your cabin the next day. For a daytime twist, try the Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($32 per person), complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne.

Continental breakfast items like fruit, cereal and yogurt (or sandwiches and salads for lunch) can be arranged to arrive at the time of your choice, compliments of the room-service staff. To have pizza delivered to your stateroom, it will cost $3.Ruby Princess, sister ship to Emerald Princess and Crown Princess, is not an innovator. The ship has all the most popular Princess features -- such as the three-deck Piazza with its on-site bakery and whimsical entertainment -- of its nearly identical siblings, as well as many of those found on older ships, including the Sanctuary sun deck for adults and specialty eateries Sabatini's and Crown Grill.

But although there aren't too many surprises on this newest ship, there are some gentle improvements and enhancements. On Ruby, Princess has expanded the appeal of the Wheelhouse Bar, its pub-like venue, to include casual, English-inspired lunches. Suite passengers now have the option to enjoy intimate breakfasts in Sabatini's, and the new Ultimate Ship Tour affords passengers the opportunity to explore areas of the ship that are normally never seen, like the engine control room, the funnel, the photo lab and the bridge. Expanded ScholarShip@Sea programs like Mixology@Sea, which allows people to experiment with their bartending skills, and Navigation@Sea, where the ins and outs of navigating a cruise ship are taught, enrich the onboard experience. And audience-participation events, like The Wake Up Show, a morning show of sorts at sea that's broadcast shipwide, and Oceans of Talent, where passengers display their own talents, are being introduced to the already extensive array of onboard activities for passengers.

What lies beneath the surface of some of the more celebrated aspects of Ruby Princess and its fleetmates is a staff of more than 1,200 crewmembers, dedicated to providing an excellent experience for passengers. I specifically recall embarkation day at the Trident Grill: I began walking away with my plates, but without any silverware. Upon turning around, without having to ask, a crewmember saw me eye what I needed and promptly handed me just that.

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