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Cruise News

Ruby slipper fits

Lori Rackl,  Dec 03, 2008

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Ruby Princess -- the newest ship in Princess Cruises' 17-vessel fleet -- hit the high seas last month with no shortage of fanfare.

Escorted into Port Everglades by fireboats spraying red water into the sky, the Ruby was christened by reality TV romantics Trista and Ryan Sutter of "The Bachelorette." Even Gavin MacLeod, Captain Stubing on "The Love Boat," showed up for the festivities, although I can't imagine MacLeod's dance card is too full these days.

After the pomp and circumstance, it was time for the Ruby to get down to business -- the business of taking up to 3,080 passengers on weeklong cruises through the western Caribbean, stopping along the way in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico, and Princess' private island in the Bahamas.

I'd cruised this lap around Cuba before, so the ports of call didn't appeal to me nearly as much as the opportunity to check out a brand spanking new ship. And at 951 feet long and weighing in at 113,000 tons -- well over twice as much as the Titanic -- there was plenty to check out.

More than 122,000 square feet of outdoor deck space meant lots of room for the nine-hole putting course, paddle tennis court, four pools and massive, Times Square-like LED screen. This is where Princess plays its popular "Movies Under the Stars," a welcome evening entertainment alternative for people (like me) who don't care for Broadway-style song-and-dance shows. Passengers snuggled up under blankets on comfy deck chairs and munched free popcorn while watching "The Dark Knight" al fresco. (The Joker is extra creepy when you're in the middle of the pitch-black sea.)

Inside the ship, you had the usual cruise liner entertainment choices such as a nightclub, theater and casino. But Princess gets bonus points for doing some different things, too. On Deck 5, in the heart of the ship, a three-story, piazza-style atrium periodically transformed into a stage for "street performers" doing everything from magic tricks to stunts on a BMX bike.

The surprises continued one night when a pair of costumed men looking like lost arctic explorers came trudging through Crooner's, the ship's martini bar, asking for directions to the North Pole.

"We found them in [London's] Covent Garden," said Martin Hall, a Princess vice president in charge of entertainment. "Aren't they brilliant?"

Not as brilliant as the Ruby's layout. It's a mix of many smaller venues -- 23 places to eat and drink -- that make the boat feel much more intimate than the megaship it is. The Ruby's three main dining rooms each seat about 500 people, a relatively small number for liners this big.

Only one of the three dining rooms has the traditional set seating times for dinner; the other two are reserved for "Anytime Dining," letting passengers decide when they want to eat -- and with whom.

In my opinion, the best food on the ship is being dished up in the two specialty restaurants: the Italian eatery Sabatini's and Crown Grill, the steak-and-seafood joint. Unfortunately, both come with a somewhat steep cover charge of $20 and $25 a person, respectively.

Sabatini's and Crown Grill can be found on other Princess ships as well. But on the Ruby, suite passengers get an extra perk by being able to have upscale breakfasts in Sabatini's, where the enviable top-of-the-ship views are best during daylight.

Other differences between the Ruby and her sister ships include a free, English-style pub lunch on non-port days at the Wheelhouse Bar, karaoke with a live band, wireless Internet access in your stateroom and an extensive behind-the-scenes ship tour that takes a maximum of 12 passengers to parts of the boat usually off limits to anyone but the crew.

Princess regulars will recognize many of the cruise line's staples, like the Asian-influenced Lotus Spa and adults-only Sanctuary, a tranquil outdoor oasis for those wanting to avoid screaming kids and the rowdy bucket-of-beer crowds. (The Sanctuary's peace and quiet will cost you $10 admission for a half day; $20 for the whole day.)

To really get away from it all, there's no place like your own balcony. In the 1980s, Princess pioneered the concept of the affordable veranda, a luxury once reserved for only the priciest suites. Today, Princess has one of the industry's highest percentages of balconies across all cabin categories. Some 58 percent of the Ruby's 1,540 cabins come with private verandas.

But beware: Balconies on the ninth and 10th decks have no roofs, giving passengers above a bird's-eye view of your not-so-private hideaway -- a fact one person I talked to learned the hard way.

"I look up and notice all these people looking down at us in horror," he said.

"We were sunbathing in the nude."

Ruby slipper fits
Ruby Princess / Image via

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