Our Cruise: The Activities

We’ve all heard the term “cruise director” to describe someone who has things planned every minute of the day. After this cruise, I definitely understand why people use it– there are endless things to do, and yes, there was an actual cruise director that we saw all of the time.

Every night a newsletter is delivered to each room with details of all of the next day’s activities. On Princess, this is called the Princess Patter. It’s interesting to look at the Patter (as I heard veteran cruisers call it) and see all of the options available to you, especially on days at sea. Activities include seminars, art auctions, pool games, ice sculpture carving demos, movies, wine tastings and lots more. We didn’t set a goal or map out each day like a lot of people do, but we ended up stumbling on a lot of activities just by walking around and seeing what was going on.

We really loved the shows they produced each night in the Princess Theatre. We saw a piano concert and three well-produced singing and dancing shows, one with Broadway music, another with big band music which featured the Princess Orchestra, and the final show, an Alice in Wonderland-themed medley that had amazing graphics, songs and dancing. Unfortunately we missed the magician and comedian show they had on the last night, but did get to see the final of Princess Pop Star, which was a karaoke competition with 7 finalists.

There were lots of movies available for viewing. We saw “Moneyball” on the big screen of Movie Under the Stars, and we watched “Drive” in the Princess Theatre. They showed about 5 movies per day somewhere on the ship.

A few things that we had talked about doing but didn’t get to were wine tasting, a cooking demonstration and galley tour and high tea (well, that one was just me). Luckily we got in enough stuff that we did want to do and a lot of needed relaxation time, so we don’t have any regrets about stuff we didn’t get to.

We watched “Moneyball” on the outside big screen at Movies Under the Stars

Captains Welcome Speech and Champagne Fountain

In the theater waiting for the show on the first formal night

The Ultimate Deck Party

Tips:

– Spend a few minutes each evening looking through the newsletter deciding what you want to do the next day. It’s also helpful to bring a highlighter so that you can easily see all of the things you want to do.

– Carry the newsletter in your purse when you go out of the evening. This way you can double check times and make sure you don’t miss anything. I forgot to do this on the last night, and we ended up missing the farewell comedy show because the time was earlier than previous shows and I didn’t bring the newsletter.

– Try to attend a variety of activities early in the cruise, just to get a feel for them. Even if you’re not a show person, you might be surprised at how well done they are and decide to go again.

– Don’t feel obligated to do the activities if you’re just looking to relax and recharge.

Our Cruise: The Dining

When most people think of cruising, they think of vast amounts of food. In my experience, this is certainly true. Though I had been on a cruise back when I was in middle school, I was more focused on the youth activities and such that I actually can’t remember the food on the ship. I don’t mean specifically what I ate, rather the set up of meals. This was one thing that I didn’t really research before the trip, after all I knew they would feed us in some form, so it was a nice surprise to see how nicely meals were done.

The options for dining were endless, from room service (free of charge, 24 hours a day!) to buffets to formal dining rooms to custom restaurants to poolside grills, the options were endless.

Our first day on the ship, we opted to have our breakfast brought to us by room service. We both planned to go to the gym, and our first port required tendering, so it seemed logical to eat while getting ready and packing stuff up for the beach. This breakfast was definitely no-frills, but enjoyable, and the view couldn’t be beat. The rest of the days we went up to the buffet after Luke discovered Muesli, which he then wanted every day. The variety at the buffet was incredible, with some staple foods like pancakes, fruit and yogurt, and a few specialty dishes from regions around the globe. They also serve breakfast in the dining rooms, however we never made it to one of them for breakfast.

Room service breakfast

For lunch, we either ate at one of the buffets or the pizza restaurant or grill out by the pool. Towards the end of the cruise I discovered that while 3 of the buffets served mostly the same foods, the 4th buffet had a different theme each day, done to perfection. The day I discovered this happened to be pasta day, and they had at least 25 different pasta dishes. I was in heaven. They also had Mexican and Asian-themed buffets that I enjoyed as well.

By far, the most exciting meals on the ship were the dinners. As I mentioned above, I didn’t quite know what to expect for variety in the dining room, perhaps a meat and vegetable option? Wrong. Each night they brought us a different 3 course menu, consisting for 12 staple dishes on the left side of the menu that were always available, and 12 customized dishes that were available for just that night. And then they brought the dessert menu, also with about 8 unique desserts to each night.

One of the staple dishes that I kept returning to was the cheese plate appetizer. I’m obsessed with cheese, and each night there were 3 new cheeses, walnuts, grapes and bread. My favorite entrees included shrimp in a safron sauce, fettuccine alfredo, lobster and prime rib. There were two soups that I didn’t care for, but I enjoyed everything else.

Friday night menu (I apologize for the poor quality of the picture)

Key lime pie and a cookie a la mode

Princess Love Boat Dream

Something important to consider in relation to dining is how you will enjoy the meals. A traditional meal on a cruise involves assigned tables of 8, where you sit for the entire duration of the cruise, and you eat at a certain time either early, usually about 6, or late, about 8:15. Obviously this is a great way to meet people, but sitting with the same strangers for a week sounded a bit tiring to Luke and me. So we opted for Princess’ Anytime Dining, where you not only can arrive at any time to eat, you can also choose the size of table you would like. Each night we chose a table for 2, so that we could discuss our day and plan for the next privately. Looking back it may have been fun to sit at a group table one night, but we had a lot of fun sitting alone.

It’s also worth noting that many cruise ships now have 2 or 3 specialized restaurants on board, which are not included in your fare. The Ruby Princess had the Crown Grill, steaks and seafood, Sabbatini’s, an Italian food restaurant, and Vines, a wine bar, sushi and tapas place. Though we opted to not visit one of these restaurants, we did hear from other passengers that the food was very good and the atmosphere a nice variation from the main dining room.

Tips:

– Try all of the free dining options. The menus of the buffet and formal dining room will be very different, and it is fun to experience the various choices. If you have time and money to spare, try one of the cost additional restaurants.

– If you have an early morning in port, especially if you have a planned excursion, order room service so that you can eat while getting ready for the day.

– For small groups, always go to the maitre’d to ask about availability. The first night we were standing in a long line for the hostess starving and thinking we wouldn’t be able to eat for a while. Luckily I bypassed the line and asked about the wait time for two, and the maitre’d sat us right away, explaining that we were waiting in line behind two different large groups.

Our Cruise: The Planning and Arrival

Well, that was a quick 10 days! It never ceases to amaze me how much time is spent leading up to a trip and planning it, when it’s over so quickly. Luckily, planning is part of the fun.

We were on the February 19 sailing of the Ruby Princess out of Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale). After a bunch of research, I settled on this cruise because it was more reasonably priced and the ports were the most appealing. Princess isn’t the hippest line (Royal Caribbean) or the most luxurious line (Crystal, Oceania) but we were very pleased with our experience, the ship and the line in general.

Coming from anywhere except southern states, it is recommended that you fly in a day early to account for bad weather, flight delays, etc. We flew in on a mid-day flight on Saturday, and stayed in a hotel Saturday night. This proved to be one of the smartest decisions of the trip. I looked for a place that had shuttles both from the airport and to the cruiseport in order to cut down on expenses. The best hotel turned out to be the Extended Stay America Fort Lauderdale Airport-Cruiseport. As soon as got our bags, I called the hotel and they sent the shuttle. We only had to wait about 15 minutes, which we then saw was the amount of time it took to get from the hotel to the airport. We didn’t pick anyone else up and went straight to the hotel.

Needless to say, the hotel wasn’t great, but it served it’s purpose. It was also in a very convenient location. We were able to walk to a Publix to get soda and an underwater camera, and Total Wines, a store I read about constantly on Cruise Critic, to stock up on our wine stash. After an easy walk back to the hotel we had time to repack the bags now that we had more stuff and get ready for dinner.

There were numerous restaurants by the hotel, but we decided that we were on vacation, damnit! and we wanted to go to a fun, hip area, not a local strip mall restaurant. After a debacle with the local trolley system (last trolley is at 6:30 p.m., though the posted signs said 9 p.m.) and waiting for 45 minutes for a bus that never came, we decided to walk. Las Olas Blvd., where there are lots of restaurants and shops, was 3 miles away. But we eventually got there and had a nice dinner and drinks. Of course, we decided to walk back (why not?!) and were very tired the next morning.

Upon waking up, I utilized the free light breakfast provided by the hotel while Luke got Starbucks on the way back from his run. We signed up for the 10:30 shuttle to the cruiseport which unfortunately turned into 11:00 after 2 rude couples were late. We were dropped off first and quickly checked our luggage with a porter and proceeded to the security line with our carry on bags. Security went quickly and we received boarding group number 2 cards. We waited in airport-style seating for about an hour and were then called to check-in. Next thing we new, we were on the gangway and walking on the ship!

Tips:

– Fly in a day early. Not only does it give you a buffer for travel delays, it starts your vacation early and helps you feel relaxed the morning of departure.

– Spend time researching everything. I knew that we had shuttles both from the airport and to the cruiseport, but was pleasantly surprised by the commercial areas surrounding the hotel. We could have been in a remote area where doing last-minute shopping would have been difficult.

– Show up to the cruiseport as early as possible. Princess recommended people not arrive until the last hour of checkin in order to “avoid long lines.” We may have had to sit in the terminal and wait for a bit, but it was worth it when we were sitting on our balcony with our carry on bags unpacked watching people come on board.

– Use resources and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I sent Tweets to strangers who had “Cruise” in their Twitter handle, asked family friends who are frequent cruisers and posted/researched on Cruise Critic practically everyday. I felt prepared and knowledgeable before we even left the port, which made the vacation that much more relaxing.

– Plan your outfits ahead of time. A tip nearly everyone gave me was to not overpack. That means something different to everyone, but I took it to mean that I should take the time to plan clothing for each day so that I took everything I wanted, but no more. I carefully laid out 8 bathing suits, 8 dinner dresses and a few daytime casual outfits. By a lot of people’s standards I probably overpacked, but I can honestly say that I wore every single thing I brought.

Okay, so it looks like I overpacked. But in fairness two are Luke’s. And this was post wine and soda haul, so a lot of stuff was displaced. 🙂

I Swore No More…

I recently came to peace with the fact that I shouldn’t buy any more swimsuits (my favorite thing to buy), but I see today that Trina Turk (my favorite swim designer) is collaborating with the beautiful Grace Bay Club in Turks & Caicos and doing a line. Since I will be visiting Turks & Caicos on the cruise in February, how do I say no to this great print?

via Trina Turk

This print is lighter than the usual bold Trina prints, and I really like it. Perhaps it will be a late Christmas list add?