Familiar turf on Princess Cruises
By David G. Molyneaux, editor, The Travel Mavens
Some cruise lines build ships with an ever-increasing wow factor, touting the latest innovations such as rock wall climbing, ice skating or riding artificial waves.
Princess Cruises, which has introduced an average of one new ship a year since 1998, aims less for innovation, more for familiarity, so returning passengers know when they come aboard the name of their favorite bars and how to find the main dining room.
years, since the debut of the Grand Princess -- the first cruise ship
with a dedicated wedding chapel and marriages at sea -- new Princess
ships look and feel much the same as the last one.
If you were with me on the first cruise of the Grand Princess out of
Istanbul in May 1998, you would recognize the basic design of the new Ruby Princess, right, now in its inaugural season with cruises out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In 1998, the Grand Princess, at 109,000 tons and 2,600 passengers, was the largest cruise ship in the world. Now, other cruise lines sail ships that are half again as big. The Ruby is 113,000 tons and about 3,000 passengers.
Tossing the spoiler
Princess has made some positive changes. Gone is the long, thin disco high above the rear end -- sort of like a spoiler on the trunk of a car -- that set the profile on the Grand, the Golden (2001), the Star (2002) and the Caribbean (2004).
The Caribbean (2004) launched Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck, left (on the Emerald Princess). At night, the giant outdoor screen shines down on popcorn-munching passengers snuggled in blankets.
Since the debuts of the Crown (2006), Emerald (2007) and Ruby (2008), passengers have found Sabatini’s, an alternative restaurant that is one of the best at sea, high above the stern, instead of on deck 7.
Princess also has added the Sanctuary, an adults only retreat with a $15 fee. And on the newest ships, a piazza has become a popular gathering spot with street performers and live music. The piazza, and a new restaurant Crown Grill, both are slowly being added to the older ships during dry dock repairs.
Pub lunch (for all), Sabatini's breakfast (for some)
Mostly, what you see today on the Ruby is familiar, including the Wheelhouse Bar, which now serves a pub lunch on sea days with such fare as fish and chips, bangers and mash, with a selection of English and Irish beers. Pub lunches will not carry an additional fee. Crown Grill, an alternative restaurant specializing in steaks and seafood, charges an extra $25 per person. Sabatini's Italian multi-course meal costs $20 per person.
New on Ruby are private breakfasts at Sabatini’s for passengers staying in suites. That follows a trend among cruise lines that are adding special attractions available only to passengers in the highest priced cabins. Princess also has improved its cell phone and wireless Internet reception, allowing passengers to get online easier -- an area where Princess has lagged behind other cruise lines.
With its fine woods, fabrics and art collection, the Ruby offers an environment that is above the means of most passengers at home, but is also a comfortable vacation retreat with intimate places for relaxing, reading, meeting friends. The Ruby felt familiar to me, because I spent two weeks on her sister, the Emerald Princess, during a trans-Atlantic voyage in 2007. Many times last week I couldn't tell the difference between the two ships.
Romance is the theme
Princess Cruises has always played to the love theme. The sleek old -- and much smaller -- Pacific Princess was the featured ship on the television show, “Love Boat.” One of the show’s stars, Gavin MacLeod, 78, who played Captain Stubing, often returns for naming ceremonies, as he did in Fort Lauderdale Nov. 6, 2008, on the Ruby. MacLeod is one of those rare television and movie stars who gives you the impression he feels lucky to be included in the show.
Official namers of the Ruby Princess were more recent television stars, Trista and Ryan Sutter, who met on ABC's reality series "The Bachelorette" six years earlier. They're the only couple from "The Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" franchises who married. The Sutters wed in 2003 in an elaborate television ceremony watched by 26 million viewers. They have a son Max and live in Vail, Colo. He is a firefighter. She has designed a new diaper bag line, Trista Baby.