Learn the pros and cons of our Princess Cruises experience through this Princess Cruises review.
Princess is the cruise line that started my love affairs with cruising – via the 70s hit TV show The Love Boat. I know I’m not the only gay boy who grew up loving the show! While it would be nearly impossible to live out a Love Boat script on a modern Princess ship, the line still holds a nostalgic spot for me.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that I first sailed on a Princess ship—an RSVP all-gay cruise. Lately, Princess has been on my radar for a mainstream sailing, especially since their entertainment partnership with legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz was launched.
Related: See why I called this the “perfect gay itinerary.”
My husband Denni and I live in Hawaii, so it was a pleasure to be reminded that Princess offers many sailings along the US West Coast and Mexican Riviera—we didn’t have to fly to Florida! We chose a California Coastal itinerary, booked it through Tom Baker’s outstanding team at Cruise Center, and caught a flight to the pier in Los Angeles.
Below is our list of Princess pros and cons.
What we loved
New Specialty dining, plus the pizza. Dining on Ruby was a hit-and-miss experience, but the two newer upcharge restaurants were both brilliant experiences. The older Crown Grill steak house was a disappointment.
Share by Curtis Stone was the standout dining experience onboard. Despite a name evoking small plates for sharing, the meal is served in a fairly traditional, multi-course style. But Denni and I are sharers so there was a lot of passing plates back and forth. The physical space of this restaurant is dramatically different from the rest of the ship—closer to the woodsy, hipster vibe of Portland, Oregon, and something we would expect on foodie-oriented Celebrity. Share’s cuisine and service were spot-on, including our outstanding waiter, Luis.
There were plenty of taste highlights—and we liked Share so much we dined there twice—but the real standouts were a ravioli with sunchokes and a mushroom ragù. Well worth the $39/person cover.
Salty Dog Gastropub is an unusual concept for a ship: take a portion of a normal bar, and effectively make a pub-ish dining space in the evening with high-table seating. It also seemed to be a hidden gem, with many cruisers not discovering it at all, despite the good-value $19/person upcharge.
Well-known chef Ernesto Uchimura designed the menu. The stand-out is a stacked, not-to-be-missed burger with a combined ground rib eye/short rib patty, grilled pork belly, Gruyère cheese, and more. There were several other fine bites (calamari frites were memorable) during that meal. With a talented folk/rock singer-guitarist accompanying things the room had a friendly vibe, and we enjoyed chatting with nearby fellow diners. It was a great 1st night option for us—saving us from interminable queues at the main dining rooms.
Pizza bar. While all-day pizza is common on most cruise ships, the quality of the pies onboard Ruby was outstanding. The crust evoked New York style, which is not easy outside of New York.
Reruns of The Love Boat. No other cruise line could dedicate a TV channel to The Love Boat. What a joy!! Reruns of The Love Boat run all day long, however the same episode repeats all day, with a new episode the next day. While the modern ship’s senior crew scarcely echoes the always-there/new BFF-style of the TV crew, having Captain Stubing, Julie, Isaac, Doc, Gopher and Vicki “along” on our Ruby Princess itinerary added an element of nostalgic fun. The guest star list was a hoot—Carol Channing, Florence Henderson, Dick van Patten, Rue McClanahan, and of course Charo.
Production shows. We booked this particular ship for two reasons: the itinerary, and the presence of one of Stephen Schwartz’ new made-for-Princess shows. What we weren’t expecting was a triple-collection of onboard production shows that wowed us every time.
Mr. Schwartz’ Magic to Do will be reviewed separately, including cast interviews. Meanwhile, Once Upon a Dream and Colors of the World were both extremely well thought-out concept pieces, with enough loose “storyline” to satisfy, enjoyable tunes—some of them familiar—sung by excellent singers, and memorable movement by a crackerjack group of dancers. Also notable was the brilliant use of projection walls to create fast-changing sets.
But the true piece de resistance throughout all three shows was the costuming—brilliantly designed, perfectly executed, and beautifully worn.
The only downside to the production shows is Ruby’s theater space. The flat-ish main “orchestra” section places audience members quite low for the stage floor sight line, and a raised baffle along the front of the apron—designed to hide some light and effect equipment—completely blocks view of the performers’ feet from the orchestra level. As a true theatre devotee, I saw a couple of the shows twice just to get different vantage points.
The bed. We’ve had some good beds on ships, but Princess wins the comfort prize with their “Luxury Bed.” Beyond plush linens and mattress comfort, we never felt a gap between the two, pushed-together twin beds.
Our inside cabin. This was a huge surprise—with costly airfare we couldn’t afford a balcony, so we decided to go all the way down the price scale. It had been a very long time since I sailed in a cabin with no windows, so I was nervous. The room turned out to be spacious enough for two travelers—certainly nowhere to entertain guests—with plenty of storage and dressing space. It had one of the smartest closet layouts we’ve seen on a ship: turning the closet perpendicular to the entryway and eliminating closet doors—no more banging into anyone! Smart.
Movies Under the Stars. While the idea of movies on deck has been copied, Princess did it first. The giant LED screen technology produces a bright picture, so films and sporting events are shown any time of day or night. We snuggled up on deck chairs with popcorn for a watching a movie. Fun.
The Itinerary: see this link
Salon Men’s Services. During our Day One spa upsell, um, “orientation,” were really pleased to discover a men’s barber mixed in among the usually lineup of services promising whiter teeth and more youthful appearance. Denni and I both booked a men’s treatment package, with his including a beard trim, and mine being a more-indulgent mini-facial and a hand & foot rub. Kira the barber, a young woman from New Zealand, did good work and we both felt the value was OK. Other spa services were good—a basic massage and facial were on our menu—although nothing compared to the services we get from our trusted massage therapists on land.
Well-advertised LGBT meet-ups. Kudos to Princess for getting this detail mostly right. The LGBT meet-ups were scheduled daily, always in the same place, although with slightly moving times depending on the port. The Adagio Bar was a quieter, secluded one, and there were a variety of other gay men who came by (we attended nightly). There was a group of about 20 men on board celebrating a birthday, who helped make the event feel substantial some nights. On other nights, we had more intimate chats with just another couple or two. I believe Princess could improve this event by hosting the event, with an included cocktail and “out” crew/staff member, on the first sea-night of the itinerary.
What we didn’t love
Crowded feeling—lack of space. The northern-California portion of our itinerary presented cool outdoor temperatures, so most passengers stayed inside. We found it almost impossible to locate a desirable bar/lounge/foyer that wasn’t already packed with people. Everywhere we went, someone seemed to be there ahead of us. The ship just felt crowded. If there were uncrowded spaces, we didn’t find them.
The interesting revelation about this is that Ruby is approximately 9,000 tons smaller than our other recent large-ship: Celebrity Solstice, but Ruby is designed to carry 230 more persons in the smaller space. Perhaps the numbers sound insignificant for such large vessels, but we felt the difference.*
Unhappy staff/crew. Several cruises ago, we sailed Azamara Quest where every staff/crew member seemed to genuinely love their job. The positive energy radiated down from the captain.
Aboard Ruby, we frequently sensed the staff/crew were just going through the motions. For the first time ever, our cabin steward didn’t introduce himself (we didn’t mind, but it was a surprise). In the main dining rooms and buffet, the staff seemed completely uninspired. The service quality was never lacking, but the team doing it seemed to have forgotten there is magic to do.
Decor. Overall, we had a hard time placing this ship into a design-style or theme. If we had to name it, we’d say American Convention Hotel. The public areas, elevator lobbies, etc., were all fairly uninspiring, but we got used to it and just pretended we were at a Hilton near a convention center.
Layout. Echoing the overcrowding note above, the layout seemed chopped up, and forced guests into a few main public areas of the ship. Admittedly, most ships are designed this way, but on Ruby we really felt it.
Smoking in the casino. Half of the casino was a smoking zone, with no physical barrier from the other half nor from the nearby foyers and hallways. Strangely, the smoking side was also the busiest, and where I had the best luck. No offense to smokers, but in 2016, and with the health information we all have, I’m of the belief that all smoking should be done outside.
Buffet food, especially the salad bar. The ship’s buffet was horribly designed—carved into three different serving areas. I’m sure it was envisioned as a way to separate masses into smaller zones, but it failed at every turn. Another fail was consistently uninspired and average food, and a sadly underwhelming salad bar with a shortage of ingredients compared to other lines we’ve sailed. We look forward to very healthy salad lunches, and just didn’t find it on Ruby Princess.
Upcharge coffee bar. While this concept is common on many large, mass market ships, on Ruby it was ultra-crowded, the staff was overwhelmed, and the coffee drinks were nothing special. We usually couldn’t tell the difference between their lattes, cappuccinos, and a basic coffee with milk. Disappointing as we’ve felt this was a slightly hidden gem concept on other ships, where we could have great service away from the masses.
Upcharge spa retreat: The Sanctuary. This is a lovely concept: an adult-only upper deck with spa attendants offering light snacks and afternoon tea, as well as spa services available in nearby cabanas. But to us it felt too fussy—we prefer to choose our own deck space and find our own snacks on a counter rather than flag down an attendant to provide them. While it was pretty, quiet, and comfortable, for a $40/day upcharge, we couldn’t see a value in The Sanctuary.
And in the category of just bizarre:
“Three Hours Only! Onboard Outlet Sale. Save up to 75% off.” Early in the cruise, a portion of one dining room hosted this strange shopping event. Piles of clothes–women’s mostly (of course)–handbags, etc., were on the dining tables. Proof that cruise lines will go to any extent to make money from the passengers. But crazier was the amount of large bags leaving that dining room in passengers’ arms!
We were initially underwhelmed by Ruby Princess. But throughout the week we found her to be comfortable enough, with some exquisite dining options and outstanding stage shows, plus some nice outdoor public areas. We surprised ourselves by saying we’d sail her again, especially for the itinerary and price: we had paid just over $500/person for the week.
We were not alone in saying “we’d go again.” The majority of our fellow passengers seemed to be loyal Princess cruisers, many on their umpteenth cruise with the line. We met a number of passengers—including gay men—who won’t sail any other line; most hadn’t tried any other line and couldn’t see a reason to bother… “we’re gaining Princess loyalty points,” was heard more than once.
Princess provides a comfortable, middle-America vacation product—for a passenger not unlike the characters who sailed the Pacific Princess on The Love Boat. If we repeat, we will again choose a lower-priced cabin and spend the difference on specialty dining.
*Ship size statistics via Wikipedia.
Note: The author paid his party’s own cruise fare, airfare, and port experiences. Princess Cruises provided an onboard credit allowing for the review of several ship’s services. All opinions expressed are the author’s own and have not been previewed by the cruise line.
We hope you enjoyed this Princess Cruises Review