Many couple’s wedding ideas are culminated by a honeymoon on the high seas, but how many get to actually tie the knot as part of a cruise ship christening? California couple Kip Hickman and Danielle Vurpillat had the opportunity to do just that, after winning a contest sponsored by Princess Cruises and USA Today.
The bride was given away by “The Love Boat” television series captain Gavin MacLeod (aka Captain Stubing) and Trista and Ryan Sutter of reality television’s “The Bachelorette” served as attendants. The Sutters were also the godparents of the 113,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess and did the honor of breaking the traditional bottle of champagne to mark the ship’s launch and their own fifth anniversary.
Those who have sailed on Ruby Princess’ sister ships, Crown Princess and Emerald Princess, will find familiar, elegant surroundings; nevertheless, there have been some upgraded options added.
Among the new options is a pub lunch, an exclusive breakfast in Sabatini’s for suite passengers, unique enrichment programs from astronomy to mixology, two new stage shows, plus expanded wireless Internet and cell phone connectivity.
The company’s new customer service mantra is “consummate hosts” and a number of new services reflect that concept. Waffle stations for breakfast and lunch, evening canapés in several of the ship’s public lounges, chilled towels for passengers arriving back from shore, and by the pool, “misting stewards” will offer a quick refreshing spritz with Evian to cool off.
Like its sister ships, the focus on Ruby Princess is on balcony staterooms, which account for about 60 percent of the 1,540 staterooms. Standard balcony staterooms range from 233 to 285 square feet; more spacious digs are the suites, which range up to 687 square feet. Mini-suites (a good size at 324 square feet) have a private sitting area, two TVs, a tub in the bathroom, luxury mattresses and a choice of pillows (feather or non-allergenic). The 28 full-size suites (including two family suites) offer such extras as a walk-in closet, whirlpool tub in the bathroom, DVD player, one-time free bar setup, fresh flowers and plush bathrobes and slippers. All balconies are outfitted with reclining loungers and a table.
The smaller, ocean-view and inside staterooms range from 163 to 182 square feet, and 31 staterooms (in several categories) are handicap-accessible. All staterooms are outfitted with twin beds that convert to a queen, a telephone, hair dryer, safe, mini-fridge, closet, bathroom with shower, and television.
Princess’s flexible dining plan allows passengers to choose assigned tables or open seating in two of the three dining rooms: Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Buffet-style dining is offered in the Horizon Court and Café Caribe; both have excellent breakfast and lunch entrees. Café Caribe offers themed dinner menus. Suite passengers aboard Ruby Princess will have the opportunity to enjoy an exclusive breakfast in Sabatini’s. For fabulous fast food, hit the poolside venues of Trident Grill and the Pizza and Ice Cream bar.
There are two casual dining venues in the Piazza Atrium: The International Cafe, offering pastries and sandwiches along with coffee drinks (some for a fee) and Vines, a wine and seafood bar, where for a nominal charge you can indulge in artisan cheeses, sushi and cocktail-style shellfish, along with premium wines.
On sea days, the Wheelhouse Bar is transformed into an authentic English-style pub, serving a selection of traditional pub fare and pub brews. Pub lunch meal service is free of charge, but the pub brews are extra.
Looking for something special? Check out the four pay-as-you-go dining options: The Crown Grill, an upscale New York-style steak-and-seafood restaurant ($25 per person), and Sabatini’s, on Deck 16 with dramatic top-of-ship views, where diner enjoy terrific regional Italian cuisine ($20 per person). The Chef’s Table offers a galley tour during dinner service and a five-course dinner, paired with wine and dessert with the executive chef ($75 per person). The “Ultimate Balcony Dinner” offers four courses and a bottle of Champagne, served by your personal waiter ($50 per person).
Those who love a cocktail before or after dinner won’t be disappointed by a choice of a dozen bars (but the view from Skywalkers Nightclub on Deck 18 can’t be beat). Lastly, there’s always 24-hour room service.
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Ruby Princess offers abundant and diverse entertainment options for all ages. Lavish, high-tech production shows play throughout the cruise in the Princess Theater — the best showroom at sea where every seat has a great view.
Smaller productions are mounted in the various lounge venues. The heart of the ship is the Piazza Atrium, which hosts all kinds of acts day and night, including a pianist, singers, jugglers, clowns and a crazy guy on a unicycle. When Ruby is at sea the casino offers plenty of gaming action. Taking its cue from the popularity of TV reality shows, Princess has developed a number of audience participation shows. The newest addition is “Love Boat Legends,” where guests are actually transformed into a famous artist of the past.
For those who can’t sing or dance, there are complimentary “edu-tainment” options such as guest lectures and Princess’s “ScholarShip@Sea” program, which offers learning courses in art, entertaining, culinary, and computers. New classes are “Mixology@Sea,” a hands-on course taught by the ship’s bar manager, and “Astronomy@Sea,” where passengers explore the night sky through a telescope on the top deck, with the expert guidance of a ship’s bridge officer.
Passengers willing to shell out $150 can take the “Ultimate Ship Tour” offering guests a unique opportunity to explore beyond the public areas; participants will receive a variety of themed mementos at many of the stops along the tour.
There is an Internet center onboard, and for guests lugging laptops, Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship. An excellent photography department offers both formal and informal portrait opportunities — great for those hard-to-get family pictures.
Another highlight: “Movies Under the Stars.” The giant 300-square-foot screen lights up with a variety of programs throughout the day and night, including old-time classics and first-run movies.
Sportier pursuits include mini-golf, basketball, tennis, jogging and golf practice (with a swing simulator or with the onboard golf pro; there is a fee). There is also a huge gym with weights and every cardiovascular machine you can think of. Aerobics classes are free, while yoga, meditation, Spinning and Pilates classes cost $10 each. The four pools and seven whirlpools offer abundant wet fun.
The line’s “Escape Completely” theme really finds its mark at The Sanctuary, a relaxing adults-only outdoor deck area above Lotus Spa pool. Additionally, the Asian-inspired Lotus Spa, operated by Steiner Leisure, offers a tranquil environment and many exotic therapies.
For kids and teens
Princess offers a strong children’s program arranged by age, each group with its own facility and counselors. New this year is Wizards Academy, a program from the California Science Center that lets children explore the connection between science and magic. Also, activities and projects from popular arts and crafts company Klutz are offered along with Yoga for Kids, a healthy and fun course. Teens have their “Remix” area with fun indoor activities and a cool outdoor area with their own whirlpool.
Ruby Princess is the last new ship for Princess for awhile. With that in mind Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess, says the company will continue to “innovate to raise the bar” on the line’s existing vessels. That’s great news for current and future “Love Boat” fans.
If you go
Ruby Princess will sail 7-day Western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale starting November 8. April 18, 2009 the ship transitions to Europe for Grand Mediterranean and Greek Isle sailings. The ship will return to Fort Lauderdale in late October 2009 to do 10-day Southern Caribbean sailings. Prices for the 7-day Caribbean sailings begin at $562; 12-day Grand Mediterranean begins at $1,998 per person; 12-day Greek Isle fares begin at $2,228 per person; 10-day Southern Caribbean sailings begin at $998 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. Visit Princess Cruises Web sitefor more details.