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Please click on image to open a larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2008 unless otherwise noted.
Finalized: November 17, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
RUBY PRINCESS on trials. Photo Courtesy of Princess Cruises.
RUBY PRINCESS builder’s plate.
After months of anticipation, the time had finally come to jet off to Florida for two inaugurals and a four night Bahamas cruise. It would all begin with Princess Cruises’ recently delivered 113,000 gt MV RUBY PRINCESS, the last scheduled newbuild for Princess Cruises and the third in the modified GRAND Class CROWN series. RUBY PRINCESS was built by Fincantieri’s Monfalcone (near Trieste) yard, can carry 3,080 passengers (1,225 crew), measures 951 by 118 feet (with a draft of 26 feet), sports fifteen passenger decks and a service speed of 21.5 knots. She will be featured extensively from top to bottom in a forthcoming Decked! blog on MaritimeMatters.
RUBY welcome at Fort Lauderdale.
With a 7:40 AM departure via American Airlines from LAX to Miami, I left the house at 4:00 AM, which doesn’t always portend the most physically pleasant of days. On the flight, I enjoyed a nice conversation with my seat-mates, one of whom is a reservations agent at Cunard who won a company essay-writing contest. Her prize was the pre-christening and inaugural cruise aboard RUBY PRINCESS.
After almost two hours of shuttling up from Miami, the silhouettes of the brand new RUBY PRINCESS and her introductory nemesis, Celebrity’s sparkling CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, appeared amidst the condos, cranes, hotels and power plant chimneys of Port Everglades. Their glass panels were reflecting the last rays of a fiery sunset.
RUBY PRINCESS mini-suite D731, facing starboard.
I was told only some fifty guests would be staying on the ship overnight, although several functions were being held for a few hundred local visitors. I arrived at my wonderfully spacious mini-suite D731 on aft starboard Dolphin Deck (9) around 6:00 PM, with a few moments to unpack and then run up to the Fitness Center on forward Lido Deck (15) for a round on the ellipticals and some post-commute back unbending.
Shortly after my Hamburg-based cabin mate, Oliver Mueller, arrived at 7:00 PM, we headed to open seating dinner in the Da Vinci Restaurant. That evening, the only other active public venues were the International Cafe at the starboard base of the Piazza on Plaza Deck (5), Crooners on midships Promenade Deck (7), and The Wheelhouse Bar on forward Promenade Deck (7). At midnight, the ship would virtually shut down in preparation for Thursday’s gala inaugural ceremonies.
Even though there were not many guests on board, the 514 seat Da Vinci was set up for dinner between 7:00 and 8:30 PM and a special menu with two starters, a soup or pasta and a main course. I chose the pumpkin and turnip soup with purple basil and the turbot fillet over fingerling potatoes and melted leeks with truffle dressing. Our waiter Bogdan (Romania) and assistant waiter Sam (Thailand) seemed genuinely pleased to be working with “real” passengers and were extremely helpful and efficient.
I actually had the will power to resist the “Love Boat Dream” chocolate extravaganza (in deference to a good night’s sleep) but did cave in on some strawberry ice cream and Princess’ extraordinary homemade biscotti sans the coffee aperitif it was designed to accompany. After that, a walk or two around the mostly empty outer decks in the balmy Florida air was absolutely necessary!
Movies Under The Stars in the Neptune Pool area on pre-inaugural night.
While roaming the Neptune pool area, we met the beaming Danielle Vurpillat and Kip Hickman from Dunsmuir, Calif., winner of the Princess Cruises/USA TODAY “Romance on the Ruby Contest”. As a reward for their submission, they would be wed in the next day’s christening ceremony.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
RUBY PRINCESS at Fort Lauderdale.
Coffee, juice and muesli arrived promptly at 8:30 AM, just before I began a 113,000 gt documentation trek which spanned from the lower level of the 800 seat Princess Theater on forward Plaza Deck (5) to the jogging track atop Star Deck (19).
Fitness Center facing port from forward.
Finally, at 1:00 PM, I returned for an afternoon workout in the excellent Fitness Center with its army of cardio machines overlo
oking the bow (and a distant view of RCCL’s ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS and Princess’ ISLAND PRINCESS), rewarding it with two slices of Princess’ delicious Margherita from the Pizza Bar adjacent to the Neptune Pool, which I shuttled down to the cabin in time to grab my lifejacket and join Oliver for boat drill muster on aft Promenade Deck (7) in Club Fusion.
Parmesan blizzard in Horizon’s
After the drill, I took a break and caught lunch in Horizon’s, which included my trademark mountain of salad topped with fresh olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a generous amount of parmesan, accompanied with a grilled chicken breast and a bowl of garlic and lemon-laced gazpacho.
Setting the bottle in place.
Afterwards, I had a chance to wander the upper decks for a sneak peek as preparations were in full gear for the christening.
RUBY PRINCESS’ inaugural bride, Danielle Vurpillat, the future Mrs. Kip Hickman.
Once attired in “Ruby Red Tie” formals, we headed up to starboard Lido Deck to watch the christening at 5:00 PM. En route, we encountered Danielle in her wedding gown as she readied for her bridal entrance.
A wave of ruby-red roses, bunting, gowns, ties, vests, shirts and shoes flowed across the ship’s upper decks while the sun hovered in a more temperate position in the late afternoon sky. Service staff weaved in and out of the pulsating black and red mass with trays of maroon Korbel mimosas and other appropriately colored potions. Officers and crew filed up the staircases and balconies leading up to the altar-like midships Sky Deck (18) before the band opened with “Isn’t She Lovely”, followed by “The Way You Look Tonight” and “How Sweet It Is”. When the rhythm section broke into “The Love Boat Theme”, Gavin McLeod, television’s original Captain Steubing and Princess Cruises spokesman, introduced energetic red haired cruise director James Lay. A procession of dignitaries were then announced, including Princess Cruises President and CEO Alan Buckelew, RUBY PRINCESS’ Captain Tony Yeomans, Carnival Corp. CEO/Chairman Mickey Arison, Lois Wexler (mayor of Broward County), Phil Allen (director of Port Everglades) and the invoking pastor. When the brass cued back in, photogenic co-god parents and “The Bachelorette” reality show marrieds Ryan and Trista Sutter entered from stage right.
Red haired Philippa Huxley, Princess Cruises’ very own Sarah Brightman, sang the American National Anthem before speeches by Mr. Buckelew, Mayor Wexler and Mr. Allen. The ISLAND PRINCESS and ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS provided the occasional interruption with their departing whistle blasts.
Left to right: Mickey Arision (Carnival Corp. chairman), Ryan Sutter (co-RUBY PRINCESS god parent), Trista Sutter (co-RUBY PRINCESS god parent), Alan Buckelew (President/CEO Princess Cruises).
I’m still trying to figure out how Danielle managed to get up to the top of midships Deck 18 in that bridal gown without anyone seeing (or was I just appropriately focused on all the other festivities). In any case, she made a grand bridal entrance, clasping the hand of each staff member positioned on the three deck descent, joining Gavin, who escorted her to a platform on starboard Deck 15 where she joined Kip for the actual wedding (in the presence of Trista and Ryan) by minister Phil Roberts. Faces lit in a perfect sunset glow, the dignitaries looked on as the brief ceremony was performed to much fanfare. After the traditional blessing, Ryan and Trista took to the podium do the actual naming, releasing the bottle into the bulkhead just below. One man in the crowd hopped over the barricade to rescue the red ribbon from the bottle debris before it was swept away.
Post-christening RUBY sunset, facing forward from midships Deck 17.
As the upper decks cleared, most guests headed down to various celebratory functions. The media group was off to Adagio’s for a cocktail party prior to dinner in Sabatinis.
Left to right: Idalmis Hernandez, Gavin McLeod, Andres Hernandez.
The ever-approachable Ga
vin McLeod circulated amongst the crowd, stopping to pose with friends, old and new. We were seated with Miami-based writer/photographers Andy and Idalmis Hernandez, giving us much time to catch up all things liner-oriented as the courses and wine flowed.
The specially-created dessert was “Romantica Ruby”, a peach melba mousse with a raspberry rose center, pink champagne sorbet and a crunchy tuile (which resembled the grillwork funnel casing).
Seduced by the perfect vocal harmonies of Agnetha and Anni-Frid, the flawless production and ancient folk-based songwriting of Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, I was obsessed with ABBA before it was acceptable in America. After a slew of movies made their infectious music “safe” to enjoy in retrospect, came “Mama Mia”. Unlike the play and movie, which center around a cast of completely forgettable characters in a campily implausible story, the show Abbacadabra gets right to the point. Debuting on RUBY PRINCESS, it is the lost ABBA concert we all wished we attended, basically recreating all the hits with maybe the exception of “The Winner Takes It All” and “When All Is Said And Done.”
The live female vocals were outstanding, as were the costumes and the show’s pace. It was 1977 at the Anaheim Civic Center all over again!
All of this without the fake Corfu backdrop, contrite escapades and Pierce Brosnan!
The show closed with, of course, “Dancing Queen”, which was cleverly juxtaposed with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Hmmm, do I detect a “We Will Rock You” show in the works?
Maitre d’Extraordinaire Generoso Mazzone begins the champagne waterfall.
An epicurean feast and an ABBA reunion concert were not all Princess had in store for us that night. There was a champagne waterfall hosted in the Piazza by the amazing maitre’d Generoso Mazzone at 11:30 PM, just as RUBY PRINCESS began to hit some slight swells.
It was off to the cabin to unravel and deformalize after an eventful day. On CNN, protestors in California fought for their rights to marry in the wake of Proposition Eight. Irony on the seven seas.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Totally random RUBY carpet shot.
113,000 gt in two days is a lot of ship to digest! Fortunately, I spent two weeks on RUBY’s twin, EMERALD PRINCESS, last year. I grew to appreciate just how well this class of ship is designed with their excellent passenger flow and plenty of clever coves and corners to escape the hustle and bustle, when desired. The adults-only Sanctuary is pure bliss and well worth it’s modest cost on long sea days and the entertainment venues and restaurants are so well situated that it rarely ever feels as though one is on a 3,000 passenger ship.
Before attending the press conference in Adagios at 11:00 AM, I stopped at the Piazza for a cappuccino pick-me-up. Not surprisingly, many of the other media peeps had the same stimulating agenda. At the conference, which was headed by Princess Cruises’ president and CEO Alan Buckelew, Senior VP of Sales Jan Swartz and Senior VP of Fleet Operations Ray Colouri, most questions focused on the dire status of the economy and its impact on Princess and cruise lines in general.
Pub lunch is served!
With no newbuilds on the table (although a new design has been tendered), Princess’ primary focus will be on maintaining quality and expanding options, such as the complimentary English Pub Lunch the RUBY would be premiering in the Wheelhouse Bar that day. On the official maiden cruise (departing Saturday, November 8, 2008), the “Ultimate Ship Tour” would be launched, providing limited amounts of people access to behind-the-scenes areas of the ship for a $150 fee.
I asked if the RUBY had any technical or design nuances that set her apart from the EMERALD and CROWN to which Mr. Colouri’s simple answer was “No. They are identical.”
Princess’ CEO and President Alan Buckelew (L) receives the 2008 “Best Itineraries” award from Seven Seas Society’s Oliver Mueller(R).
After the conference, Oliver Mueller present
ed Mr. Buckelew with an award from the Seven Seas Society.
Portside passage from Deck 18.
After getting a photo or two of the English Pub Lunch and some more overall views of the ship, it was back to the cabin to sort out some computer issues and get photos sized for the blog.
Gavin McLeod in the Princess Theater.
My usual salad thing followed, and then, at 3:30, it was off to a nostalgic tribute to Gavin McLeod in the Princess Theater. What many people do not realize is just what great and varied work he had done on stage and screen prior to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Love Boat”. He seemed genuinely touched by the adulation in the auditorium.
I squeezed in one last workout, then joined the group for an elegantly presented farewell dinner in the Crown Grill.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Few things are worse than the last morning of a cruise! Alarms buzz, announcements are made, people tend to be in a dour mood as they shuffle off with their luggage, etc., etc. At least today, there would be no airports and planes to suffer!
Knud E. Hansen flying saucer funnel: MV DISCOVERY SUN.
DISCOVERY SUN sails into the sun.
Breakfast in Horizon Court was taken out to the aft Lido Deck terrace to watch as the little DISCOVERY SUN (ex FREEPORT, CARIBE, etc.) coughed out a pillar of copper-colored smoke from her delicious Knud E. Hansen saucer-topped funnel and sailed off to Freeport. These are the twilight years of a long career that began way back in 1968 when she was considered one of Miami’s state-of-the-art cruise ships.
We wheeled our luggage off the RUBY PRINCESS around 9:30 and tried to get a cab to the nearby Hilton Grande Hotel but the driver refused us since it would not be worth his while. So, we rolled everything four blocks, left our bags with the bell captain and got another cab to downtown Fort Lauderdale to catch the 11:00 AM CARRIE B harbor cruise.
ISLAND ADVENTURE awaits a new venture.
Although it is no longer a bargain at a whopping $20 per person, the faux paddlewheel-equipped CARRIE B provides a rare opportunity to photograph ships in Port Everglades. Today’s cast would include the RUBY PRINCESS, CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, the rust-streaked ISLAND ADVENTURE (ex KAZAKHSTAN) and the EURODAM. The ninety minute cruise not only covers the harbor area but criss-crosses the residential canals and provides views of some of the area’s most expensive homes.
Fort Lauderdale departures are particularly nice, thanks to the people who live in the condominium towers on the north side of the harbor channel. When ships pass, they are greeted with waves, sirens, bells, and sometimes their owner’s houseflag draped across a balcony or two. William and Katy Hoey, with whom I have had the pleasure of sailing on the MONTEREY, own a unit on the west side corner of the eighth floor. With glee, we accepted their invitation to come and photograph the evening cruise ship departures!
MV EURODAM departs Fort Lauderdale.
RUBY PRINCESS maiden departure from Fort Lauderdale.
Beginning on time at 5:00 PM, the EURODAM freed her lines and head into the channel, followed by the RUBY PRINCESS, who was now officially on her maiden voyage. The clouds absorbed and refracted the setting sunlight, producing a variety of splendid colors and reflections as the two behemoths neared. Bill and Katy were the first to urge the ships to whistle, holding their HAL and Princess banners over the balcony railing and ringing their brass bell. A fantastic aural frenzy followed with whistles blasting, echoing, and blasting again as the two sailed past. Magnifico!
CELEBRITY SOLSTICE at Fort Lauderdale.
Meanwhile, the fully-lit but silent CELEBRITY SOLSTICE looked on, anticipating her first Fort Lauderdale departure (on Monday, November 10). She will be featured in an upcoming Sea Treks.
William and Katy Hoey with the RUBY PRINCESS.
What a perfect way to end this latest adventure, with the RUBY PRINCESS chasing EURODAM into the balmy Florida seas!
Very special thanks: Julie Benson, Karen Candy, Michelle Colligan, Martin Cox, Brian Henriksen, William and Katy Hoey, Caroline Klein, Steven Kravitz
Finalized: November 17, 2008