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Comparisson Review Ruby Princess/NCL Jewel/CCL Freedom

Warm Breezes

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We just got off our 3rd cruise in 6 months on 3 ships similar in size and age, but 3 different cruise lines. I thought I would do a comparative review of all 3.


A little about us first: DH and I are both 47 and celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on the NCL cruise reviewed here. We have DS(19) and DD(16) who along with DD’s BFF (16) went with us on the CCL cruise reviewed here only. These were our 10th-12th cruises.


Cruise facts: We sailed on CCL Freedom in August with the family and DD’s BFF. We had connecting balcony rooms. The itinerary was 6 nights from FLL to Key West, Grand Cayman, and Ochos Rios (new port for us). This was our 6th cruise on CCL and 2nd time on CCL Freedom. Net of OBC the 2 person balcony cost $1100 and the 3 person balcony cost $1400.


DH and I then sailed NCL Jewel in October for our 25th anniversary. This was our first cruise without kids. We had a balcony room. The itinerary was 7 nights from New Orleans (new embarkation port for us) to Cozumel, Costa Maya (new port for us), Belize (new port for us), and Roatan (new port for us). This was our 3rd cruise on NCL and our 2nd time on NCL Jewel. Net of OBC our 2 person balcony cost $1700.


Finally we just returned home from a March Cruise on Ruby Princess. We had room R746 which is a balcony room with a larger balcony that looks forward at a 45 degree angle in the aft of the ship. The itinerary was 5 nights from FLL to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. This was our 1st cruise on Princess. Net of OBC our 2 person balcony cost $1000.


Room Comparisons: I have to give CCL top notch for rooms. Not only are their balcony rooms larger but they had chairs that reclined on the balcony. One of my main reasons for choosing a balcony is to be able to avoid the Lido and relax in privacy. I had that on Carnival. I could sit out there for hours just letting the sight and sound of the ocean totally relax me. NCL and Princess both had much smaller rooms. NCL’s balcony chairs did not recline like CCL’s did and while I missed that I was able to get relatively comfortable arranging pillows on the chair. Princess balcony chairs were worthless. I couldn’t sit in them for longer than 10 minutes and couldn’t get comfortable in them at all even with pillows. It made having the larger balcony worthless because I couldn’t sit out there and relax on it…which is what I paid the premium for. There was also some pluses and negatives to our room on Ruby Princes. We were right next to the door leading out to the Aft Pool, Outrigger bar, and Caribe Café. This was great. The bad part was when we were docking in Cozumel, early in the morning, our room shook so bad from the thruster that it was bone jarring. This happened off and on during the day in Grand Cayman too where we were tendered. I also didn’t like the balcony set up where you look down on the open balconies of those below us. It just seemed like we were invading their privacy.


MDR: Now this one is subjective. We had anytime on all 3 ships. For selection and deserts the nod goes to Carnival for us. We ate in the MDR every night because there was always something on the menu that appealed to all of us. NCL we ate in the MDR 3 nights, Moderno 1 night, Mama’s 1 night, and the buffet 1 night. NCL’s deserts, IMHO, were tasteless. There were nights when nothing on the menu appealed to me. My fall back when that happened on Epic was the pasta….that did not work for me on the Jewel. I did not like the sauce on the pasta on Jewel. Princess, while having better desserts, still failed in the selection department for me. Having said this, my fall back the Fettucini Alfredo was excellent…but I didn’t want to eat it every night. Taste wise I give both CCL and NCL a tie. Most food was great with a few exceptional and a few not so good. Princess seemed to be a total hit or miss for us. As DH stated it was either exceptional or it was horrible….there didn’t seem to be a middle ground good for us like we had on CCL or NCL.


The overall atmosphere I have to give the nod to NCL. We are casual people and prefer to dine casually. Within the dress code...just not the higher end. NCL’s every night casual dress code is our style. CCL comes in second with just one elegant night to dress up a little more for. Princess was too stuffy for us, even on the casual nights it was just more refined than we like. There is nothing wrong with that…it’s just not our style. We didn’t like the fact that when we asked for a table for 2, which we always do, the hostess suggested a table with others and literally rolled her eyes at us when we said we wanted a table for 2. The table for 2 actually ended up being about 8 small tables along a bench with about a foot between them. Barely enough room to squeeze into. It was like we were sitting a table for 16 not a table for 2….not the experience we were looking for. The 2nd time we tried the MDR we asked for the table for 2 again. The hostess again tried to steer us to a larger table and rolled her eyes at us again when we stayed firm in our request for 2. They started taking us to the same table we had before and DH asked if we could have one of the empty tables for 2 that were not along the bench. They acted like they didn’t want to do it but ended up finding us a table (there were quite a few empty ones around the dining room). We never had this issue on NCL or CCL. Getting a separate table for 2 never felt like pulling teeth before. The experience was just not for us and that combined with the lack of selection kept us from coming back to the MDR. We had no wait time or service issues, besides the hostess on Princess, in any of the MDR’s on any of the ships.


Buffet: Again subjective. NCL wins this one for us. Overall I find they had the best selection and taste (besides the desserts, which were tasteless). Princess comes in 2nd here. They had a good selection and like the MDR the food was either excellent or horrible….but we did find more excellent here. I didn’t like that you had to get a waiter to get you juice in the morning. That was a hassle at times. Carnival comes in last. I always have trouble finding anything that looks good on their buffet and we I do find something I usually don’t like it that much.


Other included food venues: NCL and CCL are tied with their Blue Lagoon and Fish & Chips and Deli. Both were excellent. Princess comes in 3rd with the International Café. Like their MDR and Buffet the food here was hit or miss. It was either excellent or horrible. I preferred the Pizza on NCL. DH preferred the pizza on Princess.


Specialty food venues: We did not go to the specialty food venues on CCL or Princess. On NCL we went to Modernos for our 25th Anniversary dinner and thought it was excellent. We received a free dinner at Mama’s from the Latitudes Party drawing and were not impressed. I just didn’t like the sauce they used on the pasta….it had a bitter taste to me.


Entertainment: For production shows NCL wins. The singers, dancers and the choreography are great. Princess comes in 2nd with great singers and dancers but I found the choreography lacking technical difficulty. I may be more critical than most here being a Dance Mom….but they did 2 numbers that my DD did recently and while they were good, DD’s dance team would have put them to shame when it came to technique. I’m blaming this on the choreography as the dancers seemed to be underused talent wise. While the shows we saw on CCL Freedom were the best we have seen on a CCL ship, they were still lacking compared to NCL and Princess. The dancers were not the best and the choreography was poor. They could also take lessons from Princess on classy costuming.


NCL had the better magician. Princess was good. Carnival didn’t have one. Carnival had the better comedians. Again Princess was good. NCL didn’t have one. Princess showed some great 1st run movies that were shown throughout the ship. DH and I enjoyed this as we rarely get to the movies at home so this was a treat for us. We saw Philomena on the MUTS screen and were served popcorn, pizza, and cookies on comfy cushioned seats with blankets. We saw August: Osage County in the Explorers Lounge and Captain Phillips in the Princess Theater. We would have seen Gravity too but something else always seemed to be going on that we wanted to do when it was on.


Princess wins when it comes to live bands. They were everywhere and they were pretty good. We were getting a little bored with the same music being played towards the end. I have to say that NCL and CCL probably tied for 2nd. We were on Freedom while they still had the show band and live bands throughout the ship. Some are saying that is changing but we haven’t been on ship with those changes yet. CCL did have a DJ on the Lido while NCL had a band but that really did not make much of a difference to me.


Casino: Princess wins. They had one night that was smoke free which was great and even the nights where it was allowed it just didn’t seem that smoky. Carnival comes in 2nd. While it does get smoky in there we would normally go during the day when it wasn’t so bad. They usually had a band playing right next to it which was nice. NCL comes in last here. They place their casinos in walkways and it was always smoky no matter when we went. I have nothing against smokers but I just don’t like getting that smell in my clothes and it really irritates my contacts.


Service: We had no issues with service on any of our cruises. They were all great.


Itinerary: For us, out of the 3 cruises, NCL had the better itinerary. This was mainly because it was a new embarkation port and 3 new ports for us see. We had great excursions at every port except for Costa Maya which got rained out. We had a private tour in Roatan with Theris Dixon Tours which was excellent. In Belize we did Mayan Ruins through Island Marketing. I’m glad we did it but have no desire to do it again. In Cozumel we did a Jeep Tour through Island Marketing that we thoroughly enjoyed.


CCL had the 2nd best itinerary for us. Again the 1 new port was a bonus. We basically stayed on the ship Key West though. It was too hot to do anything there. In Grand Cayman we purchased a $20 pp tour that took us to the rum factory, the dolphin show, Hell, and a public beach on Seven Mile Beach. In Ochos Rios we did the Jamaican bobsled through Carnival. We loved Mystic Mountain.


On Princess we knew going in the itinerary wasn’t all that but we choose it try out a different ship and cruise line. We stayed on board in Grand Cayman and took a taxi to Paradise Beach in Cozumel. This was our 2nd time to Paradise Beach. The first time was 9 years ago. We were one of the first ships allowed back after Hurricane Wilma had gone through. Let me tell you the changes were dramatic. It was a very beautiful place to spend the day.


Demographics: We fit right in with the demographics on CCL. It seemed most were families around our age and younger. NCL was an older crowd mostly couples. This was much different than our previous NCL cruises so I think the embarkation port and time of year had something to do with this. We fit into the younger end of this group. It seemed to be mostly couple in their late 40’s-60’s. There were very few families or kids. On Princess we felt a little out of place. I was really surprised at this since we sailed during the Spring Break months out of FLL. The majority on this cruise were in their mid to late 50’s-80’s. There were a few more families and kids than we saw on Jewel but not many. It seemed most were either older snow bird couples or groups from retirement communities in Florida.


Each ship had its pluses and minuses. CCL was a better fit for us as a family and I’m glad we didn’t have our kids with us on the other 2 as I don’t think they would have enjoyed it as much. NCL was a better fit for us a couple….but I think that was a mostly due to timing and embarkation port. I wouldn’t say the same about our Epic cruise which was great for our family. I’m not sure we are ready for Princess yet. At this stage in our life we like to keep it more casual when we vacation. The atmosphere on Princess was not as casual as we enjoy. There were aspects that were great and some not so great…but we just didn’t feel like we fit in. I can see us sailing them again in the future…but it may be a few years when relaxation and reconnection aren’t our main goal while sailing as a couple.

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We just recently sailed the NCL Jewel and have sailed Carnival Freedom twice. We have two kids (11 & 13). I have compared our NCL, Carnival, and Royal cruises in my Jewel picture review (linked in my signature). I would say my experience and comparisons concur with yours on probably 90% of the items. Carnival is just a better fit for our family cruise AND it's cheaper.

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Thank you for your excellent comparison review. I must say that I agree with you 100% that Carnival has the most spacious cabins and cabin bathrooms. In November 2013 I sailed on Crown Princess (my first Princess cruise) and in January 2014 I sailed on RCI Liberty of the Seas (my first time on RCI). Considering that I am platinum on Carnival, my experiences on these three lines has launched for me a comparison between them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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Very much enjoyed your reviews..on a side note..I am waiting waiting waiting for Dvd to see Philomena..and it will never come to our one multiplex here....so i loved hearing that about Princess and can't wait to see a movie i like on a big screen under the stars.


Wonderful reviews..thanks so much.

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