We recently got home from our first cruise! The Selling Family embarked on a 3-night / 4-day cruise from the port of Las Angeles that stopped at Catalina Island and Ensenada Mexico. This was a cruise on the Ruby Princess ship.
If you have been wanting to go on a cruise, or are already a cruising pro, we invite you to reminisce with us and go through the journey with us 🙂
We had planned a cruise 2 years ago, that didn't happen because Cliff got deathly sick with Viral Meningitis 12 days before we were supposed to board our ship for a 10-day Caribbean cruise. So, even though this cruise was not nearly as extravagant as our “first cruise” was supposed to be, it meant a lot to us to actually make it on the cruise and brought up a lot of memories of the time when Cliff was so sick.
I had been meaning to share that story with you guys, but it's one that always seemed harder to write than any other. But, I finally wrote it and you can read all about how Cliff almost died from meningitis in this post.
Booking Our Princess Cruise Online Was Easy!
Booking a cruise is quite a bit different than other vacations because so much is included in the price of your room on the cruise ship. When we travel, we have gotten quite used to staying in luxury suites, and that was NOT happening on the cruise ship. They really just don't have comparable rooms, and the suites they do have were sold out by the time we were booking this trip.
So, we chose the largest room available, which was a mini suite measuring in at a whole 350 S/F, including the balcony space! Whew, those are some tight quarters for 3 people… But, the room was actually spacious compared to a regular room, so honestly, I'm not complaining!
When you book a cruise, the price of the room is the same whether you have 1 or 2 people, and then there is an additional charge for the 3+ passengers.
The price of the cruise for all 3 of us was $2,140. This price included most of our food. Many of the restaurants and even room service is included in the cost of a cruise. Even basic drinks like Coffee and Tea are included.
That is one of the nice things about a cruise, you are getting room and board for your price!
There are specialty restaurants on the ship that have a cover charge per person, and then once inside of the restaurant you can order whatever you want on the menu for that flat price.
We actually didn't explore any of the fine dining option this time around. One that looked intriguing to us was the Crab Shack, which was $29 a person to eat at.
The last thing we needed to take care of drinks, so we purchased drink packages for all 3 of us. This meant that we could have unlimited non-alcoholic drinks the whole cruise. Sodas for Cliff and I, and lots of juice for Aiden. The price of the drink package was $7/person/day. So, that was an additional $105 to the cost of our cruise.
One of the things that you have to pay for on a cruise that may not be thought about before is gratuities. There is an automatic gratuity added to your bill every day that you are on the ship, and is charged at the end. If you like to add extra gratuities you can do that in cash, or add an additional amount on the bill at the end.
Alright, now let's get to the fun stuff!
Visiting The USS IOWA Prior To Boarding
We left out house at 6 am and drove to Los Angeles. Our cruise was not set to board until 2 pm and we arrived with a couple of hours to spare! Thankfully we were with our friends who are very familiar with the cruising process and setting sail out of Los Angeles, because they knew just what we could do to kill some time.
The USS IOWA Battleship is located just down the street from the port, so we were able to spend a couple hours exploring a real life battleship and get a nice history lesson in for our Homeschool!
This ship was really neat because you can tour the whole ship and see what life would have been like for the sailers who lived (and fought) on this ship. The ship is basically a museum where you can see lots of facts and experience the whole ship. We aren't talking about a replica ship, this is the actual battleship!
It was very surreal to see just how large it really is and the way it was ran when it was in use.
After climbing up and down multiple decks on the ship, and reading all about life as a navy sailers, we got back in the cars and headed to the port!
Embarkation Day On The Ruby Princess
We boarded the Ruby Princess Cruise Ship at the port in Los Angeles, Ca at 3pm. Even pulling into the parking lot and getting our luggage to the ship was an experience. I never realized just how big cruise ships really are. And this was one of the “smaller” ships! It was neat to experience it with Aiden too. Seeing it from the eyes of a 7 year old is awesome. I remember wondering why he wasn't keeping up with us, and looking back to see him staring in awe of the ship and not moving. So, we stood and enjoyed the moment, before I got us back on track!
It is quite the process to board the ship. There are people waiting in the drop off zones who will take your bags for you, and then you go into this huge room where you fill out paperwork and then stand in line to get checked in. This was a first time for all of us to use our passports together, and the first time for Cliff and Aiden to use theirs at all.
Once we got through the check-in process we were able to go on the ship and move about freely! Of course, we headed to our room first (which we had read would possibly not be ready yet) and started to settle in. Our bags were delivered super quick and then we set off to explore all that the Ruby Princess had to offer us.
Which, to be honest, we don't feel like we actually were able to experience it all! There is just so much available to do and see and a short amount of time to do it all.
Experiencing The Main Decks
Most of the activity is on the upper decks, so we spent the first night on deck 15 where the buffet was located (we read that most people go straight to the buffet, but we skipped it). There were all these little walk up cafes where you could just walk up and order what ever you wanted, which Aiden loved. Especially since there was an ice cream bar and he didn't have to wait for everyone else to finish eating before he ordered and enjoyed his dessert. It was a funny joke to Aiden that we didn't have to “pay” for anything. Little did he know it was all paid for already!
The deck was really neat and as soon as we got off the elevators there were huge pools on both sides and big projector screens above the pools where they played nightly movies under the stars (another thing we never participated in, but meant to).
After lunch explored the Ruby Princess Ship some more and found tons of activities for the whole family like swimming, basketball courts, putt putt golf, and ping pong. During our exploration we also seen a big gym (seriously, who goes on a cruise to work out?), salon, multiple retail stores, spa, casino, kids areas, and multiple lounges. I was really impressed with all the activities that were offered aboard the Ruby Princess.
Food - It's What Cruises Are All About Right?
That evening for dinner we went to the buffet. It had a modest selection and Aiden enjoyed all the fruit he could handle. Cliff and I are not big on “buffet” style food, so we thought it was “ok”…Yes, we are hard to please when it comes to food! Most of the time we travel, we are searching out the best and most unique places to eat.
Since people are always talking about how awesome the food is on cruises, I'll be honest, I was confused that first night! Good thing we had our friends with us, and we soon realized it wasn't all about the buffet! There were much better options available to us.
Everyone To Your Muster Station!
One of the mandatory things for day one is getting everyone to their “muster station” to go over the safety procedures of the ship. They get all of the passengers on the ship to their specific emergency location and show us how to put on our lifejackets and what to do if there is an emergency alarm signaled while on the ship.
Our muster station was in the casino, which felt like breaking the rules to Aiden because he is familiar with the process of NOT being in the casino by the machines!
By the time we had enjoyed 2 meals and completed the muster activity, we were wiped out. So we headed to our rooms for the night, and were excited to wake up in a new location in the morning.
Day 2 - Waking Up At Beautiful Catalina Island
One of the things we really loved about cruising was that we would go to sleep in one location and then wake up in a new place. Not like a normal vacation where you rest at a hotel and then get back on the road to get to your next destination.
Day 2 was in Catalina Island, CA just off the mainland of California. We woke up at 8 that morning, grabbed a quick bite from the buffet and then at 9am we met our travel companions at the tender station. We were then put on a smaller boat (one of the lifeboats actually) that transported you to the dock of Catalina Island. Although we live in California, we had never been to Catalina Island before and it was a beautiful place to visit.
It’s mostly a tourist island. Many of the residents that live there and the visitors get around by using golf carts! So we rented a golf cart for $45 an hour and took off on their designated path to explore the island (with all the others who were on the island for the day). The whole self guided tour took about an hour and half. We stopped at some nice picture spots and Jessica grabbed a ceviche tostada along the way.
Our time in Catalina was completed with some shopping and Aiden burying himself in the sand!
Trying Out A New Restaurant For Dinner
When we booked our cruise, we chose the anytime dining option, which meant we could go to the main restaurant at any time we wanted. Rather than a set time where you would eat with the same people everyday.
Michelangelo's restaurant was a nice mix of casual and fine dining. This is where we started to understand what all the food talk was about. When we realized you could order whatever you wanted and how much of it you wanted, it was all making sense!
Cliff had 2 shrimp cocktails, because, why not?
We both had a fillet mignon with potatoes and asparagus. Now we were talking! Aiden had spaghetti and meatballs…Something we could never get him to eat at home and that he decided was his new fave food! He proceeded to order it every time we ate at that restaurant.
Of course, we finished off the meal with dessert! We had a chocolate mousse brownie and cheesecake, while Aiden had a “volcano” aka banana split shaped like a volcano.
So, we decided we liked Michelangelo's and ate there the following nights as well (man, we are creatures of habit that's for sure!). The menu changes slightly every-night, so that was nice.
Ending The Night With A Family Friendly Magic / Comedy Show
One of the concerns we had when planning this cruise was “would there be enough for a 7-year old to do?”. We had read that cruises were family friendly, but our dude doesn't really like going to daycare type places and we enjoy having him with us to experience life together.
So on day 2 when we saw there was a magic show, we decided to try it out!
The show had a packed auditorium, with lots of other kids present. Amen.
The whole family truly enjoyed the show and it was appropriate for all ages, which was a huge bonus. Aiden even sat in the front row with the other kids (something he is usually reluctant to do). He loved it and we all talked about our favorite jokes and magic tricks.
Day 3 - Experiencing Ensenada Mexico For The First Time
On our 3rd day of the cruise we ported in Ensenada Mexico. Again, it was nice to just wake up and be somewhere new.
Unlike porting in Catalina on the small boat, we were able to walk right off of the ship in Ensenada Mexico. Again, it made such a big difference having our friends with us, because they always knew just where to go and what to do!
We took a small (rickety) bus into town and made our first stop at Starbucks! Of course 🙂 This was actually the first time we had internet since embarking the ship and I quickly realized I had forgotten to do a couple of things before leaving. Whoops! Thankfully I have a great support team and was able to accomplish a few things using the Starbucks wifi. After that, I realized I needed the wifi package on the ship, because although I can work from anywhere, and take time off when I want, I still need to be semi-available.
In Ensenada we hung out in one of the main shopping districts, which basically felt like a flea market here in the states. Our friends had a list of things they were looking for to bring back home, and we were just looking for things that would catch our eyes. It did seem like most of the stores had a lot of the same things and nothing had prices. Everything was negotiable and the people selling were actually really pushy!
I had my hair down and got many offers to have it braided, that's one thing I wish I would have actually done. I just feel so uncomfortable with people pushing things on me. So I kept saying “no thanks!”.
They had these really cool bracelets that were made right in front of you, within just minutes! You could have them say whatever you wanted, so Aiden purchased one for himself and his best friend. Cliff found some ceramic statues of Mario and Luigi of the Super Mario Brothers. The initial price of those was “$20” and he walked away getting both of them for $16 total. They now live in our back yard. I even found a silver bracelet for myself and a shawl for my mom.
If you make this trip yourself, go into it knowing that you can negotiate on all of the prices, and if not, you can find the same thing a few shops over! Also, be prepared for the aggressive sales tactics and even kids selling you things on the streets.
We finished our time in Mexico by eating some authentic Mexican food. Cliff passed on this, because he is not big on “risky food”, but the rest of us enjoyed our tacos! Again, Aiden really enjoyed his meal and surprised us when he ordered himself another taco. He really seemed to come out of his normal shell for this trip!
After checking off all of the to-buys on the list, we were ready to head back to the ship. We finished the night playing cards with our friends and of course, eating dinner at Michelangelo's.
Day 4 - A Full Day At Sea (A Time To Test For Sea-sickness?)
Up until day 4, most of the travel on the water was done while we were sleeping, or so smooth we really didn't notice. Well, when we were heading BACK to Los Angeles, the waters were definitely a little choppier. I've never experienced any type of motion sickness before, and Aiden usually gets carsick so I expected he would be the one if any of us had issues. Whelp, it was me! I started popping Dramamine and went to bed early on the third night.
Day four of our cruise was a day entirely out at sea. We got to enjoy the ship the whole day. We started with breakfast from the buffet in which we sat on the back of the ship and enjoyed the wonderful views.
For lunch we ordered pizza, burgers, and ice cream from one of the walk up cafes. We then took our lunch to one of the lounges on deck 5 where we met our friends and spent a couple hours eating and playing a few rounds of Skip-Bo.
I checked out an art auction, where I was surprised that the one painting Cliff had shown interest in started at $22,000! Umm…Next?
Aiden and I even participated in a craft project where we made sugar skull masks and learned about The Day of the Dead.
We took naps and then met up at the Michelangelo's restaurant again for dinner. Since we had just 4 in our party for dinner that night and when its busy the restaurant will sometimes seat you at large tables with other families. This was a fun experience to meet and converse with another family on the cruise. If you don't have the anytime dinning, this is what it would be like for all of the meals. Turns out, the family we were seated with lived in the next town over from us! Isn't it funny how that happens?
It was another great dining experience for the family and as an added bonus the chefs conducted a “chef parade” during the meal and they lowered the lights and danced through the dining room to music while all the guests waved their napkins in the air. It was a fun time.
We finished out our day exploring more of the ship and ended up playing some hoops, walking the scenic deck, and even playing some ping pong. On the way back to the room we caught a couple minutes of the nightly movie that was playing on the big screen. That will be something we do for sure on the next trip.
Day 5- Time To Say Goodbye To Our First Cruise Adventure
It was sad to say goodbye to our first cruise adventure. But, we are always happy to be home as well.
For disembarkation, you can have you luggage picked up the night before and then waiting for you after customs. But we decided to carry our own bags off and leave during the earliest group.
We were expecting super long custom lines, but were surprised that the whole process took less than an hour.
Too-bad getting out of the parking lot wasn't as easy! Followed up with the parking lot Los Angeles calls a freeway…
Remember how I said earlier that Aiden gets car sick? Yeah, after all that time on the water and being fine, he got sick on the way home 🙁 Poor kid!
Wrapping Up Our First Cruise To Ensenada From Los Angeles
With this being our first cruise, we didn’t know what to expect and overall our family had a great time. The Ruby Princess ship was a fun ship to be on and offered tons of activities for the whole family. We didn’t get to do all of them and with just having a couple days on board the ship the time seemed to really fly by.
Every staff member we encountered while on the Princess Cruise was fantastic. Most were friendly and willing to help you any way they could. Our room was nice and cleaned daily by our cabin steward. Waiters and service members were always helpful.
Aiden was shy and didn’t feel comfortable going to the kids area that was available for parents to drop their kids off at so I can’t really give feedback about the child services and how it worked. There were separate areas for different age groups. There were age appropriate activities for each room and the staff members had themed parties and activities planned every day. Aiden was at the top of the youngest age bracket, so the activities seemed too “little” for him. Hopefully on our next cruise, he will be in the next age bracket.
If you have never been on a cruise and are looking for a good starter cruise I would highly recommend the 4 - Day West Coast Getaway which includes Ensenada and Catalina Island. You can check out tons of available cruises and compare lots of cruise lines using a site like CruiseDirect.com.
We are all ready to pack up and see our next destination! The destination is still unknown, but we are sure there will be more cruises in our future.
Share Your Own Cruise Experiences With Us
Have you been on cruises before? What were your experiences? Or, have you been wanting to cruise? Let us know in the comments.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our experience!