The cruise began with a killer day in transit from Virginia to Los Angeles. The day started around 3:30 am in order to catch a 7:00 am flight from Raleigh/Durham. After boarding and about 8 hours of airports and airplanes, we finally landed in Los Angeles. We had purchased transfers to the ship but I have to say the transfer process was very slow and disorganized, as was the entire embarkation process. Princess usually does a much better job with embarkation, especially for Elite/Platinum passengers. We were finally on board about 2:45 pm -- just in time to drop of carry-ons by the room, grab a very quick lunch (which was actually dinner to our East Coast bodies), and head to the life boat drill. The ship left Los Angeles at 4:00 pm and we began our four day leisure transit to the islands. I LOVE sea days -- one reason I booked this cruise -- so the sea days were very nice. It was a little rough 2 of the days but nowhere near as rough as it can get in the Pacific. We arrived at Hilo on the big island of Hawaii on the 5th day and did the Volcanoes National Park tour. It was very nice and we had the best tour guide we've ever had on a shore excursion. Second day we were in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. We did the Pali Coast drive, very nice with a great guide. Third day we docked in Nawiliwili (cute name huh?) on the island of Kauai and did the river and fern grotto cruise. This was a little disappointing. The fourth day we were in Lahaina on the island of Maui but we had to tender. Evidentally, Lahaina still doesn't have a dock that will accomodate ships even as large as the Sapphire. Tendering was tedius and by afternoon it was windy and choppy. We left Maui and headed back towards the mainland US by way of Ensenada, Mexico, where we stopped very briefly the last evening of the cruise.
All in all in was a very nice cruise. The dry dock work on the Sapphire turned out very well. The new Piazza is great -- includes the Vines Wine Bar, Alfredo's Pizzeria, and the ever popular, International Cafe. There were other areas around the ship that showed signs of refurbishment but many that didn't.
Our room was great. It was at the middle of the ship, near the main bank of elevators and stairs. We got an unobstructed view at an obstructed view price and we had the best cabin steward we've ever had in our almost 30 cruises.
The dining rooms on the Sapphire were interesting. They are set up a little different than most of the Princess ships. One large dining room was reserved for traditional dining, with both an early and late seating. The other areas that would normally be two large dining rooms were divided into four smaller dining rooms - each with a different "theme". There was the Sante Fe (Tex/Mex), Pacific Moon (Asian), Vivaldi (Italian), and Savoy (French). Each of these dining rooms had the regular menu available and one additional entree that matched the "theme" of that room. It was a nice addition. Also, for some reason, dividing the dining rooms seems to have helped with the flow of people. We did anytime dining and never had to wait for a table! We dined at Sabatini's one night and it was as yummy as always. We did not dine at the other specialty restaurant, Sterling Steakhouse, mostly because it lacked character. On the Sapphire Princess, The Sterling Steakhouse occupies the back portion of the Horizon Buffet during the evening hours -- with no true separation of space. During the rest of the time, it just reverts back to Horizon space. Very poor planning I think.
The production shows were okay, none of them "great". We were in the middle of changing lead singers and some of the dancers and that made it even worse. The rest of the entertainment was pretty good to very good. Some of the other entertainers like Dan Riley were very, very good. The band in the Wheelhouse, Ocean's Quartet, was excellent. They were very talented musicians with a very good lead, female singer. They played a wide variety of very danceable music and the floor stayed full of dancers. The Explorer's Lounge band, Indigo, was good also, very good for listening but not as "danceable". The real treat of the cruise was the trio playing in the Piazza. The Pat Juneau Trio was GREAT! and such a treat. The played sets every evening and some times during the day. They also played around the pool on occasions. They played a variety of very good music and were very user-friendly. It's very rare to get dance music in the Piazza so this was a very nice surprise.
For those interested in learning more about the Hawaiian Islands or the environment around them, there were two lecturers on board who provided very interesting talks throughout the cruise. There was also a good assortment of movies -- on the MUTS, inside in the theater from time to time, and on the cabin TV. There were lots of activities on he sea days and lots and lots of "Hawaiian" themed things such as making leis. learning to hula, or learning to play the ukulele. There seemed to be something for everyone.
As always, the Princess staff was great -- all the waiters, bar guys and girls, buffet folks, etc. Princess does a great job in the this area -- much better than most.