Ship: The extensive Winter 2012 facelift for the Sapphire Princess was a big plus. The ship looked sharp and well maintained. The update gave the Sapphire most of the innovations found on the newer Princess ships (the International Cafe, Movie Under the Stars, etc.) and, in addition, a sit-down Pizzeria (Alfredo's, a favorite of ours) and the nicest computer center of any Princess ship we've seen. Since the Sapphire now offers practically everything you can find on the newest Princess ships (but not everything: the Sapphire's Sterling Steakhouse still does not have its own dedicated space -- they just cordon off a portion of the Horizon Court) and with only 2,670 passengers at capacity, you can enjoy the ship's facilities with 400 or so less passengers than the newer Princess megaships. Right now, the Sapphire is my favorite among the Princess ships.
Stateroom: We got a mini-suite and enjoyed the extra space and larger balcony. It will be hard to go back to a regular stateroom. Everything was in the stateroom was in good working order and well maintained. Our room attendant did a good job of keeping the room clean and tidy. All of our service requests were fulfilled promptly.
Dining: I thought that the quality of the Horizon Court buffet facilities and food had been upgraded. We ate there for breakfast and lunch each day and enjoyed the variety of offerings. On the other hand, the variety and quantity of food in the main dining room (MDR) has, in my opinion, stood still. The MDR menus struck me as being almost identical to those on our last Caribbean cruise. We were never offered king crab legs as an entree; something I expect on an Alaskan cruise. While our waistlines didn't need them, we never offered seconds on an entree or an extra dessert. Don't get me wrong, the MDR food was fine and there was something I enjoyed every night, but it was clear to me that Princess is economizing on its MDR offerings. This was demonstrated on our last night. They dimmed the lights and we had the march of the assistant waiters carrying large half beach ball-sized Baked Alaskas. When our desserts arrived, however, we were served a small slice of what I called "Baked Alaska loaf," which obviously did not come from a full-sized Baked Alaska. I shook my head to think that the waiters marched around the room with fake Baked Alaskas.
Excursions: I took one Princess organized excursion, the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari in Juneau (JNU-700), which was operated by Gastineau Guiding. Our group agreed that this was the highlight of our cruise. Our guide, Adriane, was simply great. She worked patiently with all the amateur photographers on the excursion to help them get the best shots with the proper camera settings. She also provided enjoyable commentary while whale watching and along the trail at the Mendenhall Glacier. There were only 13 in our tour group (max is 14; other excursions can have up to 50 people), so we were not crowded or at a loss to find a good spot to take pictures. Traveling among the majestic mountains rimming Auck Bay in a boat far smaller than any humpback whale (yes, we saw several and bald eagles, seals, sea lions and an otter as well) was an experience I'll never forget.
In Skagway, I booked a Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float tour through viator.com. Everything went smoothly. Viator promptly refunded the tour charge for one member of our group when she decided to take another excursion. I wouldn't hesitate booking with them again. The fact that the cost of their excursion (operated by Skagway Float Tours) was 25% less than the same excursion through the ship was a real bonus.
Itinerary: Our cruise hit all the high points on an Alaskan cruise -- Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and College Fjord. We appreciated the fact that we stayed in Juneau and Skagway until 8:30 pm or so, which allowed a more leisurely schedule in port. On the other hand, we departed from Ketchikan at 2 pm, which was too short a stay in port.
Odds and ends: If we have the choice, we would take an Anchorage to Vancouver cruise the next time. Due the distances and time zone differences, we had to fly from Anchorage to Seattle and then catch a red-eye flight back to the eastern US. We really suffered from jet lag for the following week. With a southbound Alaska cruise, we would be able to catch a flight at the end of the cruise that would let us sleep in our own beds that night.
Since you are traveling the Inner Passage with all that majestic scenery so close to the ship, this is one cruise to get a balcony.
Boarding the ship in Vancouver took quite a while because we had to clear US customs before boarding. Two members of our group arrived at 2:30 PM and reported much shorter lines. So, it really does pay to arrive later for boarding in Vancouver.