We are very glad we did.
I did my research online. The cruise critic recommendations were very helpful. We decided we want a one-way 7-day cruise that includes Glacier Bay, beginning or ending with a Denali tour. Those parameters pointed us to Princess, and thanks to a local agent, we were able to get a last-minute deal on Sapphire.
Vancouver was a welcoming beginning; a vibrant, friendly, cosmopolitan vibe! And the sun shone the day we visited. We stayed at CenturyPlaza Hotel and Spa, located at the heart of downtown Vancouver and close to the docks. I asked and got a higher floor and a room with a view. The room is spacious, clean, comfortable and equipped with a kitchen, which sadly we were not able to use. Friends showed us around their city and we enjoyed Stanley Park and Granville Island.
Ship. Our focus was on the attractions of Alaska, but Sapphire did not disappoint. The tone was subdued (except for the hawking of jewelry, art, photos) and alive (maybe because of the mix in interests, I did not see crowds at any event or area at all). Embarkation was easy. At the airport and in pre-cruise messages, we were encouraged to board later, and when we did at 3pm, there was a short line that moved rather quickly. The public rooms are varied, inviting and well-designed. There is adequate space to do whatever it is you want to do - whalewatching or reading a book (and warmly covered with blanket) at the promenade deck, surfing the net at the internet cafe, winning or losing at the casino and using your cruise card to do it!, staying in shape at the gym with machines or at classes, listening to the naturalists lecture on Alaska, wildlife, and glaciers galore, or dipping in one of the many pools, indulging in a massage or the sauna or dancing at Club Fusion, Explorer, Skywalker. I have a habit of getting lost, and it helped a lot when our cabin steward pointed the carpet color and pattern differences between the port and starboard sides.
Our room was better than I expected. As a last minute sign-up, I knew I do not have much choice. And there was a big price difference between a guaranteed versus an assigned room. When I signed a guaranteed inside room, I was hoping we are not getting bunk beds. We got E703 on Emerald, with an obstructed view of the waters beyond the lifeboats, and provided us with entertaining and educational viewings when they were conducting safety drills with those boats. The room is very clean, very functional, has more than sufficient space, has efficient bathroom with shower.
Services. The crew is excellent and is the secret to the cruise's friendly atmosphere. Freddie, our cabin steward, responds promptly to our requests and is attentive to our needs. The waiters at the dining rooms are very courteous and professional.
Dining. Yes, the food is not what it used to be. Not bad, but gone are the indulgent days. We like the Anytime Dining and the flexibility of choosing our time and whether it's just us, or with the company of others. For the times we chose to share tables, we thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with other cruisers, but it was heavenly to be able to enjoy some moments alone too. The dining rooms are great; we love Santa Fe for the services of our favorite team - Manager Edgar Capitan, waiters Roan and Jick. The menu is the same for all the dining rooms except for one specialty item. We did check out the Horizon Buffet some days and liked the variety, although the place is always very busy. We also liked Alfredo's Pizza. But International Cafe deserves special mention. Roberta serves such delicious croissants, sandwiches, quiches, soups, salads, fruits, and pastries that my mouth now waters just thinking about them. The place is the only 24 hour food place in the ship. A coffee card can be purchased at $29, and allows 15 gourmet coffees - cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, mochas, macchiato, and also serves free regular roasted coffee which is better than that served in other dining areas.
Port Excursions. Do not miss the White Pass rail to Summit at Skagway. It can be purchased directly from the website at about $16 cheaper per ticket per person, but getting it as cruise excursion is encouraged by that site because of dockside service. The ride in railways built in 1898 on restored and replica coaches affords magnificent views of snow-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls, historic tunnels, the remains of the trail of 1898, and the pass with the flags of both US and Canada. Yes, sit on the left as you go up the mountains and then view from the open platforms if you dare on the way down for exhilarating views. At Juneau, my husband was ambivalent about his salmon sportfishing excursion. While he enjoyed the experience, it was not the salmon fishing activity he expected. He caught a cold, not a salmon.
Entertainment/Activities. I enjoyed zumba and line dancing, but think that the activity could use more verve and enthusiam from the instructors. The theater productions were neeeeh. The bands were good some days, not on others. The crewshows were entertaining and popular. The Denali tour was awesome and deserves a separate review.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. It was Nature at its best. Calving glaciers, breaching whales. Awesome people that we met, outstanding crew. A loved one enjoying all of it with you. Truly, truly memorable.