WOW! This cruise completely exceeded our expectations. We have been on 10+ cruises with Princess including the Sapphire twice before and this CA Coastal week was THE best as far as the MDR food taste and the general service of the staff on the ship. From the moment we boarded, we were met with legitimately enthusiastic smiles and hellos by EVERYONE on the ship. We are talking ALL staff at all times. Amazing! And they weren't "faking" the smile. The staff was friendly, chatty, helpful and extremely courteous. I witnessed many acts of kindness, especially how staff helped out the (many) elderly passengers throughout the cruise, including at the buffet when people had their hands full, or as they were getting on/off the ship, or even when walking down the somewhat steep steps of the Princess Theater. I was SO happy to see this kind of customer service! It is so rare these days.
The food was superb all week. Except for a few boring appetizers, we absolutely LOVED everything they served in the MDR. We ended up eating every night with our friendly table mates, esp since we thoroughly enjoyed our waiter and assistant. One night it was a bit warm in the dining room so I asked the Matre D' to turn up the A/C and he called down to the control room and got it taken care of in less than 10 minutes. On RCCL once it was extremely uncomfortable in our section of the room and they blew me off, saying, "it is beyond" their control. I knew this was not true and I was happy to see that on Princess someone is willing to make a phone call to help me out.
Activities were plenty on the ship and included the typical trivia 2-3x a day, 2 fabulous comedians who had us rolling on the floor with laughter, some very funny karaoke acts from the passengers, and 3 production shows (that I have to say were pretty weak and boring). As a matter of fact, the only thing I didn't like much on this cruise were the Princess singers/dancers and the VERY scaled down shows that featured nothing but vocals, some feeble costume changes and a few meager back drops. I have seen MUCH better shows in the past from Princess and definitely far better on RCCL, Celebrity and Disney.
The CA Coastal is a fabulous although port intensive itiniary. I have done both the one way Coastal (up to Vancouver in May) and now the RT LA one and both are just great! Lots to see at all the ports and the overnight in SFO is really special. Of note, these cruises are in the off season and skew to an older crowd. I saw NO CHILDREN on this cruise and only about 5 on the one way Coastal in May. Kids activities were nonexistent although the kids clubs WERE open. Still, most of the time there were 0 kids in there. I actually enjoyed escaping from the children (I have 2 youngsters of my own) so I didn't mind but I am also glad I didn't bring the kids along (they were in school, after all). Speaking of the elderly, most of the music heard in various public lounges are from the 40-60s. So don't expect ANY contemporary songs or music unless you go to Skywalkers nightclub at night to dance. I felt a little weird about hearing Frank Sinatra EVERY single night in every single venue. Not that I don't appreciate that generation of music. But there was nothing else.
BTW, the "Sanctuary" is totally not worth it for this trip. It's just too cold to be out there when the ship is moving and most days the ship is actually in port, which means that it's quiet by the main pool anyway so there is no need to get away. Remember, I literally saw no kids! Also, the aft pool is very nice and quiet all day and is out in the open sun, so one can stay warm and catch the rays in peace.
We stayed on Dolphin in a very nice midship mini-suite. The fact that the balcony was uncovered was actually a welcome change for us since it is starting to get cooler on the Pacific coast and I really enjoyed sitting out on the balcony to catch some rays and sip my coffee each morning. I think it would have been too cool to be out there on the fully covered balconies. Just something to think about if planning on taking the Sapphire on a Coastal cruise (vs MX, where it's stinkin' hot year round).
The Sapphire is one of my favorite ships and it's in fabulous shape. It is the right size for the number of passengers and NEVER felt crowded. I can't wait to sail her again -- this time to Hawaii.