We left Ottawa aboard a United airlines flight at 0630 the morning of the 19th connecting in Chicago for onward flight to Los Angles. There was a 20 minute delay in Chicago for baggage loading and a slow taxi resulting in a 30 minute delay in our arrival in LA. The flights were smooth and uneventful. However, flying United in Economy class is not something to look forward to.
We arrived in LA and proceeded to collect our bags which arrived at the carousel quite quickly. We then proceeded outside to find the Super Shuttle boarding area. We checked in with the agent, using two online tickets to save $3.00 each rather than $3.00 for a double booking. After about a 10 minute wait our shuttle arrived. We made an additional circuit of the terminals before setting out for San Pedro arriving about one hour later after dropping off two other passengers.
Our destination was the Crowne Plaza, a hotel frequently mentioned in Cruise Critic submissions. We had booked this hotel using a Priceline "bid" and obtained the room for about 65% off the going online rate. We were quite impressed with the room and its amenities. It was large, comfortable, with a big flat screen TV and quiet. However, we were disappointed at the lack of information about nearby points of interest. There is no mention of the USS Iowa battleship memorial moored only three blocks away, nor about the free trolley or the antique streetcar. Pity they aren't promoting the local area. The next morning we discovered a machine in the lobby that offered electronic info about the area. It's a little out of the way near the Bell Captain station and only one person can use it. Still prefer pamphlets.
The Crowne Plaza offers Â½ hourly shuttle service to the port beginning at 10:30 but you can't pre-book a specific time. We're told it's first come first serve without tickets/numbers being given out. We're visualizing a crowd scene where everyone is trying to squeeze onto the same bus. We'll see how it goes.
We went for dinner at the nearby Acapulco Mexican Restaurant y Cantina. It has a great waterfront location and nice design and atmosphere. However, we were disappointed in the meal. If you're not too critical and just want a handy waterside restaurant with cold beer and so so food then this fits the bill for a pre-departure eatery. After dining here you'll not be so critical of the food aboard ship.
The next morning we did another walkabout and discovered The Green Onion Mexican restaurant which we would have discovered yesterday had we left by the other entrance. This restaurant appears very interesting and upscale and it's not more than 200 ft away (6th St. & Palos Verdes). On the same walk we went to the Grinder restaurant for breakfast. It's located on S. Harbor Blvd. next to the Sunrise Hotel and in front of the Fishing Industry Memorial. This is an American style restaurant, something like a Denny's but more intimate, serving all meals and is about three blocks away. Nice atmosphere including patio, good breakfast and excellent and pleasant service. We recommend it.
Day One: We took the hotel shuttle at about 11:15, seems the half hour schedule was abandoned, and we were aboard at 12:05. Very efficient check-in, security and boarding made easier as "Elite" category guests. Unfortunately, it's now 5:00 PM and we still don't have our luggage. It's never been this late before and we're wondering if our liquid goods have been discovered? In any case our 4:00PM departure was on time and we enjoyed the exit out of San Petro harbour. This port is enjoying a major effort at renewal and revitalization. All of our luggage arrived by 5:20 and by 6:00PM we are settled in our cabin. We're very pleased with the cabin (C748). It has an oversize balcony for this category of cabin that is totally private with the exception of the ships rear cameras, I hope they are rear facing or someone will be getting an eyeful! All is good!
This cruise is starting out to be the best so far. The ship's layout and facilities are the best we have experienced. In addition, all of the minor annoyances I have commentated on before, especially those I was critical about on the Sun Princess, seem to have been addressed or they don't apply to this ship. They have the "bucket of beer" promotion, they serve Blue Moon beer, they have "Power Hour", have a wine card, self checking cabin account and they have the Elite lounge, lots of hot tubs that are "hot". The new layout of the food stations in the Horizon Court really improves functionality and efficiency. We love our cabin and the steward has met all our requests and certainly is on top of things. Located next to Sabatini's on deck 7, the Internet Cafe is outstanding . However, in my opinion this is where Stirling's Steak house should be located. That said, Stirling's, located in the aft section starboard side of the Horizon Court complex is much better than the curtained off portion of the Horizon Court that we have seen on other ships. The Sapphire seems to have it all together. In our opinion this is the ship that sets the standard for the Princess brand and the one that the other ships should try to emulate. The Sapphire has replaced the Emerald as our favorite ship.
Day Two: It's cool and cloudy all day. Attended two lectures in the morning one of which we did not enjoy. Rest of day spent wondering around and killing time reading and just chilling out. Had a great dinner again with Michael our waiter in the Savoy Anytime Dining room. Although not specifically requested when, we arrived at the dining room we were recognised by the Head Waiter and given our table without requesting it. Don't know how the word went out. Another wonderful dining experience. We've decided to make a standing reservation for table 235 Savoy DR. After dinner we enjoyed a session of very talented Karaoke in the Explorers Lounge. Off to our cabin about 11:00 PM.
Day Three: A little warmer today (70f) with a hint of sun. Seas slight. Managed to get our deck walk completed this AM. Looking forward to the slot pull this PM with the Cruise Critic group. Well we each put in $15 and the group started the pull with $705 in the machine. Everyone took a turn pulling five times at $3 a pull. At the end we had $777 which resulted in a $16 payback to everyone. During my pulls I got two $30 payouts. The maximum drop anyone got was $180. The casino brought a number of prizes consisting of ball caps, T shirts and cards which were given out to those of us who had drops.
After the slot pull we decided to try the aft hot-tubs. First disappointment of the trip. I don't know why Princess has so much difficulty keeping these things working properly? The aft starboard tub was way below temperature and the port tub did not have functioning jets. The problem was reported to Customer service desk. We'll see if this results in any action.
Day Four: Still cool and overcast this morning. Louise is trying the Zumba workout and I'm off to walk the deck. Franklin had our room made up by 8:30 this morning. Couldn't ask for more from this Steward. About noon the skies cleared and the rest of the day warm and sunny. Got to enjoy the aft deck. After more than three days at sea we have not spotted or seen anything since leaving Santa Catalina Island. Didn't realize the ocean could be so empty. We went to the early show to see Matilda with Patrick Murray which is a ventriloquist act. Matilda is a Jamaican character. This act was the best ventriloquist routine I have ever seen. Dinner tonight was somewhat special. The previous night I had asked Adrian, our Head Waiter, to see if it was possible to have a special "spicy" meal prepared for us. Tonight he presented us with specially prepared Indian meal. Wonderful experience.
Day Five: Partially overcast but warm. Got our exercise in early. Most of the day spent on deck. Went to Explorer's Lounge at 4:00PM for a rum tasting and opportunity to place a rum order at a discount. Tonight we will eat in the Horizon Court for the first time in order to catch a repeat performance of the Ventriloquist and also a comedian. Maybe get in a late night hot tub. We were able to catch the comedian Sarge at 7:00PM. He performed to a full house and was very well entertained. We followed this show with dinner in the HC. We were a little disappointed with our meal here. A couple of the selections we chose were overcooked and tough. However there were many choices and temptations. We then went to the Explorer's Lounge to hear another show by Matilda and Patrick. We were hardly able to approach the area. People were crowding the corridor outside the venue. We were able to hear the performance again found it to be of the best we have ever heard. If you ever have the opportunity to hear this entertainer don't miss him.
Day Six: Woke up this morning to at last see land as we approached our anchorage of Lahaina on the island of Maui. We hope to get ashore to see some sights and maybe get some supplies. We got to shore after a little delay to get the ship cleared because Customs and Border Services people did not show up on time. So much for Government "Services". Once ashore we did a little walkabout. We were amazed at the number of art galleries and the welcome and information we were given just browsing around.
Day Seven: We got up at 6:00AM to watch the approach into Honolulu. It was very beautiful to see Diamond Head and the very narrow entrance into Pearl Harbour. Plan for today is to visit the Arizona Memorial this morning then hit Waikiki Beach this afternoon.
Took the local bus, #20, to get to the Arizona Memorial, a 50 minute ride. We did not realize that this is now a park which includes an aviation museum, the submarine Bowfin and the Battleship Missouri as well as two other ship Memorials. Allow 1:15 hours to do the Arizona. This is a precisely timed tour which begins with a theatre presentation then a launch trip to the site, about 15 minutes at the site then the return launch. We also took in the Missouri at $22 per person. I found this visit very informative. We returned to the ship by local bus #42 and again it took about 50 minutes.
After freshening up and a small bite we headed off to Waikiki beach. We were going to use the bus but were enticed to share a shuttle with another couple at $5 a head. Really enjoyed our walkabout in this area. Wonderful place to people watch. Wish we would have had longer to visit. Returned to the ship with a few supplies again using the bus #42. A hint when using the bus. Get a transfer. The transfer allows you to use other buses and even allows a return trip if within the time limits of the transfer. We had one driver who said she extended the transfer times but typically you can use it for at least three hours.
We were back aboard for dinner then we enjoyed a great deck party prior to and during departure. This was our first night-time departure and it was wonderful to see the city of Honolulu all lit up as we sailed away to the beat and rhythms of a great band. The entertainment staff really got the passengers involved.
Day Eight: Anchored off Kona at about 8:00AM this morning. We're looking forward to a walkabout later today. Got to shore about 9:30AM and did a walkabout. Found a wonderful art gallery and many shops where you could spend lots of money. Bought a few inexpensive souvenirs. At the dock several large stores like Wal-mart, K Mart and Hilo Haddies offered free shuttles to their stores. Although Hilo Haddies specializes in Hawaiian souvenirs we found them expensive. We purchased supplies again at one of the ABC stores which we find very reasonable. We were very impressed with the waterfront here in Kona and would really like to return for an extended stay. This is a place I would like to be. We sail off at 5:15PM. Looking forward to this evening.
Day Nine: This morning finds us in Nawiliwili Bay on the island of Kauai. This is a very small and interesting port. Relatively small town but a very large Marriot hotel and golf complex located nearby. The hotel is on one of the nicest accessible beaches on the island and the beach is accessible to everyone. Did our usual walkabout and found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Mariachi's located on an upper level of Harbour Mall complex. This restaurant offered great prices on food and beer. Didn't eat too much but the platters that we saw were very appealing. Set sail at 4:00PM. I think we have sufficient supplies to get us back to LA. Enjoyed a comedian at the 7:00PM show who was one of the better ones we have seen on cruises. Had a good but faster than normal dinner in order to catch a show called Liars Club. Lots of fun. Finished the night with a hot tub session under the stars.
Day Ten: Did an early walk then breakfast. Day is starting out cloudy, windy and coolish. We are following the progress of hurricane Sandy and hoping it doesn't affect Ottawa. Easy day really enjoying the rear deck facilities. About noon the wind has come up a little and we're having the roughest seas so far, perhaps sea state 5, but there are only a few tremors through the ship. Looking forward to the entertainment tonight. Great meal tonight. Enjoyed Guitarist Bob Howe from Australia in theatre then Name the City game at 10 followed by the comedian Darrell Joyce at 11:00.
Day eleven: Woke up to low overcast and lumpy seas today. Had good entertainment in the evening with Comedian Magician Lorenzo Clark. Hope to see him tomorrow. Ended the day with a hot tub on aft deck about 11:00PM.
Day Twelve: Morning is sunny and warm. Another two sea days before we arrive in Apia. Still have not seen any sea life although we were told whales were possible. Enjoyed the evening shows.
Day Fourteen: Yesterday was just another glorious sea day. Nothing much to report. Today we arrived in Apia, Western Samoa at 10:00AM. A large group of local dancers and musicians greeted us with a dockside performance. Nice little town adjacent to the harbour. We found a special hotel called Aggie Grey's about half way round the harbour. This is a very old hotel recently renovated. There is a great deal of history associated with this building. Take time to enter and go to the rear where there is a wonderful garden Terrace. Local beers were 6.50 Tala about US$3.00 for a small bottle and 13 Tala for a large. Well drinks at 12 Tala and water (350ml) 2.50 Tala, just over US$1. During happy hour cocktails are 10 Tala. Just before departure, we were presented with a fire dance on the dock. Drummers and two dancers performed for about 20 minutes. Not much going on this evening. We sail for Pago Pago this evening. We sailed off at 9:00PM into a pitch dark night with absolutely flat seas.
Day Fifteen: We're at the half way point. We've arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa at 07:00AM Saturday still as we have again crossed the International Date Line. Beautiful little hurricane hole. Not much here but we didn't do any tours. By turning left out of the port and walking less than 1000 feet we discovered a wonderful little hotel/restaurant and beach called Sadie's by the Sea. Great place to stop. Enjoyed $4.00 mugs of beer on their delightful outdoor terrace. Sadie's also has their own little beach which you can use for $5 a day. Immediately beyond Sadie's there is a very active public beach. If you turn right out of the port and walk about of a mile you will discover Tutuila Store which has a wide selection of fabrics at very reasonable prices. We are supposed to have a musical send off at 3:30. Had a wonderful sailaway for this marvelous little harbour. Dined at the Horizon Court for the second time. Had a nice time at a table in the covered pool area. Enjoyed another bottle of wine. Rest of evening was quiet and we retired at 10:30PM.
Day Sixteen: Early awake again and looking forward to a sea day. Looking like a wonderful day with smooth seas. Attended lecture today about Guadalcanal in WW11. Very interesting. Had our second Meet & Greet with CC members in Skywalkers lounge. Good turnout with visits from CC lady, Cruise and Deputy Cruise Directors, three of the Senior Chefs, and the Director of Passenger Services. Impressive! Learned that there are over 540 Elite status passengers aboard. Other than that nothing special today. Good dinner and off to bed early as we lose an hour tonight.
Day Seventeen: Overcast and light chop this morning. Another sea day. Formal night tonight. Will be in Bora Bora tomorrow and looking forward to our tour with Patrick.
Day Eighteen: Arrived at the entrance of Bora Bora channel about 7:30AM. Very narrow entrance to a wonderful harbour overlooked by a 2500 foot volcanic peak. Got priority tendering to join 48 others for Patrick's tour. We had 4 outrigger boats with great guides/captains. First stop was to swim with the sharks. Outstanding experience to be surrounded with ten plus 3 to 5 foot sharks coming to within 3 feet of you. Next stop was to stand in shallow and frolic with the rays. It was almost as much fun to listen to the women's shrieks and giggles as to touch the rays. Next an area called Bora Bora aquarium which is a nearby reef area containing all the local fish species. Another unique experience. Next was lunch at Patrick's Motu (islet). Here we witnessed the preparation of a local meal with all the unique fruits and vegetables (breadfruit, tapioca, taro) with lobster, tuna, Pork, chicken in the earthen oven. Champagne, mimosas and beer served. An outstanding experience and the highlight of the trip so far.
Day Nineteen: Arrived in Moorea. Another hurricane hole surrounded by very striking peaks. We did Hero's Tour which included swimming with sharks and rays again then dinner at a shared Motu. Experience was not nearly as good as that with Patrick. Even had a expat American guide. Leaving Moorea was the best departure experience we have had. Looking back on the harbour was exquisite. We left at 4:00PM and sailed the short distance to Papaete arriving at 8:00PM. Again an arrival at a beautifully maintained harbour. Greeted by music and "Roulettes" serving all kinds of food at the adjacent park and entertainment area. We were met by Sally, a relative, and we shared a light snack at a Roulette. Enjoyed the "life" of the area.
Day Twenty: Woke up to a delightful day here in Papaeete. We met Sally again who took us on a tour of the sights of the eastern part of the island. Went to the waterfall, Arahoho blow hole, Venus Point, sight of Captain Cook's landing, then a lookout overlooking Papaeete bay. We followed this with a light lunch in the local market. We said goodbye to Sally at this point and did a little walkabout. Discovered the Tahiti Pearl Market where they primarily sell loose pearls then if you wish mount them in the mounting of choice. This was possibly the best buying experience I have ever had. They have dozens of trays of different color, size, quality and shapes of pearls. A no pressure salesman took lots of time explaining the grading of pearls then asked us what we thought we wanted and in what price range. He returned with a tray of about 30 pearls which were all identically priced and we were asked if any appealed. These pearls had been graded as 10mm, slightly blue and teardrop shaped. Selecting about four he then assisted us in narrowing our choice to one. After selecting a mounting he completed the paperwork to get the tax free price then he brought us into the back office to have a coffee while the pearl was mounted. Fifteen minutes later we left with our anniversary purchase. Back to the ship to prepare for departure. I am writing this from our aft balcony. Since the ship is moored stern in, we have the whole main street and downtown at our feet. Music playing in the background.
This was the most spectacular departure we have ever had. The shore was lined with locals all waving us off. The welcome and friendliness of the Tahitians will be a lifelong memory.
Day Twenty one -- We are off on our Pacific crossing of over 3500 nautical miles over better than 8 days. Today dawned sunny and bright with very light seas. Attended a lecture and got lots of sun. This should be the routine during our return. I will report only unusual events during this time. Tonight we saw the "Kimika" duo which were a guitarists and singer. Good show as the singer made tribute and mimicked some Divas.
Nov 11 -- Lots doing today. Started off with Remembrance Day service presided over by Captain. Theatre full. Very impressive service. This afternoon we celebrated crossing the equator. Fun event transforming Pollywogs into Shellbacks. What a mess after all the food and stuff ended up in the pool. After our usual wonderful meal attended 2215 show of comedian Jeff Nease. One of the best routines we have seen.
Nov 12 -- Lunch is a special German Octoberfest set up in the Fusion Lounge requested because we have almost 400 Germans aboard. Great effort by the staff. Tonight we want to see Heather Sullivan and her tribute to 20th century Divas. Heather turned out to be a very talented and attractive singer who put on a good show. We had so much food at lunch that we decided to go to Horizon Court for a light dinner. Retired early with the remainder of our bottle of wine.
Nov13 -- At 6:00AM it's overcast rainy with light seas. Went to the gym for the first time to use the treadmill since the deck was not open yet. Saw Trevor Knight at the 7:00PM show. Good act. Tonight was Italian night in the dining room. We followed dinner with the entertainment staff playing Peer Pressure in Explorer's Lounge. Good fun.
Nov 14 -- Hot and dusty day with smooth seas. Plan on "baking" today. Cloudy and a little rain and cool Nov 16. Last day dawns bright and warm with smooth seas again. This has been an outstanding journey. We have crossed the Pacific from Tahiti and only seen two ships on the second last day. Seas gentle throughout. Did not observe any sea life during this passage.
As stated early in this narrative we have found the Sapphire to be the best ship we have sailed on. As usual, it's the Princess staff that makes our trips so special. In this case, in addition to the outstanding staff, all of the promotions and ideas Princess has introduced as trials on other ships have all been adopted on the Sapphire. This, coupled with the Sapphire's recent refurbishment makes her our favorite ship. Staff of note include Franklin our Steward for C748, Adrian, Michael and Augustine in the Savoy Dining Room, Mariya, Jim, Angelo and Maya in the Elite Lounge.
This cruise exceeded our expectations and we hope we can repeat it again within two years.
Dennis & Louise -- Louden77@gmail.com