Three generations took this trip, with my father, wife and daughter all joining me. Originally, it was going to just be myself and my wife, but we managed to convince my Dad to come along and (conveniently enough) pay for our daughter. Two upgrades later, we found ourselves with one of the family suites on Dolphin Deck forward (WAAAYYYY forward - but more on that later).
Getting there - we flew out of Denver on Southwest Airlines on the evening before embarkation. All went smoothly and we arrived at our hotel at around 11:00 PM. We had arranged for two rooms at the LAX Westin via Hotwire at $80/Nt. each. Not a bad price. The rooms were nice and the beds comfortable. Check in was easy and aside from the fact that the rooms themselves were down a very long hallway, we were happy to be there. One quick note - the Westin is located at the back end of the South Runway at LAX. We heard several planes taking off all during the night. I'm a sound sleeper, but it woke me up 3-4 More
We arranged our pier transportation from Payless airport transportation. The were friendly, prompt, efficient and cost effective. The van cost $75 each way.
Embarkation - we arrived early, at about 10:45, so we didn't expect to get on the ship right away. Check in was easy, and we were directed to an area to wait for the call to get on the ship. Ordinarily, we typically have been let on at around 11:00, but this time, they must have had some issues with getting passengers off, because they didn't let on the first group until noon. Luckily, we were in that first group, so we didn't wait too long to get on the ship. Later, we did see some pretty long lines at the gangway. It appeared that the lines moved pretty quickly, though.
There was a slight delay in getting the ship fueled. So our scheduled 4:00 PM departure didn't take place until around 6:00 PM. This was unfortunate, because it meant leaving the harbor in the dark.
Cabin - D100/D104 is one of the family suites on the Sapphire Princess. It's exceptionally well set up for a family suite, with lots of space, a nice seating area, and a huge verandah. That's the good part. The bad part is that the verandah is nearly unusable while at sea due to the very high winds. It was fine on the way to Hawaii, when we had the wind at our back and the sun in our face, but on the return, we simply couldn't go out there. Another drawback is the physical location of the cabins. They are as far forward as you can get, which means that anywhere you go, you'll be walking a long way. Trips to the International Dining Room for Dinner took a while. Would I recommend the family suite? Yes, but I would be sure that anybody who went there knew the drawbacks.
Ship - This was our second voyage on the Sapphire. It is a gorgeous ship, and very well maintained. The carpets seem a little worn in a few places, and there may be a little bit of wallpaper peeling off here and there, but it's hardly noticeable. You really had to look hard to find any imperfections with the ship itself.
Entertainment - Somebody in one of the forums complained about "immersion" in Hawaiian music. Well, I didn't see it. In fact, I would have appreciated a whole lot more Hawaiian music, frankly. Ir seemed to me that the destination was more of an afterthought than a focus of the voyage. That was a little disappointing for me, but again, nothing that I'm going to create a fuss over. I've heard about Elua on the Golden, and was hoping for something similar on the Sapphire. No luck. Most of the entertainment was standard cruise fare. Not bad, just nothing all that spectacular, either.
Food - We ate one dinner and one breakfast at Sabatinis. While good, we came to the unanimous conclusion that it wasn't worth the additional cost. We ate the majority of our dinners in the main dining room. The majority of our breakfasts were in the Horizon Court, and for lunch, we split almost evenly between Horizon, Trident Grill, Alfredos, and the International Dining room. We missed the pub lunch, which was apparently served in the Santa Fe Dining room as opposed to one of the bars. The food was very good. Not great, but very good. I'm sure it's got to be a tremendous challenge to cook 6,000 meals a day. There's no way to do that and still provide great food. Providing very good food was quite the accomplishment, in my opinion. No complaints about the food.
Ports of call - Keep in mind that we've been to these places before. The object of the trip wasn't to see Hawaii or any of the individual ports in particular. It was more to spend some time with my father, so consequently we didn't partake in any shore excursions. Just the same, a brief rundown:
Honolulu - We went snorkeling on the North Shore, then to the Polynesian Cultural Center for their afternoon program. Then to a friend's house for dinner. The North Shore of Oahu is fantastic. Honolulu is a crowded city. A word to a visitor to Oahu would be to avoid Honolulu as much as possible. If it's your first time there, see Waikiki, see the Arizona Memorial, climb to the top of Diamond head, and then leave.
Maui - Tender port into Lahaina. Maui is our favorite of the Hawaiian islands. We spent the day at the beach in Kaanapalli, and it was wonderful. Had a late lunch in Lahaina at Bubba Gump's. Yeah, it's touristy, but it had a great view out to the ocean.
Kauai - Spent the entire day at the beach in front of the Marriott Hotel in Nawililli. Nice beach, but not much in the way of surf or snorkeling opportunities.
Hilo - we rented a car and drove to the Kiluea Volcano overlook museum. Having Dad along was great, because he has the National Parks Seniors pass, which is a lifetime pass to every national park in the country. Pretty cool. The volcano was spewing steam and smoke, which was impressive. We went to the lava tube, which was also very impressive. Then we drove the Chain of Craters road all the way to it's end. It's a fantastic drive, but very, very windy in places. Worth the trip, though. We finished up by having lunch in Hilo and visiting Rainbow Falls.
Ensenada - a throw away port call to comply with the Passenger Services Act. Don't get me started on the Passenger Services Act. We would have preferred Cabo San Lucas, but it's too far away. Ensenada doesn't do anything for me. We got out and walked around a little and that's it. We saw some seals in the harbor. That's kind of cool, I guess.
Kids program - our 9-year old daughter had a great time, even though there were very few kids on this particular voyage. We had gotten permission from her school to take her out for two weeks, so we spent a good part of the cruise doing homework. We'll find out tomorrow whether she fell behind, stayed on par, or leapt ahead of her classmates in the last two weeks. The kids program is very well staffed and they have a lot of good stuff for kids of all ages.
Disembarkation - a breeze. Nothing to it. After breakfast, we proceeded to Club Fusion, where they had coffee and juice for everybody there. They had a dedicated attendant who read off the groups to be disembarked. After about 45 minutes there, we were called. From the time we left Club Fusion to the time we stepped out on the curb in front of the building was probably no more than 20 minutes. Easy peasy.
The hardest part of the trip was going through security at LAX.
All in all, it was a great trip, and one I'll remember forever. Well done, Princess! Less
Family Suite - Pros - big enough for six. Lots of space. Very large verandah. Two refrigerators, two bathrooms.
Cons - location. All the way forward on Dolphin Deck. It's a long walk to anywhere. Lack of a wind screen makes it virtually impossible to use the cabin while at sea.
They don't call it the Big Island for nothing. The Big Island is bigger than all the other Hawaiian islands put together. It's deceivingly large. The volcano is a must-see. If you can get to the Kona side, do so. Lots of great black-sand beaches and some of the most fantastic golf courses on the planet.
Kauai is by far the prettiest of the Hawaiian islands. That doesn't mean it is without issues, though. Lots of chickens all over the place. Waimea Canyon, Barking Sands beach, Hanalei, Poipu beach - all are worth visiting. it's a very, very beautiful island.
Love Maui. Our favorite of all the Hawaiian islands. Lots to do, great beaches, great restaurants, great shopping opportunities. Nice people. Not too crowded, either. Oh, and the whales - tons and tons of whales. Fantastic.