We, my husband and I, who are empty nesters now, typically cruise in Feb for our anniversary. This was the first two week cruise we have taken, with all others being one week cruises. This was my second Princess cruise and my husband's first. Our other cruises have been on Royal Caribbean, with some great and others above average. Since I like to see details in reviews, this one is a bit long, but hopefully provides helpful information, with the caveat that it is from our perspective and based on our interests.
We booked this cruise in April 2012. We had always wanted to try a stateroom on the fantail, so decided to splurge and book a Vista Suite. We had some pre-cruise challenges, starting with unreliable information about the stateroom we booked. We were told that the suite we booked had an 'obstructed view', but, neither our travel organization nor the Princess agents provided accurate information on what that meant. Both assured us that it was just a beam that blocked a little of the view from one of the two sliding glass doors. Had they told us that the beam was actually 2-3 feet wide and significantly restricted the use of our balcony, we may have decided not to pay the premium for a suite. The next challenge happened in December before the cruise. We booked our flight from the east coast to LA through Princess (E-Z Air). Fortunately, I arranged for notifications if any changes occurred, because I received notice that our nonstop flight that would have arrived in LA at 10:30 AM on the day the ship sailed (plenty of time to make the ship, even with delays), had been changed to arrive at 1:30 PM, which gave us little or no time for error. It took two days of talking to the airline and Princess, receiving inaccurate information from Princess initially. It turned out that we had to change the flight to the night before the cruise, and spend extra money for a hotel room. Princess did refund our transfer from airport to ship, provided transportation from airport to hotel and then hotel to pier the next day, and gave us a complimentary balcony champagne breakfast (which was difficult to have, due to the beam on the balcony...).
Communication about transportation from hotel to the pier was a bit limited and confusing, but relatively painless in spite of that, and the Princess reprentatives were very friendly, helpful, and pleasant. Embarkation was a breeze. It was well organized and very quick, but we assumed that was because we paid for a suite. We were in the first groups scheduled to embark, and our suite was ready. We assumed that meant that we would get our luggage early, too, but that was not the case. When we had not received our luggage by the time we set sail, we were concerned; however with a call to customer, we had our luggage in minutes.
Sapphire Princess -- The ship:
Sapphire Princess is a lovely ship, which one would expect, particularly, since she recently had some renovations done. The public areas are lovely, and, except for the pool and sports areas, add Skywalkers Lounge, centrally located on Deck 7 (Promenade). Dining rooms and Sabatinis are located aft on decks 5, 6, and 7. The pools were very nice, but the hot tubs varied in temperature from somewhat warm to very nicely warm (of course that is subjective...) We experienced a lot more ship motion on the Sapphire than we have on other ships. Not just in our stateroom, but in the lounges particularly, even in the center of the ship, which made dancing difficult at times.
We enjoyed the adult only pool and hot tubs by the Lotus Spa. As suite customers, we had access to the thermal suite, which has warm tile beds that are fabulous and relaxing, as are the different types of saunas from dry, to mildly humid, to aromatic and humid, particularly after exercising. For non suite customers, there is a fee that can be paid to have access to the thermal suite throughout the cruise, which would be worth the fee, as long as you use it every day at least once. The fitness center has a lot of equipment, including free weights. They offer yoga and zumba in the mornings, as well as health seminars. We chose to have a couples hot aromatic stone and deep tissue message. It was nice, but not as much of a deep tissue message as we have received other places, such as on Royal Caribbean ships.
Our full suite (Vista) on the fantail on Caribe deck (10) was not a lot bigger than the junior suites on the Allure of the Seas and other RCI ships. When we booked the Vista Suite, we were told that the suite we booked had an 'obstructed view', but, neither our travel organization nor the Princess agents provided accurate information on what that meant. Both assured us that it was just a 'support beam' that blocked a little of the view from one of the two sliding glass doors. Had they told us that the beam was actually 2-3 feet wide and significantly restricted the use of our balcony, we may have decided not to pay the premium for a Penthouse suite. The bathroom was beautifully appointed, with a lovely glass shower and separate Jacuzzi bathtub. Our suite had a refrigerator and other amenities, such as complimentary one time mini bar set-up (airline size bottles of liquor and sodas, beer and bottled waters-spring and carbonated in the refrigerator), fresh fruit every day, beautiful flowers that lasted the entire cruise, complimentary hors d'oeuvres every night brought to our stateroom (a card was provided daily for us to complete our selection of hors d'oeuvres), full room service menu (whatever is being served in the dining rooms each day), dinner reservations arranged for us each day (they actually called us every morning to arrange our reservations), among many others. Our stateroom on the fantail was noisier than we thought it would be. We got a lot of noise from the wake of the ship; however, we didn't mind it, and it made for very nice 'white noise' when we slept with the balcony doors open.
Dining and Food:
We chose anytime dining, and found no issues with getting into any of the three dining rooms identified for anytime dining. All of the three dining rooms have the same menu as the main dining room and a quasi-ethnic entree (the same every night) somewhat consistent with the theme of the dining room (e.g. fajitas in Santa Fe, an oriental noodle dish in Pacific Moon). In general, we were not particularly impressed with the food. It wasn't bad, but in some cases it wasn't memorable, either, and the fajitas and the oriental noodles left a lot to be desired. We did eat in the Horizon Court a few times, breakfast and snacks, and the food was average, at best. We had breakfast in our suite three times (which included the champagne ultimate balcony breakfast) and dinner five times. Every meal was served barely warm to cold; several times the orders were missing items. For one of the dinners in our suite they brought one incorrect entree and on a different occasion both of our entrees were incorrect. We had dinner at Sabatinis the first night. The food was better than elsewhere on the ship, and the service was excellent.
The very best dining experience we had, which was pricey ($95 a person...), was the Chefs Table! In our opinion it was worth it (partly because of the superb food and wines) and one of the best experiences on the cruise? Here is a brief overview that does not do it justice. For our Chef's table, there were 12 people (couples in our case). To begin, we were required to put on chef's coats for a tour of the galley led by the Sapphire Princess Maitre D and Executive Chef. We were served champagne (2-3 glasses if we wanted that much) by the ship's Sommelier, Peter (a very charming Australian), who told us about the wine. The Executive Chef prepared various hors d'oeuvres while we watched; explaining the ingredients and the preparation, and the Maitre D and two members of the wait staff served us the various freshly prepared hors d'oeuvres. Following the hors d'oeuvres, we were escorted to our private table for our multi course dinner, each course paired with a wine about which Peter provided some details and an explanation as to why he chose it for the course and food. Apparently the menu changes for each Chef's Table, so I won't discuss all of the foods and wines that we had. I will just say that, throughout the 3-4 hour experience, it was the best food we had during the entire cruise. To top that, we had group of 'characters' at the table that made the experience more fun, as did the personalities of the Maitre D and Chef, who also were very entertaining and a lot of fun. An added benefit: the Sapphire Princess Captain Fortezze joined us for hors d'oeuvres. Near the end of the evening, the Chef gave the ladies roses, the men received cookbooks with the Chef's recipes (signed by both the Chef and Maitre D), and one of the ship's photographers took a picture of each couple with the Chef and Maitre D and another with the entire table with the Chef and Maitre D, and we were provided the pictures before the evening ended (no additional cost).
In general the service was adequate for the most part, but not special. We received exceptional service at the Chefs Table, which is to be expected due to the additional cost. Other exceptions: The in Sabatini's, for which we didn't pay extra to eat dinner the first night or for the champagne breakfasts, since were in a suite; the Maitre D in Santa Fe, and Peter the Sommelier, who was fabulous!.
We don't attend the shows, so we can't speak to that. Entertainment for us is dancing. There were three primary dancing venues, Club Fusion (the largest dance floor and best for ballroom), Explorers Lounge (the second largest dance floor), and the Wheelhouse Lounge (the smallest of the three). Sadly, the best band and the one that played the best ballroom music did not play in Club Fusion where the largest dance floor is. They played in the Wheelhouse Lounge, and the smaller dance floor was very crowded most of the time (6-8 couples makes the dance floor crowded...).
I had never been to Hawaii and my husband had been there over a weekend many years ago. Of the four Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii) we took part in two Princess sponsored excursions and rented a car and did our own touring on two islands. We were very glad that we rented cars on Oahu and in Hilo, because we believe we saw and did more than we would have had we booked an excursion. And it was cheaper. We booked the Wailua River Cruise, Luau & Romantic Ceremony on Kauai. It was nice. The food was good and it was interesting to see how Kailua pig is prepared and to learn about poi. The grounds were beautiful, the 'show' was good and the ceremony was nice. The excursion was during the day, but I think if it could have been at night, it would have been more interesting and exciting. We also booked the Maui Snorkel Cruise (the best) and a whale watching excursion for the afternoon (we were told that the time we would be in Maui is the height of whale watching) thinking we had time to do both, on Maui. It turned out that we didn't have time for both, and missed the whale watching excursion. However, we didn't miss anything! The snorkeling was great, and the captain and crew were the best we have ever had! We snorkeled at the Molokini Crater and at a submerged pier that was a protected area where there are turtles, octopi, beautiful coral, harmless sharks, and other sea life. Moving between the two snorkeling sites, we did some 'whale watching', and saw so much everyone on the boat, including the captain and crew, were excited. We saw a lot of whales, many up close, including at least two competition pods (look it up) where there was a lot of activity from the whales, breaching, chin slaps, and tail slaps, to calves and their mothers. We saw spinner dolphins that played in the water and 'showed off' for us, quite close to the boat, melon head whales, and we even had a couple off 'false killer' whales that swam right under the bow of the boat, one on each side. The captain said that we were lucky, but we all believed that they just know where to take us.
In closing this review, Princess gave us an anniversary celebration that we had not experienced on other cruise lines. They decorated our stateroom door with a 'Happy Anniversary' poster on the door and balloons, and provided a cake and sang to us in the dining room. They made us feel special!