This cruise came about largely as a result of simple math. My wife had visited Hawaii many years ago with her grandmother, and wanted to return. When we checked on hotel prices, food, and airfare, a cruise won hands down.
Coming from the east coast in winter, we came out a day early to make sure the weather wouldn't pose a problem. We spent the night at the Crown Plaza hotel, which is really close to the port and highly (over)rated. The rooms are a bit dated and the one restaurant on premises is frankly pretty bad. The staff is very friendly and efficient, and transportation to the pier is free.
Embarkation was done with Princess' usual efficiency, and we were in our cabin within about forty minutes of arrival at the pier. They use an interesting method where you check in, receive your cruise credentials, and then are directed to a waiting area. On entry to the waiting area, you are given a group embarkation number. Ours was 17. When your group is called, you board the ship.
Our cabin was a mini-suite, located at the front of the ship on the starboard side. We found we really like the mini's, and this is our third time in one on Princess. Our cabin was familiar to us in size and layout. The bath includes a tub with shower. There is a huge closet and a covered shelf area containing a safe.
We had requested the queen bed configuration, and our room was correctly set up on arrival. Our room steward, Rommel, was typically Princess, smiling and efficient. A glass of champagne is included with the mini, and we like to enjoy them on arrival in the suite.
The Sapphire Princess is not one of the newer ships, and in fact is one of the two made in Japan. Her size is smaller than the Crown, for example. The layout, in general, would be familiar to a former Princess cruiser. The ship's condition was immaculate! (If only the Crown Plaza had been maintained in this condition!)
As we left port, the navigator informed us of pending rough seas in the night, saying average swells of eighteen feet were expected. We had seas at least as high, but they had settled down to ten to twelve feet by morning. The wind was also a factor, blowing strongly on the side of the ship, introducing a rocking motion in addition to the up and down movement.
Many people on board didn't tolerate this very well, but the crew was alert to give help and advice when requested.
Sleep had been a bit difficult, since the ship would hit a trough periodically with a loud "bang".
All told, though, it was something of an adventure, and we were rewarded with increasingly smoother seas as the days went on.
One of our reasons for booking this particular cruise was to see if we enjoyed sea days. I can only answer that with a resounding YES! It was hard to fit everything in that you might want to do in a day. Each night my wife and I would go through the patter and mark the things we wanted to do the following day with a highlighter. (Be sure to bring one along)
Our day started with a bridge lecture at 10:00am by a certified bridge instructor. His lectures were for intermediate players and were really informative. Everyone who attended them agreed they would be better bridge players as a result.
I had opted for the ukulele classes at 1:00pm taught by Dick Craven, a crew member. These were such fun he was having to turn away people after the first few days. His instruction really made playing this instrument fun and simple.
Usually there was an activity at 2:00 or 3:00, like a first run movie, or world class lectures from an oceanologist, hula lessons, etc. It really made finding time to soak in a hot tub difficult.
The ship featured the standard Princess Art Auctions, complete with champagne, trivia teams, bingo, dance lessons, afternoon tea, warm cookies and milk in the afternoon, and almost continual entertainment in the atrium.
We enjoy anytime dining. The Sapphire features three dining rooms for anytime dining, each with its own theme and decor, and each featuring a special dish. We tried all three to pick our favorite, which proved to be the Santa Fe. We discovered a gem of a waiter there, Michael, who was just a delight to have around. Unfortunately, everyone else on board discovered him, and it was tough to get his table after the first few nights.
Food on the Sapphire was the best I felt we had experienced on a cruise. Conception, creation, and presentation were all outstanding. Rarely was there a meal that we didn't have to struggle to make a choice.
One of the fun things about anytime dining is sharing your table, which we enjoy. On this cruise we were surprised at how many people we met who were taking this exact cruise for the fifth or sixth time. I think that says more about the quality of this experience than anything I could add.
However, let me plunge on to point out a few other pleasures. Vines is perhaps the best-kept secret on Princess. The food is free, and the wine flights are an inexpensive way to preview the wines on board. Princess has an event, the Stamtish, which is a tasting built around a theme, and limited to twelve people who fit around the special table designed for this purpose. The head wine steward of Vines on the Sapphire is Florian Buffet. I urge you to run to vines and book as many different Stamtish events with him as you can.
Florian makes wine tasting simple but enjoyable, while teaching an incredible amount about selecting wines. He has a great sense of humor and will keep you well entertained the entire time.
We found that almost everyone who booked the first Stamtish booked all the rest. Our table became friends during the cruise, and we looked forward to our time together.
If you enjoy wine, the Wine Card is a must have. For $185, including tip, you get the silver level. This level includes 7 bottles, each up to $29. If you want a more expensive wine, you pay only the difference.
I must say that Princess has an outstanding wine selection, at prices starting at $22 a bottle. I can't think of many restaurants at home that could make such a boast.
Sabatini's doesn't disappoint, and is well worth the $25/pp supplement, The only difficulty was tearing ourselves away from the excellent food served in the no-supplement restaurants.
The ports were all excellent, and each had its own personality. We were lucky enough to get Keaw (pronounced kee-yow) on our Honolulu tour. Not only was the tour fabulous, but he kept us laughing the entire time.
In Maui, we watched whales leaping out of the water from our balcony. All the ports were charming, even Ensenada.
I must say were weren't happy when the final day arrived and we had to depart. Princess makes this experience as pleasant as possible, with careful planning and attention to detail.