Our family flew from Eastern Canada to Los Angeles, where we spent a few days before boarding the Sapphire Princess. In L.A. we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn at the edge of Beverly Hills; this was a great choice, as it was convenient to our sightseeing and fully equipped for relaxing without getting in each other's hair every evening. After a very busy day we were all happy to get stuff from the local grocery and veg out in our suite over a bottle of wine and dinner, rather than trek out again in search of a restaurant. We were also able to do all the accumulated laundry in the hotel's laundry room before starting on our cruise trip.
Boarding day couldn't have gone more smoothly; really, it was the most easy and stress-free experience we've had yet; we literally just walked in from the pier, got our cruise cards, and boarded the ship in about ten minutes.
The ship is nice but there were things we didn't love; having big-screen concerts and movies blaring over the outdoor pool at all hours of the day was a bit of a drag; on Mother's Day, we were told early in the morning that we couldn't tender in to the first port of call, Santa Barbara, because of fog, but it turned out to be a gloriously sunny day and we decided to lounge in the sun, only to discover they were playing a movie from the 1980s followed by a Barry Manilow concert. Really? I don't think so. There aren't enough Drinks of the Day to get me through that.
The Captain announced that the upside to missing the port was that we'd get to San Francisco that much earlier, but in the end we docked in S.F. exactly ONE HOUR earlier than scheduled.
San Francisco was glorious, and we made the most of our day there.
Our next port was Astoria, Oregon, which is apparently famous for being the setting of another 1980s movie, The Goonies. We never saw it.
There is NOTHING TO DO IN ASTORIA, although the people are very nice. I cannot imagine why it's a cruise port, aside from the fact that the cruise has to go somewhere, and Astoria has a port.
Seattle was fantastic, and once again we did everything we could cram in during our day there; we also loved our day in Victoria.
In all these ports, we made our own plans. We had discovered in the past that the cruise excursions cost up to three times more than we pay by registering directly online, and this was confirmed when we saw that, for example, a walking tour of Underground Seattle that we bought online in advance for $16 each was a whopping $59 Princess excursion choice. I suppose they bused the people there from the pier, but really, it was easily walking-distance, and we were able to enjoy fabulous oyster poor boys and beer at Pike's Place Market with the money we saved on the difference in price. (And, by the way, the walking tour isn't worth $59, though it is well worth $16.)
We like traditional late-sitting dining, as we enjoy getting to know our waiters and sitting at the same table each evening. This trip, the food was a bit disappointing.
About ten years ago we experienced the "Parade of Baked Alaska" dessert on a Pacific cruise, and it was elegant and fun; they lowered the lights, and the waiters actually carried huge flaming Baked Alaskas through the dining room. This has now degenerated into a ho-hum masquerade in which bored lead waiters are already passing out slices of Baked Alaska for dessert long before the "Parade" begins, and the "Parade" consists of the assistant waiters, after a long delay, shuffling around holding fake plasti-form models of Baked Alaska with electric bulbs on top, only half of them lit. ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz.
(That being said, the woman at the next table who was whooping and screaming and cheering either thought it was the most exciting thing she'd ever seen or was plastered. She was more entertaining than any of the "entertainment" on the ship.) Time for the "Parade" to go away.
The laundry room on the ship is very nice, and as always we did laundry a couple of times. It makes perfect sense to save on the baggage weight and use this convenience -- one on every stateroom floor -- and it enables us to fly home with a suitcase full of clean clothes instead of a jumble of dirty laundry.
The housekeeping staff are pleasant and honest and very friendly, and work like dogs. Ditto the wait staff in the dining room.
The buffet staff seemed a bit more indifferent; many times as we searched for a table for breakfast or lunch we'd encounter someone sullenly guarding an empty area who would bark "Closed. Other side." Not great.
At time for Disembarkation everything went quite smoothly again, and although there were people complaining about the long taxi line at Port of Vancouver, the process was pretty painless.
There was an older crowd on board this cruise, along with a few families with children; we'd have been happy to have seen a little more life on board. Is it the awful entertainment that keeps people away, or is awful entertainment the only thing this sort of crowd likes? Either way, I am not sure I'll do another Princess Cruise. It was a little like being at a huge family reunion with distant relatives that you had forgotten you don't like very much.
We took an extra two days in Vancouver before flying home, staying at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which is a lovely hotel, and seeing the city.