This was our first cruise with Princess (all others were on NCL).
Embarkation was well organized, with frequent cruisers getting on first. We didn't have to wait long, and there was no bunching up at the gangway or onboard. Unfortunately, the crew didn't seem to be ready for us. Though we checked all our luggage at 12;15, the last bags didn't arrive at our room until well after 7. One bag contained my wife's dress shoes and makeup, an inconvenience and source of stress. Our room steward failed to answer three pages. The luncheon buffet was meager and unappealing. An inauspicious way to begin a cruise.
The Sapphire, launched in 2004, is elderly by current standards, but it's well maintained. Two big deficiencies: while other ships had hand sanitizers almost everywhere, Sapphire had them only at the buffet and Deck 14 grill. And, there were far too few public toilets, all of them in inconspicuous spots, and very small (the men's rooms had only one urinal and one stall). Our room showed signs of wear in the carpet and in scars on the wood. Our balcony stateroom was smaller than on other ships; we missed the sofa and table we had at other times.
Spa (coed) consisted of a narrow corridor, too dark for reading, with four heated chaises, a steam shower and aromatherapy shower--that's all you got for $109 extra. Most of the spa area was given over to salons and treatment rooms (including acupuncture). All were extra cost even if you joined the spa. A "serenity" area one deck above offered chaises around a public pool for $120 extra; it was right next to public, no-extra-cost chaises, and neither offered "serenity" from the loud music at the public pools two decks below. The public changing rooms outside the spa offered generous saunas and steam rooms at no extra cost.
The fitness center was sunlit and equipment was new or almost new. Plenty of treadmills and ellipticals but only four stationary bikes--two recumbents, two uprights. There wasn't enough variety of weight machines to sustain a comprehensive workout over seven days, and only one of each machine. Result: plenty of waiting. A big plus: one of the pools on Deck 14 is deep (5.5' to 7.5'). While it's not reserved for lap swimming, the depth discourages kiddies and waders. We were able to swim laps every morning. (Rough seas on the last day added an exciting, tsunami quality to the pool, making for an even better workout!)
Dining was very good. A big plus: Sapphire has only two extra-cost restaurants (Italian, steak), so there was never a wait at any of the four dining rooms (two were for fixed seating) or the pizzeria. Menus were diverse and creative; the food well prepared and nicely presented. A beef tenderloin one night was incredibly good (the dining captain confided that it was the same meat as served in the steakhouse). A veal scaloppini and a NY strip on other nights were on the tough side, but all were flavorful. Buffets were ok. A nice touch was the variety of Asian specialties available at breakfast and lunch, whose flavors managed to survive the steam table. I especially appreciated that congee was available every morning--you can go an entire day on a bowl of congee! Service in the dining rooms was professional, courteous and quick.
Entertainment was good and varied. Another big plus: the Princess Theater has 700-plus comfortable seats, none with restricted views, so good seating was always available. The singing/dancing troupe put on three Vegas-quality shows; the others were comedians (a matter of taste) and an illusionist (no comment). Plenty of entertainment was available at all times throughout the ship. The standout was Los Brilliantes, a wonderful Mariachi group that earned a large, loyal following during the cruise. Don Hodge, a talented singer, pianist and formidable music historian, entertained in the Crooners Lounge; Chris Ricketts, a guitar playing troubadour, was very good with his audiences. Karioke was amazing--never heard such a group of talented amateurs.
Ports: We didn't book excursions because they were either shopping/town tours that we could do by walking or taking taxis, or lengthy, strenuous outings that we didn't want. Ensenada has a kind of authentic Mexican charm that we found endearing despite the rundown condition of the streets. Cabo San Lucas was beautiful but crowded; weather was warm and sensational. We were scheduled to go on to Puerto Vallarta, but four hours out of Cabo, the captain announced that a passenger had become critically ill, and we had to return to Cabo. No loss for us. Thank goodness the passenger had surgery and survived.
Disembarkation was a snap because we walked off with our luggage, and asked for the earliest time (8 a.m.). There was a bit of a pileup at Customs, but the agents were helpful.
N,B.: We stated at the Doubletree in the Cabrillo Marina the night before the cruise. Service couldn't have been nicer and more helpful, and the rooms were recently renovated. Our package bought us the room, breakfast, eight days of parking, and free transfers to and from the ship (as well as to a local restaurant). Highly recommended.