We used Princess transfers from the airport for the first time and was pleasantly surprised. They were easy to locate and other than waiting for the bus to fill up as others took longer to get their luggage, we were under way within about 45 minutes to an hour. Once there, embarkation was a breeze, there may have been 10 people in line ahead of us.
The room itself was great, it was a minisuite on Dolphin deck and was spacious. Never felt cramped or crowded. Having the tub is a great perk of the minisuite, as is the extra sitting area. It was located very close to the elevators/stairs which would have been nice, except for it's location right outside the casino 3 decks below. As there is smoking in the casino, every time we opened our door we were hit with the smell of smoke that rose up through the staircases.
The ship itself is not laid out that well, even towards the end of the 15 days I was getting lost on decks that didn't traverse the length of the ship. That being said, my more geographically strong room mate had no problem navigating the ship, so I may be in the minority that found it confusing. The casino is on deck 6 and cannot be avoided if you are walking on that deck. The smoking there is foul (in the opinion of a non smoker) and pollutes most of the ship. In a discussion with a crew member about the smoke, he said that it was kind of like having a peeing and non peeing area of a pool which describes it exactly. It doesn't matter that the rest of the ship is non smoking when there is a large smoking area that you must transit and that keeps its doors open the entire time. The library, which is usually my favourite spot on the entire ship is almost unusable on this ship for a non smoker. It is located right outside the doors to the casino and the smell in there is as powerful as being in the casino itself.
The staff were good, but no real standouts, either bad or good, except for the entertainment staff. At the dance parties where I am very practised at remaining at the edges and just observing, the staff had me participating and having great fun. Callie is amazing as Deputy cruise director, probably the highlight of the cruise. The shows itself were not that great, they have reduced the length of them. The history of dance used to be much longer, but none of the production shows now seem to exceed 30 minutes. Also maybe I cruise with Princess too much, but all the production shows are the same. There hasn't been one I haven't seen in quite a few years.
I was really looking forward to this cruise as I haven't been to Hawaii before other than one trip to Maui and sea days appeal to me. The weather was incredible, I think in the entire 15 days we only had a couple days of rain, though a lot of the sea days were quite cool, sometimes too cool to be out on deck. Inside there are not enough seating areas and most people ended up congregating in the buffet dining room for their cards, games or reading. The ports were nice, but it felt like there was not enough time in each. Hilo poured rain which is common there, perhaps Kihei would have been a better option there. (for me, as it rains at home a lot, not something overly enjoyed on vacation, other people may enjoy the wet lushness there) The tours in Hawaii are more consistently more expensive than other cruises I have been on. Next time I think investigating private tours might be a better option. Lahaina was incredibly beautiful, there are tons of things to do without a tour, just in walking along the areas close to the port. Nawilliwili was beautiful, we rented a car there for less than $50 and ended up just driving around and looking at things we wanted to see. Gorgeous island. Honolulu was spent at the Arizona memorial and City tour and while in the beginning was not all that convinced about seeing, I was glad we went. It is a sacred experience that makes one more grateful for what we have and helps to recognize the sacrifices that went into providing it for us.
The 5 sea days heading back from Hawaii towards LA were very long. The weather cooled off the closer we got and there seemed less to do. Towards the end of the cruise, they started repeating the Movies under the Stars which seems strange. It wasn't a back to back, it was 15 days roundtrip and after the movies were on the big screen, they were played the next day in your room. So towards the end of the trip when you have done most things onboard that you want to, why would they also repeat the movies? We watched the Movies under the Stars almost every night until they started repeating them. After that the days got a bit boring towards the end and we were just kind of looking forward to it being over. Ensenada was a great stop. Wasn't really expecting it to be, but it was stunningly gorgeous weather, the wine tour was good and just walking around close to the port was good shopping.
We used the first self walk off as we had an early flight and it was completely painless with very little waiting. Not sure how it was later into the process, but as we were one of the first groups off, it was very smooth.
One thing to note, Princess has never really enforced their alcohol polices before, (in my experience) but one couple we met on board had alcohol poured out from their suitcases before it arrived on ship. It seems like they are now enforcing them, so adhere to it so you don't lose your alcohol.
All in all I enjoyed this trip, mostly because of the stops. I wouldn't sail on the Smoky Sapphire Princess again.