Sapphire Princess Cruise Review by fm49: Great Cabin - But Not a Great Ship!
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Great Cabin - But Not a Great Ship!
My wife and I booked a repositioning cruise on Princess (7 nights, departing Vancouver, with stops in Nanaimo, Victoria, San Francisco, Catalina, San Diego, and Los Angeles), with the idea that it would be a quiet, relaxing getaway. And in that we were not disappointed. We booked a mini-suite which turned out to be a great cabin for us. However, we ended up spending quite a bit of time in the cabin, since the activities on the ship were minimal, and we were quite a bit put off by the public areas, particularly the theater.
We flew to Vancouver the day before departure and stayed in the Westin Bayshore. I've stayed in this hotel many times before and highly recommend it. Great rooms, right on the water, great view and very nice service. Also not too far from the Canada Place cruise terminal ($10 cab ride or less). The hotel has its own restaurant with a great water view, and there are two others right on the water close-by.
We arrived at the dock about 1:00 and More found the check-in procedures quite straightforward and efficient. There was one line and it moved quite well, we were on the ship in just a few minutes and went straight to the cabin. (Unlike a past experience on Carnival in New York where we were kept in a "holding pen".)
The cabin was terrific! This ship has a full deck (Deck 9) of mini-suites, and they have some very nice features. Including a walk-in closet (really!) which made it very easy to unpack, organize, and find our clothes for each day of the trip. There was a decent-sized bathroom with a big tub, a bedroom, and a separate living room with a large sofa, and two TV's. The balcony was also very large, and had 4 chairs and a table. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, that was our favorite place to sit on the ship.
The public areas of the ship, however, were quite a disappointment. In particular, the theater was extremely small (I'd estimate the capacity at 600), considering that the ship holds nearly 2700 passengers. We had early dinner seating and we found out the first night that, unless you finish your dinner quickly and RUN, don't walk, to the theater, you're not getting a seat for the show. Unfortunately we found this out the hard way, arriving "only" 30 minutes before the show to find it was standing room only, and we gave up.
A couple of other disconcerting points about the theater. There is no sofa or banquette seating, it's strictly smallish chairs all shoved together. And, there is NO ramp access anywhere; you enter by going up a flight of stairs (from Deck 6) or down a flight of stairs (from Deck 7). I don't know how they get away with this, but it's clearly not ADA-compliant. My wife, who is handicapped, had a really hard time with this, and in fact we didn't visit the theater again after that first night. We did see one of the comedians when he performed in one of the lounges, but were very disappointed in the show. However, the piano bar was nice, and we also went to see the piano player in concert, which was very good.
Activities on the ship were fairly limited, but then we were scheduled to be in port every day except one (even though it didn't work out that way), so that made sense to me. We did take advantage of a few activities - bridge, bingo, country dancing, trivia contests but not a lot.
The casino was kind of small for a ship this size, so we didn't spend a lot of time there though we normally like to. A number of passengers remarked that the slots were particularly tight on this ship, but we didn't experience that ourselves.
The library and internet cafe were both small, so we didn't spend any significant amount of time in either.
For the most part, the lounges were small and crowded too, especially if there was any kind of entertainment going on (all those people who couldn't get into the theater had to go somewhere, I guess). We did like the Club Fusion lounge, as it was larger and there was almost always a decent place to sit. This was technically speaking the ship's "disco" but they had many other activities there as well. Tip: if you like video poker but don't like the smoke, there are about 10 machines built into the bar at one side of this lounge. We found the service in the lounges to be quite good, never had to wait very long for a drink.
We had early seating (5:45) dinner in the Vivaldi Dining Room. Unlike most cruise ships, Sapphire Princess doesn't have the big, two-story dining room at the aft, but rather has a set of smaller dining rooms scattered throughout the ship. We normally like the big dining rooms, but the Vivaldi was just fine for us. The service in our dining room was pretty good, all things considered. The food was decent but not outstanding; we've had better food on HAL but for the most part dinner was just fine.
As for other meals, we tried the sit-down breakfast in the International Dining Room but gave up on this after two mornings because the service was interminably slow. And it didn't help that the waiter tried to break my leg by pushing the chair in before I was ready. The buffet on the Lido Deck was just fine for breakfast; we particularly liked the omelet station, and the baked pears which they had every other day. Lunch was not so great, either for sit-down or the buffet. For the most part we had a late breakfast, skipped lunch entirely, had the afternoon tea (which was very nice!), and dinner. I felt the dinner selection on the buffet was particularly limited, mostly consisting of 'recycled' entrees from the previous night's dining room menu. But since we never ate dinner there anyway, it wasn't a big deal. It was OK for a late-night snack. We had room service for breakfast once (cold items only) and that was delivered promptly and accurately. Princess offers an in-room champagne breakfast and romantic dinner options. Both sounded nice, but we didn't feel the charge for those was warranted.
We had already been to every port on the itinerary, so we didn't book any shore excursions; we just did our own thing in port.
There isn't a lot to see in Nanaimo, unless you see the Port Alberni Railroad, which we had done before. But there is a casino in town, so we walked over there and played for awhile, actually came back with more money than we started with, which is unusual. The casino is in the shopping center downtown, or, more accurately, right behind it. If you go into the shopping mall, walk straight through it and out the back, the casino is on the right. Like most Canadian casinos, it's non-smoking which is a big plus for us.
Probably the highlight of the Nanaimo trip was the tender driver GETTING LOST on the way to the harbor! We were pulled over by the Shore Patrol (license and registration please?), and then they escorted him to the dock.
The biggest disappointment of the trip was that the captain decided not to dock in Victoria, because the sea was too rough and because there was worse weather on the way. (Still, there WAS an NCL ship docked already when we arrived, and the suspicious part of my nature wonders whether we would have docked if they had sold more shore excursions.) We had booked high tea at the Empress Hotel, which is one of our favorite things in the world, something I'd highly recommend; it's at least as good as some of the better teas in London. However, we had to cancel that, as the ship set sail for San Francisco.
In San Francisco, we had lunch at Scoma's Pier 47, which is one of our favorite restaurants in the world. We walked around Fisherman's Wharf for a bit and did some shopping before heading back to the ship. One big issue was the lack of taxis; Princess had said that taxis were "plentiful" in San Francisco, but we waited 20 minutes and never got one at the pier, so gave up and decided to walk. We docked at Pier 27 which is a LONG walk to the Wharf and to where we were headed. This was particularly difficult for my wife, but the outing was worth it.
Catalina was a big disappointment. It's a nice-enough place, certainly worth seeing. But the tendering procedures were so bad we would have stayed in the cabin had we known. There was an hour wait for a tender you have to go to a lounge to get a ticket, then wait for your ticket group to be called. Then when we got to shore, you had to walk up a 45-degree incline to get to the dock; this was extremely difficult for my wife, who walks with a cane, and there was no help or assistance at all. Probably the best thing to do in Catalina is rent a golf cart and drive around the island yourself. We were, however, so worn out and disgusted from the trip that we just walked around a few stores and went back to the ship.
There's plenty to do in San Diego. But since we had been there many times before we chose to visit with family living in the area.
The disembarkation procedures in L.A. were pretty straightforward and relatively efficient. However, there was a long line for taxis and about a 40-minute wait to get one. I realize this is out of Princess's direct control, but you'd think that when a cruise ship docks there, SOMEBODY would make sure there were some taxis available.
So, to sum up, we loved our mini-suite, but we really weren't crazy about the ship. We felt the public areas, particularly the theater, were woefully inadequate for a ship of this size. Would we cruise on Princess again? Maybe, but they aren't anywhere near the top of our list, and it would have to be quite a deal for us to consider it. Less
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