It was a hard summer, we were celebrating our 54th anniversary and the price was tempting. We were told the Sapphire Princess was a beautiful ship (it is) and the cabins were large (they are). We were also told by the cruise company that the service was superb, that Princess put the pssengers' satisfaction first and that the food verged on divine. Well, two out of five isn't bad. It's true the price was remarkable. We paid about $800 each for a mini suite on Dolphin Deck for a 7-night Mexican Riviera round-trip from L.A. I want to add that, although the price could qualify as a bargain, I believe that a bargain happens when you pay less for something than it's worth. By us, the Sapphire Princess was not a bargain.
I had read on Cruise Critic that the balconies on the Princess were mostly open to view by anyone on balconies above. This is an understatement. We could hear the people on both sides, above us on decks 10,11 and 12 and some scraps of conversation from deck 13. It was especially noticeable when people yelled from one balcony to another. In fairness, we were fortunate in having quiet neighbors on both sides and doubly lucky that none of the passengers above us threw anything or worse. The "worse" was done by the seagulls, which added touches of color to the balcony tables, chairs and lounges.
Then there was the noise. Everything was played at high volume. At the capitain's reception, I couldn't hear my wife, who was standing a foot away. The music was provided by three guitarists and a bass. If you prefer ruptured eardrums with your mariachi, Princess is the place. The pity is that the guys were good; we just couldn't stand sticking around to listen. By the way, as far as I could tell, this combo was what Princess advertised as a "string quartet," since I couldn't find anything else that could qualify. The show band (again, a good group), were also members of the crank-'er-up club. I can only assume that they were working under instructions from management since most good musicians I know would prefer letting their audience appreciate what they're playing.
The racket continued in the public rooms. It was difficult to carry on a prolonged conversation without some announcement bellowing from the P.A. System. These usually concerned selling something. Very little on Princess did not. I was trying to hold a discussion with a really interesting guy in the Skywalker Lounge when we were interrupted for five full minutes by the braying of the cruise director disclaiming the virtues of a coming art auction. I assume the cruise durector (Paul) is able to speak at normal volume because I heard him do so. Apparently, it's only when somebody puts a microphone in front of him that he loses control.
On occasion, the selling gets under your skin. In port in Mazatlan, I developed a backache and found myself out of aspirin and ibuprofen. My wife and I went down to the Medical Center and requested some ibuprofen (which, along with Tylanol, is referred to as "non-aspirin.") Customer satisfaction strikes again. Sorry. If you want it, you go to the store and buy it. (All stores on the ship were closed.) Or, you can make an oppointment with the doctor (sixty dollars, plaease). We went up to the "Passengers' Service" desk and relayed this to a Sweet Young Thing behind the desk. We were informed ibuprofen is a prescription drug on Princess. Advil a prescription drug? Anyway, when the store opened, I found some at $2.19 for four tablets instead of 40 for a dollar at our local Dolllar Tree.
The quest for passenegers' gold is ongoing. A shave and a haircut does not cost two bits; it's around a hundred and fifty bucks. Drink "specials" are not discounted, as they are on some other lines. If there is something that can conceivably be labeled "optional.," it is. The only items that have so far avoided the greed virus on the Sapphire P. Are the specialty restaurants, with the Sterling Steak House charging only fifteen dollars extra per person and Sabatini's offering a complete Italian stuffing for twenty.
As to food in the other venues, I would grade them from "C" to "B-." which is another way of saying "mediocre," with the exception of the pastries, which were superior. Main course presentations were nondescript and although by no stretch could the food be called bad, neither could it approach the level of Celebrity and the service was well below Holland America or Norwegain. We ate three dinners and all lunches but one in the Horizon Court buffet. The offerings included leftovers, as on most middle-ranked lines, but also featured many of the same items served in the regular dining rooms. A poor spot was the service, especially by the supervisors as opposed to the mostly Philippino staff. At one memorable meal, my wife discovered our table had no silverware, so approached a short, officious gentleman (?) and asked for some. He informed us our table had silverware. My wife pointed out that she was sitting there and there was none. "Yes, there is," replied Little Mussolini. Finally, with both of us asuring this gem of Princess Customer Service that we didn't have any silverware, he begrudgingly got two sets.
You may guess we're not thrilled with Princess and you'd be right,` but not all was under par. The choreography and dancing by the resident troop was first-rate and more than made up for the run-of-the-mill singers. The magician put on a show worthy of Las Vegas' best and one of the pianists, who was advertised as a former accompanist for Frank Sinatra, was well above average. The rest was O.K. - no more, no less.
Although embarcation was smooth and fast, disembarcation was even faster. The [point was that getting on meant you hadn't spent any money yet and getting off meant that the faster you got off, the faster the new bunch could get on. As we prepared to leave the ship, our courteous, polite cruise director kept urging us to hurry, move right along and have all the documents that would get us on shore quicker. No "Thank you for sailing with us" or "Have a good journey home." As I recall, he didn't even say goodbye. So I will.
Good bye, Princess Cruise Lines.