This review covers b2b cruises on the Sapphire, Dec 5 and 12. We have done the Mexican Riviera cruise 7 times before, 3 times on the Sapphire. We have really enjoyed this ship in the past - especially the 4 themed anytime dining restaurants. When we first sailed her they each had their own unique menus, unfortunately that changed to only a signature entrEe now. But it is great to always be able to get osso buco in the Vivaldi!
Cabin We booked HH gty for these cruises - we used to be balcony people but now prefer outsides for a number of reasons. We did not receive cabin assignments until 3 days before sailing - did not know the second cruise cabin until halfway through the first cruise -- but others on the cc roll call had received not only cabin assignments shortly after booking but had also received upgrades from their initial cabin assignment. We were upgraded slightly on both cruises, the first time to E118 which is a cabin forward where the window looks out on the promenade deck. It was probably our worst ever cabin on Princess. It is supposed to be "unobstructed" but the view is the promenade deck and ship structure - and often people standing or walking by, and some pause to peek in the window. If you are a "private person" you would want to keep your curtains closed at all times. It was rather ironic that we were "upgraded" to a DD cabin but it was right next to a HH cabin! Both cabins had almost the same view. On the second cruise we were assigned P236, a forward cabin near the art gallery. Although this was a lower rated cabin (EE) in the Princess scheme of things it was larger than the first, not as far forward, close to the lobby bar to simplify going for morning coffee (can't take the room service variety), and we could keep our curtains open! Booking a gty always has its risks - but on the second voyage we learned many of those on our cc roll call received substantial upgrades, even from HH to BB. Again, the Princess administrative processes can be very strange but apparently our 37 cruises with Princess aren't of much value when they decide who should get the really good upgrades. I've been doing some independent research on Princess upgrades on cc and talking with passengers and am reaching the conclusion that "who you know" may be the most important factor (Friends and family and TAs?).
Dining The Sapphire has 4 different anytime dining restaurants, each with their own theme and signature main dish - otherwise they use the same dinner menus as traditional dining. The Vivaldi is used as a traditional dining room for early seating, then converts to anytime dining at 8:00 pm. As a result it is usually "least busy" if you dine at 8 or later. It is possible to get a specific dining room and table and time assigned on the Sapphire - that was impossible for us to do on the Golden last April. While we opted to cycle through all the different dining rooms for some variety, we also found it advisable to make reservations as wait times experienced by some friends were excessive - 30 to 45 minutes. Dining room food was inconsistent - sometimes great, sometimes good, and sometimes not so good. Every chef has their own style and dishes we have loved on other ships had a very different presentation on the Sapphire. Overall dining room food was ok. Horizon Court was basic as usual and generally good - but not as varied as other ships - breakfast meat offerings were minimal. The pizza and burgers and hot dogs on the Lido deck were superb as usual! Dining room service was also inconsistent although the Vivaldi was much better than the others. Service seemed slower than on other Princess ships, and on one occasion it took 15 minutes before our order was taken. There seem to be many jr waiters who are not very experienced as waiters. But saving the best for last - Sabatini's on the Sapphire is great - don't miss it!
Entertainment Princess prides itself on its production shows and the shows are usually very good. The only problem for repeat passengers is that you probably have seen the shows before as shows last many years. Sometimes it is fun to see another cast perform but even that gets old if you cruise a lot. There were two comedians with similar acts - and they were each on two nights. And the very same comedians were on the next cruise. But the magician was great! We ended up dining late and watching movies most nights. If you have never seen the production shows and like singing and dancing and can get a seat - you will enjoy them. If you like comedians who do basically standup self oriented dialogue with emphasis on cruise jokes (like about those strange toilets and funny things other passengers do) you may enjoy the stage entertainment. There were also the usual trivia and crafts and drink making and vegetable carving and cooking demonstrations and art auctions (getting to like these more and more), and sometimes interesting lectures, etc. There was even tequila tasting! So the net for entertainment is it all depends on your tastes and how often you have cruised Princess before. And you can always just relax and look for dolphins and whales and read a book and talk with people and buy a bucket of beers and go eat and catch up on sleep...
Ports The three ports are always fun and we have rarely had bad weather. Of course everywhere you go someone is trying to sell you something - starting with the tour vendors and timeshare sellers that are on you the moment you try to enter the terminal. The Princess shore tours are varied and pretty good, but can be pricey. Some people always do these ports on their own and we have never had a problem with doing our own thing. But if you are a first timer we'd recommend ship tours. We've done almost all the ship shore tours and lately have just gotten off the ship and explored the shops at the ports at PV and Mazatlan - decided it wasn't worth the tendering process to do Cabo. This time we got outfits in PV and pendants in Mazatlan - good value and useful.
Embarkation/Disembarkation We made it to the terminal early since we had a rental car to turn in and their office closed at noon. Since we are Elite it was pretty fast through check in and then off to the Platinum Lounge where we were given colored cards. Boarding started by 11:30 and we were the second colored card called so we were on board shortly after. Since we knew the ship already it was pretty easy to find our cabin. As far as disembarkation Princess has this down very well as well, you go to your assigned meeting place at the assigned time and you are off usually when planned (if not before) and through customs (eventually) and on your way - if there are no problems with customs. The only strange thing that happened on our b2b trip was the in-transit procedures where we had to disembark and wait in the terminal before re-boarding. We did 4 b2bs in Europe in September and the only thing we had to do was get our new boarding cards validated with pictures taken. The funny thing in San Pedro was that we were told we would be escorted to a Preferred Boarding Lounge in the terminal to wait - but the Preferred Boarding Lounge turned out to be just a separate seating area. When we asked why we couldn't use the Platinum Lounge the person in charge told us that if we were allowed to use the lounge and then were called to board before the new passengers in the lounge were called - the new passengers would get mad and complain. So apparently Princess thinks it is better to irritate in-transit passengers rather than newly boarding passengers? But based on recent experience very little is done by Princess for in-transit passengers so that is not a surprise.
Captain's Circle Party About half the passengers on the ship were Captain's Circle members so there were three parties, each apparently lasting about 30 minutes. The line to get in was very long, there were too few waiters serving watered down drinks and there were even fewer canapE servers and they were rather rude. We talked to a number of Elites afterwards who also decided to pass on these parties on our next Princess cruises. As one guy said "Why get all dressed up to stand in a long line and then try to find a seat to wait until a waiter comes by with watered down drinks and then watch some people who almost live on the ships get their paper bags and champagne"? He had a point...
Overall The Sapphire is a great ship and the Mexican Riviera has great ports. Weather going in and out of San Pedro for the first few days can be cold and rainy so don't plan on getting a tan or really enjoying the outside pool - but there are many other things onboard to do. Overall food and entertainment on a 7 day cruise may not be as good as a 10 or 12 day or more, but it is a lot better than staying home!