Flights & Hotels:
We flew from Dulles to LAX non-stop the evening before the cruise. Because I was trying to do the best pricing, we had a really late flight arriving LAX at 1:00AM. I was amazed by the lack of cabs, but fortunately, was able to call the Marriott and the shuttle showed up really quickly, so we were at the hotel less than 30 minutes after retrieving our luggage. I like Marriott and still have a little juice with them, so it's to our advantage to use them when we travel. I made my own arrangements for a shared shuttle from the hotel to the cruise terminal at San Pedro for $50.00 for the two of us. While we were standing outside waiting for the shuttle, which was almost an hour late after repeated calls to the shuttle company, the hotel bell captain told me that they could have arranged a car service for the same price. I won't make that mistake again. Fortunately, the trip to the cruise terminal was less than 30 minutes, so no harm no foul; just annoyance. On our return, we booked a flight for mid-afternoon (2:20PM) on the recommendation of our travel agent because of possible delays getting to the airport as well as getting through U.S. customs. As it turned out, customs was a breeze. I have heard horror stories about U.S. customs in Toronto taking several hours to clear, but we were through Vancouver in less than 10 minutes from start to finish. Just like a U.S. airport except you need to turn in a customs form and get your passport stamped for re-entry to the U.S.
Embarkation was as quick and easy as we've ever had. We checked in and were in our cabin in less than 30 minutes from the time we handed off our luggage. We're not Platinum with Princess so I was expecting long lines, but we must have hit the sweet spot because it was effortless. I cannot say the same for debarkation. First, the ship was about 30 minutes late in mooring at Canada Place. Hard to understand since we were in Victoria Canada the day before and you could swim to Vancouver from Victoria in less time than we took to get there. Then, the debarkation was major delayed. We were supposed to debark at 8:30AM, take a 3 hour tour of Vancouver and be at the airport at 12:00PM in plenty of time for the flight. We finally debarked at 10:45AM, huge lines in the terminal, no buses, just a mess. Finally, a nice young lady from Princess commandeered a bus for all of us who had mid-afternoon flights and took us directly to the airport. Supposedly, Princess is going to refund the tour cost. We'll see. I'll bet it comes as a cruise credit. Anyway, if you had a morning flight you were screwed because we got to the airport about 12:15PM and from what I could tell, were among the first cruise passengers to arrive. Of course, no one would admit to who was at fault for the delays, but since there was a Holland America ship plus another Princess ship that arrived at the same time we did, I think the terminal was overwhelmed with the offload because among other things, you had to clear Canada customs before you could get through the terminal to get to your luggage. Sapphire Princess
Nice ship. Carries 2670 passengers and we sailed fully loaded. But, it's big enough so it wasn't really a hassle except in Santa Barbara where we had to tender. There was about a 40 knot wind blowing, so getting back to the ship was slow as they couldn't max out the ship's boats because of the weather and also had to slow down the run considerably so as not to stress all the old folks on the little boats. So, it took almost an hour of standing in line to board the boat to get back from the tour, but nothing the ship could do about that. It was an old cruise. I mean old people. Lots of canes, wheelchairs, walkers and scooters. Very seasoned citizens. One of the bartenders told me there were 1600 Princess Circle members on board. They had two receptions because there were so many. We also talked to a number of people with 20 or more cruises under their belts. We're just kids by comparison. It made for a very quiet cruise. We always set up our HQ in the Wheelhouse Bar at the bar because we enjoy chatting with the bartenders about where they're from, their families, where they are on their current contract, how they like Princess, etc, etc. Lots of good intelligence. And we had lots of time to talk because we were never at the bar with more than 1 or 2 other people. Generally, the Wheelhouse was almost empty any time we were in there. Lots of room on the dance floor if you were inclined to do such a thing. We think they all had early dinners, early show and tucked away for the night about 9:00PM. Very boring for the bartenders and wait staff. Never even had a drink rush before the early show. We don't do the Princess Theatre entertainment and don't gamble, so I can't comment on the quality of either. Didn't hear any complaining, so I guess the entertainment was okay. One point of interest. In an entire week, I didn't see a single staff officer in any of the restaurants, bars, or even walking around the passenger areas. It was like they could care less. I was pretty shocked because in my 28 years in the Navy, you do your best inspections by walking around. These guys left me the impression they could give a darn about what was going on. Very strange as I've never seen that before on any previous cruise, Princess or other cruise lines. Dining
Sapphire has 5 dining rooms plus Sabatini's. I don't count the Sterling Steakhouse because like other older Princess ships, they just cordon off a piece of the Horizon Court, hang out a banner at dinner and call it S.S. Only 1 dining room (International) had two sittings. One other (Vivaldi) had an early sitting then was open after 8:00PM for anytime dining. The other three: Pacific Moon, Santa Fe, and Savoy are anytime dining from 5:00PM on. Sabatini's is just like everywhere else; they take reservations after 5:00PM. We only ate 3 dinners in the dining rooms as we didn't do the formal nights (2), had dinner off the ship in San Francisco with a long time business colleague, and ate at Anthony's Seafood on Pier 66 (where we moored) in Seattle. Food in the dining rooms was mediocre. I was hoping that Princess has figured out anytime dining, but our experience was, they have a long way to go. Wait staff was professional, but distant, no interest in chatting up the customers. The night in Savoy was kind of a mess. We had reservations for 8:00PM, but they don't have a separate line for people with reservations, so we got caught in a queue that took about 15 minutes to get to the maitre 'd who acted like it was the end of the world for being busy with half the dining room empty. Got seated, then had to prompt the wait staff for things like butter knives, butter plates, etc. I think the old bulls that run the dining rooms hate anytime dining because they constantly have to work to keep their clients happy and can't suck up on one particular group for a big tip at the end of the cruise. Since in my opinion, anytime dining is not only here, but it's the wave of the future everywhere on cruise ships, except maybe the highest luxury end, they'd better build a bridge and get over it. On the other hand, the buffet staff at breakfast and for the one dinner we ate there, were very pleasant, helpful, and even carried plates to tables for some of the hapless old folks who couldn't seem to manage their canes and plates together. Since they've been doing buffets forever, I guess they understand customer service. We did have one sit down breakfast in the International dining room. Met a very nice couple from Rancho La Costa outside of San Diego and had a good chat. The dining room had a special Mexican omelet with refried beans that was pretty bad. I really like Mexican food and was very disappointed. Also, the coffee and orange juice were quite watery. They were much better in Horizon Court. Oh yeah, if you want a glass of freshly squeezed OJ, it's an extra charge; go figure. In general, the food was no better than okay. But, we did have a very good English pub lunch our one at sea day. They seem to have that one figured out. Tours
It's actually billed as a repositioning cruise for their Alaska season, but everyone we met on tour was there for the wineries. In Santa Barbara we visited 4 very small wineries with 4 separate tasting at each one. We also got lunch on the tour. It was pricey, but lots of fun. We had been wait listed for the Sonoma County wine tour in SF, but did get on the list and visited 3 more wineries again with 4 separate tastings. We had 35 people on the 1st tour, and 30 on the second, so we weren't overwhelming the place. Really good tour guides. Knowledgeable, funny, and friendly. The wait staff on the ship could have learned from them. In Astoria Oregon, we toured two micro-breweries and one quite a big larger (Rogue). You've probably seen "Dead Guy Ale" That comes from Rogue. Really good young tour guide; a 4th generation Astorian, so he gave us lots of town history. It's really little; about 11,000 people, but he said they have more breweries and bars per capita than anywhere else in Oregon. In Seattle, we toured the Boeing factory and that was a waste of money. We just got a short glimpse of the assembly areas for the 747, 777, and 787. Not even as interesting as seeing fenders put on Fords. However, we had a very cool bus driver who volunteered to give us a tour of downtown Seattle on the way back from Boeing, so we essentially got two tours for the price of one. Former ETN3; had fun swapping a couple of sea stories about Treasure Island. In Victoria Canada, we toured Buchart Gardens which if you haven't see it, is spectacular, especially this time of the year. It's not a botanical garden as such, just a very big place started by a very wealthy Victorian (as in Victoria) wife who loved to garden. We also had another winery tour included which was interesting because it's apparently one of the biggest wineries in British Columbia but only has 85 acres of vineyards. Good wines though. Our tours cost us about $1500 which I think is pretty pricey, but what's the point of taking that trip if you don't take advantage of the wine & ale country? From what I could tell, quite a few repeat passengers. I guess this is only the 2nd or 3rd time Princess has done this cruise and it's been a sell out every time. If anyone reading this review decides to do it, book your wine tours early. They fill up fast and as far as we could tell, they don't add extras. Probably because these wineries are so small, they just can't deal with huge crowds. Final Thoughts
All in all, even with some of the onboard disappointments, we were glad we did the cruise. I wouldn't do it again, but that's because we still have lots of places we want to visit. We put down our $200 onboard deposit for another Princess cruise in the next four years, so we have to start looking. I should also point out that we had a really good cabin steward with lots of personality who was cheerful every time we saw him and completely adaptable to working around our schedule. He got a little extra tip from us. Great lead bartender in the Wheelhouse. He was always delightful to talk to and provided super service so he also got some extra tipping.