After boarding and inspecting our cabin on the Dolphin (9th) deck, which was spacious and provided ample room for clothing and suitcase storage, we left for lunch at the Horizon Court. We were a bit apprehensive, because previous reviewers were not enthusiastic about the food on this ship, and were pleasantly surprised to find that most of our meals were quite good, although not exceptional. However, we did not enjoy our anytime dining option on this cruise, and we purposely choose cruise lines that offer our preferred anytime dining option. When cruising to Alaska on the Coral Princess several years ago, we felt this line had mastered coordinating anytime diners, but this did not prove to be the case on the Sapphire. While we expected to be asked if we cared to be seated with other guests occasionally, we were unprepared when we were told several times there would be a wait of more than an hour at both the Santa Fe and Pacific Moon dining rooms, whether or not we cared to share a table with others. After several days, we tried the Savoy, and they seemed to handle the flow of diners easily. It became our preferred evening dining area when we didn't choose the buffet, both because the wait staff seemed more attentive and we didn't have to wait long to be seated. We usually ate breakfast and lunch at the Horizon Court, as well as a few dinners (three formal dinners were a bit much for us), and often found the service somewhat lacking, although we enjoyed the food. Hubby is impatient, and he frequently went to get our beverages when no waiter appeared after a few minutes.
Although it was a bit noisy and often crowded, we enjoyed visiting Crooners bar for cocktails most evenings. Waiters Milos and Rejilio were very personable and efficient, and also good at remembering preferences of regular customers. We usually met at different bars each night during previous cruises, but chose this as our nightly meeting place because of these servers.
Our cabin steward, Florian, was efficient and personable, and often anticipated our needs before we could make a request. When hubby ordered a bucket of beer, we returned from dinner to find he'd added ice to the bucket, and this continued for several days until it was finished. The only drawback to the cabin was a noticeable smell of cigarette smoke in the hallway outside of our door, but we could never tell exactly where it came from. We did not notice it while using our balcony, but heard others say they couldn't stand to use theirs because of secondhand smoke.
Daytime activities on sea days were adequate, but not exceptional, and included lectures, bingo, movies, art auctions, hula lessons, ukulele lessons, chef demonstrations, and lei making classes. Several times we felt the activity was just a prelude to a sales pitch for whatever department made the presentation. The same was true when I utilized spa services, and was strongly encouraged to buy several products. While I enjoyed time spent in the spa, I felt this detracted from the experience.
I hadn't utilized ship spas in the past, but decided to check out the Lotus Spa since we had so many sea days. My first experience was with the acupuncturist. After hearing her lecture that mentioned treatment could relieve seasickness, I decided to give it a try since I was taking medication as a preventative measure, and it made me a bit sleepy. She used the title of doctor, so I was shocked when presented with the statement and there was a line for a gratuity. However, I must admit the treatment was helpful, because I was not even queasy for the rest of the trip, and even several crew members mentioned they'd had problems because of moderate waves. I had noticed our cabin steward scurrying back and forth with loads of laundry during this time, and suspect several passengers, as well as crew members, were afflicted.
While we enjoyed the evening programs which we attended, including comedians,a ventriloquist, musical performances, and variety shows, we did not get to see some of the acts we wanted to see. Venues were often packed an hour or more before the show, and it seemed like some of the more popular shows were in the smaller Explorers Lounge instead of the Princess Theater. Some of the entertainers disembarked in Honolulu and others came aboard, so there was a good variety in the shows we did attend.
This itinerary with extended sea days was purposely chosen to make us slow down and relax, but we were both relieved when we reached the first Hawaiian port. Still, it was nice to have several days on each side of the voyage where we could not be reached by cell phone or email,(we'd agreed not to tempt ourselves by purchasing an internet package onboard) and we felt completely relaxed by the time we disembarked.
We had to self-disembarkation since our return flight was booked slightly before the time suggested by Princess, but we arrived at the airport in plenty of time. The biggest problem was getting our luggage to the designated lounge, because everyone had to clear their cabin by 8 a.m., and we had to tote everything down the stairs because all of the elevators were packed when they stopped on our floor. We weren't sure how long it would take to clear customs, but we were on our way to the airport about an hour after leaving our cabin. Since we weren't sure of the timing for departure, we took a taxi instead of the shuttle to LAX, and the fare was about $65.00.
We chose this ship after reading enthusiastic reviews regarding the layout, but this trip taught us that we prefer other Princess ships with a different design. Dining rooms on the Sapphire are smaller, but we found it made them seem more crowded than intimate,and it was sometimes took extra time to reach performance venues if you didn't choose the right elevator or stairway. While the ship is very well maintained, she is beginning to show signs of wear, mostly in the cabin corridors, where I noticed indentations in the walls, which might have been caused by the many walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters we encountered, and may have mostly been unavoidable since the passageways are rather narrow. Gathering places in public areas by inside windows were consistently crowded, something I have not experienced on other cruises, and we were glad we booked a mini-suite, where we had our own couch and balcony.
After returning to the dock, we caught a free shuttle to Hilo Hattie's for a little souvenir shopping. While there, we noticed a counter that said they had boxes and postage for priority mail shipments. We'd brought several of these boxes from home, and intended to find a post office where we could send a box of dirty clothes home to make room for the souvenirs. After returning to the ship and packing the box, we were told we couldn't take it off of the ship without customs clearance, and their representatives wouldn't be onboard until early the next morning. The staff said there was a chance we might be able to take it off at the next port if we brought it to the desk when customs inspectors were there early the next morning, but we decided to rearrange our suitcases and carry everything home. I'm not sure why customs clearance was necessary when we hadn't yet visited a foreign port.
Several fellow passengers raved about luaus they'd enjoyed in the city, but I'm not sure where they ate. We dined onboard because hubby is a fussy eater.
We opted for a king non-smoking room at the Crowne Plaza, because the hotel offered shuttle service to the nearby LA Cruise Terminal. The bed was comfortable, and I enjoyed the lavender linen spray provided by the hotel. Our only complaint was lack of hot water in the shower on departure day. After check-in, we walked to the San Pedro Brewing Company, 331 W. 6th St., for a quick lunch. Service was a bit slow, but the food was good, as was their award-winning beer. While strolling afterwards, we picked up a bottle of wine at Off the Vine, 491 Sixth St., and the clerk took time to recommend local restaurants and area attractions. We decided to try the Whale and Ale, 327 W. 7th St., for dinner, and both enjoyed their fish and chips. We ate breakfast at the San Pedro Cafe, 605 S. Pacific Ave., both days. It was good diner food, nothing fancy, but relatively reasonably priced. Neither of us liked the dinner we ate in the hotel dining room, and would recommend going elsewhere to eat. If you're looking for a good cup of coffee or pastry, be sure to try Mishi's Strudel Bakery & Cafe, 309 W. 7th St.
Friday morning, we found a farmers' market several blocks from the hotel, and were told it is held weekly from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to produce, there were clothing and craft items for sale, as well as several food vendors. Afterwards, we decided to walk to Cabrillo Beach, which was much farther than we expected. We had looked at a tourism brochure and decided to take the green and the red waterfront cars operated by the Port of Los Angeles back to the hotel, but were surprised to learn that the green shuttle was no longer operating. It was a relief to reach a red car stop, and the $1.00 daily fare for unlimited daily rides is a bargain. Hours, fares, and stops can be found at http://www.portoflosangeles.org/recreation/waterfront_rcl.asp. Be sure to check out the Fanfare Fountains and Water Features link; we very much enjoyed the evening water shows. Note that service is limited to specific days, not daily.
We were surprised to see three lines for shuttles when checking out, one for a Norwegian ship, one for Cunard's Queen Elizabeth III, and one for the Sapphire. Hotel staff worked hard to accommodate everyone as quickly as possible, and we were at our berth in about an hour. Check-in lines at the pier were long, but moved quickly.
Afterwards, my husband opted to return to the ship to watch the Super Bowl since our Packers were playing, but I spent some time strolling along the main street, which seemed to be a popular shopping destination. I was a little surprised the ship didn't offer both live coverage and a rebroadcast of the Super Bowl, because many passengers said they were torn between staying ashore and returning to the ship to watch the game.