I have been cruising several times, with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess, and this is the first time I felt that I needed to post. Alaska itself was incredible, a beautiful place and truly whenever you were looking outside, it took your breath away. We would go back in a heartbeat!
First, the positives to the Sapphire. Embarkation and disembarkation was a snap. If you're staying in Seattle, staying an extra day and walking off is totally worth it. This was the first time that I had just walked off and I couldn't believe how easy and NOT stressful it was. Just to go to Pike's Market that afternoon made staying an extra day in Seattle worth it!
The only place we felt crowded was the exercise facility, which was not large enough. We had to run outside on the track one day because the line for the machines was out the door. But everywhere else, there were no lines and the ship really felt like it was "small ship cruising." The Conservatory has an indoor pool and two hot tubs, with plenty of loungers up top in case it gets cold. The aft pools were never crowded, and in fact, the water was warm in most of the pools. There were tons of children swimming in the water. I was very surprised at the number of young children, babies, and teenagers throughout the boat. They never overwhelmed but the mix of families, couples, singles was great. There were plenty of diverse nationalities on board as well, which I personally love about cruising.
Our balcony was at the back of the ship, and it was fabulous. Huge and constantly warmer than elsewhere on the ship because it was covered from the wind. In Tracy Arm, while my husband was on deck 15 snapping pictures in a full coat, gloves, hat, I was cozy on the balcony in my pjs and airport travel blanket.
The shore excursions were hit or miss. We enjoyed the high ropes course and ziplines, although personally I don't know that if you are a more mature cruiser this would be the thing for you. They advertise being "multigenerational" but I noticed some of our older friends having difficulty walking along a wobbly bridge 30 feet in the air. It's not just ziplines, which are really fun.
In Juneau, we did a whale-watch with Orca Enterprises and they were GREAT. It was not a cruise-booked excursion, but I was glad that we booked it with Orca because the naturalist was so professional and knowledgeable, and we saw more humpbacks than I had seen in Hawaii during calving and mating season. We even saw them bubble feeding. If you are going in the next few weeks, book with them. But even if you're not, Juneau was the easiest to book not with the cruise. You don't even have to book beforehand--as soon as you get off, there are about twenty booths advertising the Mendenhall Glacier, whale-watching, etc.
Skagway was underwhelming. We chose the train ride and kayaking, and felt that while it was fun, it was very much over-priced for what you get. Do the cheapest option for either of those, but to do them together--not worth it. The Red Dog Saloon had live music from an older man singing 1950s country, and we loved it. Many ages (over 21) were in there, all of them having a knee slapping good time!
Victoria was a little boring. You get in so late in the day that there just isn't a lot to do, and the shuttles are $7.50 a person to get in and out of the city. If you are physically able to do so, rent a bike--I think that we should have done that.
Now for the downsides. The food was NOT up to Princess standards. We booked this cruise because we had enjoyed Princess so much two years ago, and I had been dreaming about their fettuccine Alfredo. I won't be dreaming about it again. Had it one time, and it was cold and rubbery. Thought that must be a mistake and ordered it the last night of the cruise and it was the same. The beef was generally good. Some of the deserts were good. Sabatinis was just ok, the fish and desert were great, but our server didn't offer to bring us a different appetizer when we had barely touched ours. Save your money. The buffets many times were better than plated service at dinner. Thankfully, the pizza bar and grill was very good, but only open until 7. In the dry-dock apparently they are installing a 24 hour pizza stand. The beef wellington and lobster night (last formal night) were the best food we had on the cruise. Excellent. But the point was that not all of the meals were excellent, and we are not foodies or food snobs, we just expect good food from Princess, and in many cases we were disappointed.
The service was also NOT classic Princess standards. I am a seasoned cruiser, have sailed on many lines, and what always impresses is the service. This crew seemed either apathetic or just did not notice when you needed something. They told me to go to my room to get a towel. No one knew (or was eager to help) me find a blanket one day when I was cold. In fact, they bordered on rude when I came back to ask for help a second time. A few days, the deck hands were nowhere to be found at an extremely busy indoor pool. When lunch was over, we set our trays down beside us and in the two hours we were there (and this happened multiple times) no one came to get our empty plates. Our Captain's Circle party lasted all of forty minutes and included watered down drinks and lots of "selling" you on Princess.
I am not a cruise snob. If I have to bus my own table, really, I don't mind. But I had higher expectations for Princess from my previous cruise, where your waiter gets you water when you sit down for lunch, or at least comes up at some point during your lunch and asks you if he can get you water. I don't know that we will cruise with Princess again. With so many wonderful cruising options, we were glad to see Alaska, which was beautiful and exciting (and a great honeymoon spot, we found out!) but we might try a different cruise line for our next cruise.