We took a taxi from LAX to the pier. It was $55-60 and took about 30 minutes in light traffic. We arrived at the pier just before 11 am. Check-in was very quick and smooth, and we got to the waiting area in a few minutes. We later heard that out of 2600 passengers on board there were roughly 750 Elites and nearly 1000 Platinum. They just started to board after we got to the waiting area, and being Platinum, we had to wait for the Elites and suite passengers to be boarded. Overall, we probably had to wait about 30 minutes.
We had an inside cabin on the Baja deck near the back of the ship. I found the cabin very comfortable for 28 days - the beds were comfortable and there was lots of storage space. Inside cabins are great if you want to sleep in - especially with all the sea days! This is the second time I've had a cabin in this location, and I find it's very convenient. It's just two flights of stairs up to the buffet and four flights down to the Promenade deck. We could also go up one level to the Aloha deck, then exit out the back to the Terrace pool area.
Another nice thing about this location - the laundromat was only 5 doors down. I pack pretty lightly (just a carry-on size roller bag for this 28-day cruise) so we used the laundromat 4 or 5 times. The cost is $2 for the washer and $2 for the drier - you need quarters, but there are change machines. I was surprised that the laundromat seemed less busy than on previous cruises - there was nearly always a machine available. Perhaps this was due to so many Elites on board, who get free laundry!
The Sapphire Princess was built in 2004 and it was scheduled to go in for a major drydock in January 2012. Despite that, the ship looked to be in great shape. The crew were very friendly and hardworking.
I love the Promenade deck on the Sapphire Princess. It's a bit wider than on most other Princess ships, so there's room for comfortable teak loungers, which most of the other ships don't have. With all the sea days on this itinerary, I spent a lot of time sitting and reading on the Promenade deck or walking laps. I love the Promenade deck because you really have a connection to the ocean and being on a ship. On this cruise, it was pretty busy during the mornings - both walkers and loungers - but then they all seemed to disappear at noon!
I like to swim, so it's nice having the range of pools. The Lotus Pool was usually fairly quiet and shady, and I liked the swim against the current feature. Even the main Neptune Pool rarely got really busy. The covered Calypso Pool is a nice feature, especially for the cooler, windier days. The small Terrace Pool at the back of the ship was great for a quick swim, since it was so close to our cabin. I wish there was a bit more shade in the Terrace Pool area, though. Sometimes in the past I've found the pools to be overheated - it's like swimming laps in a hot tub - but they seemed to be a nice temperature on this cruise.
My favorite lounge is the Wheelhouse Bar, which was usually nice and quiet, although I heard it got busy before the early shows. The atrium always seemed very quiet, especially down on the Plaza deck. I suspect that will change after the refit when they add the International cafÃ© and the pizzeria.
I'm in my early 40s, and the first thing I noticed about my fellow passengers is that this was the oldest cruise I've ever been on. Those of us under age 65 appeared to be in a very small minority - perhaps 10% of the passengers. Not only were there lots of seniors, but many appeared to be quite old and frail, with lots of scooters and walkers. I guess being a longer cruise with lots of sea days and roundtrip from L.A. (so not much flying required for many) made it very attractive to older seniors. There was less of an international mix of passengers on this cruise compared with previous longer cruises I've been on - mostly Americans (especially lots of Californians) and Canadians (lots of others from B.C.) as well as groups from France and Germany. As a result of the older crowd, the ship tended to be very quiet in the evening. I'm pretty independent, so this older demographic didn't have any impact on my cruise experience.
I thought the food was very good on this cruise - a notch better than other recent Princess cruises I've been on.
We had breakfast and lunch at the Horizon Court buffet. I found the food very good and there were always lots of choices. There was always a good variety of fresh fruit, which is important to me. At lunch, they always had some kind of Indian food - usually a vegetarian curry - which was very tasty. They also would have a couple of pasta choices which were also usually very good. I also liked that they had a hot dessert each day. On sea days, they often had special lunch buffets set up in the Calypso pool area. Unfortunately, these weren't listed in the Patter and often they seemed to finish at 1:00 or 1:30, so you had to be on the ball. The Italian buffet and the dessert buffet were the best! Perhaps it was the times we ate (usually around 9 am for breakfast and 1 pm for lunch), but the buffet never seemed overly busy. We could always find a table - if not in the main area then just walk to the back section.
We ate most dinners in the anytime dining rooms. I liked having the four smaller anytime dining rooms. The Vivaldi dining room was also used for traditional first seating dining, so it didn't open until 7:45. The other dining rooms were open 5:15 to 9:30. I liked the dÃ©cor at the Pacific Moon (Asian motif) and the Savoy (dark wood) the best, and that's where we ate most of our dinners. We usually ate at around 7:00 to 7:30 and we never had any problems getting a table. I believe the Savoy dining room will disappear after the drydock - the new Crown Grill will take up part of the space, and the remainder will become part of the Vivaldi dining room. Too bad, since it has the nicest atmosphere of all the dining rooms - it feels the least like a generic Princess ship dining room.
The food in the dining rooms was also very good. Being on a longer cruise, it was nice to sample all the different dinner menus. Here's a link to the dinner menus for the 28 day. There were 4 formal nights - on days 3, 11, 17, and 27.
We ate a few dinners at the buffet, and the food was also good there, with some but not all of the same choices offered that night in the dining room. I think the desserts are better at the dining room. The chocolate ice cream is great, as are some of the other homemade ice creams. Some were a little disappointing and lacking in flavor. Sorry, I don't have the dessert menus, but look out for the flourless chocolate torte (first night) and the passionfruit and chocolate mousse cake - delicious!
Dining room service is not quite as good as I remember, especially compared with doing traditional fixed seating when your waiter really gets to know you. However, Paula in the Savoy dining room was fantastic - the best waiter we encountered on this cruise.
I love the fresh baked cookies that they wheel around the pool areas at 3:30 on sea days. They have the same cookies in the buffet, but the fresh baked ones are so much better! I also loved the little scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream available at the buffet after 3:30 pm. The pizza by the slice near the Neptune pool is also very good - nice thin crust and not too heavy on the cheese. They have margherita, pepperoni, and a daily special. Although I miss the homemade ice cream they used to serve in the buffet in the afternoon, the free soft serve ice cream is pretty good.
Entertainment is not a big factor for me on cruises, so I didn't see a lot of the shows. I did see the five production shows on this cruise (Stardust, Motor City, Piano Man, I Got the Music, and Do You Wanna Dance) and generally enjoyed them. I had seen most of them before, but I thought the singers were more consistently good on this cruise than on past cruises. I hadn't seen Do You Wanna Dance before, and I thought it was the best. Other than that, I didn't watch too many of the shows. They did have Hawaiian dancers (kids) the night of Honolulu and Tahitian dancers the night of Papeete, which I heard were both good. Likely due to the older crowd on board, I heard that the early shows were generally very busy and people would sometimes arrive an hour or more early to get seats. We usually ate later (around 7:30) and went to the later shows. We would usually arrive at the shows 10 minutes before they started and we never had any problems getting seats.
Since I prefer to read and relax, I didn't partake in a lot of the organized activities on the ship. There seemed to be lots going on, though, especially on the sea days. There were lectures on all the sea days. I attended a few, and some were more interesting than others. They usually had at least one movie each day, either in the Princess Theatre or the Explorers Lounge (no Movies Under the Stars on the Sapphire until after the drydock in January 2012). Some of the movies included "Midnight in Paris", "Bridesmaids", "Hangover Part 2", "The Help", and "Source Code". They also had "Rocky Horror Picture Show" on Halloween, which was fun. Speaking of Halloween, they had lots of decorations and most of the bar, restaurant, and entertainment crew were dressed up, along with quite a lot of the passengers - some great costumes! There was a big Halloween party at Club Fusion.
Here is a link to the Patters from this cruise for more details on the daily events, lectures, movies, shows etc. Sorry for the poor quality!
This itinerary attracted me since it allowed you to see Samoa and French Polynesia without a long flight. Before this cruise, I'd only been to Oahu so it was nice to see the other islands in Hawaii - I would definitely go back to Kauai and the Big Island. Samoa had beautiful little villages and very friendly people. French Polynesia had stunning scenery and great swimming and snorkeling in the lagoons. Overall, my favorite stops were Moorea, Bora Bora, Samoa, and American Samoa. This cruise was in October/November, which is just the beginning of the rainy season in both Hawaii and in Samoa/French Polynesia. We had very good weather - lots of sunshine, but generally some clouds around as well. There were a few rainshowers, but mostly in the mountains and not at the beaches. Temperatures were around 28 degrees (low 80s F), and there was usually a cooling breeze.
Here's a link to some photos from the cruise:
This cruise also had a lot of sea days - 18 days out of 28, including 8 in a row coming back from Tahiti to Los Angeles. I used to try and always book port-intensive cruises, but I'm finding I enjoy sea days more and more. They are so relaxing, and I love to read, walk around the deck, swim, and of course eat! I actually enjoyed the longer stretches of sea days (two stretches of 4 days and the long stretch of 8 days at the end) since it really allowed you to get into a very relaxed mode, with no worries about having to get off the ship early the next day to see a port. Don't get me wrong - I still love port days, and the ports on this cruise were great - but there was still a sense of relief as we sailed out of Tahiti knowing that there was nothing to do but relax for the next 8 days. Everyone on the ship seemed much more relaxed during that last week!
Since we didn't have too much luggage, we did the self walk-off option. We got off the ship just before 8 am, and with very few people at customs, we were through and out by the taxi stand in about 10 minutes.