The 28 day cruise ( Oct 22 - Nov 19, 2011) of the Sapphire Princess to the Hawaiian Islands and French Polynesia in the South Pacific had a Cruise Critic Roll Call list of 128 cabins. Out of that number of Cruise Critics, mostly with Princess Gold Cards or higher, we should have felt the obligation to write a review - especially one that covered a 28 day cruise that is offered only once each year by Princess.
The cruise ended in Los Angeles on November 19, and this is probably the fourth and last review of that cruise anyone will write, unless mine prompts or joggles the minds of some of my fellow passengers. My belief is when we do not write reviews, we essentially lessen the "brand" of Cruise Critic as there is less information being shared, both to future cruisers as well as cruise line "monitors" of these boards.
As partial evidence of this, there were 3 CC Meet & Greets held at Skywalkers. The first one with about 70 people attending was held without benefit of a PA system, and the television sets in the ceilings broadcasting a football game so no one could hear a thing. Only the CD showed up for that meeting. The second one they provided a microphone and turned off the TV.
By contrast a CC M&G on the NCL Star, 6 weeks previous we had coffee, tea, cookies, and pastries provided, 6 line officers attending, including the Captain who arranged a bridge tour. Which cruise line wanted to show the CC members recognition and support the most?
So thanks to Westcoaster, Nevada 1 and Delhigirl for their reviews, of this cruise, and here is mine.
Things not done well.
Deck 7 Promenade. For those that like to walk a circuit or jog on an open deck for exercise, disappointment awaits. You cannot go completely around the ship on deck 7. At the bow you have to climb two outside sets of stairs to deck 8, which takes you around the bow of the ship. Once you reach the other side you have to go down two sets of stairs in order to continue your trip on deck 7. This really breaks your stride especially if someone is in front of you that is slow using stairs.
Pizza - yes it is thin crust, yes it has several toppings but... the crust gets as hard as rock, and the toppings are sparingly used.
Coffee. Coffee is made from a syrup which is very strong, bitter and just plain nasty to drink. It is served in all locations in three ways: luke warm, tepid or warm. If you want hot brewed coffee you must purchase a "coffee card" which entitles you to 15 mocha's and other espresso based coffees, and unlimited brewed hot coffee. It is only served as OMG HOT!!, and will keep, even in a cheap thermos for about 6 hours before cooling off to what hot coffee should be. One thing they don't make a point to tell you, - they always give you a "small" size unless you ask for a "large" and they punch one hole in the card regardless of what size you receive.
The coffee bar. To use your coffee card, you must go to the 5th floor atrium Port side coffee bar. This is the ONLY location you can get your coffee. Unfortunately they have combined it with a full service liquor bar so that people wanting a great cup of coffee or an espresso have to compete for seating or a place to stand at the bar to order. Perhaps they did not expect to sell as many coffee cards as they did, but it was always a hassle to wait to get your brew. They even roped off a portion of the serving counter so that the assigned servers to the bar could walk up without having to wait for passengers to be served.
Deck chairs. My standard complaint for all cruise lines that sail into sunny areas: why do you equip ships with deck chairs that will not lie flat. When you turn over to get some sun on your back, you are bent backwards at about 30 degrees which is not comfortable and limits the purpose of the deck chair. Deck 14 around the pool area has nice fully reclinable chairs, but elsewhere the permanently propped up type dominate.
The Princess Theater. Way too small for the number of passengers. People on this cruise went 45 minutes before showtime to get a seat. It has only one floor - no balconies. Seats 800 and has 2 shows in an evening so that is 1600 people max out of 2600 get to see the performance.
The "Wake Show" on TV. Cruise Director Tim Donovan hosts a morning show, repeated from 6am to 8am every day. Tim has a very boisterous voice and presence. His early morning show is designed to talk about what is going on about the ship for the day, and read some correspondence people send, him on various issues concerning them. Tim is good in small doses. When he turns on his I-Pod to play the theme music from the Godfather, and then tries to shout over the top of the too loud music it becomes too much to listen to. Why does he need theme music anyway? He easily makes more noise with his loud voice than is needed.
Internet. They have a permanently mounted sign in the internet cafÃ©, stating the internet will be horribly slow and you can be disconnected during your session. The only time to use it is early morning or late night or you will be burning up all the minutes on your plan waiting for something to happen. If you get on line at 3am it works pretty well. Anytime afterward the pitiful onboard servers struggle to keep up with the demand and generally fail. You will get a message that too many people are logged on, please try again at another time.. like what... 2am maybe?
As noted elsewhere in reviews of this cruise, the totally unintelligible person making the noon announcements from the bridge. Most of what he says is covered on the dedicated TV channel with the same information, so it is pointless to have him continue confusing everyone. I would hate to think he was in command of the bridge when a real emergency required notification to all the passengers. OMG !
Also noted in another review of this cruise, was the woman selling future cruises. I did not experience any of her rudeness, but I spoke with her for about 5 minutes and barely understood a word she said. I asked my wife later if she got any of it and she couldn't understand her either. Think heavy Irish Brogue, combined with a dash of Cockney accent and a bit of Russian accent tossed in and you get the idea. She really needs to be rotated to a deck hand position, or given English pronunciation courses.
Excursions. Of course Princess wants you to purchase all their excursions which they have selected the best providers for the experience. We bought a number of the excursions and most were good with one being excellent. However, one in Bora Bora was not good at all. Two boats had been hired by Princess to take about 130 people to snorkel at the outer reef, and then enjoy swimming with sting rays. The literature described a wonderful time. Of the two boats, the folks on #1 got a highly informative and delightful time. Those with us on boat #2 were treated to amateur hour. When I put my complaint in the "We want to know" box at customer service, it took 3 days to get a letter back suggesting I file my complaint with the home office. This is perhaps a change for Princess that rather than having this passenger be satisfied before disembarking the ship, they could kick the can down the road and risk a poor CC review as a result. I should have used the Captain's Circle rep on board for that, and I accept the blame for not going there first, but I do think this is reflective of Princess official view of Cruise Critic Members. And, yes I did sign my name and below that "Member Cruise Critic."
Was it all bad? No. Could they improve on what they have - definitely a check in the YES box. Here are some of the things I think they really have down well.
Hurrah & Huzahs!!!
People to carry your plate in the buffet if you have mobility problems. They will even put the food on it and find you a table.
Inside omelette station in the buffet, plus the one outside as well.
Waffle station at the pool deck 14. Get it hot from the griddle while you wait. Anywhere else on board, you cannot get the butter to melt in the little boxes of the waffle (or pancake) and they will be hard like dried out toast.
Afternoon tea. well done in every respect.
Ship appearance inside and out is exceptionally clean and well maintained. We love the plastic flooring on the balcony deck that made possible one finger moving of the furniture there. Lots of curved faux wood panels, recessed lighting, very tasteful decorations throughout the ship.
The individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash PLUS skin lotion. Nice! - no punch the button on a wall dispensers.
Shower caps for the ladies and bathrobes for all - complimentary... yes of course you can buy them also!
Complimentary fruit bowl for your room each day, with a selection card so you can choose the makeup of the next fruit bowl.
Flat screen TV's with inputs for your video gear so you can play your camera / video too. No DVR or DVD players though.
The surround sound system in the Theater that made listening pleasant and not ear splitting.
The atrium which is in near constant use with some form of entertainment most of the day and early evening.
Captain Jerman for being a good sport at the crossing of the equator party (where he got tossed in the swimming pool!)
A very good Library with various games you can borrow, and a place to enter your interest area if you would like to meet other people on board with your interests.
At sea seminars with various speakers (one was a passenger) presenting a lot of interesting material on a variety of subjects.
Using musicians on stage for production numbers instead of recorded music, even though some of the production numbers had pre-recorded voice tracks of the dancers.