We are in our seventies and this was our 8th cruise having sailed with NCL, Celebrity, Star Clippers and Princess before. In preparation for this cruise we relied on our trusted travel agent Marie Rushton of Marlin Travel, Ottawa. There is nothing like having a guardian angel also known as a travel agent to watch over you. The end result was a lovely holiday on a wonderful ship notwithstanding some minor issues. We ended up with a Category AA mini-suite mid-ship. We also booked a pre and post-cruise stay at the LAX Marriott in Los Angeles through Princess Cruises, a wise decision. When checking-in we were given a Princess handout with details for the boarding day and our baggage handling. That was done in a most efficient and effective way. On the cruise departure day our bags were picked up in our room at 8 am and we next saw them 'on our bed' in our stateroom. That was too easy! The transfer by bus was well handled and the boarding was breeze.
Sapphire Princess is a beautiful ship coming out of a re-fit. The Officers and staff were superb and they made the best in very inclement weather. Great stateroom, great food, great service.
Embarkation was a breeze. Smiling staff even going through security! We found ourselves on board in no time flat. That is no easy feat when you have 2600 passengers boarding. The boat drill occurred before going to sea in individual muster stations. It was very well done, vey thorough and nobody was joking given the recent Costa disaster.
We do not think that they take hand sanitizing seriously enough given that we were 5 days at sea before Hawaii and then 4 returning. Not so long ago you could not get on or off the ship or enter any public facility or eating area without using hand sanitizer. This was to prevent communicable diseases from spreading from the common cold to Norovirus. We believe that this is a good disease control mechanism which we did not see on this ship with the exception of the Horizon Court where no one ensures that you did, in fact, clean your hands. That may explain why there was a large number of passengers suffering from the common cold by day 5 of the cruise. Not sure why this has changed but we do not think it is a wise decision.
No problem booking excursions but anything else was not as user-friendly. For example, it would be very useful if you could reserve specialty restaurants or obtain internet and/or coffee cards prior to departure. We discovered by chance that you could order gifts delivered to the stateroom thus we gave ourselves an internet card and two coffee cards. Overall, the web site is comprehensive but requires searching its nooks and crannies. Other cruise lines offer specialty dining booking and pre-purchases to avoid standing in line or worrying about availability once on board. Why Princess does not offer that is incomprehensible.
On boarding we met Jeffrey our cabin Stewart who is the one crew member that sets the tone for the cruise and keeps you smiling or otherwise... He was excellent in all respect, always smiling and very attentive to our needs. The mini-suite was impeccable just as we had expected with great bedding, lots of store room, and a wonderful balcony if somewhat visible to other folks on the balconies above us. That is due to the stagger of balconies on Princess ships. All amenities were provided but it took us a moment to find the hair dryer by the cabin desk rather than in the bathroom. The mini-fridge was kept stocked throughout our stay.
On the web site the International dining room sittings are listed as 6 and 8 pm. We opted for the early sitting giving us time to digest before going to bed yet on embarkation we were told that our sitting was actually to be 5:30 pm. That is a bit early but it turned out just fine. The menus are exquisite, the food preparation and presentation first class. Our two servers were excellent and we learned a lot about the Philippines where they came from. There is always a set menu that you can choose from and the daily presentation with a selection of appetizers, soups or salads, main course and wonderful desserts. We found the coffee only acceptable in the main dining room.
The buffet at the Horizon Court is acceptable for breakfast and just OK for other meals. The layout is not conducive to an optimum flow of hungry passengers. The coffee is institutional at best. We had most of our breakfasts there and some light lunches although we found the Piazza (Atrium) more attractive if somewhat crowded. Keep in mind that this cruise consists mainly of sea days thus all 2600 passengers are milling about the ship.
The International Cafe is excellent. It offers a large selection of specialty coffees and real tea leaves. Next to it is a pastry shop that also offers soup, sandwiches and salads for lunch. We thoroughly enjoyed their offerings. We took coffee cards that proved very good value for money. A card allowed you a set number of specialty coffees, all the tea and freshly brewed coffee you can drink. All of very good quality which led me to ask myself why they could not offer the same brewed coffee in the buffet or the dining rooms. The same value for money is not evident with the soda card unless you drink a lot of sodas. The card cost $98 plus gratuity for all non-alcoholic cocktails and sodas. We did not break even on that one, perhaps because we made great use of the International Cafe. To each his own...
Still in the Piazza is Alfredo's Pizzeria that offers custom made thin crust pizzas. We ate lunches there on a few days and rated the food excellent and the service very good indeed. Sabatini is the specialty Italian restaurant which carries a $20 per person cover charge. They used to have a 3.5 hour meals with some 32 items to be tasted as well as a main course that left you almost unable to walk out. They now offer an la carte selection which we found equivalent to the best restaurants we have been to over the years. That is certainly a five-star venue for a romantic dinner. The service is exceptional as well. We found the best brewed coffee at Sabatini.
We attended a number shows in the main theatre. They were very good to excellent providing a variety of performances. The same can be said for the Explorer Lounge and some other venues. The only issue is seating. If you are not in the venue 30 minutes before the event you cannot get reasonable seats. This was a cruise with many sea days yet there were so many activities every day that one could not attend them all. The two main social directors were loud and brash but effective as they kept people aware of all that was offered on board. Well done.
There are various bars everywhere and they were found to be equally good. One just had to find one that offered the atmosphere sought. They went from disco to discreet old fashion mahogany & brass lounges. We must be getting old but found that ear plugs would have been useful in some of these venues as the music was way too loud. Many passengers supported that view. The ship had a library that operated limited hours and where they kept their books behind frosted glass. Go figure! We brought lots to read thus we did not use their facilities. Like all cruise ships this size (116,000 tons) there are shops albeit fewer that we found in the Galleria on Celebrity Solstice Class ships. The quality seemed good and they had sales every day to keep folks coming back.
This ship is almost all non-smoking. Smoking is permitted in one small closed bar/lounge, port side on deck 14, and in the casino. The casino is problematic because you occasionally have to go through it. Lots of pools and whirlpools on the ship but many were closed because of heavy seas and cool weather. Sapphire Princess has "movies under the star" in open air using the industry's largest LED screen. It is located on deck 15 and visible from deck 14 as well. During evening performance blankets are provided as well as pop corn. On this cruise most movies were on the theme of "Hawaii".
They also have a Scholarship at Sea program. For our cruise we had two separate programs: one by Walter 'Scotty' Scott on space and the Space Program, and naturalist Dr Sharron Faff on Hawaii. Dr Faff had an excellent series on Hawaii volcanoes, history, people, flora and fauna. She is a Park Ranger for the Volcano National Park of the Island of Hawaii. Her presentations were well delivered and contained a huge amount of useful information. It was worth the trip.
The daily program offered various activities from early in the morning to very late at night. These included games, physical activities, ukulele lessons and well as hula dancing lessons, various seminars on health and wellness, bingos, etc. There is more offered on board than is possible to do in a day. There is an internet cafe that is not impressive. First, the LAN is weak thus if there are many users it is very slow getting to the on-board computer before even attempting a connection. The internet speed is slower than dial-up service at our cottage. For example, once connected it took 5 minutes just to open a web site on Internet Explorer! Yet the cost is exorbitant. We took a card for 120 minutes at roughly $0.55 a minute. Without this package it was $0.75/minute. Regrettably, there is no alternative when you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean...
We had selected this cruise because of the large number of sea days. Due to very rough seas on the way to Hawaii the ship reduced its speed thus we lost our first port call at Hilo. The sea was so rough that one passenger said the only people walking straight were the drunks. Then in calm waters, on a 99 nautical journey between Oahu and Kauai overnight the ship arrived one hour late in Nawiliwili. Go figure. On Lahaina passengers had to be tendered ashore. There was a good process in place but about one third of the passengers did not listen or understand which made progress difficult. The daily newsletter might have been clearer on the process. Nevertheless it was a great stop and the ship was surrounded by whales and turtles that could be admired from our very own balcony. It does not get much better than this. The ship manoeuvring is exceptionally smooth for all arrivals and departures. Some ports are difficult to access (Kauai) yet it was done with finesses and great skill; an admirable display of competence.
We had only booked a single excursion with Princess and we did not complete it because the ship altered its itinerary. In Kauai we booked a custom-designed private tour with Kauai Eden Tours owned and operated by Karen Tilley. She designed exactly what we wanted; a tour behind the scenes looking at how people live on Kauai and what makes the locals love their island. We went from Nawiliwili up the East coast of the island all the way to Princeville including a walk through a beach grove and a lunch by the sea. All in all, an excellent private tour although more expensive than a group tour bus. We had also booked the 'Chef's Table' immediately upon getting on board as you cannot book this prior to boarding. Even at that, we were later told (9 days into the cruise) that it was fully booked and there was no place for us. I assume that they keep it for those who cruise often with Princess; not when you are only on your third cruise with them. We were disappointed to say the least.
Depending on your departure time you are mustered in one of many public venues then taken ashore at the appointed time. From the notice to move to boarding our bus for the hotel took all of 12 minutes including customs, immigration and baggage pick-up. Very well organized and very smooth indeed. As we were staying overnight at the Marriott we boarded the appointed bus on time then all the passengers sat for 60 minutes (yes, one hour) waiting for nothing. That was NOT well organized.
We sought a relaxing holiday with leisurely travel to and from LAX, and, lots of sea days to enjoy the ship. We would certainly recommend Princess Cruises for their ship and their hotels.