Sapphire Princess Entertainment
Princess' day-time entertainment offerings emanate from its Scholarship@Sea program, which features a range of activities, from lecturers on various topics such as marine life, magic and history to more hands-on tutelage on computer skills, photography techniques and scrapbooking.
The ship's ceramics studio offers a fantastic creative outlet on sea days; starting at $15, you can paint bowls, plates, picture frames and the like, and staff members will fire them up in the onboard kiln. (Don't get too carried away, you still have to transport the pieces home.)
The Piazza, added in early 2012, is another wonderful daytime (and nighttime) space. The venue features circus-style performers like acrobats and jugglers.
One of the ship's most stunning public areas is Skywalker's Disco & Observation Lounge high up on the Sky Deck. Though already a Princess staple, Skywalker's on Sapphire Princess actually hangs over the aft end of the ship, so that its 125-foot balcony and dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows offer fantastic, unobstructed panoramas both day and night. (When you can, observe the ship's wake by moonlight.) The decor is a nod to outer space with stars and swirls, but done with great style -- I loved the brass table lamps with miniature moon-shaped cutouts.
After hours, Skywalker's becomes a hopping club scene, but we preferred it as a quiet place for a cocktail-with-a-view before supper. Even more intimate (but less scenic) is the Wake View Bar, hidden deep within the ship on the Fiesta Deck. Hint: Access this space via the spiral staircase in Club Fusion on the Promenade Deck. This is a very quiet place during the day to have a cocktail and collect your thoughts, or even to do some reading, with no music and little chatter -- it was unusually empty during my sailing. At night, however, this neglect is understandable due to Wake View's nearness to the often-rambunctious Club Fusion crowd.
Princess' signature Wheelhouse Bar is another great place to meet, with friendly bar service, a cozy members-only-club atmosphere, and nautical art and history displayed throughout. It also has live jazzy music. (The scene -- and the dancing -- picks up a little later in the evening.) Sports fans and cigar enthusiasts should scoot down to Churchill's Lounge, a combination cigar lounge and sports bar. Though an odd pairing, this is the ideal place to view satellite broadcasts of various sporting events when available.
Club Fusion serves as a dance club, theater and game room. This lounge features 42 high-definition video screens, which gives it the high-tech feel of a big-city hangout. This space is truly multipurpose: A nice sized dance floor attracts nightlife lovers, and tabletop slot machines keep gamers entertained. Explorer's Lounge, with the feel of an African safari, is a cabaret-style lounge featuring singing and dancing acts, as well as occasional magicians and comedians. Snag a spot near the Tangier-inspired windows.
Princess' trademark shows, however, take place in the two-story Princess Theater, which seats 705. The most striking element here is a huge, black backdrop curtain laced with twinkling fiber optic lights -- very, very neat (and no doubt very expensive). Seats do indeed fill up, so be sure to arrive early; drink service is available and prompt. A warning: There aren't enough seats for everyone during popular events.
The Asian-themed Grand Casino is a marriage of Vegas glitz and Far East glamour, with images of gondolas on the earth-toned walls surrounding clanging slot machines and gaming tables. Chips may be charged to your cabin account, but be aware there is a three percent surcharge for this. Note: Grab a change bucket before you sit down, or else you'll have to carry your winnings to the counter in cupped hands; the buckets aren't scattered about the room conveniently, at least not by the last sea day.
Sapphire Princess Public Rooms
The very core of Sapphire Princess is its Piazza, the aforementioned Italian-style atrium inserted in early 2012. The bustling, three-deck space is a combination bakery, Internet cafe, wine/sushi/tapas bar, pizzeria and performance venue. You'll also find the guest services and shore excursion desks here.
With so many people onboard, you might think getting around the ship would be difficult, but traffic was light or nonexistent pretty much everywhere on the ship -- with the exception of the Promenade area between Club Fusion and the Explorer's Lounge, especially when formal or gangway photos are on display (pay counter is here as well). Getting back and forth, forward to aft, on the Lido Deck can be a bit of a challenge, as you must cut through Horizon Court, an even more difficult feat at busy chow times like lunch. Also, the International Dining Room is located in the dead end of an aft-ship maze I often found myself here by accident. You have to climb back up a flight to Promenade Deck and find another staircase or elevator, midship or forward -- there's no other way out (the medical center is actually directly beneath this space, we finally learned).
The Library is a cozy reading room with a mediocre collection of fiction and nonfiction books, CD's and listening stations (comfortable chairs with a space to plug in headsets and built-in CD players -- you can check out CD's from the library or use your own), and a cluster of computers with Internet access. Directly outside is a Writing Room, an open space with plenty of seating for composing letters and postcards. The Princess Fine Arts Gallery, off of the Grand Plaza on the Plaza Deck, features reproductions and original artwork, available for purchase. Hearts & Minds Wedding Chapel is a small but functional space for vow renewals and the like. Both the gallery and the chapel were refreshed in early 2012.
Web rates start at 75 cents per minute, and packages are available for heavy users (100 minutes for $55 or 55 cents per minute, 150 minutes for $75 or 50 cents per minute, and 250 minutes for $100 or 40 cents per minute). You can also, via Wi-Fi, hook up your own laptop in public spaces and cabins. Accessing the Internet -- you are at sea after all -- can be hit or miss.
Sapphire Princess Spa & Fitness
There are five pools (and plenty of poolside bars) onboard Sapphire, including a kids-only wading pool and an adults-only fitness pool. The indoor Calypso Reef & Pool, covered by a retractable crystal magradome, is decorated in a coral reef motif, while Neptune's Reef & Pool, a spacious open-air area with colorful mosaics and lots of space for tanning, fills the ship's full-size outdoor pool requirement (both are located on the Lido deck). There is also an out-of-the-way Terrace Pool at the aft end of the ship on the Aloha deck just below.
Movies Under the Stars, added in 2012 by Neptunes', is a major attraction and is on all day (with family fare), as well as into the night. Complimentary popcorn is served during evening features.
The Lotus Spa is infused with Asian flavor, and perhaps one of the reasons the design is so well executed is that the ship was actually built in Japan. Camel and sage walls and chairs induce immediate relaxation; tall exotic plants and heavy black doors framing opaque glass transport you to the Far East. Another nice touch? Spa staffers wear black kimono-style frocks accented by big, bright flowers, designed exclusively for Princess by L.A. fashion maven Sue Wong.
Sapphire has a high-tech fitness center with 35 cardiovascular stations, 17 weight training stations and 12 spinning cycles; a center court for Ping-Pong, tennis and basketball; a jogging track; shuffleboard areas; and a nine-hole putting course (hours fluctuate). Cyber Golf, a for-fee golf simulator, looked like two claustrophobic cubbyholes in which players aim the ball at an image projected on the back wall. Reservations can be made via Princess' concierge service.
In October 2011, Sapphire gained Princess' signature, adult-only Sanctuary. The top-ship space features lots of thickly cushioned loungers, massage cabanas, signature beverages, light meals and on-call stewards. To make room for the new space, the sports court on Sapphire Princess was relocated to a new space on top of Skywalkers nightclub. Enjoying the are comes at a price: It's $10 for a half a day and $20 for a full day, plus there's a $3 service fee for dining orders.