The itinerary was South East Asia, Singapore to Singapore, 14 nights. The ports visited were:
• Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
• Nha Trang, Vietnam
• Phu My port, Vietnam (90 min drive north to Saigon or 90 min south ... Read More
The itinerary was South East Asia, Singapore to Singapore, 14 nights. The ports visited were:
• Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
• Nha Trang, Vietnam
• Phu My port, Vietnam (90 min drive north to Saigon or 90 min south to Vung Tau)
• Sihanoukville, Cambodia
• Laem Chabang port, Thailand (90 min drive north to Bangkok or 30 min to Pattaya)
• Ko Samui, Thailand
• Singapore (some passengers disembarked here after taking an 11 night cruise)
• Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
There were 5 sea days.
One notable thing about the route the ship took was that instead of sailing in a straight line between Kota Kinabalu and Nha Trang, we had to take a slight detour to the west in order to avoid the contested areas in the South China Sea around the Spratly Islands (western name) which the Chinese are building on (and which they call Nansha Qundao), with claims to the islands also being made by Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. It’s a pretty hot area right now for people who are interested in the international law of the sea, although you wouldn’t have known it on the peaceful blue day when we sailed past.
What I liked
Sapphire Princess is an attractive ship. The 3 deck atrium of the Piazza is impressive. There are 5 (5!) swimming pools for passengers. The large outdoor movie screen is a fun place to watch a movie. There are lots of options for ‘anytime dining’ in the evening and only once in 14 days did I give up on the wait for a table and go to the buffet instead. There are lots of bars to choose from for a drink.
In the cabin the bed was very comfortable. The TV screen was large and the definition was very sharp, just about life-like. There were lots of new and recent movies available and the choice was added to most days. The walk-in closet had lots of hangers.
This was my first cruise as a Captain’s Circle platinum member. That meant I got my first invitation to the ‘Captain’s Cocktail Party’ which was fun. To my surprise they were actually serving cocktails and not cheap wine, and I got to meet the captain briefly and to chat at greater length with the first officer and his wife who were a lovely Croatian couple. Being platinum also meant that each day between 4.30-6.30pm I was invited to the Skywalkers nightclub where they served slightly cheaper cocktails than elsewhere onboard, and there was a range of canapes and nibbles that changed each day. It was a nice place to sit with a drink and watch the sunset before dinner.
Other things I enjoyed were:
• the show Let Me Entertain You in the Princess Theatre;
• the backstage tour of the Princess Theatre;
• the food and service in the Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini’s, the only places on the ship where I gave extra gratuities on top of what was added automatically to my account;
• participating in the Princess Pop Choir. We sang Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Blame It on the Boogie, Waterloo and our encore was Can You Hear the People Sing from Les Miserables. My school choir master would have had a conniption but it was fun;
• that finally, many years behind the times, it was possible to get a diet soft drink other than Diet Coke onboard. Sapphire Princess now has Sprite Zero, hooray;
• the portion sizes in the dining rooms, and the change in emphasis on the menus from a 4 course dinner (appetiser / soup / main course / dessert) to a 3 course dinner – although anyone who wanted 4 courses or more could ask for it;
• the speedy food service in the dining rooms;
• we were able to dock at Sihanoukville, despite having been told it would be a tender port;
• surprisingly, I didn’t usually have to wait very long for an elevator on this ship.
Possibly useful information
There are no kettles in passenger cabins. They are only available on the cruises where Sapphire Princess is based in Southampton, UK.
There are USB charging points in the bedside lamps, so I was able to charge my phone and my iPad without needing an adapter. All the power points in the cabin are US-style.
There is a passenger laundry on each deck where there are passenger cabins (except deck 14). It costs $3 to use the washer, $3 to use the dryer and $1.50 for washing powder. I had to use my cruise card to buy tokens from a dispensing machine in the laundry and then I had to insert tokens into the washing machine and dryer to use them. The machines were fine, they didn’t shred or shrink my clothes. I didn’t have to wait for a machine. The washers and dryers had 40 minute cycles.
The pre-cruise information from Princess said that passport-style photos would be necessary to get visas or landing cards onboard for Vietnam and Cambodia. No photos were needed.
If you are doing a Princess shore excursion to any temples and the information says to ‘dress modestly’, take it seriously. Wear long pants, and don’t wear anything sleeveless or low-cut. I saw several other passengers get told they would not be allowed into sites because they were wearing shorts, cropped pants or skimpy tops – and that also applied to shorts and cropped pants that ended below the knee.
It is not exaggerating to say that the whole of Sihanoukville is a building site. The road paving has all been dug up and there are no sidewalks. The traffic is horrendous. I strongly recommend against any attempt to see Sihanoukville independently. Either stay on the ship that day, or go on a Princess shore excursion where you have some hope of being looked after if things go pear-shaped ashore.
If you like trivia, the onboard trivia is generally (not always) twice a day at about 10am and 4.30pm.
If you like being active, you could spend most mornings doing tai chi at 8.30am, Zumba with the delightful Cesar from Colombia at 9.15am and then line-dancing with the lovely English rose Emma at 10.45am. After lunch there was often another dance class with Emma for partner dances like the cha cha or rumba.
The shows in the Princess Theatre each night were at 7.45pm and repeated at 9.45pm. Sometimes in the evening there would be an activity like ‘Name That Tune’ or ‘Jeopardy’ at 7pm but not every day – often there was no organised activity after the afternoon trivia until about 8pm or 8.30pm. There was an assortment of different music in different places onboard from about 5pm to about 8pm. It was all laid-back music of different styles over that dinner period. The up-tempo music would start at around 9.30pm. I am not sure how late it went on. I did not get the impression that there was a lot of late-night activity on this ship.
Each day in the library they put out 2 different puzzles that you can take away and do. They clearly haven’t revised the puzzles for years, but it was something for a quiet moment.
What I didn’t like
I had a service issue with the purser’s desk about an unauthorised charge on my account for an unnecessary visa that took days to resolve. It just took way too long to get fixed. It first arose on day 3 of the cruise and it was not fixed properly until day 10. I had to keep checking my account and go back to the desk 5 times, and at least twice I was given information that was just plain wrong. The issue was eventually fixed to my satisfaction. Thank you to Slavdana and Dee for that. No thanks to some of their colleagues who I won’t name. No thanks either to the internal Princess systems that led to a visa being issued in the wrong passport and then charging me for it although I didn’t even need that visa.
I didn’t like the reams of paper that accumulated in my cabin advertising every conceivable onboard activity. It became nearly impossible to keep track of what was important and what was junk. It was an appalling waste of paper.
I didn’t like that there were only 2 channels showing sport on the TV, and they were either showing Australian big bash cricket or US basketball and very little else (occasionally some soccer or golf). I had expected to be able to watch the ATP Cup tennis and the Adelaide International tennis but no, there was no tennis on the TV until the Australian Open started.
I didn’t like overhearing crew members talking amongst themselves and complaining about other crew members. This happened several times and it was poor form for crew members to be talking like that within earshot of passengers.
I didn’t like the stale smell in my cabin from years of airconditioning and machine-dried linen. It was a window cabin not a balcony cabin, so unfortunately I couldn’t get any fresh air into the cabin. When I got home I had to wash all the clothes I took with me because they still had that stale smell on them.
I didn’t like having to pay $29 for dinner in the Sterling Steakhouse and at Sabatini’s, although I very much enjoyed the food and the service there.
I didn’t like the way the fitness centre classes were run. The free stretch classes at 7am and at 9.30am were a waste of time as the instructors only did the minimum that they could get away with and were far more interested in trying to sell something, whether it was a ‘class pass’ for other classes or a ‘footprint analysis’ for some sort of pseudo-medical quackery. If you have painful feet or a sore back I strongly recommend you consult a health professional in your home town, not a Princess fitness instructor working for gratuities. Yes, that’s right, the fitness instructors get 18% auto-gratuities. I have no idea what the justification is for that, except possibly it’s because the fitness centre is located in the spa and when they’re not working the fitness centre and spa staff all chat together, so maybe in some twisted way it is perceived as ‘not fair’ if the spa staff get gratuities and the fitness instructors don’t.
There are some fitness classes which are offered for $15 per class + 18% auto-gratuity. They were yoga, pilates, spin and something called TRX which didn’t seem to mean cross-training as far as I could tell. I wasn’t familiar with it, whatever it was. The class timetable was inconsistent but the general pattern seemed to be that there would be classes at about 7.30am and 8.30am each day (hopeless on port days if you were going ashore, and an early start for a vacation day even if you were not going ashore) and another class at 5pm each day. It varied which class was on at which time. They never seemed to offer all 4 of the class types on the same day as far as I could see, only 2 or 3 out of the 4 class types each day.
There was a lot of pressure to buy a ‘class pass’, either 3 classes for $39.95 + 18% auto-gratuity or unlimited classes for $99.95 + 18% auto-gratuity. The trick with a class pass was that it was only for one sort of class. So for example if you bought a yoga class pass, you could only use it for yoga classes and not for pilates classes. Too bad if they didn’t have a yoga class every day, or if the yoga class was scheduled for a time that you were ashore or doing something else. I was glad I didn’t buy a class pass because by the end of the cruise I had only done 1 yoga class (which I disliked) and 1 pilates class (which I liked, but I never found another pilates class at a time that suited me). I disliked the yoga class because it was held in the fitness studio which was very cold and which had several treadmills in it that were noisy when people were using them. The instructor said it was going to be a simple yoga class but it ended up including poses like dolphin pose, which is not a simple pose to me. The ship movement made balancing much harder than on land. After that class was over I didn’t feel at all relaxed or uplifted like I normally would after doing yoga on land.
The spa employed the hard sell too. When I booked one treatment, I was pressured to make it three. When I booked a Swedish massage, I was pressured to make it a deep tissue massage ($25 more expensive + 18% auto-gratuity). I hated the fact that the stated treatment prices, already ludicrously high, were in fact only about 85% of the eventual actual total price once the 18% auto-gratuity had been added. I hated the fact that there was tacit pressure to add another gratuity on top of the 18% they had already automatically added. I booked the ‘Fire and Ice’ pedicure, their so-called top of the range pedicure which cost an eye-watering $90.85, only to find that there was no drying machine for the nail polish and instead of a large array of colours of polish to choose from all lined up beautifully in the colours of the spectrum, there was a small black plastic tub with about 20 bottles of nail polish lying around on the bottom looking like they were rejects from a charity shop. It did not feel like a premium experience at all, especially at the end when the pedicurist just said ‘sit here for about 15-20 minutes to let it dry’ and walked off – I never saw her again after that.
The shops had similar hard-sell tactics. Here is my conversation with a shop assistant onboard:
Me: “I would like to buy these 2 items costing $80 please”.
Her: “I can offer you a special discount. If you buy 3 items I will only charge you $108 which is 10% off”.
Me (thinking, if I was actually getting 10% off the things I really want to buy, the price would be $72): “Ok I will add this third other item that costs the same as the other 2”.
Her: “No it has to be 3 items exactly the same, even though you only want 2 of them. If you want to buy that third other item as well, the cost will be $120”.
Me: “No thank you, I will stick to my original 2 items for $80”.
When I got back to my room and opened my packages I noticed that she had slipped a voucher in there which said that if I spent another $50, I would only be charged $45 (10% off). I didn’t go back to the shops again after that. I was fed up with the never-ending hard sell and the nickel and diming.
Many afternoons I was bored. Princess calls it ‘relaxing afternoon’ in the Princess Patter but I would call it ‘not enough interesting afternoon activities unless you want to go to some pseudo-lecture that is actually yet another cunningly disguised sales pitch to try to get you to spend even more money’. Some evenings I was also bored after dinner if I didn’t want to go to the theatre show and there were no other activities until later.
If I didn’t want to sit in my cabin, it was hard to find a pleasant place to sit and read on this ship. Where many cruise ships have an observation lounge forward and high up, Sapphire Princess has a cluster of treadmills in the fitness centre and an under-utilised area called The Sanctuary which I never saw anybody in, presumably because people weren’t prepared to spend the necessary $20 to sit there for half a day ($40 for a full day).
There was a peaceful shady area outside on deck 15 called The Conservatory but it was plagued by wafting sewerage smells which ruined it. There were deck chairs in the shade outside on deck 7 but competition for them was fierce and not all of them had a view of the sea due to various items attached to the railings. The deck chairs on decks 14 and 15 were mainly in the full sun. Inside, there were few places to sit that weren’t food or beverage outlets, and usually they were packed and there was some noisy activity or other going on. The Skywalkers Lounge had nice views during the day but it was directly under the basketball court and often there were loud thumping noises from above as people played basketball. I was very glad I had not booked an inside cabin for this cruise because finding anywhere else peaceful to sit was hard.
My cabin was near the so-called ‘Art Gallery’. That meant I walked through the ‘Art Gallery’ several times a day. Apart from forming the opinion that most of the ‘art’ was probably done on a 3D printer somewhere in China and not by a human using paintbrushes, I was entertained by the various labels that were affixed to the ‘art’. There was one particular ‘painting’ that I noticed of a rainy New York street scene. One day it had ‘sold’ affixed to it. The next day it disappeared. Then it (or a copy) was back, with ‘I’m interested’ affixed to it. Then it went upstairs to the art auction. When it came back down, it had no label on it. I have no idea what was going on, but I definitely would not buy any of this ‘art’ under the illusion that it might be unique or collectable. Sure, buy it if you like it and it’s going to suit your décor, but don’t fall for the onboard spin that it’s going to accrue in value.
Disembarkation was not streamlined well. The disembarkation instructions had no information about how passports would be returned to passengers. My cabin steward knocked on my door at 6.25am on disembarkation day to return my passport, which was very irritating as I was still in bed and also irritating because when we had docked in Singapore after 11 nights, the arrangement for passports was to collect them personally at the internet café. I don’t know why Princess did not explain in advance that there would be a different procedure on this occasion. The ‘platinum and elite disembarkation lounge’ in Club Fusion was a mess, full of uncleared tables containing the unappetising remains of other people’s breakfasts while the only wait staff member hid behind the bar doing nothing. Normally I’m happy with the way Princess organises disembarkations, but not this time.
But the worst bit was definitely that I got sick twice on this cruise. For the early part of the cruise I had a respiratory infection that went into my lungs and became bronchitis. I developed a horrible cough and if I was lying on the bed watching TV I could literally feel mucus bubbling in my lungs as I breathed. Just when I was almost over that, late on the last sea day of the cruise I had an attack of vomiting and diarrhoea. I started to feel off about 4 hours after eating lunch in the buffet, and the attack started about another 4 hours after that. Even after the symptoms stopped around midnight (luckily I hadn’t eaten a big lunch), I felt bad enough from dehydration next day that I missed the last port and stayed in my cabin that day resting. Can I say for sure that it was anything onboard Sapphire Princess that made me sick? No, I can’t say that for sure. But I suspect that it was, and I heard stories about other people who had respiratory or stomach problems onboard, including one of the cruise activities staff who was telling everyone about having a sore throat. Unfortunately when I think back about this cruise, one of my strongest memories is of feeling off-colour a lot of the time. And sadly that memory and all the relentless nickel and diming onboard have me wondering whether I ever want to do another cruise. Read Less