Background: This review is my first one on Cruise Critic and rather long (sorry), however I have tried to structure it for you so that you can skip to the specific paragraphs e.g ports, ship, dining e.t.c. In the past four years cruise critic has given us so much (new friends, valuable info e.t.c) that payback is long overdue, so here we go. This was our eleventh cruise, and tenth with Princess. My wife and I (both British 37 and 40 years old, no kids and living in Switzerland for work) had sailed once before on the Sapphire two months previously from Beijing to Osaka and really enjoyed that 12 day itinerary, plus we had sailed with Princess over Xmas twice before and New Year's Eve on three previous occasions, so this 19 day cruise covering some new regions of Asia for us as well as being over the Holiday period promised to be a real hoot.
Itinerary: Day 1: Singapore Day 2: At Sea Day 3: Laem Chabang (for Bangkok) (Christmas Day!!) Day 4: At Sea Day 5: Vung Tau (for Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon) Day 6: At Sea Day 7: Kotakinabalu (replacement for originally planned Bali port) Day 8: At Sea Day 9: At Sea Day 10: At Sea (New Year's Day!) Day 11: At Sea Day 12: Darwin Day 13: At Sea Day 14: At Sea Day 15: Yorkey's Knob Day 16: Cid Harbour Day 17: At Sea Day 18: Brisbane Day 19: At Sea Day 20: Sydney
Pre-cruise - We had flown in from Zurich via Bangkok and arrived the day before embarkation. We flew business class using FF miles so luckily we were well rested and in pretty good shape on arrival. We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel where we got a pretty good deal on a suite for just one night, it is centrally located and very reasonably priced for a five star hotel. We could walk to local markets, plus they had a nice gym and swimming pool, but the highlight was the breakfast buffet which had a full range of Western and Oriental fare incl. Japanese - our favorite! There was also a 7/11 store close by where we bought some cocktail juices to go with our secret supply of booze we were taking on board - very handy ;-))
We did a city tour with a local tour company organized by our hotel. We had visited Singapore together 17 years previous, so it was interesting to revisit and compare with our recollections. Singapore didn't seem as clean as we remembered it being, but it was still beautiful with the orchid gardens, the colonial style buildings, the multi cultural atmosphere and also the gondola cable car trip over to Sentosa Island which we hadn't done on the previous visit. On the cable car we passed over the Singapore cruise centre, the place where we were due to check in for our cruise later in the day. Apparently the Sapphire cannot dock next to the cruise centre because it's too tall for the low cable line running over to Sentosa. A smaller but more luxurious Silversea ship was below us in the port and it was interesting looking down on it from above, it didn't actually look very luxurious, more a bit grotty and aging.
Through a Cruise Critic roll call (which I started incidentally) we had managed to get a lively build up to the Dec 23rd sailing date with a final total number of 117 of us mainly from Australia, US, UK and ourselves from Switzerland. Through these pre-cruise online discussions we arranged to meet up at the Satay Markets in Singapore on the evening before the cruise. Some in the cc group had done the same cruise on the Diamond the previous year and had recommended this restaurant as a meeting place. It was suggested that we all wear eye patches to be able to recognize each other at the market, and also many of us had previously posted pictures of ourselves on cruise critic to help with the identification. We managed to find each other pretty well, many arriving at different times as the evening progressed, approximately fifty of us in the end, all or most of us struggling through various degrees of jetlag as we had had just recently arrived in Singapore. We had fun putting faces to names and Cruise Critic handles, plus joking about some of the daft postings we had made in the cruise build up ;-)) Despite our tiredness we were all excited at the prospect of boarding the Sapphire the following day!
Embarkation: we had experienced some poor embarkation processes before with Princess and this was up there with them. We arrived around 1pm to find a long long line, very few luggage carts, confusion amongst passengers as to where the end of the line was and more confusion as to what was the queue for (drop luggage/check-in?) As it transpired the process was like this: 1. stand in line at cruise centre to drop off your luggage outside the downstairs door (poor communication - no one knew what they were queuing for exactly and most people were getting stressed as it seemed that many others were cutting into the line). 2. Get directions to go upstairs to stand in line for check-in. (not straight forward to find amongst the crowds including the Silversea passengers!) 3. On completion of check-in get a 'cleared check in procedures ticket' (not a cruise card yet!) and then join another line to go through security (the platinum line we were in was shorter but no faster than the regular line - 25 minute wait) 4. Go through security and go down an escalator to be in the 'waiting area' for the bus pick up hall (went ok-ish). 5. Wait for your ticket to be called for the bus (very poor - some passengers had numbers, some didn't, girl in charge didn't speak very good English and people were getting very frustrated at having to wait so long with no apparent system in place (30-40 mins) 6. Board bus to ship (at last) 7. Get off bus and check in at small tents at mid and aft ship entrances - pick up cruise cards (easy- phew!) 8. board ship (I need a large drink ;-)) I guess it was over two and a half hours for us to go from initial line up before we got on the ship. I filled in a 'Let us know' comment sheet regarding this and hope that Princess took note of it. We later heard from passengers who sailed on the Diamond out of Singapore the previous Xmas that the embarkation was even slower - four or five hours, so in retrospect we were relieved that it had only taken us 2 1/2 ;-)) Others had stories to tell about the embarkation, varying from worse experiences to ours to much, much better ones. It seems the passengers on Princess pre-cruise packages (i.e. hotel and transfers) had the best deal since they could actually check in the day before the cruise and had their cruise cards already - for them the check-in was painless apparently - lucky them!
The Ship: I won't go into great detail about the Sapphire Princess specifications as they can be found elsewhere on this website, but she is currently one of the biggest and newest in the fleet with 2800 passengers and an identical sister ship to the Diamond. We had been four times on two other Grand Class ships - the Golden and the Star and this was our second time on the Sapphire. The main differences to the other Grand Classes being:- - there are four 'themed' dining rooms for Personal Choice Dining, each serving the same food with the exception of one signature dish, but if you asked the right person you could even get that signature dish in any of the other restaurants ;-)) - Skywalkers disco is moved further forward along the ship allowing a more open rear part of the ship for sunworshippers and probably also to reduce the movement in the disco during rough seas. (we prefer the further back location) - Club Fusion replaces the Vista Lounge. (haven't made up our minds about it yet, but the wake view bar which leads off from club fusion seems claustrophobic - if you can actually find your way to it that is!) - Sterling Steakhouse is more or less a part of the Horizon Court with a gold lettered entrance door (not as nice in our opinion) - the internet cafe replaces the wheelhouse bar location and includes an internet coffee bar and many more computers (great idea to increase the amount of PCs, but the photo gallery walk felt a bit quiet without the lively wheelhouse bar next to it!) - the wheelhouse bar is where the Sterling Steakhouse is (preferred the other location better) - the gym has aerobic machines with individual TVs and headphone sockets (headphones can be picked up at the lotus spa reception) - (this is an excellent improvement on other Princess gyms and as we are gym junkies we were in heaven). - there is an 'inner sanctuary' spa featuring reclined hot stone seats e.t.c. which costs $$$ for a pass covering just a day or the whole duration of the cruise (we didn't try it - there's a free sauna and steam room which is adequate for our needs). Overall the Sapphire was in great shape - she had had 10 days in dry dock to spruce her up in Singapore and once again she had that aire of 'newness' about her
The Cruise/ cabin: we had a balcony cabin on Aloha (BD)- towards aft (rear), starboard side. Our October Sapphire cruise had been in a Baja balcony and in hindsight the Baja balconies were better. There is an overhang above you in Aloha which means you get less sunshine and it seems to 'press down on you'. Still, we were very close to the laundry room and could walk down the corridor out onto the Aft deck without having to go up stairs first. The cabin is a good size, no different to other Grand Class ships. The balcony had the more modern and more comfortable mesh type blue seats rather than the white plastic variety. Our cabin attendant Marina from Romania met us and seemed very stern at first, but really really mellowed over the 19 day cruise. We went for a very late lunch as our luggage had not yet arrived and also made a reservation for Sabatinis that evening and also way ahead for New Year's Eve - we figured that many would want to do a speciality restaurant on New Year's Eve so we booked really early and were glad we did as it happens. Once our luggage had arrived we could finally get everything hung up, in draws, in the safe, plugged in or at least find a temporary home for it. We had learnt to bring a strip socket extension for all our plugs (laptop, camera, cellphone, hair curlers and errh subwoofer - we like good bass quality music during our pre-dinner cocktails). I was very disappointed when the 110V cabin power supply was not sufficient to power the 230V sub woofer and I confess I went into a bit of a sulk - well it weighs a few kilos with it's own power supply and I had schlepped it all the way from home just to find out it would not work -aaaargh! Anyway cutting a long story short, a trip to the pursers desk to solve it didn't help, but Marina our cabin attendant with 10 years of Princess experience solved the problem by showing us the HIDDEN 230V plug behind the bed. We plugged in the sub woofer and Voila - the music was pumping from then on ;-)) Marina had turned from stern to a star! Marina started to make animals from towels which she left displayed on our bed for when we came back from dinner. It started with turtles, dogs, elephants, swans and went on to do whales, more swans, gorillas hanging from the ceiling and her finale was a full size man sitting in our chair watching tv! We thought she was amazing and we found the animals hilarious. We even had our own cuddly toys which we had brought along as our cat substitutes (how sad I know!) and she would arrange them in different poses for when we returned from a port excursion or a night club session - poses which are too numerous to list, the best being when we came back to find they were playing cards and were drinking and smoking! It was hilarious! Needless to stay she was the best cabin steward we have ever had and we filled in a 'you made a difference' card for her.
For the sailaway we found ourselves chatting at the deck bar (drink in hand) to some UK passengers we had recognized from a previous Med cruise on the Golden Princess. There was also a few crew members we recognized and briefly said hello to (Sly -the Future Cruise Consultant, Donna, Isabel and Charlie from the Entertainment staff) as well as the first sightings of our fellow cruise critic group members!
Onboard/crew/ entertainment: Captain Bates (ex QE2) insisted on playing Cliff Richard's 'We're all going on a summer holiday' as we left Singapore - his pet favorite apparently. Sammi was our cruise director (a vastly experienced entertainment lady from Alaska). It was the first time we had experienced a female CD and she was very good indeed. Bursting with confidence and a talk-a-holic she seemed to be in a job made for her, and she could sing! Capt Bates was a real highlight with his midday annoy announcements, first he would go through the standard where we were and what the weather was doing then he would tell us a short trivia story which made us all laugh and put us in a good mood. Apparently he has written books about the origin of expressions - we shall have to hunt down a copy! The entertainment seemed well organized and up to the usual Princess standard. The only down sides for us were: - a British comedian who must be in his 70's who was just not funny, he had been on the Sapphire on our last cruise and we were shocked to see that he was still performing. Others in our cc group agreed at how bad he was. - we are not show people and generally just popped our heads in to the Princess theatre to see if there was anything interesting going on. Once there was an accordion player who didn't sound very good and other times we were similarly unimpressed with whatever was going on. We had become friendly with one of the Princess dancers on the previous Sapphire sailing and were pleased to see her still onboard. Unfortunately we only watched one of her shows in it's entirety - Piano Man - and we really enjoyed it. We did comment to her though that it's a big shame that our favorite 'Cinematastic' is no longer on the Princess ships. - We like the Bingo and try not to get too addicted as it really does add up $$$ on a long cruise. The first afternoon I won $100, however I had to share it with TEN other people, a measly $9 each;-(( and that ended up being our biggest win of the whole cruise! We have always enjoyed Skywalker's disco. We have learnt to befriend the DJ early on in the cruise and then hopefully he will play some of our CDs we bring to him in the evening. He was happy to have someone to chat to since often the disco was quiet, and we always thanked him for his music selection on leaving and did our best to dance as much as we could, partly moral support but mostly to work off the dinner! The Deputy Cruise Director Donna chatted with us early in the cruise (another face we recognized) and we mentioned our cruise critic group. The following day there was an entry in the Princess Patter for a cruise critic get together in the wake view bar early afternoon. Our group had already organized a group lunch for the same day so we had two meetings almost consecutively. We were pleasantly surprised to find a host pouring free champagne for us on arrival at the wake view bar and it was a nice gesture from Princess! The wooden horse racing proved a favorite with our cc group as we formed a syndicate of ten couples to purchase a horse for the 'Derby Races' We called ourselves 10cc (10 cruise critics) and dressed her up splendidly (thanks Shirl, Bill, Neil and Sarah), escorted the horse to dinner in different restaurants and generally had a lot of laughs with a stupid wooden horse ;-)) (sorry you just had to be there to appreciate it -117 of us know where I'm coming from!). On the final sea day it was derby day and ten couples had free champagne for the duration of the race. Unfortunately we came last! Bad roll of the dice and perhaps too much luxury in the Grand Suite for our wooden horse!
Dining We were on Personal Choice. we have gone backwards and forwards from traditional to PC over our past nine Princess cruises and enjoy both, however the Sapphire is great for PC. Four dining rooms dedicated to PC. Lots of tables for two, however the distance between the parallel tables for two is such that conversation between tables is very easy (if you so wish), or can be kept intimate if you talk in a quiet voice - well done Princess. In total we had three evenings at Sabatinis - we loved it! The Head Waiter was from Rome and had worked at hotel restaurants in Switzerland close to where we live so we found a lot to talk about! The Veal Chop in there is sumptuous and makes me drool just thinking about it! The first evening in Sabs we met up (by chance) with cc friends who were in the Grand Suite! We really clicked and we looked forward to seeing them again the following evening as they had invited all 117 of us cruise critic group members to their Suite for a Christmas Eve toast at sunset!! What a memorable Xmas Eve that was - thanks a million Tareq and Michaele! We tried Sterling Steakhouse for just one night. We have had some spectacular steaks in other ship's Sterlings but this was no better than the steak we could get in the main dining room so we didn't go back again. Other evenings we rotated between Vivaldi, Savoy, Pacific Moon and Santa Fe restaurants. The food and service was generally very good. I think in the whole cruise we only had one or two mediocre meals and only once bad service. We mostly chose a table for two if we weren't dining with friends. The special signature dishes: The Veal Chop in the Savoy was great, the Ossa Bucco (spelling) in Vivaldi was excellent, the prawn noodles in Pacific moon were a bit hit or miss and the Fajita special in Santa Fe was also a bit up and down. We didn't have dinner once in the Horizon court as we tend to overeat in evening buffet's and generally we just prefer the ambience of being served at a table in the evening. Lunch time dining in the International Dining Room (aft) was mostly really good. There is something about sitting down and being served a nice lunch whilst chatting to friends at midday that just makes the whole afternoon afterwards seem more pleasant! We met up with some of our cc crowd and found the service great. A couple of times we found the aircon too cold sitting in T shirts and shorts. We organized a cruise critic lunch on two sea days. We were far too many to sit at one table so we took the Head Waiter's advice and all turned up as the restaurant opened and managed to get a number of tables together in the same area. It was great to have such a large group because there was always new things to talk about- and everyone trying to get to know each other. Other lunches saw us at the horizon court to fill our HUGE oval plates with salad, then DW would continue picking from the hot items, whilst I headed to the Prego pizza stand. I love the Pepperoni pizza there, particularly if it's fresh, I would always ask for a fresh piece since the ones left under the heater for a while during quiet periods can make the cheese go a little strange.. I would then douse it in tabasco and the hot peppers - yummy! For breakfasts we would often take a few items from Horizon court - we have always been a bit disappointed with the quality of horizon court breakfasts, but that's fine because the volume of food we eat over a day is too much anyway so we can eat just fruit and not feel guilty about pigging out later ;-)) Other times we would either just skip breakfast altogether or order a room service. We have learnt to write on our extra 'hot items' on the in-room breakfast order form with little smiley faces and usually it works and we get eggs benedict, hot toast, bacon e.t.c. Credit to Princess - this time was no exception and every time we got what we asked for. And they were always punctual, in fact they would generally come five minutes before our specified order time! As we tended to be night owls leaving the disco in the early hours, we would roam through the Horizon Court at say 2 or 3 am to see what is on offer. This is where I discovered the hot dogs for the first time. There wasn't many hot items on offer at all at that time and the hot dogs don't look very special - but they taste great! At 2 or 3am they are just what I need to stove off the drinking munchies ;-)) Christmas Dinner was very good (in all restaurants so we heard)(as we had expected) with turkey and the trimmings on offer amongst many choices. New Year's Day saw a 'Brunch' in the International Dining room that was delicious, many of the staff were hiding hangovers very well ;-))
Ports/ excursions We decided as there were so few ports that we would splash out a little more and use the Princess excursions as much as possible in places that were 'must sees' for us.
- Laem Chabang - we took the Highlights of Bangkok tour. We were a bit underwhelmed by Bangkok until the bus turned the corner and we could see the Grand Palace. Beautiful laced gold and bright green and red architecture just like the many postcards and pictures we had seen of Bangkok. The trip there was fabulous and a 'must see' for anyone who has not been there. Even now in hindsight it was one of the absolute best highlights of the cruise. I literally couldn't take a single picture from one position to sum it all up - it was all around us -awesome. We think we have travelled a lot in Asia, but the Grand Palace comes second to the Taj Mahal only in our book.
- Vung Tau - we took the Ho Chi Minh City 'on your own' tour. The long journey into HCM aka Saigon was fascinating. Little run down shops full of character lined either side of the streets for more or less the whole journey. Locals wearing the cone shaped hats out and about on their bicycles or mopeds leading their routine lives. It was a great people watching experience. Our tour guide could not speak very good English unfortunately so it was frustrating trying to understand the facts and history he was trying to convey to us as we would only catch part of it. He seemed to mean well, even when some fellow passengers accused him of hijacking us to take us to a friendship museum tour which wasn't on the itinerary. 'Take us to the Rex Hotel Now!' was shouted from the back of the bus on many an occasion! Things turned a bit ugly when two of the passengers squared up to each other for a fist fight over the heated hijacking situation, we have long learnt not to try and reason with the complainers otherwise they will turn on you as well ;-(( Then to cap it all the bus broke down on the freeway back to the ship - clutch problems. There was a bad burning smell in the bus and a passenger who luckily just happened to be an Australian fireman took control from the 'out of his depth' tour guide to get us all calmly off the bus in case the bus caught fire. We were all in good spirits - no more 'squaring up' thank goodness, and another bus arrived to rescue us within 30 minutes of standing at the side of the road.. A couple of days later we received a note from Princess saying we would get a 30% discount because of the bad experience - which we thought was more than fair. As for Ho Chi Minh City itself, I would highly recommend it. There is a definite French influence there with a lovely French Cathedral in the city centre, but the highlight had to be the shopping markets. We are not big shoppers but were well impressed by the huge variety of imitation watches, handbags and designer goods at incredibly cheap prices. We had bought fake watches and goods before on a med cruise in Kusadasi, Turkey and also in Rome but the Vietnamese prices were a fraction of the price. Many fellow passengers went into a shopping frenzy! The only word of warning would be that some commented a couple of days later that the watches no longer worked or an outfit they bought wasn't the one they had tried on or other suspicious going's on so be careful if you do buy there!
- Kotakinabalu - we were disappointed that we were not going to Bali for security reasons. Bali has an exotic reputation for us Brits and it was a shame not to get the chance to see it, but I guess we'll just have to go back -shucks ;-)) So we had this stop in Malaysia instead. We had tried to research possibilities beforehand of visiting an Orangutan sanctuary on the other side of this North Borneo Island, but it was several hundred kilometers away and not feasible. In the end we decided we would just get off the ship and walk around. Princess organized a free shuttle to a shopping centre. On the daily breakfast show Sammi had mentioned not to expect Kotakinabalu to be a big place with lot's happening- and she was right. The shopping centre we got off at just seemed to be an endless row of shops selling the same things, sunglasses, mobile phones and souvenirs. We walked further on to take some pictures of the fishing boats in the port and also have a look around the fish market, but it was very smelly and DW was not enjoying it very much so we headed back to the shopping centre to get the shuttle back to the ship. It was an experience but the least interesting of all the ports on this cruise.
- Darwin - boy was it hot there! - the ship's log says 33 celsius but inland it must have been pushing 40 degrees and very humid! After four days at sea we were pleased to get off the ship. None of the Princess tours interested us so we had nothing initially planned. However we had got together with four Ozzy cc friends and we made a plan to hire a van and drive up to Litchfield Park. Two of them had driven there on the previous year's cruise and recommended it so we were keen to tag along. We had a few delays getting the hire vehicle but finally got away before 11am. It was a fair drive out to Litchfield but we had a good driver (thanks Klaus!) and we managed to see pretty amazing termite mounds, swim in a creek/ small natural pools and then the highlight which was swimming in a large creek under a beautiful waterfall. We had a very ozzy lunch of a VB beer with a Pie sitting outside a petrol station and we felt like real locals ;-)) If only we could have understood all their Ozzie accents and jargon ;-(( We had a great day and it turned out quite boozy with a few 'tinnies' (cans of beer) being opened in the van on the way back to the ship!
- Yorkey's Knob - this was our first tender post and the gateway to Cairns. We had visited Cairns before (17 year's ago) and again none of the excursions looked attractive so we teamed up with some more ozzy mates and did an independent excursion. We took the tender together (didn't take too long - Princess are clever showing Mr Bean videos to people while they wait in Club Fusion for their tender so that they are kept 'chilled'), then took the Princess shuttle from the pier into Cairns where it dropped us at the bus station. We tried to get a train up to Kuranda but it had already left so we bought tickets from the tour office there to do the bus to Kuranda Skyrail gondola station, the Gondola trip to Kuranda Village for Lunch and shops followed by the loooong scenic train journey back to Cairns bus/train station. The whole trip was nice and reasonably priced, however I think we all agreed that the train journey was just too long and most of us were nodding off well before we arrived back in Cairns. The fish and chip lunch in Kuranda was delicious, plus we tried Bundi Rum, chicco rolls and dim-sim, which are traditional Australian drinks and snacks - yum yum (thanks Greg and Dorinda!)! We took the shuttle back to the pier to find a huge line for the tender back to the ship, however all was not lost as there was a sailing club with a bar right next to the pier so we could have some more 'scooners' (pints of beer) whilst watching the queue die down.
- Cid Harbour - this had to be one of our favorite ports. Again we tendered in, although this time to Airlie beach since the original pier as announced by Capt Bates was being used for a film shoot. We had booked a Princess excursion 'Sail the Whitsunday Islands', it's a long story but basically the original tour was cancelled and then they put us on this other similar excursion. It was at least a 20-25 minute tender from the ship to the Whitsunday islands, dropping off other excursion passengers on the way, so we had a real tour of the islands for free! Once we arrived at the Whitsunday Islands we had a very pleasant sail out on a beautiful sailboat with free carrot cake and coffee plus a chargeable supply of UDL (pre-mixed alcoholic drinks), and tinnies. The crew were very informative and a lot of fun. The weather was also perfect so we were all having a great time. When we arrived back at the Whitsunday islands four of us decided to hire one of the many golf carts to get us around the island to explore. This seemed to be the main form of transportation and our friends Greg and Dorinda had been there before so we would hopefully not get lost. We had a wonderful swim at the beach and explored a lot of this stunningly beautiful place. We even could confirm that there was a film shoot going on as DW and Dorinda spotted Matthew McConnerly working out at the side of the road. We weren't the only ones that had spotted his muscular physique and the girls joined the paparazzi in snapping a few photos of him whilst Greg and I wondered what he had that we didn't ;-)) A nice lunch overlooking the port wrapped up the day ad we tendered back to the ship. Others in the cc group had the snorkeling trip to Whitehaven beach and were raving about the beautiful white sand there - one of the most stunning beaches in the world apparently. I guess we'll try that next time. Incidentally it has to be said that one Princess tour was cancelled due to a catamaran mechanical failure. This was only communicated at the last minute and not in a very appealing manner - "oh by the way it's cancelled and there aren't any other options to see the Great Barrier Reef - sorry". So there were MANY disgruntled passengers and almost a riot down at the tour desk apparently. Worst for them was that some others on that tour actually did get to go, and all other options for getting to see the reef were fully booked, both through Princess and independently. It must be horrible to come all that way from say Europe or the US and not be able to see the GBR. I guess to learn from this is that if you want to be guaranteed seeing something in the world then you shouldn't rely on a cruise ship to take you there. A similar experience had happened to us on a Princess excursion in Norway so we could sympathize with those affected. The captain even had to come over the tannoy to ask people to understand that it was not Princess' fault and please try and calm down blah blah. Anyway luckily for us we had a fab day
- Brisbane - we had chosen the "Australia Zoo - home of the crocodile hunter" Princess excursion. The sad death of Steve Irwin I guess had had an influence on our decision as we wanted to go and see all of the good things he had done at the zoo. The Sapphire Princess was again so big that she was out at an ugly container port with row upon row of new cars just off the container ships being the only point of interest portside. The bus trip to the zoo was non descript. Lots of freeway and a few bridges with only a glimpse of Brisbane city in the distance. The zoo itself was great, but not fabulous. The highlight was the koala bears, they are so cute and you can pet them. There's also lots of kangaroos and crocs. The lowlight was the Bindi croc man show. Bindi is the young daughter of Steve Irwin and we thought this might involve crocs - wrong! Just a lot of dancing and singing aimed at young kids, not an animal in sight. It did get better and there were some crocs later, but we had already left by then. The whole visit was more than a bit rushed with much time wasted at the Bindi show.. There was a moving tribute wall underneath the stadium to Steve Irwin, with contributions (flowers/ signed khaki shirts Steve style) from people all over the world. I'm glad we went but I think the koala sanctuary that others went to on a different excursion would have been better since they got to hold a Koala and they got some great pictures.
- Sydney - coming into Sydney on disembarkation day very early in the morning (3.30am) was a fantastic experience. The ship sails right past the Opera House on the port side and we just made it on deck in time to take a few photos. Unfortunately most pictures are blurred due to the darkness keeping the aperture open and the slight movement of the ship. What a beautiful sail in! And the ship 'parks' right in the centre of everything. There were even people out at 4am to wave us in - 'ozzy ozzy ozzy' they shouted! We went back to bed after we had snapped some photos and got up around 7.30 for breakfast. We had a lovely surprise to meet an unexpected cruise critic friend who was waiting for us at the port (Hi Gai!), unfortunately our friend Kathy couldn't make it, but Gai did a great job in looking after us for the day in Sydney. We took a day ticket for the ferries and went to the 'Gap' plus had a lovely lunch with Gai's parents. Gai dropped us off at the airport and we were sad to say goodbye. We managed to get a distant aerial glimpse of the Sapphire still in port after we flew over the city later that afternoon. What a lovely lovely, ship!
Disembarkation: absolutely no problem at all. We waited in the platinum lounge and were in no real hurry to get off. Our color was called and we even decided to stay a little longer before finally getting off and meeting our surprise friend ;-)) The only minor hiccup was that people were standing in line after customs, we thought they were queuing to exit when in fact they were waiting in the taxi line. Once we realized this we zoomed past them to meet our friend..
Summary: phew! how do I summarize such a great holiday. Princess does a great job considering the number of passengers they cater for and the price we pay, hands down we cannot complain at all. The Sapphire Princess is a beautiful ship and we would sail on her again in a heartbeat. The crew for this sailing (more than for the October sailing we had with a different captain) seemed to be happy, motivated and eager to please their customers. There were a few hiccups as listed above with the embarkation procedure and some of the evening entertainment but none were showstoppers. We have only had one bad Princess cruise out of ten now and we will continue with them for a long time. Yes we still like the menu even though it hasn't changed much in four years, but we always discover some things we haven't tried before. Of course the port itineraries were interesting and varied and that's what attracted us to the cruise in the first place, but the sea days are just great and give us a great chance to get to know our new found friends better over lazy lunches or unsuccessful bingo sessions or just plain drunken wooden horse racing derbys ;-)) We owe as much to Princess as we do to cruise critic. Cruise Critic was the ice breaker mechanism for getting us all in touch with each other pre-cruise and the Sapphire Princess was our stage to get to know new found friends during the 19 days on board. How else would we have got to have a wonderful Christmas Eve sunset toast in the Grand Suite on Xmas Eve (thanks so much Michaele and Tareq!) or be brave enough to go to Skywalkers in our swimming costumes on New Year's Eve night? Thanks Cruise Critic and thanks Princess. Biggest highlight of all is as always not the places we went to but the excellent people we have met and the friendships we have made. Thanks to you all and we look forward to cruising with you again soon!