Having cruised for many years mostly with Celebrity and Azamara, we saw this 7 day cruise on Sapphire Princess advertised at a bargain price and, having heard good things about Princess, decided to book. Another first for us was embarking and disembarking at Southampton.
We arrived by taxi at Southampton and our luggage was immediately taken by a porter and next appeared in our stateroom about an hour later – just after lunch. Check-in was quick and easy and we were on board in just a few minutes. Tipped off by someone on Cruise Critic, we headed to the almost empty International Dining Room for an excellent lunch, although the Daily Patter directed guests to the Horizon Buffet. There was no 'welcome aboard' bubbly but with so many guests I expect it would have caused some congestion. We understood that there were around 2,750 guests on board.
Our stateroom was on Baja deck 623, a balcony room. We chose this because the floor above is Aloha and above that are pool areas, buffet, etc and thought it might be noisy. Both Aloha and Baja decks have balconies that cannot be looked into by anyone above. The decks below may have larger balconies but we could look straight down into them.
The room was fine, if a little worn and dated but perfectly clean and comfortable. The new bed and bedding were fabulous, the large screen tv worked ok, the fridge got really cold and the air con/heating was easy to use and very efficient. The balcony was very rusty and the wooden rail needed some varnish. The ship had recently been repainted but I think they forgot the balconies! The shower area was the tiniest we have ever had on a ship – just over 2' square but with one corner cut off where the curtain hung. However, there was constant hot water and great power. Shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, soap and body lotion were all supplied. One of the first things I have always done on a cruise is to ask the steward for extra coathangers but 40 were already supplied, so I was pleased. Bath robes were provided on day 2, but no slippers. We brought on board two bottles of wine but were able to bring on another without problems in France. Our steward kindly brought us wine glasses and a corkscrew. Towels were changed twice a day and were of good quality.
Food was patchy – some days there was a great choice at dinner and others not much appealed. Can't think why tripe and sweetbreads were included or maybe I don't have a sophisticated taste! Steak only appeared once on the menu but I expect they wanted guests to pay extra for the Steakhouse. Starters, soups and salads were all noted together on the menu which led you to think that you should only make one choice. Fish featured heavily and it was always very good. We had chosen Any Time Dining and most days had no waits for a table for dinner, although we were always happy to share with others. The one day when everything went completely haywire was following the Captain's welcome and champagne tower. It seemed that afterwards everyone on AT dining went for dinner. There were long queues at all the restaurants and we were told by the staff that there would be a wait of between an hour and a half and two hours! So many people were complaining, not unreasonably and so did we.
Breakfast in the Horizon buffet was excellent – omelettes were made to order and waiters circulated with juice, teas and coffees. Although always busy, we managed to find a table. We were very surprised that the plates, mugs etc were plastic. This was a newly refurbished room with nice tables, chairs and carpets. Coffee here was lousy but they did provide Twinings tea, not just Liptons.
The made to order pizza at Alfredo's was delicious and thoroughly recommended. It is beautifully situated off the Piazza so you can listen to whoever is performing whilst eating your pizza. The grill on the open deck was poorly organised. Long queues built up but the guys doing the cooking didn't know how to work together and just cooked one burger or sausage at a time, until a chef appeared and showed them how to do it. The burgers were okay but there was no tomato, lettuce etc, as shown in the pics, just ketchup or mustard.
We noticed that prices for the drinks packages were less if booked before the cruise. I had the soda and more package for $7 per day plus 15%. I believe it was $6.45 if booked prior. You only need to have two drinks a day – soda, pepsi, juice, hot chocolate, delicious mocktails etc., to get your moneys worth.
Our first port of call was Guernsey where we joined with a lovely couple who we met on our Roll Call on Cruise Critic and had a wonderful and interesting private tour of the island. The weather was beautiful and the ship anchored in St Peter Port bay as guests were tendered to shore.
Next was a sea day and there was so much to do on board. Sapphire Princess is the largest ship on which we have sailed. There are multiple entertainment venues, which was great and we enjoyed so many different performers. This is the up-side of a very large ship. The indoor pool was a real advantage when the weather wasn't so good and was in use by lots of folk, including a big number of children, although it wasn't school holidays.
The ship was due to call at Le Verdon, for Bordeaux, but due to a strike the port of call was changed to La Rochelle. I was thrilled about this as I absolutely adore the place. Of course, it was quite disappointing for those who had booked tours, private tours especially, as La Rochelle is a lot further than Le Verdon from Bordeaux. The ship provided a shuttle bus into town but there were long waits to get back on the bus. Some people we met waited an hour and a half and watched 11 buses go before they got to the front of the queue. We only waited 15 minutes but we returned quite late in the day. Loved every minute in La Rochelle.
Next day we docked in Gexto, the port for Bilbao. Again, a free shuttle bus was provided which dropped us within 500 yards of the Guggenheim. What an incredible building, inside and out. Worth seeing just for the architecture as the permanent collection was nothing special to me and the second of three floors was closed as they were preparing for a major exhibition. Enjoyed a walk around the town afterwards but again the queues for the shuttle bus were long. We watched 4 buses go before we could get on one.
The special guest entertainer on this cruise was Gareth Gates from Pop Idol. We didn't see him perform but others enjoyed his show. We saw him around the ship and he was always willing to stop for a selfie with folk.
Final call was La Corunna. From here lots of guests went to Santiago de Compostela. As we had previously visited this awe inspiring place (the cathedral where the pilgrims gather especially), we chose to walk around La Corunna. There were some great shops and we walked around the old town which was packed with history. Another good day. Theatre packed after dinner so we couldn't get in to see the show.
Last day was a sea day and we enjoyed winding down and relaxing in the multitude of places on Sapphire. Skywalkers at the stern of the ship is a nice quiet space by day and a disco at night. My husband enjoyed a pedicure, bought some lovely cuff links in Effy's and we joined our Cruise Critic friends for a last night dinner.
Princess have got disembarkation down to a fine art. Colour coded, wait in a designated lounge with tea/coffee provided and then escorted off the ship at a time you choose. Perfect.
All in all, we had a great cruise and met some lovely people. It was so convenient to sail from Southampton, exceptional value and we visited ports that were new to us, except La Rochelle where we were thrilled to visit again. On the down-side, we felt that the ship was too big with too many guests packed in as they couldn't properly manage the numbers in the theatre, on shuttle buses, getting on and off the ship, at Any Time Dining in restaurants at peak times. Just felt that there was a lack of communication and sometimes things were chaotically disorganised. Having said that, we came back refreshed and very happy.
Clean, comfortable, bed and bedding fabulous, large screen tv good, heating/air con perfect to manage, fridge nicely cold, tiniest shower in the world but worked brilliantly, lots of storage and hanging space and loads of coathangers, good safe, rusty balcony.
Steve met us at the quayside and gave us a comprehensive tour of the island including places from the film the The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society (or something like that), the little chapel and the areas where the German occupation was still visible. There were some convincing re enactments taking place which gave this tour added realism.View All undefined undefined Reviews
So much history and so much beauty to see here in La Rochelle. It is such a gorgeous place with a delightful cobbled quayside housing some excellent cafes, a street market and great for yacht spotting or taking a water bus to other parts of the waterside. One street is full of ice cream shops. Another street is arcaded and has many chic shops to browse.
The ship's shuttle took us into central Bilbao about 500 yards from the Guggenheim. What a fantastic piece of architecture, inside and out. A must to visit. Busy city with an old town to explore.
The ship docks in the centre of town so it's an easy walk to the excellent shopping centre. An ancient city with lots of history and well worth exploring the old part where there is a route marked out which encompasses historical landmarks. A very relaxed place where it is easy to while away time in a cool piazza cafe, people watching and just enjoying the scenery.