Sapphire Princess Cruise Review by GlendaleAZ
- Sail Date: May 2010
- Destination: Alaska
- Cabin Type: Balcony
Sapphire Princess is a beautiful ship. The decor, color palette and finish materials take their queue from the sea and nature, producing a calm, zen-like atmosphere throughout the voyage. From the waterline up to the 17-story high Skywalker Lounge, this ship's fit and finish are impeccable, and we loved her from the moment we stepped onboard. As we were directed to our stateroom, our surprises continued to mount. The design of the room provides a more private hallway outside the bathroom which functions as a dressing room WITHOUT a view. Please note, this was NOT a suite. We cruise often, and in order to feed our addiction, we have had to forego some enjoyable but "unnecessary" creature comforts to achieve my wife's goal of 3 cruises per year (said goal subject to change UPWARD at a moment's notice). We also do not travel alone, and that little bit of privacy was a welcome relief when one considers the potential for undesired TMI sightings.
The bathroom was typical cruise ship chic, nothing special, and no room for sharing, though I will say it was clean. The shower, however, was another matter. Again, while we were attempting to keep our minds fully open, there was the expectation that we would be able to shower both right and left sides of our body at the same time. However, the tiny shower, combined with a fixed showerhead truly left us remembering some of the comedians we had seen onboard the parent cruise line, regaling of their unusual shower experiences. I became truly intimate with the shower curtain as it wrapped seductively around my body's awkward attempts to manipulate through the falling stream of water.
One of the first things I always do when boarding a ship is to head for our balcony. I need to feel that outside air, thus beginning our experience of being on the water. I am not exaggerating when I say that the standard Princess balcony, in my limited experience, is HUGE! Now I know where they put all that room missing from the shower! It reminded me of the time I traded in my Volkswagen for a '73 Chevy Impala! You don't step onto a Princess balcony—you hike to the rail. Our standard balcony was complete with 4 chairs with reclining backs and a matching table. It was carpeted with a rubberized material apparently intended to carry away any inadvertent water from contact with your feet (when at sea, expect water, mist, rain or drink spills). The aqua plexiglass below the polished wooden rail was pleasing, but I did not expect to spend any time looking through it, as I did not want anything standing between my eyes and nature. Looking over the railing for the first time, I realized that I would not be spitting down into the ocean anytime during the voyage, as the pyramiding of the rooms left half the balcony below us exposed to our view. Oh, well, sucks for them. Then I turned and looked up - oh, well, sucks for us! Guess me and mama wouldn't be getting overly excited on our balcony this cruise.
Our biggest surprise came when meeting our room steward, and finding out that he absolutely could not move those twin beds together so mama could warm my covers at night. Good grief, man, this is the love boat, after all! We have been married for over 40 years, and have not been presented with twin beds since staying at my grandma's house in the north Georgia mountains. We wondered back then how long we had to be married before she would allow us to sleep together. Apparently on Princess, this design accommodates the ladder for the bunk bed, which our 14-year-old son would occupy.
Another nice unexpected feature of the room, however, was the availability of 120 volt outlets. There were 2, which was 1 more than our typical experience, and with the cruise industry now threatening to remove power strips from luggage as you embark, this was a welcome discovery. So we unpacked our carry-on luggage, expecting our checked baggage to arrive later that evening. Then we headed out to lunch.
In typical cruise ship fashion, most elevators were in use delivering early luggage, so rather than wait, we dragged our derrieres up the stairs toward the Lido deck and our first experience with Princess cuisine. And this, dear readers, was where the adventure truly began. In our past experience, we always sought out the one bar where the ubiquitous soda card was sold, and would immediately purchase one for our son. This has always been a good deal for us, because unlike Mama and me, our son really has a penchant for the bubbly. Compared with the $2 per glass typically charged for sodas, we always make our money back—and then some. However, from the moment we set foot on Lido until—and after—we sat at our table for lunch, we were approached by no less than 6 ship's crew touting the benefits of the $45 soda card, and the expanded offering at $72 which allowed unlimited shakes at the ice cream bar and mock-tails from the regular bar (included, by the way, on Carnival's standard soda card). I know that every square inch of a ship is a profit center, but folks, this was ridiculous! Please let me eat in peace. I half expected to walk out of my shower to find the room steward in the stateroom just to check and see if we had bought our soda card yet.
The buffet on Lido allowed one entrance to a snaking line around a single food court. At that entrance were two sanitizer dispensers that, as in the past, we were encouraged to use. I was aware of the need to suppress the Norovirus that seems to plague some voyages, so I dutifully rubbed the slimy crap into my hands, and then lovingly rubbed my wife's back to remove any residue. However, we were about to experience a rude awakening, as all our sanitizing was for naught, since the staff wouldn't allow us to touch ANYTHING! Now, one look at me will tell you—I know how to work a buffet. If buffet lines were an Olympic sport, I would take home the gold every time. Yet, every single item was dished by a waiting server, and I witnessed a verbal hand-slap of multiple passengers who dared to reach for a spoon or tongs when the server was either busy or simply not there. Want attention? Want service? Just THINK you are going to reach for the tongs to grab a roll! They would be all over you like flies on dog dookie! (my computer is yelling that dookie is spelled wrong. Must have been built up north) Next step, stage right to head into the table area with your food and a mildly chafed rear end from the verbal spanking. Ever heard the term "hurry up and wait"? That was our next experience as we were ushered to a table to eat. However, waiting at the table for us was nothing—and I mean NOTHING! No flatware, no salt, no pepper, no sweetener—no nothing! After a few minutes, a waiter passed by and we were offered tea and coffee. In our nicest tone we responded that while tea and sweetener would be welcomed, silverware might be more appropriate to start. A few minutes later, another person came with silver and napkins. A few minutes after that, another came with our tea. Another seemingly interminable wait finally produced some Splenda—and another attempt to sell us a soda card—good grief, Charlie Brown!
As soon as we finished our lunch—long since cold—it was time to explore this vast city of a ship. I assume that you are a little let down because we did not discuss the actual food. That's because, dear readers, there really wasn't anything to talk about. Forget that by now it was cold, it was missing a few ingredients—like color, taste, spice and variety. Amazingly, with few exceptions, so was the crew. Where were those Carnival SMILES we had come to expect? So as I said, let's move on to exploring!
We moved past the single buffet line backed up out the door into the pool area (this actually worked to our benefit as we did not have to open a door—because the mass of hungered humanity was blocking it open). The Lido pool was covered by a high translucent dome, as we would expect when traveling to a colder climate. This was possibly one of the most beautiful pool areas we have ever experienced. The dome and the decks immediately beneath it were suspended by the normal steel poles. But Princess had seen fit to encrust these poles in glass tile mosaics of sea life, and had carried the same onto the pool walls. Absolutely gorgeous! The aqua and blue tile colors set off by carefully interspersed browns, reds and yellows that made up corals, fish and arthropods were perfectly balanced and inviting. My wife and I were already forming a love affair with this ship. We later found out that this is typical throughout the Princess fleet. Way to GO!
After an all-too-brief familiarization with the ship, we headed down to our room and found lo and behold our luggage had already arrived! Time to go to work, and we set about offloading what we assumed to be far too many articles of clothing for a 7-day cruise. In rapid succession each article was either hung with hangers we brought or placed on one of those in the closet. Surprise—Princess uses real wooden hangers with real hooks to place on a real bar. Not the abbreviated theft-proof devices we had previously encountered in our aquatic travels, but the real magilla. They trust us—they really trust us. Besides, have you ever considered how little space is left in luggage to hide a 50-cent coat hanger after you pack away all the souvenirs that people could care less about, and that definitely do not match our Southwestern dEcor?
Once the bag and baggage were unpacked and stowed, it was time for more exploring. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to find the Princess Theater, location of the multitude of entertainment venues we expected to be presented with, and the karaoke lounge, source of my pleasure throughout previous cruises, and the one offering that could keep me out of the Princess Theater, to the chagrin of my loving wife. Princess Theater was beautifully accoutered, with gorgeous colors and drapes. On each side were box seats which could be reserved for performances if you were so inclined. On the floor and in the balconies, were the explanation for how this small venue could acommodate the mass of humanity that would flood the entertainment nightly—theater seating. And not just theater seating, dear readers—oh no, it was theater seating so small that had I not just experienced a 60+ pound weight loss it would have been impossible to slide my large gluteus maximus into anything resembling an upright position. In addition, the seats were so close to the row in front of you that it was physically impossible for people to pass in front of you without you standing, folding your chair, and repeating over and over, "That's okay, I walk on the bottom of my feet, you are surely welcome to walk on the top." Where did the communication go missing that cruise people actually eat, the men often have Dunlap Disease, where our bellies done lapped over our belts, and our wives are REAL women, not those little girls who could turn sideways, stick out their tongues and be misidentified as a zipper! And let's not even mention the lost opportunity for sales of alcohol during shows. There was definitely expendable income lost in this venue. Heavens to Mergatroid - exit stage left!
The Karaoke lounge, also known as Club Fusion, on the other hand, was one of the most beautiful, calming and comfortable places I had ever experienced. With what some designer considered a western theme (they did, after all provide neon cowboys and framed Western pictures on their dark, wooden walls), somehow it worked. It was also the perfect venue for our private concerts put on by Darryl Worley and KIIM Radio out of Tucson. And screens? My goodness there were screens! Flat panel monitors were mounted on every side of every supporting post in the room, allowing those in attendance to see not only the words being sung, but also the people singing, thanks to a remotely controlled panning camera system. There were so many monitors that everyone could join in the sing-along. When it was my turn to sing, I found that the only place a convenient monitor was missing was—IN FRONT OF THE SINGER! I finally was able to work my way into the shadows and lock onto a monitor that was only about 12 feet away, allowing me to see at least some of the words as I sang.
On that first night, karaoke was a one-hour open-mike session, and until noon toward the end of the cruise there was not another. All other sessions were 1 hour long and part of a concerted effort by the delightful karaoke hosts to use tryouts to fill slots in an upcoming Princess Pop Star show. What that meant was—if you didn't want to perform in the show, you didn't sing. The same 10 people, including myself, signed up night after night to try out for the show, and with very few exceptions no one else sang. If you were voted in the first night, then you did not sing the rest of the week. For the second time in my life, I was glad to lose—the first was when Mary Jo Whiteside was selecting her boyfriend in first grade. There was, however, something scintillating about that black unibrow she sported even at that young age—but I digress. During that weeklong cruise, I sang fewer songs than I typically would have belted out during one of the normal 3-hour sets on each of our previous voyages. So, in a way, you might say I was a winner. My intent was to sing—and I did. I might also add, present company excepted, the talent on this cruise was considerable, with entire families competing against each other for the chance to perform. So the listening was enjoyable, too. I would like to add "between singing" but as I said earlier, there was no between singing. You got up, you sang one song, and you were done until the audience voted.
The previously mentioned private concerts performed by country singer Darryl Worley were the reason we booked this particular cruise, and they were fantastic. He was a very warm, very funny, very talented and very TALL entertainer. Frankly, when we had our photo taken with him, our whole family looked like a group of gnomes. He and his band played multiple sets consisting of his older favorites and some new music that is currently roaring up the charts. In addition, we had private meet-and-greets with Darryl, his wife Kimberly and the KIIM crew in Skywalker's Lounge during the day. KIIM was responsible for booking this cruise, their 13th annual, around Darryl, and they did a great job. Terrific fun.
I touched briefly on food earlier. I kind of left this for late in the review, as I wanted to devote appropriate time to fully discuss the wonderful combinations of spices and artful assembly of the meals. Okay, now I have. For the most part the food was pedestrian at best. I have had better meals at Applebees, and it's not one of my favorite venues. Dear readers, a cruise should not be a place where you dread going to dinner. A cruise should not be a place where over a week you come to expect seafood to be completely bland, colorless, dry and fully overcooked. Yet, that was our Princess experience. I can count the good meals we experienced on one finger, and that is no exaggeration. In each of the "anytime dining" venues a snooty maitre 'd directed one of the serving staff to take us, the dunces who dared to show up without a reservation, to a table. In that entire 7-night voyage, we had 2 rays of epicurean sunlight, in the form of 2 of the staff. Valeriia ("I have two "I" in my name," said she, and I never forgot, because I have 2 eyes in my head, and she was a delight), and Vincent, our waiter in the Pacific Moon restaurant. Both had ready smiles and sunny dispositions, and briefly pushed back the cloud that threatened to overcome our dining experience onboard.
We spoke with a number of regular Princess passengers who were also surprised by the seeming disinterest of the crew. Of course, when we asked what they liked about Princess, it always seemed to turn to discussions of how they preferred the calmer, subdued atmosphere of Princess, as opposed to Carnival's party barge reputation. Of course, that reputation was all they knew of Carnival, as they had never sailed the line. After regaling them with our stellar recommendations of the Carnival fleet, their crew and their stunningly presented food, I believe we may have made a few converts who will try Carnival in the future.
And what of Alaska? Magnificent! When sailing in Tracy Arm Fjord, with huge mountains of granite rising straight out of the sea and up to heaven, crowned in all their snow-capped glory and shrouded in misty clouds, the ship--and all its beauty and problems onboard--seemed insignificant in comparison. Onboard to verbally guide us through this stunning scenery was naturalist, lecturer and author, Shelley Gill, one of the first female Iditarod racers. The gorgeous ice floes floating past our ship as we gently slid between the upraised beckoning and seductive cliff walls contained colors that our cameras were ill-equipped to capture. And on those drifting islands of ice, a mother gray harbor seal nursed her pup proudly, before becoming bored with all the attention and leading the pup off the floe and into the chill gray-green waters of the fjord.
Many of us might only see a bald eagle once in our lives in a zoo—if then—yet in Ketchikan, they were wild on the roofs of houses, on light poles, and on every other natural and man-made structure for miles around. We saw them as we walked along the dock, and experienced them while touring the city and harbor in a "duck," an amphibious craft based on a WWII vehicle seemingly as comfortable tooling around town as it was splashing into the waters below the dock. We toured the harbor while dodging departing and approaching sea planes (DUCK!). In Juneau, following a ½ mile walk in the rain to avoid crowds waiting for shuttles into town, we arrived at the Mt. Roberts Tramway, where we ascended 1400 feet to the most magnificent views of the harbor, and our ship below. We met Lady Baltimore, an injured bald eagle nursed back to health by members of the Tlingit clans, and were at once entertained and charmed by the demeanor of those native peoples.
Skagway was our jumping off point for a motor trek through White Pass to the Yukon and our final destination, Emerald Lake, so named for the peculiar shade of its waters. Along the way, as we traversed steep canyons, meadows and even desert (yes, real, sandy desert!) we encountered bears performing their waking rituals wherein they stripped the meadows of dandelions in an attempt to loosen months of constipation formed while hibernating. We tasted Dutch apple pie outside Carcross—baked by a Dutch lady, no less—and were regaled with tales of the area by our guide in the top hat, Dyea Dave McKlelland.
The question was asked of us upon our return, would we return to Alaska? Our answer - "In a heartbeat." Would we sail again on Princess? Absolutely. You see, after the cruise was almost done, we finally got the missing communication that the ship was, in fact, host to not only Darryl Worley and KIIM Radio (the reason we were even on Princess), but also to a very virulent strain of the Norovirus. According to the regular Princess cruisers we met onboard, the experience was not typical Princess, and was hastily thrown together as a result of passengers and crew being quarantined during the voyage. The lack of communication put many off, and as we have always told our children, "What we can imagine is far worse than anything you can tell us." We will give Princess another chance in the future, but just when we do not know. Maybe when they pull the stick out of their poop deck, loosen up and have a little fun, we might consider another voyage on the high seas with them. Meanwhile, in August its back to Carnival, still our favorite line, where miles of smiles are the norm, the word service truly means something, and our 14-year old son can find ice cream 24 hours every day. Warm chocolate melting cake anyone?
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