1/29/11 Sapphire Princess to Hawaii: Sapphire Princess Cruise Review by badgergran

Sapphire Princess 4
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1/29/11 Sapphire Princess to Hawaii

Sail Date: January 2011
Destination: Hawaii
Embarkation: Los Angeles
This vacation was planned as an escape from a harsh Wisconsin winter, and the Hawaiian islands certainly provided a welcome respite from our cold weather. Sea days between Los Angeles and Hawaii were colder than we'd hoped for, probably mostly in the low 60s, which was sweater and jacket weather, even for snowbirds. However, we enjoyed sunshine during most of our 14-day journey, and immensely enjoyed meeting the people of Hawaii, most of whom acknowledge the importance of tourism to their economy and work hard to ensure their visitors have a good time. It took a while to unwind, and we would have liked more shore time on the islands of Hawaii, Kaui and Maui, but the Sapphire Princess was a relaxing home base for our Hawaiian adventure.

After boarding and inspecting our cabin on the Dolphin (9th) deck, which was spacious and provided ample room for clothing and suitcase storage, we left for lunch at the Horizon Court. We were a bit apprehensive, because previous reviewers More were not enthusiastic about the food on this ship, and were pleasantly surprised to find that most of our meals were quite good, although not exceptional. However, we did not enjoy our anytime dining option on this cruise, and we purposely choose cruise lines that offer our preferred anytime dining option. When cruising to Alaska on the Coral Princess several years ago, we felt this line had mastered coordinating anytime diners, but this did not prove to be the case on the Sapphire. While we expected to be asked if we cared to be seated with other guests occasionally, we were unprepared when we were told several times there would be a wait of more than an hour at both the Santa Fe and Pacific Moon dining rooms, whether or not we cared to share a table with others. After several days, we tried the Savoy, and they seemed to handle the flow of diners easily. It became our preferred evening dining area when we didn't choose the buffet, both because the wait staff seemed more attentive and we didn't have to wait long to be seated. We usually ate breakfast and lunch at the Horizon Court, as well as a few dinners (three formal dinners were a bit much for us), and often found the service somewhat lacking, although we enjoyed the food. Hubby is impatient, and he frequently went to get our beverages when no waiter appeared after a few minutes.

Although it was a bit noisy and often crowded, we enjoyed visiting Crooners bar for cocktails most evenings. Waiters Milos and Rejilio were very personable and efficient, and also good at remembering preferences of regular customers. We usually met at different bars each night during previous cruises, but chose this as our nightly meeting place because of these servers.

Our cabin steward, Florian, was efficient and personable, and often anticipated our needs before we could make a request. When hubby ordered a bucket of beer, we returned from dinner to find he'd added ice to the bucket, and this continued for several days until it was finished. The only drawback to the cabin was a noticeable smell of cigarette smoke in the hallway outside of our door, but we could never tell exactly where it came from. We did not notice it while using our balcony, but heard others say they couldn't stand to use theirs because of secondhand smoke.

Daytime activities on sea days were adequate, but not exceptional, and included lectures, bingo, movies, art auctions, hula lessons, ukulele lessons, chef demonstrations, and lei making classes. Several times we felt the activity was just a prelude to a sales pitch for whatever department made the presentation. The same was true when I utilized spa services, and was strongly encouraged to buy several products. While I enjoyed time spent in the spa, I felt this detracted from the experience.

I hadn't utilized ship spas in the past, but decided to check out the Lotus Spa since we had so many sea days. My first experience was with the acupuncturist. After hearing her lecture that mentioned treatment could relieve seasickness, I decided to give it a try since I was taking medication as a preventative measure, and it made me a bit sleepy. She used the title of doctor, so I was shocked when presented with the statement and there was a line for a gratuity. However, I must admit the treatment was helpful, because I was not even queasy for the rest of the trip, and even several crew members mentioned they'd had problems because of moderate waves. I had noticed our cabin steward scurrying back and forth with loads of laundry during this time, and suspect several passengers, as well as crew members, were afflicted.

While we enjoyed the evening programs which we attended, including comedians,a ventriloquist, musical performances, and variety shows, we did not get to see some of the acts we wanted to see. Venues were often packed an hour or more before the show, and it seemed like some of the more popular shows were in the smaller Explorers Lounge instead of the Princess Theater. Some of the entertainers disembarked in Honolulu and others came aboard, so there was a good variety in the shows we did attend.

This itinerary with extended sea days was purposely chosen to make us slow down and relax, but we were both relieved when we reached the first Hawaiian port. Still, it was nice to have several days on each side of the voyage where we could not be reached by cell phone or email,(we'd agreed not to tempt ourselves by purchasing an internet package onboard) and we felt completely relaxed by the time we disembarked.

We had to self-disembarkation since our return flight was booked slightly before the time suggested by Princess, but we arrived at the airport in plenty of time. The biggest problem was getting our luggage to the designated lounge, because everyone had to clear their cabin by 8 a.m., and we had to tote everything down the stairs because all of the elevators were packed when they stopped on our floor. We weren't sure how long it would take to clear customs, but we were on our way to the airport about an hour after leaving our cabin. Since we weren't sure of the timing for departure, we took a taxi instead of the shuttle to LAX, and the fare was about $65.00.

We chose this ship after reading enthusiastic reviews regarding the layout, but this trip taught us that we prefer other Princess ships with a different design. Dining rooms on the Sapphire are smaller, but we found it made them seem more crowded than intimate,and it was sometimes took extra time to reach performance venues if you didn't choose the right elevator or stairway. While the ship is very well maintained, she is beginning to show signs of wear, mostly in the cabin corridors, where I noticed indentations in the walls, which might have been caused by the many walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters we encountered, and may have mostly been unavoidable since the passageways are rather narrow. Gathering places in public areas by inside windows were consistently crowded, something I have not experienced on other cruises, and we were glad we booked a mini-suite, where we had our own couch and balcony. Less

Published 02/21/11

Cabin review: AAD519

Well-designed and adequate room for comfortable lounging. While reading on the balcony, hubby got soaked with water thrown from a balcony above.

Port and Shore Excursions

I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and friendliness of this city. Many passengers commented they were not planning to go ashore because of the violence experienced throughout Mexico. (When we first set sail from LA, we heard that cruise ships were taking Mazatlan off of their itineraries because of reported violence.) This was a short stop, and we took a shuttle several blocks from the port to the main shopping district. Shopkeepers were very friendly, many spoke good English, and I felt safe in this district, but husband refused to let me stroll alone because of other passengers' safety concerns. We picked up a few beautifully embroidered sundresses for our granddaughters while enjoying our last day of summer-like temperatures and returned to the ship.

Read 416 Ensenada Reviews

We were sorry we did not sign up for an excursion to Volcanoes National Park before they filled up. They were available for several days after sailing, so it was due to our lack of planning. We rented a small pickup and drove to Akaka Falls, where we enjoyed a hike through the surrounding area. Afterwards, we decided to drive to Volcanoes National Park. We began with a hike through the Thurston Lava Tube, and then drove through a bit of the park. Crater Rim Drive was closed in the area we visited, and we were disappointed not to catch a glimpse of Kilauea. We had been warned that it could take quite a while to return the car and get back to the ship, so we headed back to port, stopping at a macadamia nut farm we saw along the way. While it was an enjoyable day, I think we would have seen more of the volcanoes if we would have taken a tour with a guide.

Read 445 Hilo Reviews

Here we opted for a motorcoach tour along the coast. The guide pointed out city landmarks, including Waikiki Beach, as we headed out of Honolulu, and provided a lot of background on both Honolulu and Oahu. We decided this was money well spent, because his commentary helped us to understand what we were seeing and learn a little bit about local customs.

After returning to the dock, we caught a free shuttle to Hilo Hattie's for a little souvenir shopping. While there, we noticed a counter that said they had boxes and postage for priority mail shipments. We'd brought several of these boxes from home, and intended to find a post office where we could send a box of dirty clothes home to make room for the souvenirs. After returning to the ship and packing the box, we were told we couldn't take it off of the ship without customs clearance, and their representatives wouldn't be onboard until early the next morning. The staff said there was a chance we might be able to take it off at the next port if we brought it to the desk when customs inspectors were there early the next morning, but we decided to rearrange our suitcases and carry everything home. I'm not sure why customs clearance was necessary when we hadn't yet visited a foreign port.

Several fellow passengers raved about luaus they'd enjoyed in the city, but I'm not sure where they ate. We dined onboard because hubby is a fussy eater.

Read 506 Honolulu Reviews

We took a short walk to shops near the dock before returning to the ship to catch the shuttle for a helicopter tour we'd booked. Although it was a bit cloudy, vision was good, and the views were spectacular. It was an expensive, but truly memorable experience, with each sight more breathtaking than the next. We flew near remote coastal areas, mountain peaks, and waterfalls, and the pilot pointed out several sites used to film movies, including "Jurassic Park" and "South Pacific". Each helicopter carried six passengers and a pilot, and seats were assigned according to weight. Passengers were asked to step on a scale when arriving in the office, but it was positioned so that only the person checking you in could read the weight. Cameras recorded the flight and copies were available for purchase, and passengers were cautioned that any comments they made would be included in the recording.

Read 409 Kauai Reviews

We arrived in LA two days before sailing in case weather caused delays at our home airport, and arranged with the Karmel Shuttle Service, recommended by AAA, to transfer us from LAX to the Crowne Plaza San Pedro. We were very impressed by the shuttle service, which offers a discount to AAA members. You can book online at http://www.karmel.com or by phone, 888-995-7433, but I was told it is most economical to book online. We were instructed to call for pick-up after claiming our luggage, and the shuttle, an eight-passenger van, arrived within five to ten minutes. Our last name was posted on a sign on the front windshield, and the driver helped stow our luggage before departing for the hotel, which was less than 30 minutes away in early afternoon light traffic. We were quoted $45 total for two passengers, and we were each allowed two suitcases plus a carry-on.

We opted for a king non-smoking room at the Crowne Plaza, because the hotel offered shuttle service to the nearby LA Cruise Terminal. The bed was comfortable, and I enjoyed the lavender linen spray provided by the hotel. Our only complaint was lack of hot water in the shower on departure day. After check-in, we walked to the San Pedro Brewing Company, 331 W. 6th St., for a quick lunch. Service was a bit slow, but the food was good, as was their award-winning beer. While strolling afterwards, we picked up a bottle of wine at Off the Vine, 491 Sixth St., and the clerk took time to recommend local restaurants and area attractions. We decided to try the Whale and Ale, 327 W. 7th St., for dinner, and both enjoyed their fish and chips. We ate breakfast at the San Pedro Cafe, 605 S. Pacific Ave., both days. It was good diner food, nothing fancy, but relatively reasonably priced. Neither of us liked the dinner we ate in the hotel dining room, and would recommend going elsewhere to eat. If you're looking for a good cup of coffee or pastry, be sure to try Mishi's Strudel Bakery & Cafe, 309 W. 7th St.

Friday morning, we found a farmers' market several blocks from the hotel, and were told it is held weekly from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to produce, there were clothing and craft items for sale, as well as several food vendors. Afterwards, we decided to walk to Cabrillo Beach, which was much farther than we expected. We had looked at a tourism brochure and decided to take the green and the red waterfront cars operated by the Port of Los Angeles back to the hotel, but were surprised to learn that the green shuttle was no longer operating. It was a relief to reach a red car stop, and the $1.00 daily fare for unlimited daily rides is a bargain. Hours, fares, and stops can be found at http://www.portoflosangeles.org/recreation/waterfront_rcl.asp. Be sure to check out the Fanfare Fountains and Water Features link; we very much enjoyed the evening water shows. Note that service is limited to specific days, not daily.

We were surprised to see three lines for shuttles when checking out, one for a Norwegian ship, one for Cunard's Queen Elizabeth III, and one for the Sapphire. Hotel staff worked hard to accommodate everyone as quickly as possible, and we were at our berth in about an hour. Check-in lines at the pier were long, but moved quickly.

We docked in Lahaina, the only tender port on our itinerary. Here we had booked a whale-watching excursion, and departed towards the beginning of disembarkation. There was not much room for tenders to anchor and they had to await their turn, which wouldn't have been bad if the sea weren't rough. Although tenders were quickly loaded and launched to make room for the next one, we must have waited at least 30 to 45 minutes to reach the shore. This was a mistake on someone's part, because the roughness of the sea caused many of the tender passengers to demand that the tender head for shore immediately because they were going to be ill. After anchoring, we boarded the Maui Princess for two hours of whale watching, and were relieved when the sea became a bit calmer. Upper and lower decks were available for viewing, and we climbed to the upper deck, where three rows of tables and chairs ran the length of the ship. We were rewarded with many mother and baby whale sightings, and were fortunate to witness a fully-breaching adult whale. The experience was somewhat marred by all of the people rushing from side to side to take photographs and blocking the view of those in the middle and the other side.

Afterwards, my husband opted to return to the ship to watch the Super Bowl since our Packers were playing, but I spent some time strolling along the main street, which seemed to be a popular shopping destination. I was a little surprised the ship didn't offer both live coverage and a rebroadcast of the Super Bowl, because many passengers said they were torn between staying ashore and returning to the ship to watch the game.

Read 479 Maui Reviews

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