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Sapphire Princess Alaska RT out of Seattle 6/5-6/12This was the much discussed Mike Huckabee/ Christian Entertainment cruise marketed by a travel agency as "The Alaska Freedom Cruise". We were booked long before we were made aware of this happening and weeks before MH bowed out of the GOP presidential run. Not being a fan of political rallies and or counter protests while on vacation, we dreaded the possibilities, but fortunately, as MH was no longer on the campaign trail and just a "guest host", this cruise was politics free for the rest of us. Their music shows and inspirational meetings were barely noticeable, (although ...curiously... their sponsoring travel agency were the people who handed out the pre-boarding health questionnaire, not PCL employees.)Embarkation was fast and smooth and the staff at pier 91 were friendly and welcoming. Seemed like we were on board in no time. Cabins were ready and stewards were on hand as usual. The life jacket drill seems to have a new taped voice and it sounds nothing like Patrick Stewart now. (I'd told the folks with us that Jean Luc Picard did the spiel. Oh well!) There has been mention of a less than friendly attitude among the crew on Sapphire lately, and we saw a few examples, starting with the drill. The crew/staffers in their yellow Muster caps were a little strident talking to the passengers trying to take seats and keep from clobbering other passengers with their bright orange life jackets. There are always people who put on the jacket BEFORE they are told to do so, and those who did were yelled at rather rudely. (Yes, I know it's frustrating when people don't listen.) But several of the offenders were Korean and may not have understood.We also encountered an strange attitude on the part of Horizon Court servers. At the first breakfast, we sat down at a table that had some dirty cups and spoons and a soiled napkin. I moved them all to the side so we could sit down. On all our previous cruises, the juice cups were pre-poured and in the buffet line, so we didn't realize that "clean cups" were placed on the tables ahead of time. Some of the juice cups I moved may have been clean, but two of them clearly had traces of orange juice on them. I attempted to get us some coffee from the beverage station and was told , "We'll bring it to you!" I returned to my seat and watched servers go by without even glancing in our direction. When a server finally came by to offer us coffee or juice, we asked for clean cups. "Those are clean cups, Madam" he told my wife. "No, they're dirty," she replied. "No," he said again, 'they are clean!" Not wishing to argue further and a bit surprised he would contest this, we said, "Never mind, we'll just have coffee." Later, when a young man offered to take my now empty plate, my wife tried to give him the dirty juice cups and coffee cup and dirty spoons I had moved. He took the coffee cup and the napkin and said, "No, no, Madam. Those are clean cups!" Again they were willing to argue with us rather than give us a clean cup. I must say, however, at the very next breakfast, the young lady now working that side of the seating area couldn't have been sweeter to both of us. Or more attentive. For the rest of the trip, we had nothing but friendly service at the buffet, the food counters out by the pool and in our dining room. This odd first day behavior wasn't repeated. Our first day heading north out of Seattle made me take the first Dramamine I've needed in years. Our cabin was forward, but heard folks amidships were queasy as well. The swells were the highest I'd seen on a cruise and we had some strong winds hitting us crosswise. Still, we all seemed to rally by dinner time.Our Waiter and "Junior" Waiter were great fun, and service in the traditional dining room was efficient but unrushed. We thought the food was very good, and some things were excellent. My only gripe was minor, and that was that the "Medium Rare" strip steak (one night) and the prime rib (another night) were both well done. Didn't stop me from enjoying them, but I wondered why he bothered asking me how I wanted the meat done, if the chefs were sending them out one way only! I particularly enjoyed the cold soups. The fettucine in the parmesan bowl was wonderful, too! And although I've read many comments about how bland and boring the desserts are, we found them quite good. Several people in my party had two desserts each!As to formal nights, we opted for Sabbatini's the first night. I made a point to stop by shortly after embarkation to make a reservation. I first asked the young man, stationed at the table in front of the Sabbatini's door, if the specialty restaurants on Sapphire observed the Formal Night dress code, as there had been discussion on this board about this. "Oh yes," he said, "Formal all over ship! All the same". I said that the specialties used to be casual when the dining rooms went formal, and he then said that as long as we had nice trousers and a shirt with a collar, we could come in, "No problem!" Ambiguity again. We made our reservations anyway. I asked for a table for seven at six o'clock. He said he had to go check first, and then disappeared, taking his reservation book with him. Odd, we thought. Wasn't he the guy taking reservations? He returned and said it was fine. However, when we showed up the following night, (the men in sport coats and ties, not tuxedos or dinner jackets, by the way) we were told we had no reservation. On double checking, I was told that I had reservations at the steak house. I told him that I had stood 8 ft. away from that door and made reservations for Sabbatinis. He made a point of showing me his book, but then said it was no problem and showed us to a table, coincidently set for seven...not six or eight. (Cue the Twilight Zone music!)The meal was, as usual, wonderful, and we still ordered only the entree and soup and they brought us some of EVERY starter they had, including some excellent calamari. My only problem with dinner was the water. Our waiter asked us if we wanted sparkling or bottled water. We didn't realize that the bottled water was going to cost us $3 (and that we'd need a second bottle to fill everyone's water glass), nor that there was third choice, free ship's tap water (which is just fine!). We thought that it was little sneaky, but didn't mention it, figuring it not worth spoiling a nice dinner over $6. We walked around a bit after dinner, and took note of the dress code that night. We didn't walk into the dining rooms, but of the people having portraits taken and walking the Piazza decks, we counted the tuxes on the fingers of one hand. I saw one guy in a kilt, and several ladies in saris, but the majority of men wore sport jackets and ties, or no jacket at all. When the portraits appeared in the photo gallery, I looked for tuxes or dinner jackets in the photos and saw very few. I believe that the majority of the tuxes were on the photographers and the waiters! We dared to go to the dining room on the second formal night, dressed as we were for the first night. (I think we guys all wore different ties, but the same trousers and jackets!) Again, we saw very few tuxes and no white dinner jackets, other than the head waiters and Maitre' D. We saw only two tables (the same family group) where the men were formal. I also noticed quite a few collared polo shirts and a Hawaiian shirt or two. Clearly the door staff was NOT enforcing the dress code. Whether or not this is a growing trend fleet-wise , or if the Huckabee crowd is less formal, I don't know. We've done four other Alaska cruises, and this was by far, the LEAST formal we'd seen to date. The second Formal Night portrait series reinforced our impression. Almost no tuxes in any of the photos.Captain Nick C. maneuvered us up Tracey Arm to the little island before having to stop. We were within view of the Sawyer Glacier, however, and those of us on the port side got a pretty good view of it. We turned a bit faster than I remember on previous cruises and I don't think the starboard side had as much time as we did, before heading back out. The fiord is still magnificent, and those who chose the excursion by catamaran got to go further and stay longer than the rest of the ship, and they rejoined us in Juneau later in the day.Weather wise, we had cool and windy sea days, and some sun and some clouds at the ports. Very comfortable, though cooler than previous trips. Alaska was and is awesome. It never fails to delight! We have taken the whale watch trips in Juneau each time and this was the best! More whales, more orca, and more sea lions than we've ever seen. I finally saw one breach, though this was from my balcony one day while at sea, and the rest of my family was at lunch! Worth missing lunch!Shore excursion people were visible and helpful at all ports, except Skagway. With two members of my party with mobility issues, it might have been nice if there had been someone on hand to tell us where to stand for the White Pass RR. The cars were parked just beyond the end of the two ships' length pier. We walked down to where the cars were, and the RR employee said, after a crowd gathered, that the train would backup further along the pier and we could board anywhere, as long at there was a Sapphire Princess sign on the card. When the train began backing up, people started to walk back the way we'd come and we joined them, figuring the front of the train was not for us, eying the cards on the side of each car as it passed us. Turned out that ALL the cars were Sapphire Princess, which made me wonder why the guy bothered telling us about the cards. Aw well, the trip was still awesome and we saw bears alongside the tracks!I'm still convinced that the native Alaskans are lying about all the rain, just to keep us from moving there! Or else the sun likes me and follows me to Alaska every year I go. (Although it has sure been absent in my home state in the Midwest most of this year!!!)The free shuttle bus driver in Ketchikan recommended the Alaskan Surf Fish & Chip shack on the waterfront and we opted for lunch there. Although the 'shack' is about the size of my minivan, it serves the best fried fish (we had the Halibut) I've ever had, and that includes scores of chippy's in the UK. I'm sure lots of passengers pass it by, heading for indoor restaurants, but that is their loss! This place is even recommended in Frommer's. All in all, this cruise was pretty good, despite spotty service in the HC and a few ditzy waiters at lunch time in the TD dining room. Music was fine, food was good to excellent and the upselling was unobtrusive, as were the photographers. I was pleased to see that the photographers and their costumed associates were not nearly as obnoxious and insistent as on previous cruises, and we didn't have to contend with moose and lumberjacks and gold miners blocking our path to the docks at every port. Thank you, guys! I hope you still made money on your photos without harassing the passengers.Shuttle Express was waiting for us back at Seattle and the EX check with Southwest Airlines worked perfectly! We said goodbye to our luggage in Victoria, walked past the long lines at the airport and picked it up again back home at our home airport! Well worth the $20 !!!Sapphire has not won us over as a favorite ship; that is still the Golden. But it is a fine ship and the dry dock will only make it better, although I am in the camp that thinks that MUTS is a nuisance during the day. And my worries over the Huckabee group were unfounded. I have no clue just how many of them were there, they did a great job of keeping a low profile. I did, however, notice that Coast Guard boats, armed with deck guns, were present both in Juneau and Skagway. I didn't see them in Ketchikan. Was that for Huckabee? I didn't notice them hovering around any other ship in any of the ports.

Sapphire to Alaska

Sapphire Princess Cruise Review by Saruman

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2011
  • Destination: Alaska
  • Cabin Type: Balcony
Sapphire Princess Alaska RT out of Seattle 6/5-6/12This was the much discussed Mike Huckabee/ Christian Entertainment cruise marketed by a travel agency as "The Alaska Freedom Cruise". We were booked long before we were made aware of this happening and weeks before MH bowed out of the GOP presidential run. Not being a fan of political rallies and or counter protests while on vacation, we dreaded the possibilities, but fortunately, as MH was no longer on the campaign trail and just a "guest host", this cruise was politics free for the rest of us. Their music shows and inspirational meetings were barely noticeable, (although ...curiously... their sponsoring travel agency were the people who handed out the pre-boarding health questionnaire, not PCL employees.)Embarkation was fast and smooth and the staff at pier 91 were friendly and welcoming. Seemed like we were on board in no time. Cabins were ready and stewards were on hand as usual. The life jacket drill seems to have a new taped voice and it sounds nothing like Patrick Stewart now. (I'd told the folks with us that Jean Luc Picard did the spiel. Oh well!) There has been mention of a less than friendly attitude among the crew on Sapphire lately, and we saw a few examples, starting with the drill. The crew/staffers in their yellow Muster caps were a little strident talking to the passengers trying to take seats and keep from clobbering other passengers with their bright orange life jackets. There are always people who put on the jacket BEFORE they are told to do so, and those who did were yelled at rather rudely. (Yes, I know it's frustrating when people don't listen.) But several of the offenders were Korean and may not have understood.We also encountered an strange attitude on the part of Horizon Court servers. At the first breakfast, we sat down at a table that had some dirty cups and spoons and a soiled napkin. I moved them all to the side so we could sit down. On all our previous cruises, the juice cups were pre-poured and in the buffet line, so we didn't realize that "clean cups" were placed on the tables ahead of time. Some of the juice cups I moved may have been clean, but two of them clearly had traces of orange juice on them. I attempted to get us some coffee from the beverage station and was told , "We'll bring it to you!" I returned to my seat and watched servers go by without even glancing in our direction. When a server finally came by to offer us coffee or juice, we asked for clean cups. "Those are clean cups, Madam" he told my wife. "No, they're dirty," she replied. "No," he said again, 'they are clean!" Not wishing to argue further and a bit surprised he would contest this, we said, "Never mind, we'll just have coffee." Later, when a young man offered to take my now empty plate, my wife tried to give him the dirty juice cups and coffee cup and dirty spoons I had moved. He took the coffee cup and the napkin and said, "No, no, Madam. Those are clean cups!" Again they were willing to argue with us rather than give us a clean cup. I must say, however, at the very next breakfast, the young lady now working that side of the seating area couldn't have been sweeter to both of us. Or more attentive. For the rest of the trip, we had nothing but friendly service at the buffet, the food counters out by the pool and in our dining room. This odd first day behavior wasn't repeated. Our first day heading north out of Seattle made me take the first Dramamine I've needed in years. Our cabin was forward, but heard folks amidships were queasy as well. The swells were the highest I'd seen on a cruise and we had some strong winds hitting us crosswise. Still, we all seemed to rally by dinner time.Our Waiter and "Junior" Waiter were great fun, and service in the traditional dining room was efficient but unrushed. We thought the food was very good, and some things were excellent. My only gripe was minor, and that was that the "Medium Rare" strip steak (one night) and the prime rib (another night) were both well done. Didn't stop me from enjoying them, but I wondered why he bothered asking me how I wanted the meat done, if the chefs were sending them out one way only! I particularly enjoyed the cold soups. The fettucine in the parmesan bowl was wonderful, too! And although I've read many comments about how bland and boring the desserts are, we found them quite good. Several people in my party had two desserts each!As to formal nights, we opted for Sabbatini's the first night. I made a point to stop by shortly after embarkation to make a reservation. I first asked the young man, stationed at the table in front of the Sabbatini's door, if the specialty restaurants on Sapphire observed the Formal Night dress code, as there had been discussion on this board about this. "Oh yes," he said, "Formal all over ship! All the same". I said that the specialties used to be casual when the dining rooms went formal, and he then said that as long as we had nice trousers and a shirt with a collar, we could come in, "No problem!" Ambiguity again. We made our reservations anyway. I asked for a table for seven at six o'clock. He said he had to go check first, and then disappeared, taking his reservation book with him. Odd, we thought. Wasn't he the guy taking reservations? He returned and said it was fine. However, when we showed up the following night, (the men in sport coats and ties, not tuxedos or dinner jackets, by the way) we were told we had no reservation. On double checking, I was told that I had reservations at the steak house. I told him that I had stood 8 ft. away from that door and made reservations for Sabbatinis. He made a point of showing me his book, but then said it was no problem and showed us to a table, coincidently set for seven...not six or eight. (Cue the Twilight Zone music!)The meal was, as usual, wonderful, and we still ordered only the entree and soup and they brought us some of EVERY starter they had, including some excellent calamari. My only problem with dinner was the water. Our waiter asked us if we wanted sparkling or bottled water. We didn't realize that the bottled water was going to cost us $3 (and that we'd need a second bottle to fill everyone's water glass), nor that there was third choice, free ship's tap water (which is just fine!). We thought that it was little sneaky, but didn't mention it, figuring it not worth spoiling a nice dinner over $6. We walked around a bit after dinner, and took note of the dress code that night. We didn't walk into the dining rooms, but of the people having portraits taken and walking the Piazza decks, we counted the tuxes on the fingers of one hand. I saw one guy in a kilt, and several ladies in saris, but the majority of men wore sport jackets and ties, or no jacket at all. When the portraits appeared in the photo gallery, I looked for tuxes or dinner jackets in the photos and saw very few. I believe that the majority of the tuxes were on the photographers and the waiters! We dared to go to the dining room on the second formal night, dressed as we were for the first night. (I think we guys all wore different ties, but the same trousers and jackets!) Again, we saw very few tuxes and no white dinner jackets, other than the head waiters and Maitre' D. We saw only two tables (the same family group) where the men were formal. I also noticed quite a few collared polo shirts and a Hawaiian shirt or two. Clearly the door staff was NOT enforcing the dress code. Whether or not this is a growing trend fleet-wise , or if the Huckabee crowd is less formal, I don't know. We've done four other Alaska cruises, and this was by far, the LEAST formal we'd seen to date. The second Formal Night portrait series reinforced our impression. Almost no tuxes in any of the photos.Captain Nick C. maneuvered us up Tracey Arm to the little island before having to stop. We were within view of the Sawyer Glacier, however, and those of us on the port side got a pretty good view of it. We turned a bit faster than I remember on previous cruises and I don't think the starboard side had as much time as we did, before heading back out. The fiord is still magnificent, and those who chose the excursion by catamaran got to go further and stay longer than the rest of the ship, and they rejoined us in Juneau later in the day.Weather wise, we had cool and windy sea days, and some sun and some clouds at the ports. Very comfortable, though cooler than previous trips. Alaska was and is awesome. It never fails to delight! We have taken the whale watch trips in Juneau each time and this was the best! More whales, more orca, and more sea lions than we've ever seen. I finally saw one breach, though this was from my balcony one day while at sea, and the rest of my family was at lunch! Worth missing lunch!Shore excursion people were visible and helpful at all ports, except Skagway. With two members of my party with mobility issues, it might have been nice if there had been someone on hand to tell us where to stand for the White Pass RR. The cars were parked just beyond the end of the two ships' length pier. We walked down to where the cars were, and the RR employee said, after a crowd gathered, that the train would backup further along the pier and we could board anywhere, as long at there was a Sapphire Princess sign on the card. When the train began backing up, people started to walk back the way we'd come and we joined them, figuring the front of the train was not for us, eying the cards on the side of each car as it passed us. Turned out that ALL the cars were Sapphire Princess, which made me wonder why the guy bothered telling us about the cards. Aw well, the trip was still awesome and we saw bears alongside the tracks!I'm still convinced that the native Alaskans are lying about all the rain, just to keep us from moving there! Or else the sun likes me and follows me to Alaska every year I go. (Although it has sure been absent in my home state in the Midwest most of this year!!!)The free shuttle bus driver in Ketchikan recommended the Alaskan Surf Fish & Chip shack on the waterfront and we opted for lunch there. Although the 'shack' is about the size of my minivan, it serves the best fried fish (we had the Halibut) I've ever had, and that includes scores of chippy's in the UK. I'm sure lots of passengers pass it by, heading for indoor restaurants, but that is their loss! This place is even recommended in Frommer's. All in all, this cruise was pretty good, despite spotty service in the HC and a few ditzy waiters at lunch time in the TD dining room. Music was fine, food was good to excellent and the upselling was unobtrusive, as were the photographers. I was pleased to see that the photographers and their costumed associates were not nearly as obnoxious and insistent as on previous cruises, and we didn't have to contend with moose and lumberjacks and gold miners blocking our path to the docks at every port. Thank you, guys! I hope you still made money on your photos without harassing the passengers.Shuttle Express was waiting for us back at Seattle and the EX check with Southwest Airlines worked perfectly! We said goodbye to our luggage in Victoria, walked past the long lines at the airport and picked it up again back home at our home airport! Well worth the $20 !!!Sapphire has not won us over as a favorite ship; that is still the Golden. But it is a fine ship and the dry dock will only make it better, although I am in the camp that thinks that MUTS is a nuisance during the day. And my worries over the Huckabee group were unfounded. I have no clue just how many of them were there, they did a great job of keeping a low profile. I did, however, notice that Coast Guard boats, armed with deck guns, were present both in Juneau and Skagway. I didn't see them in Ketchikan. Was that for Huckabee? I didn't notice them hovering around any other ship in any of the ports.
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