Best For People Who Want
A wonderful array of dining, activities, and entertainment choices; exemplary children and teen programs; onboard weddings broadcast ashore; balcony cabins, a mega-ship with the feeling of a smaller, cozy ship.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Should be Avoided by People Who Prefer: A mega-ship feel with towering atriums, small ships, no kids
One of the early classes of post 100,000-ton ships, these wonderful "Grand-class" Princess ships exemplify Princess's philosophy of offering both megaship choice and a small ship feel.
These ships pride themselves on the range of choices they offer - including, insofar as dining is concerned, an option not to make a choice. In other words, you can still opt to dine in the traditional cruise ship manner of pre-assigned tables and the same waiters night after night, or you can opt for the Princess' "Personal Choice Dining" program where you arrive whenever you want and have a different table and dining companions (or none at all) every night. Alternatively, one can dine in any of the four intimate themed restaurants, which serve between 5:30 and 10 p.m.
There's a wonderful choice of activities too. Princess' ScholarShip at Sea program offers, for instance, photography, computer technology, and culinary classes (for a fee). Or you may choose to make your own serving dish in the ceramic studio located above the Neptune Pool, or to compete in an American Idol-style singing competition.
Kids and teens have their own well-equipped 9,686 sq. ft. facilities. There's Concierge Service for those who like someone else to make their dinner reservations, and to assist with more unusual requests. With 29 computer terminals, Sapphire's is one of the largest and most stylish Internet centers at sea -- and, at 35 cents a minute, one of the least expensive. Cappuccino is dispensed here at a nominal cost, but delicious pastries to wash it down with are free. More free-spirited types with their own laptop computers can purchase 30-minute wireless access packages.
Sapphire Princess is a very attractive ship in the tried and true style elegance for which Princess is known. The ships are not nearly as modernly in vogue as Celebrity's ships, for instance, but neither are they as predictably traditional as Holland America's. The furnishings, tiles, carpets, wall coverings and trim are uniformly attractive in their simplicity, with a laudable absence of clutter.
The three-deck atrium is Sapphire's heart. Note the delightful Art Nouveau glass-and-brass designs on its elevators. From late afternoon into early evening a string quartet fills it with beautiful music. At other times other entertainers may emerge to amuse such as jugglers, acrobats or mime artists.
The atrium spans decks five, six and seven and serves as the focal point for most of the restaurants, shops and restaurants onboard. There are five restaurants all together just for the cruise fare included (no extra charge) dining. The trick here is to give the ship a more intimate feel by segmenting the passenger load into smaller dining rooms. Even before "Personal Choice Dining" started there were already three dining rooms, and now two of them have been further segmented to separate assigned time and table diners from the anytime diners.
Close by is the Wine Bar offering select vintages by the glass. You may come here to test your knowledge of wine and discuss your preferences with the knowledgable sommellier. You can also purchase a bottle to be stored in the wine cellar waiting for you to ask for it in any dining room you may choose on any given night.
Forward of the atrium on Deck 7 you'll find the hypernautical Wheelhouse Bar. Aft is the safari-themed Explorer's Lounge. At the stern is the cabaret lounge, Club Fusion, offering live music, disc jockeys, gambling machines, 42 high-definition TVs, and Princess Idol, a multi-round talent contest based on American Idol. In the corner, take the circular staircase to the intimate Wake View Bar.
Off the atrium on Deck 6, the Sapphire's African-themed casino was once one of the largest at sea. Play blackjack, Caribbean stud, craps, roulette, or any of myriad slot and video poker machines. Unlike most megaship casinos, wide expanses of miles of open space separate the various gaming tables and slot machines; for once, the room isn't patently designed to keep you inside and gambling.
Churchill's Lounge, the one-time sports bar, is now behind the casino and is used for the cognac and cigars set. Of course it is completely enclosed and may seem off limits when it is actually open. The sports paraphernalia is still there, but seems oddly out of place. (The bars in the atrium on Decks 5 and 6 are smoke-free, as too are Club Fusion and all indoor dining areas.)
In a departure from the Grand Princess design where the Skywalkers disco was set high up in the air on deck 19 at the aft end of the ship, the SkyWalker disco on Sapphire has been set back down on deck 17. It still offers magnificent views, and it lends the ship a more sleek exterior appearance and allows more sunlight to fill the stern swimming pool area. This new design also gives the discos their own 125-foot balconies.
The Captain can marry passengers, whose friends and families ashore can witness the whole event on the Internet, via the ship's Webcam.
Sports activities include cyber golf, a mini-golf course, shuffleboard, a large deck chess set, a tennis court, a jogging track, a "swim against the current" lap pool, regular aerobics classes (some additonal charges may apply) a gymnasium and non-coed steam and sauna rooms.
When it comes to restaurants, the best service comes from choosing the traditional dining option where you get the same table and servers every night. The downside, of course, is that you give up flexibility. You are allowed to change your mind after you board the ship, so why not choose traditional when booking and see how you like your table and tablemates? If it isn't a love connection, switch to the personal choice dining. Other onboard service aspects; bar and cabin service, are universally exemplary.
A per-person per-day charge of $10 is added automatically to your stateroom account for dining and stateroom personnel. This applies to all passengers, including children, regardless of their dining choices. The amount may be increased or lowered at the Purser's Reception desk during the cruise.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
One of the Japanese built Princess mega-ships with five dining rooms and fun daily activities
Each of the four themed alternative restaurants aboard offers delectable choices. But because their ranges are constricted, it's a very good thing that their menus are supplemented by the International Dining Room's full menu, which changes each evening.
The cruise fare-included dining options and restaurant serving times are a bit confusing. Suffice it to say you select whether or not you want traditional or personal choice dining when you book your cruise. They will advise you where to go and at what times when you arrive at the ship. Yes, you can change your mind if you want - just consult with the Maitre' D.
Princess's special Champagne Breakfast includes a half-bottle of chilled champagne, a warm basket of homemade pastries, smoked salmon, a medley of fruits and berries, and Alaska King Crab quiche. It's served in-cabin, and costs $25 for two.
How not to love this: any passenger in any restaurant can request a special item from any of the others. And diners in the traditional restaurant can order from the menus of the specialty restaurants! So, if you and your dear spouse disagree about where to eat on any given night, you can still get that grilled steak from the Savoy.
The huge, handsomely decorated Horizon Court, on Lido Deck, serves as a 24-hour casual-dress alternative dining area. Instead of standing in a single buffet line, you move freely among the various stations. Breakfast here is better than in the dining room.
On the stern on Deck 6, the traditional, assigned-seating 518-seat International Dining Room is the ship's largest dining room -- and the hardest to find, look for the aft elevators or stairs and walk down as far as you can - there you will find the entrance.
Amidships, just aft of the atrium on the port side, the Asian-themed Pacific Moon features fresh sushi and a don-'t-miss sampler comprising pot sticker, dim sum, and spring roll. Next door, at the Southwestern-themed Santa Fe, fresh guacamole is prepared right before your eyes. One deck down, Vivaldi's serving staff wear Italian tricolore vests. Next door, the Savoy serves prime rib.
At Sabatini's, whose atmosphere is that of an Italian trattoria, you order only your main course. Everything else -- antipasti, shrimp, crab cakes, mussels, homemade pastas - is served as a sampler. The courses just keep coming to the point where you actually start to laugh each time the waiter arrives with yet another delectable tidbit. El momento del verdad (as the bullfighters say, "moment of truth") occurs when he asks what you would like for your main course. You're already full! By meal's end, you will wonder if you'll ever be able to move again.
A gourmand's dream come true, for a $20 surcharge. Forward of the Horizon Court, the newly rechristened Savoy has the same carnivore pleasing menu as the Sterling Steakhouses on the rest of the fleet, requires reservations, and charges a $15 cover.
The restaurants offer a good wine selection, from $20 to $50 per bottle. If you bring your own wine aboard you will be levied a $10 fee to remove the cork.
The production shows and guests entertainers on Princess have become somewhat predictable for cruise ship fare. Except to be mildly surprised at the quality but not feeling as if it was a show you will remember for the rest of your life.