Having cruised on both Royal Caribbean and Carnival, and having heard that Princess was the best cruise line on which to experience Alaska, we went on our 7-day cruise from Vancouver to Whittier with very high expectations. This is probably what led us to be pleased but not amazed by our Princess experience.
The ship itself - The Sapphire was much bigger than the RCCL ship I went on in 2000, but a good deal smaller than the Carnival ship I went on in 2005. The main issue was the fact that it took us a few days to figure out how to navigate the ship. There are a couple decks that are partly closed off, so there's a lot of up and down random sets of stairs if you need to get from one end of the ship to the other. Still, the decor wasn't completely out of date like some cruise ships, and it was always clean. I give it a 4 out of 5.
The room - I would rate our room a 3 out of 5. We had a giant balcony (bigger than that of ourfriends who were two decks above us), but the bed was hard as a rock and the room itself was very small--much smaller than our plain old oceanview room on the Carnival Valor in 2005.
The food - I would probably give the food on this cruise a 3.5 out of 5 rating. It was good--and definitely better than the food on our Carnival cruise--but not as good as the food on my Royal Caribbean cruise. Some meals were absolutely amazing, while others were just okay. We ordered room service for breakfast a couple of times and the only time it actually came when we requested and was good was the morning we cruised Glacier Bay and paid for the champagne breakfast on our balcony.
The spa - I had an amazing facial on the first day of the cruise; later in the week we had an average couples massage. We expected the high prices of the services; that's just the way it is when you're on a cruise. What I can't stand is how pushy they are with the products they try to sell you. There's no "no thank you" and moving on. They push and push and push until you're so frustrated that you no longer feel relaxed at all. Just a warning.
The ports/excursions - We went ziplining in Ketchikan and it was awesome. I've had friends that have gone ziplining in the Caribbean and talked about how they didn't feel very safe. I'm not sure if it was the tour company that we went through, or US regulations, but I felt completely safe the entire time and it was an amazing experience. I definitely suggest the Ketchikan ziplining tour to anyone.
We did one of the Princess-only tours in Juneau--the brewery, Mendenhall Glacier, cooking school one. I really enjoyed this tour, although honestly I think there is probably something else they could have done that would have been a bit more interesting than the cooking school. What was nice was that doing this tour still gave us time to shop in Juneau beforehand and make a stop at the Red Dog Saloon afterward, before we had to get back on the ship.
In Skagway we did the Yukon suspension bridge/Liarsville salmon bake tour. The drive/trip up into the Yukon and the suspension bridge itself left something to be desired, although I have to admit that it's neat to be able to say that I went to Yukon territory. The salmon bake was AMAZING, but in doing this particular tour we had to miss the night they served crab legs at dinner on the ship, which was disappointing. We also did the streetcar tour here in Skagway and that was definitely worth it and a lot of fun.
Glacier Bay was amazing, and again, I definitely suggest doing the champagne brunch on your balcony while the ship is cruising Glacier Bay. Unfortunately, it was very dim the day we went to College Fjord, and so late in the day by the time we got to the areas where there were glaciers, that there wasn't much to see.
Embarkation and Debarkation - It was quick and easy to get on the ship, as we had checked in online and were traveling with a handicapped passenger. Unfortunately, to get off the ship, we were all separated into different groups and they wouldn't change it for us. We were forced to get up ridiculously early, as we were boarding the train for a Princess tour, and then we just sat around for over an hour waiting to get off the ship. It was difficult to meet back up with the others in our party because they had separated us, and our handicapped passenger and his wife, who were elderly, were upset that we weren't allowed to be with or help them.
All in all, we certainly had a great time on our cruise, but some of the experiences (namely the size of the room, the food, and the spa and debarkation issues) left something to be desired. All in all, I would rate the Sapphire Princess and our cruise a 3.5 out of 5.
For my wife and I, this was our 28th cruise together, our fifth and sixth with this line (as Princess Cruises). Truly, it was an outstanding itinerary. The first 20 days, from Bangkok to Sydney, visited exotic Asian ports before cruising along Australia's northeast coast. It's a long way from home so we opted to continue on for 12 more days to six more ports, ending in Auckland.
Embarkation was reasonably quick but our pre-registry both on-line at during our pre-cruise hotel stay failed to avoid a line-up. The ship was late leaving because of a medical emergency. If the captain had maintained a speed two knots faster, he'd have made our first port, Koh Samui, on time; as it was, the late arrival threw shore-tour arrangements into disarray. Tendering ashore, we discovered, is not a Princess strong suit.
The Sapphire is too big to moor at some cruise terminals, so we'd be bused in from a container dock. The tour office insisted on assembling us in groups on board before anyone could proceed ashore; a bus-number sticker was required before assembly. This rampant bureaucracy delayed every tour but one of allthose we took in our 14 ports. I saw no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the shore excursion office had ever taken any of the tours they sold.
The ports, however, were fascinating, none more so than Vung Tau, the (far-away) gateway to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), which is a teeming place of seven million people and three million motorbikes. They're officially communists in Vietnam, though no one seems too worked up about it.
At our next stop came an incident which illustrated how the people who ran the ship dealt with the passengers. After leaving Kota Kinabalu, we anchored offshore and a fuel barge came alongside for much longer than seemed normal. A rumor swept the ship: we'd run aground and had fuel offloaded, then reloaded after floating free! The cruise director denied the tale and pooh-poohed any notion that we should be told what actually happened, so the rumor fed itself. Many days later, we found out the truth: bunkering was not allowed at the dock in that port, so the fuel barge came alongside; its flow rate -- 50 liters per minute instead of the expected 300 -- kept it in place for many more hours than had been planned. But tell us? Nope. Communication about arrival times from Bridge to passengers was generally non-existent. And the daily Princess Patter might as well have been written in Los Angeles for all the help it was. Still free of charge, though. A daily newspaper, absent one written on board, cost from $3.75 to $15.
The pattern continued: interesting ports on shore, myriad minor annoyances on board. And oh yes, the nickel-and-diming. Princess has turned squeezing every last dollar out of every last passenger into an art form. All the big lines do it to some degree; this one is by far the most egregious. Pay $3 for pizza delivered to your room, pay $5 for a rose, pay $25 for an 8x10 picture, pay 75 cents a minute for the Internet (plus another dollar for coffee in the Internet cafe), pay $3.50 a day for a soda card, pay up to 30 per cent more than the market rate for on-board currency exchange, pay for soft ice cream and freshly-squeezed orange juice on the Lido Deck. Never mind sky-high spa prices, very pricey shore tours and pushing sales of bottled water when we got it for free on every tour but one; one takes all that for granted, at least on this ship.
There were some strong positives. The Princess Theatre is, in my view, the best showroom afloat: technically first-class, great sight-lines, great chairs. But at 700 seats, it's small for a ship carrying 2,700 and more passengers. The Brian Harding Orchestra was the best we've heard on a cruise, and all but one of the lounge bands were excellent; also the string quartet. The guest entertainers -- comedians, jugglers, magicians, singers and the like -- were pleasant but second-rank. Not one lifted the audience from the seats. The Princess singer/dancers were very good (particularly, after I met her on a back-stage tour, the nice blonde one from South Africa).
We found the ship very clean, the cabin storage space very good, the service at the front desk pleasant and efficient. Disabled access is excellent in public areas: we saw several passengers happily moving about in electric scooters. Once we got our room steward working on our schedule and not his, he did a fine job. Breakfast room service was very punctual. The extra-cost Sterling Steakhouse was fine, though you paid $15 each for a meal that used to be served in the main dining room. The safety briefing and lifeboat drill was far and away the best we've been through: serious, informative and very thorough. And the line's website was easy to navigate and use.
Now the negatives, nickel-and-diming apart. The lounges were well-designed for selling and serving alcoholic drinks, but not well set up for daytime events. I don't drink alcohol and I got very tired of Diet Coke, there being no mocktail of the day or lemonade available. The only forward-facing view lounge is Skywalkers, the late-night disco all the way aft. It was barely used during the day, but made a very quiet spot to put your feet up and read. Standard cabins, despite excellent storage space and quiet cooling fans, had the smallest shower stall I've experienced at sea, with inadequate hand-holds.
The Horizon Court buffet on Deck 14 has too few seats and a very confused system of food selection which forces passengers to squeeze past each other to move through it. The food variety was poor and the quality mediocre. Bar service on this deck (and others as well) was slower than should be the case.
We opted for the second sitting of "Traditional Dining;" Despite excellent wait-staff at our table, we had trouble getting to the 10:15 shows on time in the first 20-day segment.
Our second segment, 12 days to Auckland, began in Sydney, the pier a medium walk from the opera house, a work of genius from any angle. What a joy it was to experience the port as 2,500 people rushed to get off and an equal number rushed to get on.
The mood changed. It was as if someone had read the Riot Act to the crew about the quality of service. The new cruise director, a solid pro, was a vast improvement over his predecessor. We always got to the shows on time. The shore-tour desk was no better organized, but the ports were interesting and the weather had cooled to a pleasant level.
On January 21, we docked in Auckland and Princess got us off the ship efficiently. We got home to find that readers of a distinguished travel magazine had ranked Sapphire Princess last among big ships; not exactly a surprise to us. Were I a shareholder I would be both pleased with the impressive generation of on-board revenue and concerned that the number of passengers turned off by nickel-and-diming will outnumber those attracted by even deeper fare discounts. We had a wonderful cruise, have planned another on a much smaller Princess ship, but won't recommend this line without very compelling reasons which trump the problems we encountered.
This was our first cruise, and we were not sure if we would like it, so we picked a fairly inexpensive Mexican Riviera trip. We bought the tickets only a month before the cruise and got a good deal â?" a balcony cabin was only a little more than an inside cabin. And since we live in the L.A. area there was no expenses for flights or hotels.
We absolutely loved it. And now we are spoiled with a balcony and won't even consider a room without one for future cruises.
Princess gave us the best service I have had anywhere. The steward was fantastic, the waiters exceptional, I can go on and on.
Here is one glitch: I did a lot of research on the internet beforehand and found that most people who had traditional seating raved about their dining experience, and most people who had "personal choice" dining complained about their experience. So, I was happy to get traditional late dining confirmed a few weeks before departure. Despite being confirmed, I discovered, after boarding, that I had "personal choice." I immediately complained to the concierge and they had it fixed byday two. For the first night they gave me a reservation. Despite the reservation, there was a long line we had to stand in before being seated. Once we had traditional dining we never had to stand in a line again, and we got fantastic service from our waiter who knew our every wish and whim.
Personal Choice dining is heavily promoted and sounds good on paper, but in practice it is a disaster. Princess should just realize that the whole thing was a mistake and do away with it. Apparently a lot of people agree, because there is always a wait list for traditional dining. Originally we took the late dining because that was all we could get, but it turned out that was for the best. Having late dining gave us plenty of time to shower and unwind from our shore excursions. We would feel a little hungry around 5pm, so we would either go to the afternoon tea, or slip into the buffet for some sweets (which we took to our room and ate on our balcony).
Our cabin was beautiful. We would sit on our balcony and watch whales while having breakfast or snacks. We are not very social, we are not the kind of people that hang around the pool, drink cocktails, and participate in activities, so it was good that we had a balcony. We spent most of our time there.
One other problem: We are non-smokers and are very sensitive to tobacco smoke. I only ran into tobacco smoke two places - the casino and our cabin. Smoke in the casino is expected so there is not problem, but I should not have had to deal with it in my cabin. The problem was that my neighbor was a chain smoker and would sit on his balcony and smoke one cigarette after another. The smoke would engulf my balcony, and since we are fresh air freaks, come into our cabin through our open sliding door. We first noticed it before the ship unmoored. We were very concerned. But, because the neighbor was directly aft of me, the smoke blew the other direction once we were underway. I would only notice it when there was a complete lack of wind, or we were in port. But it would be nice if Princess offered no smoking sections of cabins, where people can be assured of not having a problem like this.
As far as Mexico is concerned, I have never been impressed, and I continue to be so. The only port I really liked was Cabo San Lucas. Cabo was a true resort area and was beautiful. Puerta Vallarta and Mazatlan had some very nice areas, but both had horrid slums as well. And everywhere there were aggressive hawkers who just won't leave you alone. My next cruise will not be to a third world country.
Actually our favorite days were the "at sea" days, because the ship was so beautiful, our balcony view of the sea so breathtaking, and the fantastic service. It turns out I really love being at sea. Going south, the seas were calm, I could barely tell we were moving, returning north the sea was rougher and there was some definite movement, but I couldn't imagine it bothering anyone, but I suppose it did. The weather was very cool north of Cabo and very warm south of Cabo. We kept our balcony door open most of the time, day and night (except when there was too much smoke out there). North of Cabo we would wear sweat shirts and enjoy the cool sea breeze.
Over all I give Princess very high marks, but not a perfect score, because of the dining and smoking problems.
Positive notes: The staff was plentiful and extremely nice, our steward Noel was fantastic - always quick and hardworking to please us with anything that we needed, many of the employees are from all over the world Romania, Philippines, Estonia, Australia etc, all of them young and very eager to help - perhaps this is a great opportunity for them.. The boat itself was very clean with an ample amount of room. The room service was very quick and responsive as well. The lotus spa masseuses were well worth the price of a full body massage. Our room - which became our sanctuary and safe haven and was probably the best move we made, with a large 8' x 8' patio with mini lounge chairs and a extra living room area really came in handy to eat room service food or play cards, although there were a few times were people look down into our patio and unless you looked up you wouldn't know they were there, but hey so what. - These positive notes are very similar to what other reviewers write about, and they are truthful. Negative notes(No holds barred): This is the information the other reviewers fail to mention, once the curtain is drawn and the truth is revealed. Again, this is the truth, from my cruising experience in my perspective. On first arrival we were excited after waiting for a few months with great expectations of having a great time. As soon as we left port our expectations and experience turned into misery and disgust- a maritime nightmare (in my opinion). If you ever had any concern of being sea sick on a large cruise ship and someone has said something to you in the effect of "Those boats are so big, you won't feel a thing!" - let me be the first one to tell you - thats Bullshit! The Sapphire Princess is one of the largest ships princess cruises has in their fleet - when we left LA this boat was rocking around like an Alaskan crab fishing boat and it lasted until the second night - there wasn't any storm or rain - just some semi-rough waters. The wobble was insane!! trying to walk down the hallways and stairs was difficult, at one point I saw an elderly people holding on for dear life to mounted furniture and walls trying to make their way around. My friend and I are avid weight lifters and gym enthusiast - we spend at least 4-5 days a week at the gym doing cardiovascular exercise and weights and moving around on the boat was somewhat challenging. Fortunately I was wearing the patch - which probably prevented me from throwing up and turning green - but the patch doesn't stop the boat from moving and making you feel agitated (read my motion sickness test below). We attempted to muscle through it and eat some food in the Pacific Moon dining room, where we believed we can get sushi... When we got there a table for 2 is about 10 inches away from another table for 2.. so basically we were sitting shoulder to shoulder to complete strangers - in this case it was a couple in their 60's and we all probably felt awkward. When the waiter handed us the menu, the rocking was so bad, I couldn't even concentrate enough to read the menu...AND they didn't have sushi!!!! So we bailed out of there and retreated to our room to contend with this rocking motion and order room service. This was our first and last attempt to eat at one of the 4 dining rooms. The whole setup for 2 is ridiculous for anyone to enjoy a meal. The dining rooms were very stale and cold, with little to no atmosphere. That night my friend and I could not fall asleep until about 2-3 in the morning... the motion felt like it was pushing me out of my bed.. it wasn't until complete exhaustion that we were able to fall asleep. Room + Room service food: The room service food was petite - all the sandwiches which appear to be healthy are very minimal in meat (just one slice) and heavy in mayo. The french fries were ALWAYS cold. The best meal (not healthiest) is the Cheeseburger, If you decide to get some deli sandwiches go ahead and double up on them order 2 for each person, pull the sandwiches apart and put the contents into one - and make sure you lie to room service and tell them its for more people- based on how many orders you place. Wipe off all the excess mayo! if you have any respect for your body. The room we had was towards the backside of the boat, I would recommend to anyone to try and get a room towards the middle or the front of the boat because you wont feel the vibration of the engine as much, its a very consistent vibration, you can feel it all over it will wear you down. Entertainment: Amateur night at best, there was one band of black (African-American,P.C.) performers who played reggae, they were probably the best - the funny thing is that they played the same set of songs somewhere different each night. We popped our heads in the theater one night to see a lady singing to a crowd of grey hairs - very amateur again - as expected. It reminded of me the times I would visit my now diseased grandmother in her old age home when they would bring in some singer on a karaoke box. Oh and the Art Auction - A complete racket, those prints aren't worth jack (I am an artist, I know my shit) the auctioneer is quite an interesting guy, we caught him the first couple nights hanging out in the casino getting drunk and running his mouth, We found him to be entertaining in a most annoying way. Hardly anybody was biding on the paintings, its a scam. The original paintings had no aesthetic value whatsoever. The casino is great fun, play small, make it last and get your buzz on. I had one old man get pissed at me because I didn't play blackjack in order to benefit him - old angry man. Motion Sickness?: This is any first timers! Do you think you can handle it? Well, for me I am very sensitive to motion and if it weren't for the false belief that large boats are stable and that the boats stabilizers ensure a smooth ride I would have never stepped onboard. So here is my test, you should take before you drop $600 to $1000 or more on a 7 day cruise. Get a friend of yours to drive you up and down a very curvy, rough, poorly paved winding road - preferably in a car that has bad suspension. While driving, keep your head down or turn facing backwards so you cannot see the road ahead, try to read a book or do some kind of activity like a board game. If this does not make you feel sick...than you are a good candidate for going on a cruise. If this test makes you want to vomit than you are not a good candidate for a cruise...by booking that cruise you are rolling the dice on the quality of time you will have. Once your onboard, you cant just decide to call it quits and go home - your trapped. The doctor prescribed patch only prevents you from vomiting and tossing your lunch - you will still feel the motion even when you walk on solid ground the ship stays with you. I used the patch and the side effects were quite apparent - starting with a cotton dry mouth- you will be need to be sipping plenty of water, and you will wake up several times throughout the night reaching for a glass of water to relieve your dry throat - not fun if you enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, usually when I drank a beer I needed a glass of water as a chaser . Also - you will become farsighted - in other words you cannot read anything closer than a foot away from your face - very scary. I took the patch off a week ago and I still cant read things up close, my doctor has assured me that its the medicine running around in my body. If you still decide to go for a cruise unsure of yourself, don't get an interior room, if that boat gets a rockin' believe me that patio will be worth it! The people on board: Most of the people on board were in the 40-80 age range, mostly couples. There was no shortage of Blue hairs and Pot bellies. I am sure most of these people are good well-to-do people. Most of them move very slowly as expected. You may find yourself stuck behind a stutter stepping elderly person with poor peripheral vision.. try to move past them on the right with no luck ...maybe slide past the left - forget about it. They cant see you or hear you even if your breathing down their neck. The best thing to do is just get in line right behind them and if your lucky to live that long than you will know what your in for. One of the most disturbing things on board the majestic and prestigious Sapphire Princess was the various assortment of disgustingly morbidly obese people who have signed up for a week long session of debauchery. Imagine your in one the elevators headed to level 14 starting at level 5... on your way up the elevator the door opens at level 7 and in enters a couple who combined probably weigh in at 700 pounds... FUN! . If you want to enjoy the boat on the top levels away from the swine, vermin and kids go to the top back - where there aren't greasy pizza stations, Ice cream stations and random food festivities... thats where you might find an hour or two of peace. Besides that in general I found for my me and my age group (25-35) the cruising as a form of vacation rather poor, the feeling of being trapped on boat really weighed in towards the end when you are anxiously counting down the hours that you can get the hell off! I say pick Puerto Vallarta for a whole week, if you want to stuff your guts (all you gluttons) there are plenty of hotels that have all inclusive meals, just like a boat. Being on land gives you more options and freedom. In the end we both felt that we needed to "Escape Completely" from the cruise experience, I was hoping to come back to work feeling refreshed, instead I am still yearning for that truly relaxing vacation. First Time/Last Time! good luck... if you have any questions feel free to hit me email@example.com
Overview – This was our ninth cruise with Princess in eight years, and our second Pacific Coastal Cruise, as we did a northern bound coastal cruise in 2002. I hate to have to say this, but we have found the over-all quality decreasing over the last five years, and we keep on booking our next cruise with Princess, in hopes that maybe the cruise we just were on was an anomaly, but in reality, the over-all quality has decreased, and it is unlikely that we will book with Princess for our next cruise, and will look at other cruise lines. I would like to note that the Senior and Executive Staff on board ship are extremely nice and professional, and the passengers were friendly and help make the cruise enjoyable. We met a young couple from Alberta, and it was nice to see familiar faces when out on excursions and to have other people to talk to.
Embarkation – Princess used to have "Priority Embarkation" services for Platinum Card Holders, but along with other "Premiums" for Platinum Card Holders that they have eliminated, this too appears to have been eliminated. The Embarkationwas about as smooth as your typical Airport Check In Process, with a lack of agents to assist you and the ones that were there, appeared to have little or no previous experience. Luckily, the lines were not extremely long, and after lugging our baggage (No Handlers Available) we made it through check in and onto the ship. Note: Princess used to send you a Blue Plastic Envelope with a Cruise Coupon Book, along with all your paperwork that took the guess work out of getting checked in. Now they have opted for "E Tickets" and the Internet for form processing which made the overall process confusing.
State Room – We had a Balcony on the Aloha Deck (Deck 12) as we always opt for a Balcony or Mini-Suite. The room was dirty and we spent the first few hours using the towels to wipe everything down, as it was obvious that it was not cleaned prior to our boarding. Getting a good Steward will make or break your experience aboard a cruise ship, and unfortunately, we got the absolute worst steward we have ever had. My Wife has a bad back due to a recent Auto Accident, and we had requested three months in advance, via Fax, E-Mail, Postal Mail and The Internet the need to have the Egg Crate Mattress Pad on our bed, along with extra "Down" Pillows and Robes in our State Room. Although all of this was clearly identified in our Pre-Cruise Check List Summary, the Steward and his Manager were oblivious to these requests, and promptly told us they had none available and there was nothing they were going to do to rectify the situation or honor our requests. In addition to our check in issues, our Steward failed daily to fill our Ice Bucket, failed to leave fresh towels, and failed to leave the cards used to request breakfast or fruit. So, we were constantly calling room service for these items which should have been provided as part of the daily service. Additionally, we had two days where the Steward just failed to clean our room at all; even though we used the Service Card when-ever we left our room. We never did receive towels for the pool, which should have been in our room from day one.
Cruise Staff – I have to say the Medical Staff were the best we have ever had. The Doctor was very friendly and professional, and even had a sense of humor. The rest of the Medical Staff were courteous and prompt, along with the Senior Staff that we encountered in the Boutiques and Shops, and at The Customer Service Desk (Purser Desk). The Staff in the restaurants and bars were a different story, and the quality of the talent that Princess hires now has declined dramatically from the first four or five cruises that we had sailed with them. Quite a few now do not even speak English, which made it a challenge to try to have a conversation with them, if you elect to try to do more than order something off of a menu.
The Food –
Dinner – After Eight years of cruising with Princess, they still have the same Menu, and have not changed anything with the exception of reducing down to one small lobster tail from the previous two they used to have, on the night they do server lobster. The Prime Rib was tough and dry, the King Crab was an oxymoron as the pieces were extremely small and you ended up with a plate full of knuckles and only one or two small legs and no claws.
The Horizon Court Buffet – The quality here has gone down quite a bit as well, and what is served here is the leftovers from the previous night, and the overall taste and texture are bland, tough and over-cooked. Breakfast was about the only thing edible, but seating was always a challenge as the place is always packed with no available tables.
Note: Princess only serves Coffee, Milk, Orange Juice, Iced Tea or Tap Water with their meals, as any Soda Fountain Product or other Juices come with a premium price. We had to pay $1.75 for a glass of Grapefruit Juice, and $3.00 for a bottle of water.
Entertainment – On board day time activities are extremely limited, and include such activities as Bingo, Shuffleboard, Afternoon Tea, Ceramics, and a daily movie. Princess really needs to work on getting better activities arranged, especially for the days spent at Sea, as there are just really no activities to keep close to three thousand people entertained. The Nightly activities include a Comedian, the Princess Stage shows presented by the Princess Dancers, and of course, Lounge Bands at the various bars on board ship. The quality of the Stage Shows was poor, as the cast are very amateurish, and the singers were better on earlier cruises that we have been on.
The Cruise Itself – The "First Stop" was changed from it's original destination to a small town on Victoria Island called, Nanaimo. We opted to not do a Cruise Tour here, and ended up staying on ship due to wet weather, and the need to Tender ashore. The "Second Stop" was to be at Victoria, and this was one of the reasons why we booked this cruise, so we could see Butchart Gardens. Unfortunately, although two other ships were docking at Victoria, our Captain opted to not dock there, due to potential bad weather that was to move in by that afternoon. Instead, we stayed anchored in the harbor for the morning and then departed "slowly" to our next destination of San Francisco. On our previous Coastal Cruise in 2002, we were unable to stop at Monterey due to choppy seas, so the Captain continued on and got us to San Francisco a day early in order for us to have two days there. On this cruise, this was not the case, and we just cruised slower to arrive in San Francisco on schedule.
After two days at sea, our "Third Stop" was in San Francisco, and what should have been one of the longest port days, was actually the day that we had to leave the earliest, as we had to set sail at four. There is just so much to do here that it did not do the city justice to have everyone back on board by three-thirty in the afternoon. The "Fourth Stop" was at Catalina Island, and here, the ship did not depart until Seven, which is just way too much time to spend on this Island, as it is limited to trinket shops and bars. The "Fifth Stop" was in San Diego, and luckily, we did have a full day here, as we did not set sail until six in the evening. Unfortunately, as this was also the last day before we had to disembark the following morning, the evening was spent packing and getting ready for the next morning.
Disembarking – We had a flight at 9:45 so we opted to carry our own luggage off and had a Gangway Pass that allowed us to leave the ship as soon as it docked at Los Angeles at 07:30. Unfortunately, although we were in line at 07:00, we stood in line until they finally allowed passengers off at 08:00. By this time, it was complete chaos and with no staff to help keep people in line, it was a mad exodus for the gangway as soon as they lifted the gate, with people who had been hanging out in the various lounges and bars streaming past the people who had been waiting patiently in line for the past hour.
Final Notes – Princess automatically adds on to your bill, $10.50 a day per person Gratuity Fee, that is in addition to an 18% gratuity that is already added on to any drinks or services that are purchased. This I feel should be something that is totally optional, and on their earlier cruises, they gave you envelopes to tip your Steward and / or your Waiter and Staff. Princess used to award repeat cruisers with a Status of Gold, Platinum and Elite, which gave you additional benefits, which included, Priority Embarkation, a Dedicated Lounge for Disembarkation with Breakfast, and Free Internet Service. These services appear to no longer exist, although they do offset your Internet Usage for the first $75, which helps, but due to slow internet service, it is really very easy to burn through $75 of Internet Service.
Photos – Princess prints every single photo taken, and throws away thousands of prints per sailing. Would it not make more sense to lower their price from $25 for an 8x10 to something more reasonable, and not print off all pictures?
While we have sailed many times, this was our first sailing on the Sapphire Princess and sailing out of Whittier. May we suggest that if you are sailing our of Whittier you fly to Anchorage a few days earlier and enjoy some of Alaska. In the past we have flown into Anchorage and taken a cruise ship out of Seward. Traveling from Anchorage to Whittier will be a great experience. You have several choices on how to get from point A to point B. You can prepay the cruise line for ground transportation and that is not bad as your luggage will be taken care of. There is a train that can be used to get to Whittier or you can pay for taxi, bus or limousine service. Instead of all of these we opted for a rental car. A word of caution -- plan way ahead as there is only one rental car company at this time (Avis) that permits a one way drop from Anchorage to Whittier.
The cost of bus or limousine service is approximately $50 per person. For approximately $250 (plus gas) you can rent avan in Anchorage and drop it off in Whittier. The drive from Anchorage to Whittier is one of the most scenic and most interesting you will find in Alaska. You travel along the coast right next to the ocean. Along the way stop occasionally to see fish being caught by dozens of fishermen and observe the eagles flying in and out of their nest. Don't forget to leave the camera out of your travel bag.
A few miles south of Anchorage there is a roadside park. Take a break and take a look at the old snow blower engine sitting in the park. It's difficult to find one of these in operation in Florida or California!!!
The trip is approximately 60 miles and you will turn off the main highway after about 50 miles and head toward Whittier. Just before the tunnel there is a National Park and information building. It is very nice so take about an hour for a rest break and take in all the info center has to offer. There will be glacier bits floating in the water behind the information center.
Back into your rented vehicle (can't do all this if you are on the bus) and head for Whittier. This was be one of the most interesting few miles you have ever taken. We have traveled extensively throughout Switzerland by car and this segment tops even those road trips.
You will be stopped at the entrance of the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a 2-1/2 mile long tunnel that will exit at Whittier. There was a $12 toll fee. Turn your lights on and maintain the required distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. You will literally ride the railroad tracks for 2-1/2 miles. The flow of traffic is reversed every thirty minutes and occasionally car traffic stopped so that a train can travel on the tracks. Don't worry all this is carefully controlled so you don't meet a train in the middle of the tunnel.
When traveling through the tunnel forget using your cell phone and if you are the driver just concentrate on staying on the tracks. The speed of our "caravan" was quite brisk. We exited on the Whittier side and presto there was Whittier. Our first business was to turn our rental car in. The cruise line had a tent set up close to the ship where you could drop your baggage. (TIP: have all your baggage tags completed and drop your baggage and go as there are others waiting).
After dropping the baggage off we headed for the Avis drop off, a small hardware store. All the person wants is your keys, the level of the gas and your contract. They will complete the information and mail you a receipt in about two weeks. This is a no nonsense drop off so don't plan on staying around and talking the morning away.
The town is only 60 miles from Anchorage and you will immediately notice the beauty of Prince William Sound. The Sound is made up of numerous deep fjords with tidewater glaciers that calve right before your eyes. Whittier is also surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. In Whittier there is day cruising, fishing charters, kayak tours and in the winter time many winter activities including cross country skiing and snowmobiling. Thus if you have an early arrival for a late sailing ship you have plenty of time to engage in one of the above activities. You will immediately notice two very large buildings in Whittier. One is now vacant. This area was a secret military base during World War II. One of the buildings is now occupied by local residents and reportedly almost all the town's population now lives in that one building. The port remained an active military installation until 1960. At that time the town had just over 1000 residents. The town was eventually incorporated in 1969.
The brochures tell about a lot of good dining in Whittier. It was time for lunch when it started pouring rain so we decided to head for the ship instead of lunch. Below is a picture of one of the restaurants that was closed when we were there. Looks like a great business venture if you want to relocate to Whittier.
The Sapphire Princess is one of the mega ships in the Princess fleet. Put in service in May 2004, it is capable of carrying 3100 passengers. Our cruise was not totally full however the number onboard was plenty by any standards. A ship 14 years old just has to show some wear and tear, however the crew continues to do a very good job and the public areas as well as the cabins were in good shape and clean.
We have sailed on the Diamond and Grand which are almost identical to the Sapphire. There is also the Golden and the Star which are comparable. This is a large ship that takes a little time to get used to. Public areas are too small for the number of passengers. For example there is a theater that seats less than a thousand yet there could be as many as 3300 on board. Seating for two shows is always a problem. It is not possible to have a single Captain's Reception thus there will be more than one. The common space just isn't there. The ship's designers have foregone the high ceiling two story spiral stair type dining rooms for a more traditional on shore type look for the International Dining seating. Even the other restaurants where you have anytime dining look more like a nice on shore restaurant. Having said this let's look at the rest of the ship.
Dining Got to get this one first since this seems to be the main topic of discussion about one's cruises. We opted for the traditional second seating dining and that was a mistake. We were seated at a table for 6 in a dark corner. Service was poor and we were close to everything you did not want to be close to. Serving stand, dirty dishes, waiters walking back and forth with other table's meals, etc. Dining with the traditional dining service just wasn't what we had in the past.
We tried to get Anytime Dining and found out that the staff does not like to see changes made after you are onboard. However we used Anytime Dining the second night. By getting there early the next four nights we had Anytime Dining in the Santa Fe. It was nice and we all enjoyed some very good dinners.
Breakfast was always in the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck, which leads us to that dining area. There are 11 serving areas in the Horizon Court on the Port side and 11 serving areas on the Starboard Side. This no doubt presents a real problem for many passengers as they just stand and stare at the food. I don't know how many times we witnessed a passenger using the tongs to pick at a particular strawberry only to lay that one down and pick up another. With so many choices it appears some of them just can't make a decision.
The dining in the Horizon Court, which we usually ate breakfast and lunch at, was actually very good. Nothing much has been changed from previous cruises. This is not 5 star restaurant food, however it is good food. You can usually get your food very quickly however finding a place to sit may be difficult. Seems like some passengers tend to hibernate at a table from morning to dark. Some were talking while others were playing cards. Did not matter, as there were many other places on the ship where this could have taken place. You can take your food out to the aft deck, however in Alaska this is sometimes a little cold and windy. There is also the swimming pool areas on the same deck and there were usually several tables available.
Ice Cream There is an ice cream bar on the ship where you can purchase -- yes I said purchase -- sundaes and cones. The prices are in line with those you will pay back home at a similar ice cream store. TIP: There is free ice cream between 3 and 4PM on the Lido Deck and you can add toppings for a sundae. We found a lot of people apparently did not know about this, thus we never found any real long lines. The time period also had a lot to do with this, as days we were at a port a lot of the passengers were still on tours.
Movies There is no dedicated theater on this ship however you can still watch movies. The listing will be in your daily guide. Movies are shown in the large entertainment theater, in the Explorer's Lounge and on your cabin TV. Some showings included current films. We missed the outdoor movies under the stars and the popcorn we have had on other Princess mega ships.
Atrium The ship has a beautiful atrium in the center of the ship that extends up through several of the decks. Surrounding the open center are shops, with perfume, clothes items, etc., souvenir store, purser's desk, tour desk, a store with small drug and candy items. Usually the staff sets up tables on the perimeter where they sell items usually related to the port that is next or the port the ship has just left.
Photos The area around the photo sales area was always crowded. The staff will literally make thousands of photos as they seem to be everywhere. Formal night is especially a challenge as the photo crews will actually block several passage areas to set up their cameras. The candid photos are made using a digital camera from which they print a mass production snapshot. They sell these from formal night shootings as "portraits." Trust me, these are far from being professional portraits. If you must have a snapshot, then spend the $25, however a better option is to have your own digital camera, make several photos and print them on your computer when you return home.
Drink Cards The first day aboard you will be asked (sometimes many times) to purchase an all you can drink soft drink card. They are about $60. If you drink several cokes each day this is a real deal. That's about $9 worth of cokes each day, however at bar prices that may not be all that many. They also sell a coffee card for gourmet coffee such as cappuccinos. I purchased one for $30 and only used it eight times thus my coffee was rather expensive. On a longer than seven day cruise I would have easily used the entire card. I did get a souvenir cup out of the deal though.
Specialty Dining There are a couple of restaurants where you can get specialty dining with special entrees. They are the Sterling Steakhouse and the Sabatini's Trattoria dining room. On this trip we did not eat at either. We really don't like to pay the extra charge associated with this type dining although we must admit we have done it in the past. The restaurants were never full on any evening.
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers Oh yes, there is a place on the ship where you can dine on hamburgers and hot dogs, plus there is pizza available. This is at the end of the pool area. They cook your burger to order while you wait.
Internet One of the nicest internet rooms of any ship we have sailed. There is also a coffee bar in the room. Space was always available on this cruise and the internet connections were excellent. Probably because we were always close to land, either Canada or the United Sates. The staff was very pleasant and helpful. Cost is about the same as on other ships. In our case $100 for 250 minutes. TIP: Sign up the first day aboard and they may give you some additional free minutes. TIP: If you encounter problems with the internet, such as getting several disconnects, etc., ask the attendant to make an adjustment or add the lost minutes. We found them to be accommodating.
Computer at Sea School Don't know how to work with Adobe Photoshop? Then take a couple of classes aboard ship. The classes were almost like having your own personal instructor. Even though I know some about Photoshop and my granddaughter knows a lot, we still took the classes and found them to be well worth the $25 per class. Take three classes and the fourth is free. They give you easy to read handouts and you can also download them from the Princess site when you return home.
Casino This ship is reported to have one of the largest casinos on the seas. There are more than 250 slot machines, including penny machines, two roulette tables, craps tables and blackjack. We found the casino being very well used throughout the cruise.
Art Auction I am still amazed that people go on cruises to attend art auctions and unless I am being conned, there are people actually buying some of the "art." After attending for three days I found the same people attending day after day. If this is your thing go for it, I would not know what I was buying or what it was worth. The auction is held in the Explorer's Lounge.
Golf There is a neat golf putting area on the top deck. The wind and cold will just add to the challenge. We never found more than two or three people on the course partly because it was difficult to find. Take a break from the auctions and bars and go outdoors to the putting area.
Wedding Chapel There is a very nice small wedding chapel on this ship. The door remained locked every time we were in that area however I would imagine it may be used on longer cruises.
Hospital/Sick Bay As is on many new ships, there is a nice looking medical facility. Since we did not have to use the facility (we have on other sister ships) we really can't review the service. On other Princess ships where we have used the service we found professional, courteous personnel and very clean facilities. Expect to pay in full before you leave as they don't accept insurance. You can file a claim against your health care provider when you return home, so be sure and get a detailed receipt of the procedure you used.
Hair Salon My spouse is always a customer whether the cruise is 30 day or 7 days and this cruise was no exception. The service is always good and the prices are always high. Also expect to provide the person with a hefty tip as tips are not added to the bill.
Fitness Center The fitness center is really excellent with lots of the very latest equipment which was in very good condition. We have been on ships where the equipment has been neglected. At times the area was crowded and you have to put your name on a time schedule.
Library There is a very nice library on the ship and it also contains several internet stations. In the same area there is a writing room which is equally nice. Both places are good areas to read a book and just take life easy.
Swimming Pools and Spas They are all over the ship. Some are crowded while others remain mostly empty. Look for the ones where kids are not allowed, otherwise some of the younger kids will run wild around the area with parents nowhere to be found. On this cruise there were plenty of lounge chairs around all the pools.
Children's Area There is a special part of the ship set aside for children of all ages. We had a teenager that went a few times but for the most part opted to stay with the adults. There are games including high tech games in the children's area. When we passed by we always saw the area being adequately supervised by ship's staff.
Outside Basketball & Tennis Court A very nice area that we saw being used quite often. Located on the front of the ship on a top deck.
Shore Tours In the past we booked some of our shore tours on the internet before the cruise. On this trip we did not book one tour until we arrived on board. The tours were plentiful. We had also traveled to Alaska many times thus many sights we had seen on our own. In every port there were several large ships and the crowds on the streets were just more than we cared to handle. We will probably take earlier or later cruises to Alaska in the future in order to avoid the really large crowds on shore. This time though we did take a train out of Skagway. It was very good though a little expensive. In previous shore trips we try to go on our own. Usually we rent a car along with another couple and head for non-tourist sites. We find the cost to be much lower, the freedom to do what you want and seeing sights where tourists don't generally go.
Theater & Entertainment The theater does not adequately seat the number of passengers that want to attend each show. Thus you must arrive very early to get a seat. We found that 45 minutes before the show the theater started filling so we usually arrived about 45 minutes before the show. The shows presented by the entertainers on board were rather good IF you overlook all the errors and mistakes. Just take those with a "grain of salt" and look at the lighting, special effects and costumes. They are really very good -- not Broadway -- but think about it, you are not paying an extra dime for the entertainment. Individual performers in the theater were on a scale of excellent to extremely poor. On the one night where the entertainer was very poor the theater was no more that 60% full. A lot of folks knew something that we did not know.
Arcade Really nice electronic arcade located close to the casino. Lots of nice new machines in the room however we never found anyone using them. If this keeps up that room will someday disappear.
Cabins Our cabin was an outside room on the Emerald Deck. Clean and the cabin steward maintained it that way throughout the cruise. The bed was excellent, bathroom always stocked with supplies and in general we were well pleased with the room. We did not have room service during this short cruise -- we were just too busy. Fresh fruit was brought to our room each day we requested. Just leave the request on the door the evening before. We did not use the laundry service on this cruise however we did use the washer and dryer on our deck. The place was clean and all machines worked. Even the coin machines were in working order. Each evening the ship's paper was delivered to our room and a mint placed on each pillow. We were able to control our temperature in the room exactly as we desired. The TV set was in first class working order. Ice was left in our refrigerator each day and we got clean towels each day.
Dress We normally would not list this as a review section on a cruise however we feel this is becoming a major issue. We are savvy enough to realize that people are going to dress as they please. There were two formal nights on this seven day cruise, however I would challenge anyone to show me which of the nights were those formal nights. At dinner there were many people that came with t-shirts, sport shirts and a form of shorts. Some people appeared to be wearing what they had worn on shore tour rafting. Tennis shoes were all over the place. A very small percentage of passengers were actually in formal clothes. We went to the last entertainment and noticed even some of those returned to their cabin after dinner and changed into sport clothes. Formal night dress meant very little for a great percentage of the travelers on this cruise.
Embarkation We boarded at Whittier and the embarkation was easy, efficient and fast. We arrived at a time when few passengers were arriving (1:00PM). The ship had a departure time of 9:00PM. The staff was most helpful and friendly. We could not have asked for a better experience.
Disembarkation We purchased bus tickets from the ship to Vancouver Airport and that was a great move. We left our luggage outside the door the evening before, and saw it next at the baggage area at the airport. We were among the first to leave the ship and among the first to arrive at the airport. The cost was only $25 per person. We highly recommend this.
We have traveled enough on cruise ships to know that a lot of factors will influence one's perception of the cruise. The observations we post are those of our own and we respect the differences others may have experienced aboard the same cruise. We had a great time and will cruise with Princess again. We trust this review will provide a little insight, especially for those who had not cruised on the Sapphire. Have a great trip.
This was a Princess Cruise, on the Sapphire, from Leam Chebang, Thailand to Sydney, Australia -- 20th December 2007 to 9th January 2008.
This is the first time I have attempted to write a cruise review and whilst it may sound a little harsh at times I have tried to be as honest and truthful as I can be. I am a 51 year old male from the UK and travelled with my wife and 2 sons ages 18 & 20 in 2 separate inside cabins on deck 10. This is approximately my tenth cruise. It was however my first cruise with Princess cruises.
Embarkation We had flown to Hong Kong where we stayed for a couple of enjoyable nights at the excellent Langhams before flying on to Bangkok, Thailand for a further three enjoyable nights at the wonderful Bangkok Hilton Millennium, booking our hotels independently from our cruise and flight itinerary. The first gripe I have is the luggage weight allowance. Princess Cruises booked these flights in the knowledge that you are embarking on a 20+ day cruise, including more than half a dozen formal and informal nights requiring suitable clothesto conform to their dress codes. My two suits and hard bodied suitcase weighed in at 15 kilos. That leaves me a further 5 kilos allowance to pack enough clothes, etc. to keep me suitably attired for the remaining 4 weeks. This is quite simply impossible and subsequently we had to pay several hundred additional dollars on both legs for excess luggage. Princess has the ability to increase the luggage allowance at the time of booking with the airline, however they chose not to, despite the fact that it would appear that non UK passengers don't seem to have this problem, yet UK passengers are paying up to 45% more than other non UK passengers (more on that later) and Princess is happy to supply flights to passengers not fit for purpose. We took a 3 hour taxi ride from Bangkok to Leam Chebang to embark the Sapphire Princess. The process was smooth and well organised and our excessive weighing baggage was at our cabin before we got there. We had been unable to book a better grade of cabin than inside and had been waitlisted since March 07. Despite further inquires at the customer services desk we were told the ship was full and we would have to stay in the cabins we had been allocated. The ship left that evening a little late due to a medical emergency.
The Cabin Or stateroom as they like to call it -- what can you say about an inside cabin? It was small but comfortable, the shower was extremely small and we were unable to shower properly due to the curtain constantly sticking to you during the process. The toilets in both cabins smelled of stale urine for the entire length of the cruise and despite several attempts by staff, they never managed to cure it. We had no tea or coffee making facilities, unlike most ships we had travelled on previously, and the TV programming was the worst I have encountered, around six channels of constant Princess Cruise infomercials, CNN out of sync for the whole cruise, BBC world and a few very old movies and poor quality programmes repeated constantly. Whilst I appreciate one doesn't go on a cruise to watch TV, there are occasions when due to illness, bad weather, etc. that there is little else left to do. Our cabin steward was called Marvin; I think we got off to a bad start as he seemed to take it as a personal insult when we pointed out the toilet smell problem. For the entire length of the cruise he was unhelpful, huffed and puffed whenever we were in the cabin and he wanted to enter it to clean, and he never ever greeted us with a good morning/afternoon unlike every other cabin steward onboard. Perhaps it was the time of year (Chistmas & New Year) and he was missing his family. I must say, however, that despite his persistent rudeness he did a very good job cleaning the cabin.
Dining We chose the Anytime Dining option as we didn't want to be tied down to a specific time. Now in theory this sounds like a great concept. You turn up to any one of the four designated restaurants anytime before 10pm, get shown to your table and enjoy your dinner. However this was not our experience on most occasions. I'm not sure if this was because the ship was full, but on at least 6 or 7 occasions we visited all 4 restaurants to be told there was nothing available from between 30mins to an hour. At this point you are given a bleeper which goes off when a table is available. Whilst this doesn't sound like a big deal you have to queue at each of the four restaurants before you are told there are no tables available, so in total the wait for the table on some evenings took up to 2 hours before we sat down to eat. And what was the solution to this problem that was suggested by the very helpful maitre 'd? Book a table at a specific time each evening to ensure you get seated! Well surely this defeats the whole concept of Anytime Dining and you may as well go back to set dinner sittings. The idea is great but seriously flawed.
The quality of the food and service was ok. The variety of the menu we felt was average. The best way I can describe this is when on a recent P&O cruise, after looking at the menu there was nearly always more than one dish we fancied. However on many occasions there was nothing we fancied on the menu. Not the best I have had and not a patch on P&O. Also, the lack of a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas Day was unforgivable. This ship caters exclusively to US passengers and despite the bulk of passengers on this cruise being Australian, British and Canadian they were simply not catered for. The service we received in the four restaurants was varied depending quite simply on who served you. Our general experience was the Philippine & Thai waiters were pleasant, helpful and efficient; however the eastern bloc waiters were in general quite surly and a gloom seemed to descend over the table during service. One in particular took 25 minutes to acknowledge we had sat down. Whilst I realize it is unfair to generalize, this was our experience.
We had the occasional breakfast in the buffet, however after the outbreak of norovirus during week one the buffet was no longer self service and the staff member had to serve you with everything including the coffee and tea. This led to long queues and we stopped eating there.
Room service was poor. The stateroom booklet suggests you should have to wait approximately 20 minutes for the food to be delivered. On more than one occasion we waited longer than 20 minutes just for them to answer the phone. When they eventually did, their understanding of the English language was limited and ultimately they got the order wrong. The quality of the food was poor and the waiters who delivered were generally rude if you did not tip them. On one occasion my wife ask the waiter to take a tray away with some used plates on it, and he snatched the tray and left. Half an hour later we left our cabin to find he had dumped the tray outside the cabin next door.
Entertainment I have to say that with a few exceptions the entertainment was very poor, especially as this was Christmas/New Years and 20 long days, so you would think that Princess would make an effort (push the boat out, so to speak). I have to admit that I don't like dancing & singing costume type shows, or should I say miming shows (backstage tour guy said they don't even sing) and therefore can't offer an opinion on these. The exceptions were Deep Blue, a 5 piece band from Trinidad who played in Club Fusion most nights and were very good. Also, The Sapphire Princess Orchestra were outstanding together, with the exceptional string quartet whose name escapes me. The pianist was ok together with Allan & Lodonna. Bernhard Reid, the comedy magician, was amusing and the Checkerboard Guy was good. However, most of the rest were quite simply appalling. Masquerade, a four piece band from Las Vegas, were the worst band I have ever had the misfortune to listen to. They quite simply could not sing or play their instruments properly. One day whilst playing by the pool, I witnessed them stop and restart the same song 3 times. The female singer forgot the words regularly and the guitarist regularly played the wrong notes and would stop playing mid song.
Ventriloquist Kenny Byrd was strictly for kids but was billed as suitable for adults. The two American comedians were past their sell by dates and fluffed their lines regularly. The hypnotist took 30 minutes to explain his very average show and 15 minutes to perform it. There were others who were instantly forgettable.
The daytime activities were nonexistent unless you include the following: Trivia Challenge, Card & Games Get Together, Pictionary & not forgetting the unforgettable Afternoon Trivia Challenge. On a sea day it could become quite tedious and boring and this would force you to attend things like the overpriced art auction or bingo just to pass the day, especially if the weather was not good. I went to the library once which is quite simply not big enough and only contained a very poor selection of a few hundred books when I looked. Just a note on the bingo, I have to say this does not appear to be good value for the money. They would regularly take receipts on ticket sales of several thousand dollars per bingo session, yet with the exception of the final day, would only give a few hundred dollars in prize money, and this should be looked into. I found the cruise director Sami likeable, approachable and professional in her job. Unfortunately the same could not be said for her English female colleagues. They didn't seem to grasp the concept of the microphone and would regularly wail and shout into the mouthpiece with their high pitched shrill and patronizing verbal diarrheah. This had to be endured on a daily basis. My final word on the entertainment is regarding New Years Eve, the main event was in the atrium, not an ideal place to find a seat or get a drink, yet this was deemed suitable for a New Years Eve party. The other option was the indoor pool on deck 14, where the heat was incredible at 90 degrees + and everyone in their formal dress. The problem with a pool party is the pool is in the way and there are very few chairs, no dance floor & it's too damned hot! However there was a great venue on the ship to have a New Years Eve party, Club Fusion, lots of seats, great bar, fantastic stage and lights, big dance floor, air conditioned. So what's the problem? They thought it would be a good idea to show a film there on New Years! Why?
I was really fed up at the pool party but ended up in the Skywalkers Disco, which was not very busy at all until about 1am, and I ended up having a fantastic night despite my moaning.
Destinations The main reason we picked this particular cruise was the great ports it visited. One thing we learned early on is that organised tours are a very poor value for the money and we always make our own way independently.
Our first port was Ko samui. This was by tender and very time consuming, a complete contrast to Bangkok and a nice place. However we had a bad tender experience returning to the ship. After queuing for a long time to return we boarded a local boat that was being used along with the Sapphire tenders. After reaching the ship we floated around in the sea a few hundred yards from the ship for about an hour for no apparent reason. When we eventually boarded the ship I asked the security guy why we had been bobbing about for over an hour on the sea. He said he was unable to tell me as the Thai crew spoke no English and no Princess crew were onboard. Surely this must be a serious safety issue? I have to say that because of the size of Sapphire Princess we had to tender the majority of ports. This was both time consuming and tedious, taking away almost half of your allotted time ashore on some occasions. Also when you did arrive ashore there would inevitably be a 45 minute shuttle bus ride to the nearest town and these would finish an hour before the last tender, reducing your time ashore even further. Call me cynical but when you are ashore you are not spending on the ship and that doesn't bode well with Princess.
Singapore was great as was Vietnam and Malaysia, different and interesting. We had a further 7 sea days separated by our first stop in Darwin, Australia on New Year's Day. Now I don't know about you, but I don't think this was the best bit of planning I have ever seen. I feel sure with a bit of thought we could have managed a sea day on the first hangover of the year, and just to add insult to injury a late start was out of the question as you had to be back onboard by 3pm. Darwin, for all intents and purposes, was closed. We then visited a further two great Austalian ports before we sailed majestically into Sydney harbour at 5.30am. We managed to get a great spec above the bridge and it is an occasion that I won't ever forget, bringing this cruise to a memorable and fitting conclusion.
Conclusion Despite what you may think, we had a really great time on this cruise. However, we could have had an even better time given a few changes by Princess. There is no doubt that this is a magnificent ship. However, I do feel that Princess has gone too far to get more and more dollars out of you. In addition I have never queued so much in my life for almost everything. I think it's disgraceful that they charge your onboard account with a "Discretionary" $11 dollars per day per person (almost an additional $1000 with 2 kids in tow). You should cancel this as soon as you board and tip as you see fit, and not allow this to be used as a subsidy to Princess' disgraceful pay structure, together with the additional charges to get a decent meal, charges for coffee, and ice cream, constant cameras in your face revenue raising, a further 15% on drinks, the outrageous charges made by the spa & the grossly inefficient and overpriced internet connections.
But the thing that annoys me the most is the grossly unfair practice that dependent on your country of origin will depend on how much you pay for your cruise. We paid $25,000 for 2 inside cabins and flights, not including hotels. We came across Australians, Canadians and Americans who paid on average 40% less than we did. This cannot be right and leaves a bad taste in the mouth and smacks of sharp practice. This should be stopped.
Finally there is the 21 rule. This ship is registered in Hamilton and flies under the British Ensign. Princess targets the British market where we can drink alcohol at 18. It does not sail from the USA and is not required by law to have an age 21 rule, so why? P&O and Cunard both have an 18 rule. So, why am I bothered? Because this rule is unnecessary and unreasonable. Surely if the Americans don't want their children to drink alcohol then they can stop them. Don't enforce it on others who can drink sensibly. This stupid rule effectively ruined my 20 year old son's holiday.
What attracted us most about this cruise was the itinerary, ten ports in the Far East. Overall the cruise allowed us to sample these ten ports and if that is what you want you may find this cruise a good choice.
The ship is new and clean, however, the gym equipment is either recycled or low quality compared with older ships I have been on. The atrium area is smaller than most cruise ships of the same size or larger – apparently they made the atrium smaller to add additional cabins, and unfortunate choice.
The food was generally good, for example deserts weren't just puffs of cream which we've seen on several ships. However, there were no fresh berries at breakfasts and the selections often weren't as wide as on other cruises. We choose open seating which is nice in that you can go to one of three restaurants at the time of your choosing. However, since your server is not working for a tip service was slow and poor on many occasions – you could wait 15 minutes for a menu, for example, men were served before women, items were forgotten,and smiles were few and far between. Apparently with open seating you also loose specials found on most cruises such as fresh pasta options, cherries jubilee, crepe Suzettes, and baked Alaska.
However, there were a number of issues that made the cruise less than desirable:
To embark onto the ship we were dropped off in an open parking lot where we spent nearly 1.5 hours in near freezing temperatures (34 degrees F). During the process a group called Vantage tried to move 50 of its people to the front of the line.
A few cautionary notes – bring your own sodas on board, the ships prices are excessive, be wary of the tour descriptions such as “complete overview” - in Pussan this meant two stops and a show (which was very good) and the travel between them.
The ship did not advise passengers to cover their mouths and turn away when coughing and sneezing, a problem that was most apparent in the eating areas such as the buffets. One result was a lot of Norovirus going around.
The onboard TV movies repeated day after day – you would think that a cruse line could afford to vary the fare from day to day over a 16 day cruise.
A few general complaints – most tours, which are more expensive than you could do on your own, took you to a factory or jewelry outlet where the prices were no real bargain. So if you are up to it, do your own touring and don't buy at the cruise recommended stores. Special onboard sales also proved not to be “deals” at all – for example, two digital cameras were offered with "not tax or duty". One of the cameras went for about $299 the other for about $450. I checked the internet at Pricegrabbers.com and Shopzilla.com and discovered the same cameras for about $140 and $250 respectively.
Finally, be careful how you book your cruise with Princess – despite Washington Post articles to the contrary, if you purchase a cruise at one price and the prices drop Princess will not reduce your price to match the lower prices. So buying early may cost you big time.
The Ship was late arriving, having experienced turbine engine problems - we were taken from the airport to a first class hotel, given 2 buffets and comfortable seating during our wait...which ended up being 7 hours. I was dissapointed that when we finally left the hotel, we were taken to the pier terminal only to wait another 2 hours along with 3000 other passengers.
When we finally boarded the first to greet us were the soda sales people - and within an hour of sailing after most of us had finally found a dining area to rest our weary bones and at last receive a wonderful dinner...we were told to muster. It was my understanding that the ships have 24 hours to conduct this drill so why they felt it necessary after passengers had already waited 9 hours to board, and had just sat down to dinner, I will never know. From then on the ship and the cruise were top notch and surpassed every expectation. I have sailed Princess, Royal and Disney, and Princess remains my favorite. My only suggestion to the Cruise line is...if there is a 9 hourdelay and weary, hungry passengers are scurrying about, consider offering free soda for the week and put the muster drill off for a few hours!