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Sapphire Princess
Princess Cruises: Cruise Review
May 2, 2009
"Swine Flu" Itinerary

Sapphire Princessby George Hall

As veteran cruisers who sail two or three times per year, you would think that we have seen more than our share of itinerary changes. Surprisingly enough we have not. On this cruise we were joining good friends from Texas and their family for our first sailing from the West Coast to the Mexican Rivera. This was payback for them having surprised us on a New York sailing a couple years back. Seemed fitting as we met on a cruise back in 1988 onboard the Carnival Celebration. We have been friends and cruise mates ever since. Joining in with us were our usual cruise partners now from NC again, who were met originally onboard a ship back in 1992 onboard the Celebrity Zenith. On that occasion they were onboard to be married in St. Thomas and after meeting it was decided we would stand up for them as they did so. We were quite sure that our showing up would be a surprise since I have always made it known I sail for the ships not the destination and see no reason to fly across the country to sail. Yes we always just go to the Caribbean for the most part, but hey we are warm. Something that would prove to be correct thinking after this sailing!

We flew into Long Beach Airport rather than LAX basically just because JetBlue flew into there from NY and we like JetBlue. Their new terminal at JFK is fantastic by the way as new things often are. Now LGB is a local airport, more so than I realized as I noted the stairs to exit being pushed up to the aircraft after we landed. Still I have no complaint; almost step off plane, short walk to baggage carousel outside the doors and covered by a canopy. Step across the street for shuttles and taxis. We had booked Super Shuttle, next time I will take a cab. Driver was haphazard both in driving and paying attention. He tried to drop us off at wrong hotel and almost got us T-boned getting from there to the correct hotel. Was only $33, but a cab at around $50 would be better option. Despite our driver we arrived alive and well at the DoubleTree hotel in San Pedro.

We were very happy with hotel where we met up with our fellow cruisers from NC, Tom and Laurie. Hotel was clean, best bed other than my own that I have slept in ever. Great restaurant on site which we thought reasonably priced. Lovely outside area for drinks, food, or just sitting overlooking large Marina. We were very happy with rooms, warm cookies on arrival, and staff were excellent. The ONLY con was that internet in room, ethernet connect, was a for-charge service, something like $12 for 24 hours. They do offer FREE wireless service in the lobby. This I don't get in today's age when even flop houses often offer free internet in room. Especially considering that a nights stay is not inexpensive. We paid, advanced non-refundable rate in area of $172. I would definitely stay there again no matter. Hotel is but a few minutes from the San Pedro cruise port (bear in mind there are TWO cruise ports in LA the other being Long Beach) and the DoubleTree provides a complimentary shuttle for that and for local areas.

The Sapphire Princess is a wonderful ship. We found her in good shape and manned with a wonderful staff. Since they had some sort of Coast Guard inspection that morning, embarking was delayed and, although getting through the desk sign in was quick (you do security checkpoint after being booked in usually other way around), the next thing we encountered was someone handing us a number 15. We found we were being boarded by number and they were calling number 4. None the less, it was organized and fairly quick. Our problem was avoiding our friends who, having booked two Penthouse Suites, had priority boarding. Fortunately, their two daughters and son in law traveling with them were aware of our surprise and we kept in constant touch texting (I hate doing that) so we avoided them by ducking into a corner at the proper time. I will leave it that the surprise went well.

Well, we already knew that our itinerary had been changed due to the CDC warning about going to Mexico. The cruise before us had been diverted and probably had a worse time accepting the sudden change. We boarded knowing that we were sailing to San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco, with the required Passengers Services Act stop of Ensenada. We were also aware that Princess granted us a voucher for half our paid fare against a future cruise. We were not aware that California is darn chilly in May! Still can't fault Princess, they did excellent job and even set up some tours at these locations. The refund for a future cruise was also greatly appreciated and we will be sailing Emerald Princess in October partly on their dime and with a smile on our face to the WARM Caribbean. Several friends will be joining us as is the norm.

This cruise made us realize that WARM is a requirement for us on a ship. We had considered doing an Alaska cruise in the future but have now basically discounted that thought. Not being able to really enjoy sitting by a pool all day and hanging with friends in the sun was a very missed cruise component for us. The Sapphire does have an enclosed pool as well as open one, but it still gets chilly in there if it's cold enough. There are things to do, but poolside relaxation surpasses casino and lounges during the day. Princess issuing their partial rebate was a large factor in our still coming away from the cruise as happy campers. Again, I applaud their customer relations attitude! Something I have found severely lacking on recent RCL cruises. I guess Princess is our number one preference in cruise lines now. We sail them all, don't get me wrong, but if Princess sails there too we will choose them.

Ports, well in San Diego we took a nice walk around. Some of our party went to the Zoo and said they enjoyed it quite a bit. San Barbara, don't even recall it sorry, I am sure it is nice. Now San Francisco, that was very good. Somewhere we had never been except through photos of Tom and Laurie when they did a land trip to California. We docked virtually within walking distance of Fisherman's Wharf. All I wanted was a nice clam chowder in a sour dough bread bowl and I got it too! Had a sundae at Giradellis chocolate and generally walked about taking it all in. We were docked with the Golden Gate and Alcatraz clearly visible from our balcony. NO we did not go to Alcatraz. Since I am a retired Jail Warden and my bride a retired Jail Captain, we have little interest in seeing anymore cells. We already did life on the installment plan, thank you. For others I am sure it is quite an experience. Other than being with good friends, San Francisco was the height of the trip for us.

Our cabin steward was missing for most of the first day, part of no day offs due to Coast Guard inspection, I believe. We did have him greet us initially, but the next day despite even paging him, no where to be found. Once we got the guy that was covering him doing double duty our list of small needs was handled. No robes in cabin, and bed being horrible were the main ones. I always sleep well onboard ship, but for the first time the bed was horribly hard and uncomfortable. I requested a new mattress which brought the addition of one of those egg crate things the cheap way to make a done-for mattress livable. The steward did not seem surprised that we were not happy with the bed. I presume that they are probably scheduled for replacement mattresses somewhere down the not so far road.

Our friends in the upper suites aft were not all that happy with their steward, but I failed to get specifics, sorry. I do know that the BIG DEAL over a corkscrew didn't start things off well. Princess allows you to bring on one bottle of wine each at embarkation. Being five people they brought five bottles for the rooms. Their suites also start with one complimentary bar setup, I believe. So all that wine and no corkscrew. Asked for a corkscrew and were told NO NO NO. Pardon me, top end suites and you refuse to provide a corkscrew? Remember, the only corkage fee is for having it served in the dining room not in cabin, so that isn't it. They were told that staff would be happy to come and open, but they just wanted a crappy corkscrew so they didn't have to call someone anytime they wanted to uncork one of their bottles. Yes, they finally got a corkscrew but it had to be pressed for. It is this kind of thing that drives someone paying two to three times the price for added accommodation that pisses people off and that there is just no reason for.

We all took second seating traditional dining as we normally do. Sorry, but you can keep anytime dining or whatever Princess calls the walk-in dining option. As usual being served by the same staff every night proved it's worth in that we became very happy with our waiter and assistant. The Headwaiter appeared every evening and provided us with cheeses and olives at start s requested. Good table mates coupled with professional staff make a cruise!!! We had fun at dinner!

Disembarkation was smooth. They use a smart system to get you out of your cabin which is what they want. You are supposed to be out by 8 am and go to assigned waiting to disembark area. Now we much prefer being allowed to stay in the cabin until called and also to have room service on departure day, Princess doesn't do either. We realize of course that they have a lot to do to get cabins ready for the next lucky cruisers, so we grudgingly accept the need to get you out. Princess is smart they don't call over colors over PA system. They have people to tell you at the waiting areas. If you don't leave the cabin, there's no way to know when you are due off. No matter, we all met for breakfast in the dining room then returned for carry-ons and made our way to our various disembarkation lounges. We were off by 9 am, I would think. Took a cab back to LGB. Princess offers purchased transfers to LAX, but not to LGB. Not a problem--there are plenty of cabs available.

In summary, Princess does excellent job in almost all areas. Food was very good and we always appreciate that. In addition to varying menu each evening, certain basics are also available each night in case you cannot find anything to your liking on that day's menu. The dining room staff, at least at traditional dining, was exceptional. Even though, as with most lines, they are taxed with providing bar and wine service in addition to normal duties, they carried it off without a hitch. Despite starting with an unhappy itinerary change, Princess managed to keep us all happy enough. We are already booked as I said on Emerald Princess soon. Entertainment was acceptable nothing outstanding for us anyway.

One note, another compliment! Unfortunately my bride suffered a minor medical emergency in that some sort of cyst developed on her neck during the first days. Having never had such a thing happen before, we were concerned and went to the ship's medical offices for evaluation. They immediately, politely make it clear that this is not a complimentary service. They charge $60 for initial consultation and then charge for services rendered. It should be noted that most US medical plans do not cover these charges as they consider them foreign medical service. Another reason to consider travel insurance, which we do take. All that said, we were quite impressed and happy with the medical services provided. The doctor and nurse were extremely professional and caring! Linda wound up having a minor surgical procedure and a follow up, which we were very comfortable with having done on board. Antibiotics were provided and charges came to $266, which I thought reasonable. Upon return home our doctor was happy with the procedure performed. Heck the ship's medical suite is better looking and equipped that our regular doctor's office.

As always, tons of stuff not covered, so if you have any specific questions that I might be able to assist with, please feel free to email me at georgeny@verizon.net and put Sapphire Review in the subject line so it doesn't get thrown out with the spam.

George in NY


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