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Sapphire Princess
Mexican Riviera
November 2008

by Tara Jacobs

This was our first Princess cruise and fifth cruise overall. We have previously sailed Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival. We chose this cruise because we really wanted to experience the Princess line as we’ve heard so many great things about it.

We stayed at the Westin in downtown Long Beach for one night pre-cruise. The Westin is about a 20 minute ride to the San Pedro cruise port from downtown Long Beach. The Westin does not offer a cruise shuttle; the taxi cost us $30 before tip. The Westin itself is very nice, and I would consider it again as a pre or post cruise hotel since it is in walking distance to everything we needed in downtown. The bed was extremely comfortable, and the room itself was updated with everything I would expect from a nice 4-star hotel – flat screen television, comfortable chairs, nice work table and lamps, etc. We ate dinner at George’s Greek Café, and it was an excellent choice! The service was superb and the food was great also! George himself greets the customers and provides a personable and friendly environment. The weather was a comfortable 75 degrees in the evening, so we enjoyed the outside dining. I highly recommend George’s! It’s located on 2nd, and is probably a 3-4 block walk from the Westin. Just ask the concierge for exact directions.

I must say this was the worst embarkation process we’ve encountered in the five cruises we’ve taken. I don’t know whether it was a Princess issue or just an issue with the San Pedro port. We arrived to the port at 12:20 p.m. via taxi, dropped our luggage with a porter, walked straight to a check-in agent, and within 10 minutes we thought we were ready to go through security and board the ship. However, instead, we waited in a very large open seating area where we were given a group number for boarding. Our number was 18; they were on 8. We waited 55 minutes until our number was called, then proceeded to wait in yet another line to go through security to board the ship. We finally boarded at 1:35 p.m., proceeded directly to our cabin and our luggage was already waiting for us! This is the longest embarkation process we’d experienced, however, the first time our luggage had arrived before WE did! So, that was a good thing in the end. We were told later by our cabin steward that the coast guard was on board doing inspections, but it’s unknown as to whether or not that was the cause of the slow boarding.

We booked an Inside cabin, slightly forward of midship, on Baja Deck 11. The size of the cabin was much larger than we were expecting for an II category Inside. There was ample storage space and closet space, with room left over! The only minor issue was that our safe was still locked, so we had to stay in our cabin a little while so the “safe technician” could open it.

Our cabin steward was Mark from the Philippines. Mark knocked on our cabin door within minutes of our arrival to introduce himself and provide his services for whatever we may need throughout the week. I must say that Mark was very, very friendly and greeted us every morning and welcomed us back each evening as we re-boarded the ship from port – each time by name! He definitely loved his job and his passengers; we felt pampered just by his personal attention every time we saw him.

The Ship:
Being only four years old, we expected the Sapphire Princess to have worked out any kinks in traffic flow potentially experienced by earlier classes of ships. While she was a beautiful ship, she was challenging to navigate – some public areas turned into dead ends, the buffet was poorly structured with no reasonable flow from one side to the next, and there seemed to be no thought in providing easy access from one pool deck to the next.

Having only experienced Traditional Dining in the past, we took this opportunity to try the Anytime Dining at the advice of friends who swear by it. Four dining rooms offered Anytime Dining, providing us the control of deciding what time we eat and where we eat. However, three of the four dining rooms continually had lengthy lines for the Anytime Diners. Upon reaching the Maitre d’ Hotel for seating, we were asked if we’d like to eat alone or with others. We indicated that either would be ok with us, but we were seated alone all but one time, and in one of those instances we were placed alone at a table for eight. The Maitre d’ attempted to seat others with us, but couples wanted to eat alone, and groups wanted to stay within their group. Yes, we were *that* couple all alone at a large table probably looking pathetic. We laughed it off and poured a shot of rum into my coffee to ward off the pain, however, the Anytime Dining just didn’t work for us. We seek social interaction, and were delighted to be seated with others on our last night, and luckily with someone we had met through a friend. So, in the end, one meal was enjoyed in a group. Next time around, we’ll stick to Traditional Dining unless we are cruising in a group.

We ate in the Anytime Dining rooms all but two nights when we chose to try the dinner at Sabatini’s (excellent!) and at the buffet (big mistake!). The buffet quality was equivalent to a land-based buffet chain and the variety was lacking. We regretted that decision and decided we would stick to the dining room and just enjoy the buffet during the day for breakfast and lunch. Sabatini’s on the other hand was excellent! At a cost of $20 per person, the food and service were worthy of more. This specialty restaurant is a little different than specialty restaurants on other cruises in that each course is served in more of a family style, so each person receives a small portion of every appetizer, entrée and dessert. It is a very filling experience!

A few special buffets were offered during the cruise, but the lines were so long that we decided not to wait for any of them. One night, a Mexican Buffet was offered where the crew was adorned in traditional garb and the fruit and other food items were nicely carved for some great picture-taking opportunities. The presentation couldn’t be beat!

The Sapphire Princess offers a pizzeria, and while I thought it was just ok, my husband felt it was the best he’s experienced at sea yet! His other love was the ice cream that was served at the buffet every day during the “snack” hours (2-4pm), where he created a sundae each day to get his dairy and sugary caloric intake. My favorite food was the cheese offered in the buffet – smoked cheddar, havarti, jack – it kept me satisfied in between meals!

Near the main pool area from about 11:30am – 2pm each day at sea, there was a themed buffet (sushi, Mexican, etc.) The line for the sushi was quite long and frankly, not worth the wait. I don’t necessarily expect the chef to make fresh sushi for each passenger (like they do on Carnival), but the sushi was the same quality I would find at Safeway and I would consider Costco’s sushi to be a step up. The Mexican buffet was great though!

If you’re a coffee lover be sure to purchase the coffee card. For $24 (plus 15% gratuity) you can purchase a coffee card that entitles you to 15 specialty coffees of any size, plus unlimited hot chocolate as long as you present the card. This was a great deal for us – me the coffee drinker and my husband the hot chocolate drinker – as we saved a fair amount of money that we instead used on cocktails with my favorite being Loco Coco. It’s a sweet concoction of coconut rums and liqueurs. Just make sure you buy your coffee card on the first day, as they have a finite number of these cards.

Overall, we found the food on Sapphire Princess to be very good in the dining room and good in the buffet.

We’re not fans of big production shows and tend to lean more toward comedians, hypnotists, magicians and others of the like. We went to see the comedian Troy Thirdgill and about fell out of our chairs from the stomach pains we got from laughing so hard! If you get a chance to see him, DO IT! We also saw a magician and another musician/comedian combo who were good.

The Sapphire Princess offers a lot of variety for late-night clubbing and music enjoyment. Our favorite was Skywalkers, located at the aft of the ship, on Deck 16. Themed nights included 80s and 90s music, so that’s where we spent our time. Club Fusion and the Explorers Lounge were additional areas to relax and listen to live music. One thing to note that we loved about these clubs: they were not overrun by teenagers. In fact, the clubs were mostly frequented by 35+ which was a very nice change to some previous cruise’s clubs we’d experienced.

Other Activities:
Sexy Legs Contest – Ok, I told myself I wouldn’t attend this after having seen this on every other cruise. However, I happened to be walking past the main pool area on my way to the Adults Only pool area and I just had to stop and watch. No matter how many of these contests I watch, I end up cracking up at the things people will do when they know everyone is watching. There are some very funny men with interesting legs out there!

Shuffleboard – I had never played this before and thought it was for “old” people. My husband and I played this a couple of times, and with both of us being very competitive, had a great time. Look for the two shuffleboard areas at the aft of the ship.

Movie – Mamma Mia – This was a movie we had wanted to see, without ever seeing the stage production first. Sapphire’s theatre was nicely sloped for the enjoyment of production shows and movies, but if you’ve ever thought of seeing this movie…save your time. It was very hokey and cheesy, but I’ve been told the stage production is very good. This musical just didn’t translate to the big screen – scenes that should have been spoken were sung instead, and it was just too funny when it should have been serious.

Ports of Call:
Puerto Vallarta – We decided to do something a little different this time since we’ve been to Puerto Vallarta before, and were just there again on a land vacation a few months ago. We took a ship-sponsored tour up to San Sebastian, about 90 minutes east of P.V. into the Sierra Madres. There, we visited an old Hacienda, learned a lot about John Huston and read some of his letters, ate at a tiny little Mexican restaurant, visited an old jail and walked through the cobblestone streets of San Sebastian before venturing to an organic coffee bean farm where we watched the coffee roasting process. Yes, I bought five pounds of coffee before leaving there and I can honestly say that I like it better than Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee! If you like coffee, that will mean something to you. On the way back to the ship, we approached some construction that we had driven through on our way to San Sebastian. However, this time around we had to wait for a manmade avalanche to be cleared from the road ahead. The estimated wait time was 45 minutes; if we had waited that entire time, we may have missed our ship’s departure. Our tour guide spoke with the construction crew who cleared the road quickly so we could pass. This is a good example of why it sometimes makes sense to book your excursions direct with the cruise line. If we had been delayed, the ship would have waited for us. If we had booked an excursion on our own and were late, we would need to find our own transportation to meet the ship at the next port. Since this tour was so far outside of P.V., we opted to book the tour directly with Princess and were glad we did.

Mazatlan – We booked this excursion through where King David Tours was selected to host our tour. We chose the Stone Island Beach Break. Stone Island is really just a stone’s throw away from the pier in Mazatlan, but this tour included a ride through Mazatlan’s golden zone, to the world’s tallest lighthouse, then to a dock where we boarded a catamaran which tooled us around for some sightseeing before transporting us to Stone Island. Once at Stone Island, we were met by a tractor-pulled cart that transported us to Molokay Restaurant on the opposite side of the island. The ride was interesting but also eye-opening, as those residents live in true poverty. One can see inside some of the open doors to the homes and simply see a few plastic chairs and nothing else. Common denominators though were the smiles on the faces of the residents as we rode through the dirt roads on the tractor. Once at Molokay Restaurant, we were given a reserved area of the outdoor restaurant where we could either park ourselves in the shade under a palapa or relax in the sun on a lounge chair. Of course, I chose the sun while my husband chose the shade very near to where I was. The excursion included a full lunch and an open bar where the drinks were made by hand and the alcohol disbursement was very generous.

Cabo San Lucas – My favorite port ended up being where we spent the least amount of time in port. This was a tender port and the ship was only there for seven hours. We decided to take a kayak excursion out to Los Arcos and Lover’s Beach. What fun this was! We had seen Samantha Brown do this and it sparked our desire to do it. The kayaking itself was about 2.2 miles round trip from the beach area out to Los Arcos and back, but once we arrived to Lover’s Beach we relaxed for awhile and snorkeled near the rocks where we saw several schools of beautiful fish. A family of sea lions were sunbathing nearby and enjoying the warm weather as well.

The highlight of our cruise was at the point where we were back on the ship, settled at the aft of the ship near the Adults Only pool and hot tubs, relaxing with a cocktail, when the bartender shouts, “Free Dolphin Show!” Playing in our wake were dozens of dolphins with humpback whales in the distance spouting their blow holes. This sight lasted on and off for about an hour and really made our day come to a fun close with a view like that off the back of the ship!

Sea Days:

We had three sea days on this itinerary – two days on the front end with one day on the back end. Sea days were spent primarily on the aft of the ship nearest to the Adults Only area. On the very last sea day, we decided to stay midship and enjoy a semi-private area on the side of the ship where we could sunbathe without proximity to any pools or hot tubs, allowing us to nap if we chose or simply read a magazine or book with very little noise. I had wished I had found this area earlier in the cruise as it was the perfect respite!

If you like all of the announcements that you hear on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, you won’t like Princess. On average, we would hear 3-4 announcements over the course of the entire sea day on Princess. They figure if you want to play bingo, you’ll look at your Princess Patter and work it into your schedule.

Lastly, NO HIP-HOP! I repeat, NO HIP-HOP! Yes, it’s nearly impossible to sit at a pool or go to a club nowadays and not get bombarded with hip-hop music, but I can honestly say that I didn’t hear hip-hop music one time while on our Princess cruise. That’s a good thing!

Our flight from Long Beach to Seattle was scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. Because of this fairly early departure, we requested self-disembarkation so we could carry off our own luggage. We were assigned to Group C which we learned would be the fifth group to exit the ship. Based on the schedule, we would be called right around 7:40 to exit the ship. As we started to make our way to our designated lounge to prepare for disembarkation, with our luggage in tow, a crew member asked which group we were in and directed us to exit the ship immediately as they were slightly ahead of schedule. This was at about 7:35. From that point on, we easily made our way off the ship, through customs and were in a cab by 7:45. This was easily the quickest and easiest disembarkation. We grabbed a waiting cab; 20 minutes and $30 later we were at the Long Beach airport, 3 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave, making for a non-eventful and stress-free start to our trip home.

In Summary:
While we will likely not sail Sapphire Princess or other ships in her class again, Princess Cruise Lines is doing something very RIGHT with their superb service at every level – from the cabin stewards, to passenger services, to poolside bartenders, to boutique staff, to any crew we encountered. Because of that, and the great cabin floor plans, we will sail Princess again, and in fact, booked a cruise on Island Princess to the Panama Canal while we were on this cruise. We look forward to enjoying Princess again!

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