Arriving at the Port of Los Angeles Cruise Terminal (see pictures) in San Pedro at 10:45 AM, we noticed that a large contingent of passengers already there before us. The check-in process was lightning quick. It involved first going through security, then basically presented the pre-printed boarding passes & passports at one of the check-in desks. We were given a boarding group of #6.
The waiting room did not have nearly enough chairs. Many folks ended up having to stand, and since we were relatively young we gave away our seats to an old couple. There was coffee and water available, but no cookies or any other type of food. It wasn't until about 12:15 PM that the boarding process began, and if you were not a Princess Elite or Platinum member, you were not boarding even if you were the first ones to arrive. This was similar Royal Caribbean's policy we countered on our Explorer of the Seas Cruise, and did not sit well with us or most of the vacationers waiting. This was our second Princess cruise, so we were Gold, but again unless you were in the two upper loyalty tiers, you have to wait until the "special guests" to get on first.
We finally boarded at around 1 PM, which translated to a wait of over 2 hours, which was way too long. The positives? Our cabin was ready when we finally boarded the Sapphire, and unlike the chaotic lunch-after-embarking experience we had on the RCCL Explorer of the Seas, we were able to find a table at Horizon Court, the ship's buffet restaurant.
Moral of the story and a tip for those of you who have not attained the super-loyalty levels with cruise lines (such as Princess & Royal Caribbean) that severely favor those guests for embarkation- arrive "late" instead. Get there at 1 or 1:30 PM and you should end up waiting a much shorter period of time before boarding.
Sapphire Princess Inside Cabin Review
We found our inside stateroom (pics) aboard the Sapphire to be virtually identical to the one we had on the Caribbean Princess. Traversing through the door, a walk-in closet area was located to the right, directly in front of the bathroom. This provides ample (relatively, of course) storage for your luggage & clothing that needed to be hung. The shower in the bathroom utilized a curtain, with a bottle of shampoo & body wash gel hanging on the wall. There were no lotion or anything extra provided on the sink, other than the standard bar soap.
Unfortunately the shower water temperature fluctuated between semi-warm and lukewarm. Occasionally, a few seconds of nice hot water would make its appearance, but then would immediately recede in temperature back to semi-warm. I was able to fiddle with the temperature knob where it finally turned and allowed for hot water, but then sometimes the stream would turn scalding-hot. So it was not exactly the best showering experience we've had on a ship.
One nice improvement we saw over the Caribbean Princess was the large 32" Samsung flat-screen that hangs on the corner about the desk. The TV aboard the Caribbean was not as large if I remember correctly. There were quite a few nice movie chanels with recently released movies.
Sapphire Princess Dining Review
One annoying issue we encountered was at the Alfredo Pizzeria on deck 5. Late during the first night, we wanted to take some Pizza back to our cabin to enjoy as we watched a movie on the TV, but the lady behind the counter gave us an attitude and refused to let us, insisting that we could not take it and had to eat it there. Adding insult to injury, the pizza turned out to be way overly-salty. This was certainly a very poor experience compared to the pizza & service we had from the Trident's Grill & Pizzeria on the pool deck. We ended up going up there later and had no issue taking 2 slices of pizza back to our room.
Service-wise, we thought it was a bit lacking at the Savoy main dining room. Our waiter was not very engaging after discovering we don't consume alcohol, and during the second night didn't even ask what we wanted to drink. In addition, one of our dishes was surf & turf, and he never asked how the steak should be cooked. We forgot to mention we wanted medium, and it came out well-done. But fine, maybe the situation could be correct if he asked us how our food was. Nope- he never came over once after delivering our entrees. This was a similar experience we had aboard the Caribbean Princess one night. The service at the Horizon Court was actually better since the staff would come and ask you what you want to drink.
We switched to the Pacific Moon dining room the third night of the cruise, and the waiter there was light-years better. Overall, however, of all our cruising experience, we feel that Royal Caribbean & Disney delivered the best overall main dining room service.
At the Horizon Court, the buffet restaurant of the Sapphire, we found the food to be mostly high-quality. The food there the first night of the cruise was not very good, but were well-executed for all the other meals we had there. The selection was not the greatest, however. For instance, there wasn't a consistent selection of Asian flavors. On our Caribbean Princess cruise, the Horizon Court there offered different country flavors for each night of the cruise in the Horizon Court, but not so on this cruise on the Sapphire.
Although during lunch on our lone sea day, the buffet did offer "sushi" and dim sum. The dim sum shrimp dumplings were actually pretty good, as the skin & the shrimp inside had nice texture. There was also a "beerfest" night that celebrated German/Hungarian food, with quite the variety of sausages available.
For breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised by the Sapphire Horizon Cafe's amazing congee (rice soup) section complete with Chinese sausage, dried shredded pork, meat bits, crunchy pickled cucumbers, and tofu pieces. If they added thinly-sliced ginger strips like what we had aboard the Norwegian Gem, it would have been perfect. As is, it is still by far the best congee we have had on a cruise.
Sapphire Princess Entertainment
Entertainer Steve Moris was pretty funny, though he was much more talented at playing the guitar & singing than he was at telling jokes. Cruise Director Billy London, who had a nice voice with British accent, tried to be humorous, but paused too often at odd times for anything he says to very funny. Comedian Don Friesen was quite hilarious with his poor dad bits & plays with phrases such as "actually" & "per se".
Activities-wise, we really wished that there were more things to do during sea day afternoon. Perhaps moving some of the evening shows that are usually held at the Piazza level to between 2 to 4 PM would be nice. The acrobat who did perform there was quite funny and entertaining, however. It was also quite the sight seeing adults having a blast popping balloons one afternoon- here is a video we took of the "party".
There were two ports for this particular cruise- Santa Barbara and Ensenada. There was issue with fog and visibility which caused a long delay in tender boats reaching shore in Santa Barbara. We were finally able to get on land at around 12:45 PM, which left us only a few hours. After this experience, we certainly highly recommend that you get a tender ticket earlier than later. Once ashore, we took an inexpensive shuttle that went down main street, and then we walked back, and visited the interesting Stearn's Wharf.
In Ensenada, things were easier because the docked right at a port terminal. You can then take a shuttle to downtown for $2, which was what we did. Inside the shuttle, we were told that once downtown, for $20 a person, we can take a tour to La Boufadora (photos), the famous blowhole. We did and thoroughly enjoyed it. The scenic drive was about 45 minutes, and there were lots of shopping opportunities thanks to a large flea market there.
Oh and don't forget to try out the Carne Asada tacos at this restaurant by the parking lot- quite delicious.
Normally I don't write about a ship's disembarkation process, but the one from the Sapphire Princess was a very comfortable one. Certainly closing the Horizon Court breakfast buffet at 9:30 AM instead of 9 AM helped. The other cruise lines we have been on, breakfast is ended at 9 O'Clock sharp, and sometimes a few minutes earlier. Aboard the Sapphire, I noticed that guests were welcome to sit at the International Cafe area, which was still open even at 9:30. Aboard the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, we were asked to leave the sitting area outside the Promenade Cafe at 9 AM, and the already anemic selection of food there had already shutdown well before that. So kudos to Princess for giving passengers a more relaxing send-off.
Overall, this was yet another cruise we enjoyed, and I'd happily give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Sapphire Princess Pros
Horizon Court buffet doesn't close until midnight
Excellent breakfast at Horizon Court, including a decked-out congee rice soup section
Disembarkation is less stressful than other cruise lines