Sapphire Princess

Prologue

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One of the most recognizable cruise brands in the world, Princess Cruises is embarking on her biggest Asian season in 2014/2015. Unique as one of the few Japanese-built cruise ships plying the seas, the 115,875-GRT Sapphire Princess returns to sail Asia year-round and we join her for a short 4-night voyage to Malaysia and Thailand.

 

First Impressions

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Boarding was an organized and easy process. Arriving at the cruise terminal, there were ample signage to guide passengers towards the check-in desks and staff were on-hand to manage lines and answer queries. It took just 15 minutes to complete customs clearance when we crossed the gangway from the pier to the ship.

 

Once onboard, a photo was taken by shipboard security to be tagged against our cruise cards and a quick but thorough baggage scan conducted. Formalities done, we were ushered into the lift lobby where staff were present to assist and escort to the accommodation decks.

 

Cabin

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Finding our stateroom was easy as Princess Cruises has cards of the occupants’ names in addition to stateroom numbers on the door. We were met and greeted by our stateroom steward, who proactively shared information on the stateroom and ship features and amenities, as well as the mandatory muster drill prior to sailing.

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Our Premium Balcony Stateroom featured a 2-bed configuration (which can be converted into a Queen-sized bed), with a lounge chair, flatscreen television, dressing table, walk-in wardrobe and a bathroom unit. We found the space to be smaller compared to other ships due to the area occupied by the walk-in wardrobe, but Princess has employed the use of mirrors to reduce the visual effect.

 

Found on decks 8 through 14, over half of the staterooms onboard boast a glass balcony. Due to the unique superstructure of the Grand-class ships, our balcony on the Caribe deck was larger than those on the Aloha, Baja and Lido decks (with those on Dolphin deck below even larger), making these one of the highly sought after stateroms for the added space.

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As with most cruise ships, the bathroom onboard was compact and had little maneuvering room. While we liked the strong water pressure and Lotus Spa-branded bath amenities, it was a tight squeeze and we were constantly bumping into the shower wall. The use of a shower curtain also saw some water slosh onto the bathroom floor, which we had to use a floor mat to keep dry.

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To cater for the Asian market, Sapphire Princess has basic complimentary coffee-/tea-making facilities in each stateroom and the mini fridge is stocked with cold water and sodas (although these are chargeable). Turndown chocolates were also brought by our steward each night, along with cards for room service breakfast and fruits. In addition to the offerings at the buffet, guests can select from a variety of fresh fruits to be delivered to the stateroom.

 

As she was built to operate longer cruises, there are plenty of storage spaces in the stateroom and guests wanting to do their laundry may do so at the self-service laundromat on each deck (a welcome option as opposed to being restricted to laundry service on other lines). The 32-inch high-definition flatscreen television also presents a sizable entertainment offering to keep her passengers occupied, with the ship’s in-house television programmes, Princess Cruises content, movies, live TV and features including “The Love Boat” series synonymous with the line.

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A copy of the Princess Patter, the ship’s daily activity listing and schedule, was also waiting for us every evening. Keeping up with the advancements in mobile technology, the same information is available to be viewed on smartphones and tablets connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi network which we found to be very convenient.

 

Sapphire Princess offers a further 9 accommodation options (Interior, Oceanview [Obstructed], Oceanview, Premium Oceanview, Balcony, Mini Suite with Balcony, Family Suite with Balcony, Suite with Balcony and the Grand Suite with Balcony).

 

Dining

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Unlike some cruise ships with large, multi-deck dining rooms, the Sapphire Princess has opted for 5 smaller venues for a more intimate dining experience. Traditional Dining is hosted at the International Dining Room with 2 seatings every evening, while Anytime Dining guests may head to either the Savoy, Vivaldi, Santa Fe or Pacific Moon dining rooms between 1745 hrs to 2200 hrs.

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Menus were varied for the duration of the cruise, with a choice of meats, poultry and seafood prepared in different styles each night. An Asian option was included taking into account regional tastes, while items such as pasta and signature desserts was available each night. We found the F&B service to be attentive and efficient in the dining rooms, with our waiters and assistant waiters taking good care of us during meals and constantly checking if the food was to our satisfaction.

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Outside of the breakfast and dinner meal periods, a tasty British Pub Lunch was served on the final day at sea and English afternoon tea was offered in homage to Princess Cruises’ British heritage.

 

Specialty dining onboard comprises the Sterling Steakhouse and Italian restaurant Sabatini’s. A USD 25.00 per pax cover charge is applicable to dine here.

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Offering a choice of steaks and grills, Sterling Steakhouse is transformed each night from a section of the Horizon Court buffet. While we understood this was a limitation given the onboard real estate, this impacted the overall ambiance of the steakhouse when compared to a dedicated space. Making up for this was the attentive yet unintrusive service from the wait staff, who made good recommendations of the food. We had a satisfying meal of Mediterranean lobster cake, onion soup, a 14-oz corn-fed ribeye and a lemon meringue tart to finish, all of which were well-prepared and generously-portioned.

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Equally satisfying was Sabatini’s, the line’s signature Italian dining concept. This was situated in a dedicated area midship and boasted a better ambiance with Italian music and communal celebrations of special occasions with fellow passengers and crew. We enjoyed a dinner of antipasti, lobster and seafood spaghetti to share at the recommendation of our waiter, paired with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and finished with a selection of heavenly desserts.

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With the dining rooms usually closed when the ship is in-port, the main lunch venue onboard is the Horizon Court buffet. The varied selection of international dishes and several items catered for regional tastes made this a popular venue with passengers who preferred a casual meal. However, the downside to this popularity is a difficulty in getting a table at peak times.

 

Another popular casual dining venue is the Alfredo’s Pizzeria. Named after Princess Cruises’ master executive chef Alfredo Marzi, this sit-down pizzeria features freshly-prepared individual-sized pizzas, which guests can enjoy as they watch the happenings at The Piazza.

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At the other side of The Piazza is the International Cafe, open 24 hours and constantly stocked with a selection of sandwiches, danishes and pastries. While food is included in the cruise fare, beverages here are chargeable (although prices are reasonable compared to cafes and coffee bars on land).

 

On the Lido Deck, the Trident Grill, Prego pizzeria and Sundae’s ice cream bar serve up comfort food of burgers, hot dogs and ice cream poolside. We had a hearty cheeseburger here for lunch, soaking up the resort atmosphere onboard.

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Over 9 bars and lounges allow for an array of social spaces onboard. The Bar Piazza and Crooners Bar around The Piazza saw many guests indulge in a pre-dinner drink in the evenings, while the Wheelhouse Bar, Explorer’s Lounge and Club Fusion were well-patronized with their various recreational activities conducted by the Cruise Director Staff. The distinctive Skywalkers nightclub situated on the top deck of Sapphire Princess made for a quiet lounge to read and relax in the day, transforming after sundown into a vibrant space.

 

Pools & Decks

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5 swimming pools and 8 hot tubs located from bow to stern leave sun worshippers spoilt for choice. We found the open-air Neptune’s Reef & Pool and the all-weather Calypso Reef & Pool (with its retractable glass roof) to be most popular with families.

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The Terrace and Splash pools at the stern were more suited for couples and adult guests seeking more privacy and quiet. These pools also enjoy easy access to staterooms on the Aloha deck and a good view of the ship’s wake as she sails. The Lotus Pool was by far the most exclusive, being an adult-only pool and often mistaken as being part of The Sanctuary, Sapphire Princess’ extra-charge quiet space.

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The open Lido, Sun and Sports decks also provided plenty of space to take in the tropical sun or take morning/evening walks around the ship. This was also the location for the Ultimate Deck Party on the second-last evening of the cruise (although this was eventually moved indoors due to inclement weather). The wraparound Promenade on the Plaza and Emerald decks were also highly popular with strollers and is a unique feature of the Grand-class, giving the ship its unique whale mouth shape.

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Not to be missed are the various fringe activities taking place on deck around the ship. On our cruise, table tennis and shuffleboard tournaments were organized and hosted by the entertainment crew and guests were treated to a masterful ice carving demonstration from the ship’s sculptors.

 

Recreation

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Sapphire Princess’ sports and fitness facilities can be found on her upper decks. Located on deck 14 forward is the Lotus Spa and fitness center, which is well-equipped with modern training equipment. Midship sees the Lawn Court used for putting and croquet accessed by a hidden staircase behind the jumbotron screen, as well as the Conservatory where guests can relax or work on puzzles in air-conditioned comfort. To the aft of the ship and above the Skywalkers nightclub is the sports court for basketball and mini-tennis games.

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As the social hub onboard, The Piazza serves as a prominent meeting point and performance venue taking the entertainment into the crowd. There was a constant flurry of activity taking place here throughout the cruise and the space also hosts signature events such as the Captain’s Welcome Reception and the Champagne Waterfall ritual.

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Shoppers can take their pick from 5 boutiques spread around The Piazza, retailing duty-free clothes, fragrances, jewelry, timepieces and sundry items. Pop-up sales were also set up by the crew around the public areas and dining rooms on sea days.

 

As with other cruise ships, photographs from the ship’s photographers taken during the voyage were showcased at the photo gallery, with the option for guests to session a professional shoot in the Platinum Studio. Staying connected was also made easy with shipboard Wi-Fi, as well as a dedicated Internet Cafe.

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Enrichment was another key recreation activity onboard, with talks and lectures conducted throughout the voyage on ports and other topics. This included a witty cooking demonstration hosted by the Maitre’D and Executive Chef, which provided useful tips in the kitchen and insights into the ship’s F&B operation.

 

Complementing these is the ship’s library with its collection of books available to guests during the voyage. Younger cruisers have their own space at the teen and youth areas, which were well-utilized on our cruise by several Australian families.

 

Entertainment

Princess Cruises appeals to a more mature customer base and the onboard entertainment was naturally geared towards a slightly older crowd with musical performances and shows as opposed to activities found on other mass market cruise lines.

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The main performance venue onboard is the Princess Theatre. The impressive 705-seat space is spread across 2 decks and was packed during showtimes each night.

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Our cruise featured British vocalist Tracey Shield, who is regarded as one of the best tribute acts to Canadian diva Celine Dion and it is easy to see why with her powerful vocals. Also performing was Aussie String Diva Suzie G, with a masterful repertoire of popular and classic music from her electric violin that was a hit with the crowd.

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Also onboard was 18-year-old British ventriloquist Kieran Powell, who had previously performed on the Britain’s Got Talent television show. Unlike other ventriloquists, his show was unique in its musical stance with the puppets coming to life through song. Being one of the interactive shows, the spontaneous audience were thoroughly involved ensuring plenty of laughs.

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No cruise would be complete without one of Princess Cruises’ production shows. Onboard the Sapphire Princess, this was dubbed “I Got the Music” with the ship’s singers and dancers performing a repertoire of musical numbers from international artistes from the 1970s to today.

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Saving one of the best shows for last, cruisers were also treated to the International Crew Talent Show, featuring talented crew members from the ship’s company. These were finalists from the onboard talent competition amongst the crew and showcased a different side of the men and women who are waiters and stewards by-day in a true celebration of diversity.

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Not to be missed also is Princess Cruises’ signature Movies Under the Stars, offered each night with the deck attendants transforming the Neptune’s Reef & Pool into an outdoor theatre, complete with blankets and popcorn.

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Down at The Piazza and in conjunction with the line’s 50th anniversary celebrations, guests were treated to an energetic song & dance number, with the space also hosting performances by the onboard musicians. With the holiday season just a few weeks away, The Piazza was also the site for Christmas caroling, with passengers and crew coming together to spread some festive cheer.

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A mainstay of modern cruise ships, Sapphire Princess’ Grand Casino offers table games and slots when the ship is underway within international waters.

 

Service / Staff

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We found the multi-national crew onboard to be generally pleasant and professional. The guest services desk, cabin stewards and wait staff constantly had a smile and were polite to guests, patiently listening and addressing concerns passengers may have. Special mention goes out to the Cruise Director Staff, who were witty and entertaining with their activities and programmes.

 

Verdict

In Sapphire Princess, Princess Cruises has a good product sailing Asian waters as cruising continues to flourish in the region. She is relatively well-maintained for a 10-year-old ship, but we did notice some areas in need of a refurbishment. In terms of the soft product, we were particularly impressed with the line’s organization of the turnaround process, with very smooth embarkation and disembarkation procedures, as well as the overall onboard experience.

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