This was a first time cruise for my husband and me. I can honestly say it was one of the best vacation experiences that either of us has ever had. My mother, who accompanied us, has sailed 2 other cruise lines, commented that this was her best experience thus far.
EMBARKATION: This proceeded through this process quite smoothly. It helped that we had traveled from Medford, OR the day prior, and stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of Seattle. This allowed us to arrive at the port early. We had prepaid for parking in the pier lot, and had no difficulty finding space. We were told that the Sapphire begins its boarding process around 11:30. This is obviously a conservative estimate, as we were on the ship and in our immaculately clean staterooms by 11:15. Our luggage wasn't far behind. My husband, who is not easily impressed, was amazed! The first day on the ship, he was like a kid in a candy store.
ACCOMODATIONS: As stated above, they were immaculate. When we originally booked in December, we were assigned 2 neighboring rooms on the Emerald Deck. These rooms had a window, but with an obstructed view.a very large lifeboat. We weren't too concerned figuring we'd be out and about the ship or off on excursions on port days. Five days prior to our depart date, we were all upgraded to the Baja Deck, and given rooms with balconies. Suddenly, our desire to be out in the public areas of the ship the majority of the time significantly diminished. Our balcony rooms were especially appreciated the day we cruised Tracy Arm. We were pleasantly surprised with the size of our room. From what we had heard from others who are experienced cruisers, we were expecting more cramped conditions. The bed was very comfortable. The bathroom small, but according to my mom, the largest she had ever had on a cruise ship. There was ample hot water in the shower, and plenty of towels, that were replaced every day, even when we left them on the rack. Our steward was extremely polite and helpful, but not smothering, respecting our privacy to the utmost.
FOOD: The only meal that was less than good, I'd call it fair, was the one we had had the hamburger grill near the outdoor pool. My husband had a cheeseburger and my mom and I chicken. The chicken appeared to be processed, as was the cheese on my husband's sandwich. The French fries however, were delicious. Most of our meals were eaten in the Horizon Court buffet. After the first few days, we were able to determine the least crowded times to show up to eat. We found that port days when everyone is out on excursions, to be an ideal time. It might be helpful if there more dining options open during the breakfast and lunch hours on sea days, as the buffet area becomes an all out feeding frenzy. One disappointment was the Anytime dining venues. We ate in both the Santa Fe and Pacific Moon. Although we didn't have reservation, we never had to wait. The brochures indicated that these dining areas had themed menus, but we soon discovered that the same menu served in the International dining room, although different every evening, was served in the Anytime restaurants as well. The food was nonetheless delicious. We also called for room service twice and had to food delivered within 20 minutes of placing our order. Each afternoon, a special buffet was set up in the pool area, including a chocolate extravaganza. The line for this and others like to were very long, but plenty of leftovers could be found on the buffet later in the evening, so we didn't miss out.
ENTERTAINMENT AND PUBLIC AREAS: Other than the eating venues, most of our time outside our cabins was spent in the internet café. Although it is .35 per minute, it is still less expensive than roaming charges on the cell phone, which wasn't available at sea anyway. Being a family of worriers, we welcomed this opportunity to check in daily with the family at home. We did spend a little time, (and money) in the casino. It's a spacious area, and the staff was very pleasant. My mom attended one show in the Princess Theater and enjoyed it tremendously. We checked out the Princess Links on the first day, but found it to be only mediocre. Potentially it could be a great source of fun, but the layout was small and unimaginative. My husband and I were content to walk the decks in the evening and to just enjoy being there!
EXCURSIONS: Being that it was our first cruise and our first experience in Alaska, my husband and I thought we should sign up for a few of these trips. Next time, we definitely won't go on as many, as they are expensive, and being more familiar with the area, we will feel more comfortable venturing out on our own. The horse drawn trolley through Ketchikan was pleasant and our least expensive excursion. The Tracy Arm cruise, observed from our room balcony, was the highlight of our adventure. Sailing through the ice field was quite an experience as we approached the end of the arm where the glaciers are located. We were told that this was the closest the ship had come to the glaciers thus far this year. An added bit of fun during our time at Tracy Arm; we were told to watch for the Diamond Princess to be passing us on our port side. Just prior to the encounter, passengers flocked to the outside decks to wave and exchange greetings with the passengers of the other ship, while both vessels sounded their horns. The deluxe Juneau and Mendenhall glacier tour, was less than deluxe. The glacier was great, and the museum interesting, but the 4 ½ hour excursion could have been completed in about half the time. My husband took an 8 hour van ride to play golf in Whitehorse, Yukon on our Skagway day. He had a wonderful time, saw lots of great scenery, and came back with some souvenirs. My mom and I strolled the wooden sidewalks of Skagway, did a little shopping, and returned to the ship long before our sail time. Next time, we are definitely taking the train up the pass! It was obvious that everyone returning from this excursion had a marvelous time. The Butchart Gardens in Victoria were absolutely beautiful. We would have liked to have had more time to explore the Victoria area.
DISEMBARKING: According to the schedule, our luggage tag color was to be called off the ship at 8:45. We were off the boat, through customs, through the baggage claim, and in the car by 9:15. The only problem: the cruise was over and we just weren't ready to leave. Aside from a slight case of motion sickness on an unusually choppy first day at sea, it was an absolutely wonderful experience that both my husband and I are anxious to do again. Although we are curious about other ships and cruise lines, the Sapphire Princess will take us again to Alaska.hopefully sooner than later.