December 3, 2005
For our next cruise, we decided to try for the first week in December. Only after vacations were approved did I start looking at different web sites for a seven day Mexican trip. Our initial plan was for a balcony on Caribe deck on the Sapphire Princess. Before I got further in research, we got the brainstorm to bring two of our adult children with us.
Since we are not independently wealthy, we decided to book two interior staterooms. After several days of running into identical quotes on the web, we came across an offer we couldn’t pass up.
Well, it turns out our great deal is a guarantee, just to get on the ship. We have two unassigned cabins with a category of M. After several minutes searching deck plans of the Sapphire, I found all four cabins of this category. Plaza deck, lowest you can go, and all the way forward. These rooms are directly under stage left of the Princess Theatre. There is a space behind these cabins that I assume is for the mechanical equipment for the stage itself. Although we would have not picked this location, we have accepted them in trade for all four of us to take the cruise. Since upgrades trickle up, and we are as low as you can go, the chance for the upgrade fairy to strike us is likely, but do not expect it.
Four weeks before the cruise and the tickets have arrived. Room assignment has not happened and all that’s left is the packing.
Three days before the cruise, Princess has finally made room assignments. Our guaranteed M grade staterooms on Plaza forward of the art gallery are now category J, still interiors, on Caribe very near the forward elevators. Doing a little research, these are upgrades in name only. Per Orbitz.com, their price is the same for J through M.
It’s time to load up the car and go the 25 miles to the pier. If we had one more bag, I have no idea how we could get down to the docks. After unloading the bags, we are directed by security to use the parking in front of the cruise center. We pull into the entry of the long term parking lot by the ship, only when you are at the front of the line and can’t backup is there a sign where it’s stated the price is now $12 a day or $84 for the week.20% higher than last year.
Once inside, the passengers were divided into four lines. We shuffled through the switchback line for about 45 minutes until we are at the front. Have no idea what everyone else was doing, but within four minutes we had sail away cards in hand and were on to the next set of hurtles. We show a guard our cruise cards and are allowed into the next room and are handed a slip of paper with the number 30 printed on it. Only by osmosis do we figure out that we are being called in groups for the security checkpoint behind a partition. The people in line have number 26 in hand, so we set up for a wait. I scrounged a chair for my wife and the rest of us sat on the floor. After about 30 minutes our number is called and we get in line that leads to a partitioned off area. Twenty minutes later we turn the corner and see the problem in all its glory. The hundreds of people getting on the ship are being funneled in to two lines manned by rent-a-cops hired by either the TSA or the cruise center. The guards take their time and appear in no hurry. In any event, very poor planning has gotten a LOT of people upset before even getting near the gangway. Our last two Princess embarkations took no more than 40 minutes. This time, it took almost two hours. Calm down, think of my happy place, whatever. All I know is that we are finally on the ship.
Although we know our cabins are forward, we are herded in the wrong direction, back towards the elevators at the Atrium. There, ship staff tell us to join a small group of people waiting for elevators and go to Caribe deck, and then backtrack to the forward part of the ship. Thanks, I needed the exercise.
The rooms are nothing to brag about. Bedroom, desk, closet and bathroom crammed into a 16 by 10 foot area. We have our room set up for a queen bed. The remaining floor space is very limited and a small glass table is moved several times a day to be out of harms way, only to finally get a home in the closet. I have found a total of two electrical outlets in the bedroom. There are others, but there is a possibility they are 220 Volt, so why bother. A side note, this is our first cruise using an interior stateroom. We bought a $3.99 alarm clock that has a very bright read out. We have the same problem others have had. The voltage is not a true 110 and the clock looses about three minutes a day. Our two grown kids have the cabin next door and have it set up with two twin beds. Room looks larger with this setup and the small table is out of the way. Their room is a quad and has two drop down beds in the ceiling, never got a chance to see them in operation. Another thing I noted was the lack of ventilation, very little air was felt coming out of the one vent in the ceiling. I don’t know if this is normal for an interior room but I doubt it.
The room, like the ship, show some signs of wear. In the halls, small scuffs and dents can be seen on the walls. Crews are at work daily painting and varnishing keeping ahead of the effects of salt air. The same type of small things is seen in the cabin. A couple of small scuffs on the walls. Traffic patterns are obvious in the carpet, the beautiful blue seen along the walls is dull and stained in all the traffic zones. The front edge of the desk has many small chips out of the paint and my keen eye noted one screw does not match the others on the bathroom lock and some of the caulk behind the faucet is gone. In the kid’s cabin, for some reason there is a piece of tape on the showerhead with OK written on it.
I am doing a quick inspection of our room as I write this, while sitting at the desk. Looking at the mirror above the desk, I can tell it has not been cleaned in quite a few days. Looking into the mirror, behind me, I then inspect the large mirror above the bed along the back wall. I spot a rather large smudge on the glass at least 4” X 6”. I sit for a few moments since the steward has missed this very blatant mark on the mirror. Standing to get a better look at this mark, surprise, it has become invisible. For whatever reason, this mark can only be seen if looking up from the bed. And now that I’m in this position I note two larger oval marks below the original mark. In a flash my mind identifies the upper mark as a shoulder blade and bump from a large vertebrae. The two ovals that would be normally below a shoulder blade would be the mark left by someone’s posterior. My wife comes in wondering what I’m laughing at. I only tell her to lie on the bed and then point out the three marks. In less than ten seconds, she says, “you have to be kidding”. Later, my son also identifies the mark without prompting. This will be the test for our room steward. How long will it be before he brings a bottle of glass cleaner into the room?
As promised, the Diamond (which we were on six months ago) and the Sapphire are identical ships. In fact we did a double take when we saw that Neil Chandler was our cruise director. He was the assistant cruise director on the Diamond earlier this year. In speaking with him, we learned he was promoted to cruise director, but without a ship. For the time being, he will travel the world filling in on ships when the assigned cruise director is on vacation. Talk about globetrotting.
We spent most of the time in either the theater, Explorers, Wheelhouse or Club Fusion. Shows, movies, bingo, TV show take offs, comedians and musical acts. Better acts were Lorenzo Clark, Kevin Jordan and Greg Otto. Then there was ventriloquist Kenny Byrd, who starts off his act by saying that ventriiquists are a dieing breed. If he bothered to watch his own act, he would understand why his statement is true. In my opinion the high light was Dan Bennett comedian/ juggler, outstanding.
Our son is a garage musician and was very interested in the various bands, one man to four piece groups, who perform though out the ship. He was amazed that not only did you have to know how to play your instrument, but also have to be able to read sheet music and be able to repair your own equipment.
In room TV was the usual satellite feeds of CNN, TBS, movies and family faire. Two points, the TBS feed had problems through out the week. Picture and sound would freeze, unable to watch anything. In the past, Princess would have movies that were one to two months from release to video stores. This time we found these movies supplied by something called “Onboard”. All movies shown were available at your Block Buster or HBO. Speaking of movies, I have felt that Princess had fallen down as far as showing films in the small venue, Explorers. On the Diamond, the picture was fuzzy and sound muffled. On the Sapphire they got it right, picture was sharp and bright with the sound set for the room.
On the last night, a show was put on with three acts; Lovena Fox, a singer we are sorry we had missed earlier and Kenny Byrd, the comedian who we were sorry we had caught. Some of the crewmembers then put on “If I Was Not Upon The Ship”, which we had seen on the Pride last year. This type of production should be presented on all larger ships, you need at least 8 crew members who can sing and perform, lets the passengers see another side of the crew. In any event, the audience in the theater loved it.
In PV we did the ECO snorkel trip to the Marietas Island in the middle of Banderas Bay. Plenty of sea life and a crew that bent over backwards to make things right. This was the start of whale watching season and the captain stopped a couple of times when whales were spotted near our course. On the return leg, we came with in 35 feet of two whales. Got awesome video with sound. Twenty minutes later, we came across about 50 “Spinner” dolphins, gave us a show of jumps of 2’ to 8’ out of the water. Although we returned to the dock with three hours to spare, we returned to the ship to relax before dinner.
There was no activity in Mazatlan that interested us, but we had heard of a small restaurant that we wanted to try. We took a cab past the Golden Zone and found “Tony’s On The Beach”, just past the El Cid resort. A small open-air place with steps down to the sand and 200 feet to the waves. Why here? We had heard about their lobster and shrimp platters. As it turns out, three of us ate the dinners designed for four. Did some shopping before calling it a day. As one of the stand ups said, “the best thing about Mazatlan is getting back on the ship and leaving”. We spent almost 45 minutes in taxis going and coming back. This was the first time he had been exposed to “third world” conditions and was quite shocked. When he asked, “Why don’t they clean up and fix their own place?” I had nothing to say. So much for the all-knowing father.
My wife did about a 30 minutes of shopping in Cabo while my son and I rented a jet ski for an hour. We were the first ones on the water and had smooth riding for the first 30 minutes. After that, things got rougher by the minute. Half the time we were airborne. Two days later, I’m having trouble sitting down because of the pain in my rear. We were near the Sapphire when we saw some kid on another jet ski cross in front of the bow of a tender at about 50 feet. Never knew these small boats could make 90-degree turns. I can only assume the passengers were tossed about because of the defensive maneuver.
I have a bone to pick with the captain, at all three ports the ship waited for late passengers. In PV, a truck with about ten people hurried up about 30 minutes after we were supposed to leave. This could have been a Princess sponsored excursion, who knows, but we also waited over 30 minutes in both Mazatlan and Cabo for two passengers at each stop. Why did we have to keep an eye on the clock if the ship is just going to wait for everyone to get back onboard?
>From all my research, we expected clear weather with temps to be 80-85 degrees. On the third day, before our first stop, clouds over took us from the Southwest. Of the three stops, the warmest we got was 75 degrees with high clouds. No big deal, in fact the weather was better than expected, except the weather according to Princess was over 80 with full sun. I guess whoever does their weather recordings doesn’t have a window.
OK, work with me a little bit on this. We were on the Star Princess shortly after Princess started the PC program. The way it worked then, you walked up to the large room and stated the number in your party. You would be put at whatever table they were filling. From your own table for two, to seats at a large ten-person table, anything was possible. The beauty was there was never a wait. You sat with different people each night and had a great time.
Earlier this year we were on the Diamond using personal choice. Instead of two large PC rooms, they then had four smaller “themed” restaurants. Each restaurant would have the same menu for the entire trip. Sounds great on paper, but if nothing on a certain menu interests you; your choice of rooms has been reduced by 25%. The longest we had to wait was 5 minutes and never used reservations. 6 out of 7 nights we were given our own table and we shared a table for four on the other night. But then this was Alaska and for whatever reason, the older passengers stayed away from the dinning rooms by the hundreds.
Fast forward to the present and PC has mutated into a monster. The “themed” menus have been scrapped and you now have four smaller rooms using the same menu. If you walk up with a party of four, you have to wait for a four party table to become available. Forget about those empty tables of 6 or 8, they have to be left empty for all those large parties walking in. I can only assume they want their restaurants to have some kind of attitude towards their own customers. I just don’t understand why they make people wait with empty tables. Just a guess, but the next time either of these ships are put in for retrofitting, the four room idea will be redone to two larger rooms.
Understanding that you are on a ship and a different scale must be used, you’re dealing with a banquet type situation rather than a five star restaurant. The food is excellent in the dinning rooms. My wife favored the beef, my daughter the pastas and my son and I danced all over the menu.
Lido items could be a little heavy on the grease and some items would sit for hours untouched (stewed pears?), but in all the quality and freshness was good. By the pool area, the hamburgers were dry and the pizza excellent. There was a sushi table open several hours a day, but after the third day of the cruise I question just how fresh the fish could be. We tried room service once, at about 1 A.M. and found the sandwiches dry as well.
Service was superb in all venues. My wife mentioned to the waiter in one of the dining rooms that the Crème Brulee, which is offered once, was her favorite desert. Just before we left, he presented a foil “basket” with a second desert for her to take back to the stateroom. Our daughter does not look her age at all and our son is 19. Of the seven nights, wine was poured for them five times. On the last night, the bottle was left on the table so I could pour to my son, so not to involve the waiter in this felony. The other night, two wine glasses were removed without a word before the wine arrived.
I happened to go up to Lido after 2 AM one morning, lo and behold, crew members sitting all over the place eating their meals.
On a recent Carnival cruise, full uniformed security guards were observed in all public areas. On Sapphire, we saw one person dressed in khakis and t-shirt with “youth security” on the back. I’m sure there were security people there, but they were invisible.
This was about two weeks before the normal Christmas break from school. I think this was the reason there were very few children on this cruise.
We were able to watch the cruise director, Neil Chandler, get ready to go in front of several hundred people to perform. Here is a grown man dressed in a full chicken outfit getting ready to hit the stage. Very interesting watching him physically pump him self up to take control of a room.
There is a “party” night where there is a champagne glass waterfall in the atrium. Passengers are allowed to pose for a photo op, but only to the ship’s photographer. Three strategically placed crewmembers block the shot from the surrounding area. But then you can buy the photo the next day from Princess.
On the last day, disembarkation was only 35 minutes behind the printed schedule. Smaller rooms were used for baggage claim and we rounded up our luggage in less than 5 minutes. What was interesting, was none of the 12 security people in the area checked to see if you were taking someone else’s bag home
Oh, the deal we got, net cost was $68 a day for each of us. That covered the cruise, port and other taxes and travel insurance.
The last thing I did was drop a note into the feedback box with my contact information. Seams that smudge on our mirror will be there for the next passengers. That was a week ago and haven’t heard a thing from Princess.