Fodor’s Expert Review
Launched in 2004 and refurbished in 2018, Sapphire Princess was the third ship to join the cruise line’s Grand Class. This class launched with Grand Princess in 1998. Ruby Princess in 2008 was the seventh and last before the significantly larger Royal Class ships began rolling out in 2013.Read More
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sapphire was out of service for over two years before emerging from dry dock in September 2022. Though it does not have flashy attractions, Sapphire remains popular with its core demographic of retirees. It boasts four swimming pools, a splash pool for kids, eight hot tubs, a sports court, and an 804-seat theater.
The ship spends summers in Alaska on 7 or 14-day itineraries that always include Glacier Bay, while land guests get whisked by rail from Whittier to the Princess Wilderness Lodge in Denali National Park. Sapphire then sails down the Pacific Coast, makes a detour to Hawaii and the South Pacific Islands, before sailing South America and Antarctica on long voyages, some lasting for 34 days. The ship’s self-service laundry facilities and The Conservatory, which has an indoor pool, two hot tubs, and deck, definitely come in handy for lengthy itineraries. However, having only two specialty restaurants and five complimentary dining rooms sharing the same daily menu means food may feel limited.
Princess Cruise Line has a loyal, multicultural fan base. It is not unusual for some to do three or four trips a year or spend months sailing on a single ship. The average age of passengers on Sapphire skews older, around 60 to 70, and this age group is well catered to, though impressive 2022 renovations of the kids club will please multi-generations traveling together.
All the traditional elements of a Princess Grand Class ship are here. The 2,670-passenger vessel has 14 bars and lounges to relax, drink, and be merry. The ship adores a theme and each space has touches to set the scene, from the signature nautical-style Wheelhouse Bar, to Explorers Lounge, an homage to old-world exploration of ancient Egypt. It’s fun but not too over the top.
The heart of the ship and meeting place is the Piazza, a sparkling, golden atrium spanning three decks. Two glass elevators flank the small stage where a pianist and other musicians serenade passengers cooling down after an excursion. Curved staircases connect each level. It’s a gathering place to shop, grab a snack or coffee from the 24-hour International Cafe, or watch
mixologists shake up a global inspired cocktail at Good Spirits at Sea. You can order food or drink to you through the app.
The ship may look traditional but Princess has fully integrated technology into the experience. Known as MedallionClass, every passenger is issued a free quarter-sized waterproof medallion which can be worn on a lanyard, or accessories such as wrist straps can be purchased. It replaces the key card, however, it does much more than just unlock your stateroom and identify you when returning to the ship.
In conjunction with the app, order food and drink delivered to almost anywhere on the ship, purchase with contactless payment, and if you have a beverage package, keep track of consumption. Set up the OceanCompass Shipmates function so you can locate where other members of your party are on the ship. Tap the medallion at one of the many interactive touch screens to check reservations, shore excursions, bookmark events, see how many others have signed up for trivia or mahjong, print a statement of account charges to date, find the nearest restroom, or let the map guide you to your desired destination. There’s even games to help kill a few minutes. The app is available in English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish, and Russian. Download the app before sailing to set up an arrival time and contactless boarding. Complete the “OceanReady” steps in advance for smooth embarkation.
Some passengers lament they prefer the days of having just a key card. There is no need to worry that service will be diminished by technology. Sapphire’s service remains warm and personal, and even familial for long-staying guests.
Lengthy itineraries require a full program of activities. The fitness center offers yoga, pilates, TRX, and spin. Staff facilitate friendly competition through many different tournaments, from pickleball, ping pong, and Pictionary, to bocce, bingo, and bean bag toss. The evenings might kick off with line dancing and live music, before a Broadway-style production, musician, or comedian at the main theater. Head up to the sun deck for Movies Under The Stars on a big screen. Hit up the casino, or one of the two nightclubs; the aptly named Skywalkers is perched way up on deck 17.