I took a 10-day re-positioning cruise on Sapphire Princess from Rome to Southampton. Sapphire Princess has spent recent summers in Europe with itineraries in Australia, Asia and Alaska planned for 2021.
Did you know?
The Sapphire Princess was originally called the Diamond Princess but due to a fire that swept through the ship during construction, their names were switched to ensure that the Diamond was completed on time (both ships were being built at the same time).
Reasons for booking this cruise
I’d spotted this particular itinerary on a previous cruise in the Future Cruise office but I didn’t book it until a few months later when I spied a great deal with Cruise1st.
- There were some great ports I wanted to visit/re-visit (in particular Rome, Monaco, Pisa and Normandy)
- The cruise started in Rome, which gave me the opportunity to fly in a few days early and explore the city before boarding the ship
- The cruise ended at Southampton so it meant that we didn’t have another flight to catch after disembarkation
- I had cruised with Princess twice before and really enjoyed both cruises
- Cruise1st had a fantastic offer, which included flights to Rome and a transfer for just £789pp (we paid a little extra than the initial offer to choose our cabin).
Sapphire Princess Dry Dock
The Sapphire Princess went into scheduled dry dock in March 2018, one month before this cruise. I didn’t find this out until after booking so was looking forward to being on the ship soon after dry dock to experience the upgrades on board.
We flew into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport three days before the cruise in order to explore Rome. We had a busy itinerary, which I’d painstakingly planned to ensure that we could pack as much into our stay as possible. One of the best things I discovered was the Roman Forum Light Show.
We stayed in an AirBnB in a fantastic location in the district of Monti. It was just a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum and right next to a Metro station (surprisingly not noisy).
We booked an independent transfer from our AirBnB with Civitavecchia Cab Service. This was a shared shuttle, taking approximately 90 minutes from the centre of Rome. I would highly recommend this shuttle service. Everything ran smoothly, the driver was prompt and it cost just 65 euros for two people (payable to the driver).
This was the fastest embarkation I’ve ever experienced! It was a total of 10 minutes from curb to ship. No lines, no waiting, we simply checked in and walked straight on board.
Public Areas on Sapphire Princess
Despite being smaller than the Royal class ships, Sapphire Princess holds its own and the public areas never felt crowded. There was always plenty of space to walk around from venue to venue.
The Piazza, which spans Decks 5, 6 and 7, is a hub of activity throughout the day with an array of demonstrations and musical entertainment. We often paused in the Piazza to watch what was going on or to simply do a bit of people-watching.
There are a number of onboard venues that will be familiar to you if you’ve cruised with Princess before.
Situated on Deck 7 near the Piazza, Crooners has a relaxed atmosphere. There are comfortable chairs and seating around the bar. I enjoyed sitting at the bar, watching the bar staff preparing each drink with care and their utter attention; it was clear that the staff here take immense pride in creating cocktails for guests and are obviously very experienced. Amazingly, they remembered our names from the first night onward and would say hello and wave when we walked past, even if we didn’t stop for a drink.
Having never spent much time in the Wheelhouse Bar on previous Princess cruises, I was surprised I gravitated to this venue during the cruise. It’s a large venue (especially for the ship’s size) with plenty of chairs and sofas arranged for privacy and coziness. There’s almost always a singer during the evenings but I most enjoyed relaxing in there during the day. This is a fantastic place to enjoy a quiet drink to completely chill out. The only exception to this was on a sea day when trivia was held and it was absolutely packed with people!
At the back of the ship (aft) is Club Fusion, very much like the Vista Lounge on other Princess ships. This venue has a good size dance floor for dancing and Zumba classes. TV screens positioned throughout the room are cleverly used for a variety of events and activities such as karaoke and trivia. I always enjoy doing the Zumba classes onboard and the instructor on Sapphire was very good, she was friendly and kept everyone motivated. It definitely helps you feel better about the amount of food you eat on a cruise.
Near the Piazza on Deck 7, the Explorers Lounge has plenty of seating arranged around tables and is used as a secondary, more intimate venue to the Princess Theatre. During our cruise we watched two of the comedians here, Jeff Stevenson and Mike Mclean; both were very funny. It’s also the venue for art auctions. The waiting staff are very attentive and there always seems to be plenty assigned to this venue during evening entertainment.
Just outside the Explorers Lounge is the photo gallery, I did enjoy spotting all of our photos, including the ones with us pulling funny faces!
This late night venue is situated on Deck 17 aft, accessed on Deck 16 with an escalator just off the elevators. During the day, it’s used as a Platinum and Elite members area. It looked like an excellent place to relax and gaze out at the wake view. The nightclub opens for all passengers at 10pm and had a range of themed music to dance you into the early hours.
A grand theatre in keeping with the rest of the fleet, it has ample seating as long as you arrived around 15 minutes before each show. We found that some of the seating around the sides remained empty so it was easier to find more room there. I also like the little fold out tables found in the right-hand arm rests so you can pop your drink on them whilst enjoying the show.
We watched three shows in the Theatre and favoured the guest shows, especially the Fly Boys, a four-piece singing act. They effortlessly transformed modern songs into swing versions and keep the audience entertained between each song.
On one of the sea days I went along to a backstage tour of the Princess Theatre. I also had the opportunity to take a Cruise Ship Bridge Tour. It’s very interesting to go behind the scenes on a cruise ship.
Sapphire Princess Bars and Restaurants
Princess Cruises is well-known for its great food and has won numerous awards from USA Today, Cruise Critic, Cruise International and Food & Wine Magazine. The food is high in quality and I can honestly say that I never went hungry on the Sapphire Princess; there is a good selection of food venues from casual to fine dining to suit your appetite.
Main Dining Rooms
There are five main dining rooms, with four available for Anytime Dining. We choose Anytime Dining with Princess as it allows us to eat when we want and to fit dining around our evening plans. We ate in three out of the four main dining rooms (Savoy, Santa Fe and Pacific Moon) and noticed that each dining room has its own theme. The Savoy is decorated in darker colours and seems a more formal setting in comparison to the Santa Fe, which feels more casual and light. The Santa Fe was refurbished as part of the dry dock work and features the new Club Class Dining option.
Club Class Dining has recently been introduced by Princess to offer guests premium located mini-suites with VIP Perks such as Club Class Dining, priority boarding and complimentary wine. Watch this space for a dedicated blog post on the Club Class Dining.
The menu in all dining rooms are the same for each night, so it doesn’t matter where you choose to eat; you will get equally high-quality food wherever you dine. We had some delicious meals during our cruise and the waiting staff were so friendly and attentive. Our waiter in the Savoy Dining Room was particularly friendly and attentive.
I did make a couple of mistakes in the dining rooms that I thought I should mention:
- After being in Rome, I had a craving for pasta but the pasta in the main dining room could never live up to the pasta I’d enjoyed in Rome – so it was my fault really that I was a bit disappointed
- I asked for water and ended up with a full bottle of sparking water, which was pretty pricey (for water), after that I just made sure I asked for tap water or a glass of wine!
Horizon Court Buffet
The buffet can be found on the Lido Deck and we typically ate breakfast and lunch here. Breakfast was always good, probably my favourite meal of the day, with plenty of hot and cold options. The bacon and sausages are delicious! The complimentary fresh lemonade here is a refreshing option that I enjoyed and is well worth asking for.
We never had an issue with finding a table, there was always plenty of room, even when some of the tables were being used by groups playing cards.
This whole section of the ship has had a refresh during dry dock, with new carpet throughout.
On a few occasions when we couldn’t be bothered to dress up for the main dining room, we ate in Horizon Court. We’d been spoiled on our previous cruise on Regal Princess and there was definitely less choice on offer but the Regal’s buffet was easily four times the size of Sapphire’s! Our favourite evening meal in the buffet was Italian Night, our particular favourite was the freshly-cooked pasta with chilli flakes for an extra kick!
One tip I would give to anyone eating in the Horizon Court for dinner would be to ensure you leave enough room for dessert. There’s always a great choice and the portion sizes are just right – you may even have enough room for two desserts!
The pizzeria on Deck 5 genuinely feels like a specialty dining option but in fact has no additional charge. The pizza is prepared to order and surprisingly this restaurant was never busy so we were able to get a window table with no trouble. On our visit, we selected the ‘Sapphire Princess’ pizza (which I’m guessing is an interchangeable name depending on the cruise ship). It was tasty with a crispy thin base and plenty of toppings – delicious! It’s obvious why the pizzeria, named after the line’s master chef Alfredo Marzi, was awarded ‘Best Pizza at Sea’ by USA Today.
On Deck 5 of the Piazza is the International Cafe, very much in keeping with other Princess ships. The cafe is conveniently open 24 hours a day for coffee, dessert and light snacks! The soup served here is great for a light lunch, I especially enjoyed the clam chowder. The soup is also served in the Horizon Court.
On the Sapphire Princess there are three specialty dining options:
Sabbatini’s: tucked away on Deck 7 next to the Internet Cafe, this Italian restaurant is a real treat. It was one of our favourite meals on board and well worth the $29 cover charge. I enjoyed calamari, lobster three ways, espresso creme brulee and was absolutely stuffed by the end!
Sterling Steakhouse: Available every evening in the Horizon Court, the Sterling Steakhouse offers you the chance to choose your own cut of steak, cooked to order. This specialty dining is also available aboard Diamond, Pacific, Sea and Sun Princess cruises.
Crab Shack: Available on selected evenings. The Crab Shack takes over part of the Horizon Court and serves buckets of crab accompanied by the most amazing garlic butter dipping sauce.
Trident Grill and Swirls
Fancy a slice of pizza? Burger? Ice cream? On the Lido deck, there are two casual take away options to keep your energy levels up whilst you are hard at work relaxing on the sun loungers.
The complimentary soft-serve ice cream stand called my name several times during my cruise. If you can’t decide between vanilla or chocolate ice cream, you can have ‘half and half’. Everyone’s happy! The ice cream stand also makes popcorn in the evening for the Movies Under the Stars. I enjoyed the popcorn, which was salted (my preferred type of popcorn) and unlimited (also my preferred type of popcorn!).
Movies Under the Stars
I love watching movies and Princess’s Movies Under the Stars is a great way to watch a good film al fresco on the Lido Deck. Sun loungers are transformed with comfy, padded covers and blankets to keep you snug when the sun goes down.
The best thing is that if you’re busy one night and can’t watch the movie on the big screen, the film is loaded on to your stateroom TV the following day.
The film selection on board is very good, we hadn’t seen many of them. We would pop one on our stateroom TV whilst we were getting ready to go out in the evening. I also discovered a TV show called ‘Vacation Creation‘ that has lovely stories about families enjoying cruises in the Carnival group – I would recommend checking it out if you get the chance.
The pools on Sapphire Princess were never busy so there was always the opportunity for a swim or to bubble away in a Jacuzzi. There are three pool areas: two small pools at the aft of the ship, an indoor pool (ideal for swimming whatever the weather) and the main pool. Movies Under the Stars is situated at the main pool.
A hidden gem on the Sapphire Princess is the Lotus Spa Pool, situated towards the bow of the ship (front). This is an adult-only pool and many cruisers don’t realise that it’s free to use. It’s situated next to The Sanctuary and spa facilities.
Art Gallery and Casino
I don’t profess to have spent much time in these areas but have included photos of them for you to see. My stateroom was very close to the art gallery and so we frequently walked through it. Throughout the cruise there are several art auctions (held in the Explorers Lounge) and so it’s nice to see an array of art that rotates around the gallery during your time on the ship.
The casino is a decent size for the ship, possibly to cater more to the Asian market. This area was never busy during our cruise and due to our port-intensive itinerary. It was also our muster station.
A special area that I’d never seen on previous cruises was the VIP Lounge within the casino. This is specifically available to the ‘high-rollers’ who love to cruise.
The dry dock totally refreshed the ship; I didn’t see anything like that on board, it was clean and spotless. I couldn’t fault the public areas and it never felt crowded, despite being completely full with passengers it never crowded. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was half empty!
Find out how Crown Princess compares in this dining and restaurant guide.
My favourite bits:
- The Sapphire Princess never felt crowded with plenty of room in all of the venues and dining options
- Embarkation was so fast, no queue, straight on board
- Sabatini’s Restaurant served delicious Italian cuisine, I would highly recommend a visit at least once during your cruise
- All of the staff we met were friendly, chatty and attentive
- The guest entertainment on board was the best we’d experienced, the comedians in particular were hilarious
- Zumba classes in Club Fusion were a great opportunity to burn off some of the calories I ate
- The backstage tour of the Princess Theatre was very interesting and I love that Princess offers passengers a behind-the-scenes
- Alfredo’s Pizzeria serves great pizza, it’s like a specialty dining option without the cover charge
- Complimentary soft-serve ice cream – enough said
- A fantastic choice of films to watch ‘under the stars’ and in your stateroom
- Italian night in the Horizon Court Buffet
- The International Cafe is a handy little spot for hot drinks and snacks at any time of day
My Least Favourite Bits:
- It’s smaller than the Royal class ships so the Horizon Court has less choice for evening dining – but admittedly we had been spoilt for choice on the Regal Princess
- This ship does not have a Crown Grill (my favourite speciality dining restaurant), instead the Sapphire Princess has the Sterling Steakhouse, which is a pop-up restaurant in the Horizon Court
- The immigration queue. This was a re-positioning cruise and so we had to go through immigration and the queue was huge! This wasn’t Princess Cruises’ fault at all and the staff tried to minimise the delay as much as possible. Thankfully this will not happen now that it’s sailing from Southampton.
- Leaving the ship after my 10-day cruise!
Related post: Sapphire Princess dry dock work