Cruise Ship Review: Sapphire Princess Public Areas & Dining

I recently returned from a 10-day re-positioning cruise on the Sapphire Princess from Rome to Southampton.  The Sapphire Princess, built in 2004, is in Europe this summer for the first time, after spending recent years in Asia and will return in 2019 for it’s second European season.

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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 had 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 Cruise 1st.

Other reasons:

  • 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 (my uncle lives in Southampton so it made it easy to arrange transport)
  • I had cruised with Princess twice before and really enjoyed both cruises
  • Cruise 1st 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).

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.

www.cruiselifestyle.co.uk

Getting there

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.  I will insert a link here shortly about the top things to do pre-cruise in Rome.

We stayed in an AirBnB in a fantastic location in the district of Monti, just a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum and right next to a Metro station (surprisingly not noisy).

Rome accommodation AirBnB
The studio we booked in Rome via AirBnB was perfect for a short city break

Get £25 travel credit with AirBnB 

We booked an independent transfer from our AirBnB with Civitavecchia Cab Service, this was a shared shuttle with two other couples who were joining cruises at the port of Civitavecchia, 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).

Embarkation

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.

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Onboard the Sapphire Princess about 15 minutes after embarkation

Public Areas on Sapphire Princess

Despite being a smaller ship than the newer and more modern Royal class ships in the fleet, the 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.

Piazza

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.

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The Piazza on Sapphire Princess
Piazza Sapphire Princess
Looking down on to the Piazza from Deck 7

There are a number of onboard venues that will be familiar to you if you’ve cruised with Princess before.

Crooners Bar

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.

Wheelhouse Bar

Having never spent much time in the Wheelhouse Bar on previous Princess Cruises, I was pleasantly surprised to gravitate to this venue several times during the cruise.  It is a large venue (especially for a ship this size) with plenty of comfortable chairs and sofas arranged for privacy and coziness.  There was almost always a singer in the Wheelhouse Bar during the evenings but I most enjoyed relaxing in there during the day, This is a fantastic place to curl up with a good book and a drink to completely chill out.  The only exception to this was on one of the sea days when they held trivia in there and it was absolutely packed with people!

Wheelhouse Bar
The Wheelhouse Bar, photo credit: cruisedirect.com

Club Fusion

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 different events and activities such as karaoke, trivia and… did I mention Zumba?  I always enjoy doing the Zumba classes on board and the instructor on the 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.

Zumba cruise
photo credit: USAtoday.com

Explorers Lounge

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 of staff 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!

Skywalkers Nightclub

This late night venue is situated on Deck 17 aft, accessed on Deck 16 with an escalator leading from the elevators.  During the day it’s used as a Platinum and Elite members area, which was a bit of a shame as 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.

Skywalkers Nightclub
Skywalkers Nightclub
Skywalkers Nightclub
Skywalkers Nightclub is a great place to hide away during the day

Princess Theatre

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 transform modern songs into those in keeping with 30’s and 40’s swing music 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 plan to do a separate blog post about this tour (available to all passengers at no additional fee) as I felt it offers a great insight into ship life and is well worth attending.

The view from the stage of the Princess Theatre
The view from the stage of the Princess Theatre

Bars and Restaurants

Princess Cruises is well-known for its great food on board its ships 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 whilst 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 always 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 recent dry dock work and features the new Club Class Dining option.

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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 of the 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.

Horizon Court dining area Sapphire Princess
The Horizon Court dining area

On a few evenings when we couldn’t be bothered to dress up for the main dining room we ate in Horizon Court.  We had been spoiled on our previous cruise on the Regal Princess and there was definitely less choice on offer but the Regal’s buffet was easily four times the size of the 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 a little dessert.  There is always a great choice and the portion sizes are just right – you may even have enough room for two desserts!

Horizon Court desserts Sapphire Princess
There’s plenty of desserts on offer at the Horizon Court

Alfredo’s Pizzeria

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.

The 'Sapphire Princess' pizza in Alfredo's Pizzeria
The ‘Sapphire Princess’ pizza in Alfredo’s Pizzeria

International Cafe

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, just in case you haven’t already eaten enough food and fancied a coffee, dessert or light snack!  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 but I enjoyed it in the casual seating area in the adjacent bar.

International Cafe Sapphire Princess
The International Cafe

Specialty Dining

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!

Lobster 'three ways' at Sabatini's
Lobster ‘three ways’ at Sabatini’s

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 and can’t be bothered to walk the short distance to the Horizon Court.

The complimentary soft-serve ice cream stand called my name several times during my cruise; I like the fact that 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!).

Complimentary popcorn for Movies Under the Stars on the Lido Deck Sapphire Princess
Complimentary popcorn for Movies Under the Stars on the Lido Deck

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.  On the Sapphire Princess we enjoyed Jumanji.  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 for the following day.  This was particularly helpful when The Greatest Showman was screened on a formal night so we were able to watch it in the comfort of our cabin the next day.

The film selection on board is very good, we hadn’t seen many of them so we would pop one on our stateroom TV whilst we were getting ready to go out in the evening.  I also discovered a TV programme 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 sun loungers ready for Movies Under the Stars by the main pool
The sun loungers ready for Movies Under the Stars by the main pool

Pools

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 main pool areas: two small pools at the aft of the ship, an indoor pool (ideal for swimming whatever the weather) and the main pool, featuring Movies Under the Stars.

A view of the two aft pools on Sapphire Princess
A view of the two aft pools on Sapphire Princess
Indoor pool on Sapphire Princess
Indoor pool on Sapphire Princess

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 Art Gallery on Sapphire Princess
The Art Gallery on Sapphire Princess

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-heavy itinerary was only open in the evenings once we’d left port and on sea days.  This was also our muster station and for the first time, we didn’t need to take our life jackets to muster.

The Casino on Sapphire Princess
The Casino on Sapphire Princess

Overall Thoughts

The Sapphire Princess is definitely ready for its summer season in Europe.  The dry dock has totally refreshed the ship as I had heard from reading various cruise forums before dry dock that it was looking a bit tired; I didn’t see anything like that on board, it was clean and spotless.  I couldn’t fault the public areas, everything was spot on 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!

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 peak at how a cruise ship works
  • 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 a smaller ship 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: as this was a re-positioning cruise and some passengers had been onboard from Singapore, we had to go through immigration and the queue was pretty bad.  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!

Have you cruised on the Sapphire Princess?  It would be great to hear your thoughts on the ship.  Please leave your comments below.

Happy cruising!

 

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