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Its new trio of megaships the Diamond Princess, Caribbean
Princess and Sapphire Princess all feature several product
enhancements such as upgraded services and innovative public
I had the chance to sample the new features during a mid-June
cruise on the 116,000-ton Sapphire Princess, currently cruising in
Alaska’s Inside Passage from Seattle.
A wholly new space, Club Fusion, wows guests with 31
high-definition video screens, a bandstand/dance floor and video
Personally, I preferred Churchill’s, a combination cigar lounge
and sports bar with 12 TVs big and small. Taking its cue from
1998’s Grand Princess, this clubby room has upside-down pool tables
suspended from the ceiling and sports memorabilia adorning the
walls with a decidedly British fox-hunting motif.
Also excelling as a room to relax in is the Wheelhouse Bar,
which has become a standard, nautically themed lounge on all the
company’s ships. Similar in ambience is the Wakeview Bar, a
downstairs extension of Club Fusion. Connected by a circular
stairway, this secluded hideout is the kind of nook rarely found on
Another idea first introduced on the Grand Princess and improved
upon with the Sapphire is the top-deck, disco-in-the-sky. In this
latest design, the “shopping cart handle” (as it’s now
affectionately known) is nestled closer to the superstructure. This
design allows for an exterior balcony 125 feet wide overlooking the
aft pools. The lateral edges, meanwhile, extend almost as far as
the bridge wings, allowing for dramatic views forward as well.
“No other class of ship has these views,” noted Mike Moulin, the
recently retired commodore of the Princess fleet.
Even the ubiquitous Internet center has gotten a makeover,
becoming a true cafe on the Sapphire and Diamond. In addition to 26
terminals (with four more in the library), the cafe serves beer,
wine, coffees, soft drinks and bottled water.
Internet services include surfing the Web, sending and receiving
Web-based e-mail (such as AOL), and creating photo e-mails using
desktop Web cameras all for the reasonable at-sea price of 35 cents
In conjunction with these hardware improvements, Princess has
introduced a new concierge system for making dinner and spa
reservations. Passengers may pick up the handset of their in-cabin
phone and with the touch of a button make appointments for dining
or a massage.
Spa reservations also can be made online in advance of the
cruise at www.princess.com, where passengers may pre-book shore
excursions and fill out immigration forms too. The system, based on
proprietary software created in-house by Princess, reduces the need
to stand in line to make appointments, according to Jeffrey Kohl,
the line’s director of spa operations.
The ship’s dining scheme has an innovative new twist as well.
Four themed restaurants serve Italian, Southwestern, Asian Pacific,
or American steak house fare. These are part of the company’s
Personal Choice Dining program, which allows passengers to eat
dinner when they wish. The steakhouse represents the best deal,
since on most other Princess ships it operates as a restaurant with
an extra charge.
In any of the dining rooms, passengers may choose from a theme
menu, order off the shipwide menu, or mix and match. Other dinner
options include the reservations-only Sabatini’s Trattoria, which
has a $20 service fee, or the Horizon Court casual buffet.
Traditional dining is still offered in two seatings in the ship’s
main dining room.
For lunch and midday snacks, the most casual eateries abound
around the pool. There’s Prego for a daily variety of pizza. The
Trident Grill offers hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken breast
sandwiches and the like, all served with a side of fries. For
dessert, Sundaes dishes up ice cream for a nominal extra
Even in Alaska, where the air temperature during a lazy day at
sea was 65 degrees (rising to the lower 70s in the direct sun), the
pool decks were filled with passengers soaking up the rays or the
scenery. Older folks seemed to prefer the Conservatory, a
glass-enclosed pool area amidships, while families with children
congregated around the open-air pools and Jacuzzis.
Indeed this was a multi-generational sailing. One group of 15
ranged in age from 2 to 74. Yet another group of 12 ranged from
people in their 20s to some in their 70s. Nor was this unusual: On
formal night I saw two separate groups of 19 and 20 individuals
posing together for pictures on the steps of the atrium which made
me wonder: With so many options to choose from, how did they all
agree on where to eat dinner?
“I’ve heard nothing but raves from people with children,” said
Gloria Sanfilippo of America’s Vacation Center in Escondido.
“Princess welcomes them,” added Laura Donati of Gulliver’s
Travel in San Luis Obispo. “That’s a big selling point for me. I
sell Princess a lot to Alaska and that’s one of the reasons why.
The kids have something to do, and the parents have something to
Even with 200 children and teens aboard, the younger passengers
were well managed, noted Kathy Keithley of the TravelStore in Los
Angeles. “They do a good job of keeping them organized and
The dining arrangements also received praise. “It is the
ultimate example of Personal Choice Dining,” said Sharon Bernhardt
of Altour International in Los Angeles, “because of the selection
of restaurants and the ambience each offers. Each one is
distinctive. The decor really takes it to another level.”
Another agent, Carolina Palmer of Acacia Travel in San Diego,
was impressed by the variety of the menus. “The combination of
menus is something I haven’t seen with any other cruise line,” she
Other agents were pleased with the ship’s layout, which they
said was another selling point. “One of the big pluses is how easy
it is to navigate your way around,” Keithley said. “With this ship
it’s a snap.”
Congestion, even with a full complement of passengers, was not
an issue, said Teresa Solorzano of Travel Dynamics Group in La
Jolla. “I don’t feel like everyone’s in the same place,” she
Another agent mentioned the spaciousness of the open decks. “The
pools were well planned,” said Sandra Badgley of Montrose Travel.
“On other cruise lines, you can’t even get a seat.”
Overall, the agents agreed they would have little problem
selling this ship. Speaking for the group was Jill Hussey of
Montrose Travel when she said, “I think it’s an easy sell.”