Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sapphire Princess Month-Long Cruise Wrap-Up


I think the best word to describe our 27 day Rome to Singapore cruise on the Sapphire Princess would be amazing.

E and I talk a lot about how lucky and thankful we are that we were able to make this trip. We talk about the number of pinch-me moments we had. About the new learnings and the questions those learnings have raised. How perceptions and beliefs and a lot of misunderstandings permeate the world. While we didn’t venture into the far-reaches of the interior, by going ashore we got a taste of the culture, religion, and people.

Here are some highlights of our trip, a cruise spanning 8,260 Nautical miles. I've added some tips you may find helpful. You'll also find links to some of the past blog post in case you want more details of the specific port.

The Ship
Our first cruise ever was on the Diamond Princess, the sister ship to the Sapphire Princess. Our second cruise ever was on the Sapphire Princess. This ship is one of the reasons we fell in love with cruising and it taught us what cruising was all about. Obviously it worked out well because we flew thousands of miles to sail on her again and we would be more than happy to do it some more.

Yes, she's older now. But I'm okay with old. If you are a glass half-full kind of person the ship was great. If you are a glass half-empty person you would find things wrong with the ship.

She does have the wonderful wide Promenade deck.
She also still has mailboxes. Yay.
Gotta love the USB charging spot in the lamps!
Since she's been in Asia for so long not everything is just in English.
In case you're interested in officers
Tip: If you need good strong Internet when onboard, this is not the ship and itinerary for you. She's scheduled to have MedallionNet installed by July 2020 which may helps things some. 

The Cabin
We started out in an inside cabin but the non-stop noise was so loud we had to do something about it. In hindsight we should have expected the big, empty space might have been some kind of machinery.

Tip: Stay away from these cabins on the Caribe Deck on the Sapphire Princess.
We were moved to an obstructed oceanview cabin and had a much more peaceful sleep.

The Food
We ate at the buffet for breakfast and lunch. We also ate at the grill and pizza out by the pool and Alfredo's as well. No complaints on any of it, other than after spending two months on the Royal Princess it's hard to go back to the old type of Princess buffet. Although I have to say the omelets here are 1000% better than those on the Royal.
Ingredients are all mixed in and eggs are light and fluffy. Yum.
Most of the time we skipped dinner and never once went to the dining room for any meal.

Tip: If you want to use Sterling Steakhouse as a specialty dining option, know it is not always available. Since it shares space with the back part of the buffet, it’s closed during the busy buffet times. Embarkation day, port days, and Crab Shack days are those days on the Sapphire Princess.

Pirate Drill
Yes, we had a pirate drill and no, it didn't have to do with the Suez Canal. It's all about the High Risk Area (HRA). Click here to find out all about the drill.
The Itinerary
The ports on this cruise were the big draw for us. To be able to start in Civitavecchia, Italy gave us a chance to redeem ourselves. Actually, more for me to redeem myself as the family travel planner. I did a better job of booking flights that were manageable for E, and staying near the port for a couple days of rest before the cruise gave him time to recoup. It left him much better equipped to handle the rest of the trip. We stayed at the Borgo del Mare just outside of town. It was quiet and their restaurant was just 13 steps from our room. We'd definitely stay there again.
Homemade pizza in Italy? You betcha.
Tip: Need transportation from the airport to the Borgo del Mare? The hotel can arrange for shared or private transportation at a reasonable price compared to if you had booked independently. (Plus the driver knows exactly where he is going.)

Naples, Italy was the first of the ports we'd never been to before. We took a ship tour in the afternoon. Now that we know how close the ship docks to the city we'll do our own thing next time.
Tip: It's a short walk out of port to get to whatever you might need.

We were supposed to be in Messina, Sicily but the port wound up being closed because of bad weather. Still having to navigate the Strait of Messina, we saw 70 knot winds that kept us rocking and rolling throughout the unplanned sea day. On the log of the cruise it said we had Force 11 winds. According to the Beaufort Wind Scale, seas are 37-52 feet high with those kinds of winds. No wonder we were being bumped around so much! It also explains why I saw waves crashing over the windows on Deck 5 and why we had things wind up on the floor.

By skipping the port of Messina we got to pick up Santorini, Greece instead. It was still stormy and the tender ride was rough. (Thankfully E stayed behind.) The tenders were bouncing up and down against the dock and it required some big Greek men to lift many of us out of (and put us back into) the tender. Most dangerous tender docking situation I've encountered.
Blue roofs but no blue sky.
Tip: If you're afraid of heights, take a ship excursion instead. If you are doing your own thing you are dropped off at a different dock - the one at the bottom of the city of Fira. The only way is up or down is by walking or riding a donkey up the switchback of steps or by taking the straight up and down cable car ride. 

Rhodes, Greece was another rainy island. It was beautiful but our guide took us to an additional shopping "opportunity" and prolonged the tour longer than was expected. As we weren't shoppers it didn't work out so well for us. But it was a beautiful island and I still took lots of photos.

Tip: If your Princess tour goes to a gold shop and you need to use the restroom, head there first before looking around. Once in the store's door, take a right, then a left, and go quickly past the museum-y section. The restrooms are on your right.
Gorgeous colors despite the rain
The Suez Canal was one of the biggest draws for us in choosing this itinerary. I still can't believe we did this. I didn't even know it divided the continents of Africa and Asia. Where was that information in my geography classes?

Tip: Be prepared for a very full day of seeing interesting things on both sides of the canal.
We were heading southbound so Africa is on the right and Asia is on the left.
Aqaba, Jordan was where E came down with the crud so we didn't go out and all the photos were taken from the ship. It's the first port where I heard a call to prayer.
Tip: If you plan on going to Petra like most passengers did, be prepared for weather changes. While the temperature was comfortable at the ship, it was mighty cool in Petra.

Abu Dhabi was so beautiful and new and shiny and was where we did our first Hop on Hop off tour.

Tip: If you want to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the only one that non-Muslims can enter, go first thing in the day. By the time our bus made it there the place was crazy-busy.
Abu Dhabi  is also where the cruise terminal WiFi put my blog into Arabic and wouldn't let it translate to English. Even when I typed the words they went across the screen from right to left.

Dubai is where we had our second Hop on Hop off tour. A HOHO shuttle picked us up at the port and dropped us off at the Dubai mall so we could start one of the routes. It has three routes and I'll tell ya, it would be practically impossible to make it around all three of them unless you left on the first HOHO out and never stopped anywhere. Dubai was beautiful and worth a multi-day trip.

Tip: It's easy to take advantage of the Princess Shore Excursion Price Guarantee for Hop on Hop off tours. You'll receive 110% of the difference between what you pay to Princess and the bus company's (always) lower online price. For Dubai we each received $20.63 back in onboard credit because of the difference.
Burj Al Arab
Muscat, Oman was another Hop on Hop off tour. It was limited to one loop and dropped off at the end in the city if you wanted to stay longer. There was a shuttle that would take you back to port. Muscat was the cleanest and most conservative of our ports. Even the tour bus drivers were dressed traditionally.
Tip: If you take the earliest HOHO, don't get off at the first stop. The Souq isn't open until later, so get in the full tour and then stop there at the end of the tour.

Colombo, Sri Lanka was the port we were cautioned not to expect too much from. We took a city tour were pleasantly surprised. We saw oh-so-much and oh-so-many people from oh-so-many walks of life.

Tip: If you want to do your own thing, you have to take a shuttle to get outside the port gate. You'll find plenty of tuk-tuk drivers and some taxis available there.

Port Kelang (for Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia
We had a tour scheduled for this last port but I had to face the whole hindsight is 20/20 thing. A long tour with a long bus ride in a hot port really didn't make sense on the day before two long days of travel. We skipped the tour and I learned a lesson.

Tip: There are ample shopping opportunities in the port terminal if you don't want to venture too far in the heat.
Oh yeah, and a long walk to even get to the terminal building.
Singapore
As much as I would have loved to spend a couple extra days in Singapore I had jury duty calling my name. We spent the day at the airport as we waited for our multiple flights home.

Tip: If you have time to kill at the airport, make your way to Jewel, the mall complex connected to the terminals. You'll find food and shopping, but the most amazing part of the space is the tallest indoor waterfall in the world. The thing is huge at 130 feet. 

This itinerary had a lot, lot, lot of sea days with rain on just a few of those sea days. Otherwise the weather was warm enough for swimming weather. Every day you would find me right here at this pool.
Neptune Pool, midship by Movies Under the Stars
Tip: Interested in watching a movie playing at Movies Under the Stars but can't make the time work for you? Wait until the next day and it'll show up on the on-demand TV system in the cabin. Along with all the multiple (free) movies on-demand, we had over 60 Movies Under the Stars movies showing up over the course of the 27 days.


Here's what I can tell you about this itinerary...This cruise with these unique ports is the by far the best way to increase your knowledge base about the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East. TV (and cable news) does it no justice. It’s far different than what you see in person.

Tip: Go with an open mind.

Other Things
Time Changes. We moved the clock forward eight times in the past month for a total of seven (7!) hours lost.

Tip: For those thinking of this itinerary, consider doing it in reverse so you gain seven hours instead.

Immigration is serious business here. Sometimes we got to keep our passports, sometimes the ship kept them so the authorities could process them, and sometimes we had a face to face. So many stamps, sometimes several countries were stamped on top of each other.

Tip: Be available for your cabin steward when requested. There are certain days and times he either needs to return (or pick up) your passports. You'll need to sign off that you have them in your possession.

Sick People. If you cruise long-term you run into lots of sick people. On seven day cruises folks might get sick a few days in but then they go home and you don't know about it. But with this longer cruise, you're with the passengers for a whole month. You see them starting to get sick (meaning they start sneezing all over everything), get really sick (meaning they cough all over everything), and then get you sick. It's inevitable. 

Tip: Keep anti-bacterial hand cleaner with you at all times. I do think using it after every single thing I touched helped me stave off the illnesses as long as I did. 

Passenger Make Up. It seems most of the passengers were in their mid-60s, adventurous, and kind, polite, friendly, and relaxed. And (bonus!) super-easy going in the elevators. We did have a handful of kids onboard and for the most part they weren't unruly.

Would we do it again? YES. And no. Have you ever had an experience so great you don't want to do it again because you're afraid next time it won't be so perfect? This cruise has been like that for us. We want to preserve the amazing experience. Since I’ve documented it online I’ll be able to look back in my old age and see this was one of the best cruises  the best cruise EVER.

Want try out an adventurous cruise like this one yourself? 
Let me me use my experience to help put together 
a long - or - short cruise suited just for you!