Showing posts with label Sapphire Nov-Dec 2019. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sapphire Nov-Dec 2019. Show all posts

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.
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.

Cruising 27 days from Rome to Singapore on exotic cruise with Princess Cruises

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Singapore Disembarkation

Boy, I wish we could have stayed longer. Who wouldn't want to, after a month on a ship, continue to sail on her as she visits Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand? Unfortunately there were just too many reasons why we had to go home.
You know you've seen too many spectacular buildings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
when the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore winds up being just another pretty building.
Disembarkation was ahead of schedule which is always nice. In Singapore, once you leave the ship you go through immigration and hand over an immigration form the ship had delivered to passengers a couple days before. After immigration you pick up your luggage and then go through customs. Red line = something to declare. Green line = nothing to declare. All went smoothly until our Princess transfers bus to the airport showed up at the cruise terminal late. Then passengers showed up late. It all worked out in the end, but not without some passengers getting frustrated and stressed.

Singapore's beautiful Changi airport, Terminal 3
Once we arrived at the airport, we found out we were still too early for check in. (It seemed that more than 3 hours was too early.) There was one very long early check in line with just one representative working and having to take care of all those cruise passengers and their tons of luggage.

We also found security wasn't what came next. Immigration came next, and here we had to have scans of both thumbs taken. Immigration led to an open area with lots of shops and restaurants. No security screening there. We found the security screening happening at the gate - a gate that doesn't open its seating until one hour before the flight leaves. Something to know if you're traveling there in the future - there are no restaurants or shops near any of the gates. If you want to eat, drink, or shop it needs to happen right after immigration. Another thing to note - you cannot take beverages to your gate seating with you. Metal detectors, pat downs, liquid size requirements, and no beverages, just like you'd expect for security in the US. There were seats outside the gates where you could wait for it to open. But again, no places around the area to purchase food or drink.

But if you have plenty of time at the airport, there's a better place to hang out. Earlier this year the airport launched a $1.3 billion (that with a B!) mall complex called Jewel. It’s connected to the airport, but you don’t have to be flying to enjoy it and you don't have to go through immigration or security to get to it. Since we had hours to kill before our flight, we took a look. The most amazing part of the space is the tallest indoor waterfall in the world. The thing is huge at 130 feet. 
Take a closer look at the picture below. See the teeny tiny people near the bottom? The waterfall is so big you can hardly find them.
Finally some Christmas decorations.  
Who knew Singapore was so industrial? Not me.
Who knew there were beautiful islands between Singapore and Taiwan? Not me.
Ever see the approach to Taipei, Taiwan at night? You sure have.
It has been a long day (I guess it's actually been two days?) and we aren’t even home yet. Today we've crossed a double digit number of time zones (I think) and the International Date Line. After leaving the ship at 9 am Singapore time, hanging at their airport for most of the day, flying over four hours to get to Taipei, a stopover there of over three hours, then another 10 ½ hours flying to Seattle, I'm so confused about what time it is (or was). I just know we can’t get home tonight so we are in a hotel near the Seattle airport. While we slept better than expected on the plane, we still need some sleep. Hopefully enough to get us home tomorrow!

I'll be getting a cruise wrap-up summary posted in the next few days so if you're interested, keep an eye out for it. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Port Kelang, Malaysia

It was almost over. The last port and last tour on the month-long cruise. All through the night three words permeated my brain. Must. Press. On.

When I woke up several times drenched in sweat. Must. Press. On.
As I tossed and turned, trying to find the right spot for my painful knee. Must. Press. On.
During the coughing attacks. Must. Press. On.
As I woke up in a start, trying to gasp for breath. Must. Press. On.
While attempting to drown out the sound of the blowers outside our cabin. Must. Press. On.
When the alarm went off at 5:30 this morning. Must. Press. On.

So when E came out of the bathroom and said let’s not go today I had only three words for him.

That sounds great.

He felt the need to defend his decision but he really didn’t need to tell me. I knew what he was going to say.
  • We had a long walk to get to the terminal building.
  • To take a three hour roundtrip bus ride just to get to the city of Kuala Lumpur.
  • To start a tour lasting a good chunk of the day.
  • With one of the stops requiring 50 steps with no handrails.
  • In stinkin’ hot weather.
  • And the most important one - we needed to save our energy for two very long travel days ahead.

Yes, I knew. When I booked this cruise I worked hard at making sure I only scheduled tours I knew he could handle. Ones that wouldn’t wear him down. Tours not too taxing for him. I think I’ve done a great job at it and he’s been a trouper. But here, in this last port, I’m faced with the whole hindsight is 20/20 thing. I shouldn’t have booked a tour on the last day of the last port. It was a moment of selfishness, I guess. An I know I won’t get back here ever so I want to see it now selfishness. Lesson learned.

While I could have gone to the medical center to get the excursion tickets stamped in order to get a refund, I didn’t want to. There are sick people in the waiting room down there and I don’t need any additional germs in my system. Anyway they would have mostly likely prescribed me a Z-Pak, which I already have thanks to my multiple cruises to Mexico this year. And I’d rather not have to pay for a doctor visit, submit it to my health insurance, wait for the denial letter, then have to submit it to the travel insurance company. I was just fine eating the cost of the excursion instead and start taking my straight-from-Mexico Z-Pak.

So we stayed onboard where I saw nothing resembling Kuala Lumpur.
It looks like a long hot walk just to get to the terminal.
There is a bit of a smoke smell in the air but it may be from the chemical plants near the port.
I later learned the area has a significant number of illegal plastic recycling factories -
factories that many times just burn the plastic instead of recycling it.

I can attest it really is stickin’ hot today. I can also attest I started on my Z-Pak this morning. And that yes, I really am sick because I can’t bring myself to get dressed in my swimsuit and spend the day at my go-to spot for the cruise. 
I love this pool.
I also couldn’t stay in bed all day, so I did manage to make my way to the Internet Café to get some cell service so I could use my phone as a hotspot to get the blog posted. I remember this Internet Café from our first cruises years ago when there wasn’t Wi-Fi throughout the ship. The days when we had to come down here to Deck 7 to go online. (Which we never did back then. How did we ever do without the Internet?) 

It’s nice and big and bright with plenty of seating and open space. Makes you realize how times have changed. Heck, we didn’t even have a cell phone back in those days.

Tomorrow we’re off to Singapore where we’ll be disembarking the ship. Yep, still sad. I’ll be back in the next couple days to finish up the trip reporting and will be posting a trip wrap-up as well. See ya then.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Sea Day Times Three

I’m putting all three days’ worth of at-sea info into just this one post so apologies for the random smattering of thoughts…

These three sea days have gone by fast. As the ship is heading east we are flying through the time zones. Three times we’ve moved the clock forward in the last three days. Whew. If you’re keeping track we’ve now moved the clock forward eight times in the past month for a total of seven (7!) hours lost. For those thinking of this itinerary, consider doing it in reverse so you gain seven hours instead.

As predicted, since the Internet was switched to the southern satellite, service has been sloooowww. I have a slew of emails I can’t even get to load and most websites, including the blog, won’t show anything but a blank screen. I’ve tried logging in several times a day, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when things finally do go through. I’ve read five emails, sent three, and listened to two voicemails. Internet minutes used to do those few things? Almost 100. I contemplated going the Internet manager to get minutes reinstated but at this point it really doesn’t matter.

Of course, one of the emails that did load was from the Jury Commission reminding me jury service starts Monday. Yes, I know. I’ll be leaving Singapore late Saturday afternoon, arriving for a late night connection in Taipei, cross more multiple time zones until we get to our overnight stay in Seattle and arrive home in time to make it to jury duty. Thanks for the reality check.

The other night the cabin right next to us had a flood. They moved the passengers out so the crew could spend the night sucking up all the water. It was quite a loud night with the machines running, crew yelling over each other while they were doing it, and the blowers trying to dry things out. By the next morning they gave up on the sucking machine and pulled up all the carpet in the cabin. They need to do the same for the hallway as the flood also made its way to the hallway and the carpet is squishy and splashy. They still have the blowers running on it. Right outside our cabin. While the noise is bothersome, it’s nothing compared to the noise we had in our original cabin on the ship so there will be no complaints from me.

One thing I may have mentioned during this cruise but is worth mentioning again is the Sterling Steakhouse’s availability. It’s closed a lot. 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 this ship.

Today was our very last day at sea. Sad. I knew I loved sea days, but now I realize I really love sea days when the weather is warm. I got to swim every day, work on my tan every day, and swim some more. My left knee isn’t happy about all the swimming and neither is my right shoulder. But the rest of my joints have been just fine with it. I’ve also certainly enjoyed all the Movies Under the Stars options during my pool time. With this being a super-long cruise we are getting plenty of choices we don’t usually see on other cruises like Pride and Prejudice, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, World’s Fastest Indian, Big, and so many, many more. All of the movies go to the on-demand system on the TV the next day and as of today we have 62 extra movies that have been added.

Last week (or was it the week before?) I mentioned there were no chair hogs on this cruise. Well, I found them this week. They’ve been in the covered pool area. We had one stormy sea day when I couldn’t get to the outdoor pool (it’s monsoon season here) and found it was difficult to get a good seat at the indoor pool at 9:45 in the morning because of the chair hogs. I even found someone had placed their cane over two lounge chairs to hold them. Hmm…guess someone doesn’t need a cane that bad.

We received our passports back today with several new stamps. This trip has been the most passport-filling trip of our cruising history. Cruise to Canada, Mexico, the islands of the Caribbean, or around Europe (at least at the ports we’ve visited before) and you don’t get one stamp. The only time you even show your passport is during cruise check in or at the airport from your international flight. But at the ports on this itinerary? Immigration is serious business here.
Some stamps are on top of stamps on top of stamps.
Most Traveled Guest for this cruise has 1,503 days with Princess.

Like I said, random thoughts here!

Tomorrow we are in Port Kelang, Malaysia. It’s the port where we’ll take a Princess excursion to Kuala Lumpur, our last stop of the cruise before Singapore. Sad. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Colombo, Sri Lanka

I love days full of new sights, sounds, and learnings.
Ever see a sunrise over Sri Lanka? You sure have.
Remember yesterday I wrote there was a lady who wasn’t going to get off the ship today because there was nothing worth seeing? Well, I’m glad she stayed back and left it all for us. Our early morning city tour in Colombo, Sri Lanka was great. We had heard so many things ahead of time – things we were glad hadn’t deterred us.

Be ready for a country opposite of what you’ve experienced so far. 
It sure was and we saw so much that was new. Temples and churches and buddas.
Buildings and businesses and green spaces.
Like the laundromat sign?
And the people. So interesting to watch.
The sign said saloon but by looking at the picture in the corner I think it meant salon.
The cleanliness you saw on the streets of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Muscat will not exist in Sri Lanka. 
While the streets were not spotless, they weren’t left trashy either. There were workers all around the city cleaning up. 
Look at the brooms they were using.
Plan on toilet paper to be absent from restrooms and for them to not be Western style. 
We made a couple stops. I used the ones in the hotel where we had a little snack. Restrooms there were immaculate. And Western-styled.
Look at the beautiful entryway of the Kingsbury hotel. Those are real roses.
Nervous Nellies will not want to sit near the front of the buses or transportation or tours because of the way the drivers will be driving
We had a great driver. But yes, the traffic was crazy. Cars and buses and tuk tuk drivers all going in all different directions.
Plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting outside the port gates.
Air conditioning in the transportation – Princess tours included - may take quite some time to cool things down, so expect to be hot and sticky and wet.
The air conditioning worked great and we didn’t get overheated at all.

Weather forecast calls for 89 degrees, high humidity, and a 100% chance of rain, most likely from intermittent downpours. 
Not during our early morning tour. It was a beautiful, comfortable day.

We had a grand time. I’m glad grumpy-pants lady stayed behind and we didn’t.

Tomorrow we have another sea day. Then another one after that and another after that. Three sea days in a row before our next port. Like I mentioned yesterday, the Internet in the southern hemisphere is painfully slow. While I’ll be writing the blog each day, it may not let me post it. But if I can, I will. (I was actually surprised when I checked my phone today and saw that yesterday’s post had made it. I thought it was lost in space somewhere.) So if you don’t hear from me for three days, I should be able to get them posted once we hit Kuala Lumpur. (Gotta love it when your cellular network allows you to use your phone as a hot spot no matter what country you’re in. Now if they could just make it work at sea that way!)