Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 by Peter Knego
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Once we were seated on the coach, it was time for a deep sigh of relief. An excruciatingly early (but thankfully non-stop) five and a half hour flight from LAX was behind us. Off we sped from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to Whittier, some 65 miles southwest via the Passage Canal. Outside, it was in the mid-70s and crystal clear, which was quite ironic since Los Angeles was a good ten degrees cooler and had just experienced a rare June shower the prior day. Our driver/guide, who tended to brake rather suddenly when distracted by her own narrative, explained Anchorage was sheltered by the Chugach Mountains and only got about sixteen inches of rain a year. Our destination, Whittier, was far wetter, chalking up over forty inches per annum.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2009 unless otherwise noted. Please click on images to view larger versions.
Soon, the mountains were on our left side and the silver/blue waters of Turnagain Arm on our right. Tide was low, exposing the quicksand-like mud flats, where we were told we might even spot a stranded beluga whale. Never mind the bald eagles and hooligans, I was just hoping our young driver was keeping at least one eye on the winding road…
The perfect weather held forth as we made a quick scenic pit stop just before entering the two mile long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to Whittier. Built in World War Two to provide access to the newly created harbor for the Alaska Command, it was one of the very few structures to remain intact after the devastating 9.2 earthquake that shook the area in 1964. It is only wide enough for one lane to pass, so we were part of the 2:30 eastbound convoy. Tolls for buses is rather steep at $125…
Alms to the weather gods! Just as the guide told us, Princess Cruises’ 116,000 gt, 2,670 passenger SAPPHIRE PRINCESS was straight ahead, towering over the 290 resident town of Whittier. What we did not see were the rain clouds and fog that had apparently blanketed the place earlier that day. Sparkle, sparkle, SAPPHIRE!
Our luggage was already on its way to our nicely-appointed verandah cabin B704 on aft/port Baja Deck, very conveniently located off the aft stairtower. Two twin beds (tall enough to slide the empty suitcases under) with excellent reading lights and a night stand for each, individually controlled air conditioning, a safe, a writing desk, a mini-bar and fridge and a nice balcony with full-length sliding glass doors were among its myriad features. A huge walk-in closet was plenty large enough to house my darling mother’s chic wardrobe, my clothing and two posh bathrobes.
The well-designed bathroom featured a shower, toilet and plenty of shelf space. Princess excellent Lotus Spa amenities include bath gel, shampoo, conditioner and moisturizing lotion.
The wind in Whittier was relentless, blowing a fine mist off the top of the waters in the long, narrow Turnagain Arm. I ventured out into it for some nice photos of the ship and her backdrop of majestic, snow capped mountains and a quick walk through town.
A silty creek meanders downward from the glacial peaks into Whittier’s marina.
Once back on board, I was kindly granted access to the ship’s fo’c’sle head and crew pool area for that essential shot of SAPPHIRE PRINCESS’ layer cake face topped with the shaded blue visor the Grand Class
ships are so famous for.
The Grand Class ships are the only vessels in the world with a walk-around promenade in the (whale-inspired) bow, itself. The Emerald Deck (8) terrace, which looks like a whale’s mouth from afar, is a great place to peer into the surging sea.
I signed up for the $55 for 100 minute internet package. Shipboard internet is never cheap but at least on SAPPHIRE PRINCESS, it seems to be relatively fast, at least as far as satellite wifi is concerned.
We attended boat drill at 7:45 in Club Fusion just after the rest of the passengers funneled on board. The ship was completely full, which says a lot for Princess’ marketing in these somewhat shaky economical times.
Otherwise, a very low key evening followed. Smart casual dinner in the Horizon Court and then sailaway from the shelter of our balcony as SAPPHIRE PRINCESS pivoted away from the terminal at a still sunny 9:00 PM and headed down the wind-whipped passage into Prince William Sound. Captain Nico Binetti (an alumnus of the DAWN, FAIR, CROWN, REGAL, STAR, SKY, and CORAL PRINCESSes) announced that we would be arriving in nearby College Fjord, the northernmost point of the cruise, at 6:00 AM.
Sunset finally came at 11:18, to put an end to a very long day.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
BeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP! I cursed myself for setting the alarm at 6:30 but College Fjord beckoned. Expecting the usually abundant Alaskan drizzle, gray mountains and patches of snow, it was a blinding delight to part the curtains on a panorama of jagged peaks, voluptuous glaciers and their marbled reflection in the midnight blue waters. The stillness and silence of the place, whose glaciers were given ivy league apellations in the 1899 Harriman Expedition, were occasionally punctuated by the gentle tinkling of tiny icebergs around the pivoting SAPPHIRE PRINCESS.
After studying the full 360 degree view, I returned to my comfortable bed for another hour or so of sleep. At 9:30 or so, we headed to Sabatinis for the special suite breakfast. We found a booth near the window overlooking the port promenade as SAPPHIRE PRINCESS sailed through Prince William Sound. Snowy peaks beamed from the trellised mirrors around us.
Romanian waiter Vlad expertly delivered a series of sumptuous courses, beginning with cappuccino and coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and ice water. I ordered the muesli, a tomato, onion and cheddar omelet and smoked salmon with capers, tomato, onion and cream cheese on a bagel. It was all followed by freshly baked breads and a selection of preserves. In less than 24 hours on this ship, my belt had to be loosened a notch.
On the SAPPHIRE and her twin, DIAMOND PRINCESS, the 92 seat Italian specialty restaurant Sabatinis is located about 2/3 aft on Promenade Deck (7). The plus is that it is very easy access and is adjacent to the many entertainment venues on Promenade Deck. The slight minus is that it lacks the spectacular setting, al fresco terrace, the walk-in wine cellar and neighboring Adagio piano lounge on the more recent CROWN, EMERALD and RUBY PRINCESSes.
Although it was like trying to bail a sinking ship, I headed up to forward Sun Deck (15) in the early afternoon to undo some of th
e morning gluttony, stopping for a vanilla/chocolate swirl at Sundae’s on the way. The Lotus Spa has a large, forward-facing gym with loads of stairmasters, treadmills, free weights and weight machines.
Just as we neared the outer edge of the sound, an interesting speck on the horizon off Cape Hinchinbrook gradually grew into our fleetmate, the 92,000 gt CORAL PRINCESS. After picking up the pilot, she passed at a two mile distance off our port side, en route to Whittier.
Aft from starboard wing, MV SAPPHIRE PRINCESS.
After the gym, I spent time in the pristine chill to gather some shots of the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS’ gargantuan upper works, beginning at the wonderful open wings atop the bridge on forward Sun Deck.
And more views from the midships Sky Deck (17) level platform, facing forward over the sheltered Lotus Spa current pool area and aft along the open air Calypso Reef pool area.
The document-ography wrapped up with the brightly lit aft terraces and pools.
Princess has one of the best high teas on the seven seas and part of this day’s agenda was to partake of it. With dinner booked in Sabatinis at 6:00, we decided we’d just have some tea and “look” at the beautifully baked scones (with clotted cream and a stockade of marmalades and preserves, fluffy cakes, crunchy cookies and fresh sandwiches made with some of the best breads afloat). After consuming about a thousand calories each, we had finished “looking”.
Was it low blood sugar-induced blurred vision or had a fog suddenly overcome the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS? We sailed into a thick bank of it and the whistle blew every two minutes for the next several hours as SAPPHIRE PRINCESS made an east by southeasterly course through the unsheltered but millpond still waters of the Gulf.
Despite a complete lack of hunger at the early hour of 6:00 PM, any sense of will power fizzled away in a pungently potent potion of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to accompany the flaky artisan breads and their crunchy stick companions.
Antipasti followed: prosciutto in melon, porcini mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil; chunks of Reggiano parmesan; calamari; buttermilk-dipped anchovies; battered zucchini; air-dried beef; shrimp and artichoke marinated in truffle oil; grilled peppers; deviled crab cakes and ricotta with garlic flan. I skipped the salad and pasta courses but did manage the parmesan and white bean soup prior to the stuffed supreme of chicken with truffle-whipped potatoes main course while my mother elegantly dabbled with the roasted sea bass in whole grain mustard crust. Other main courses included: broiled langoustines with tomatoes, spinach and capers; grilled cold water lobster tail with pumpkin risotto; jumbo sea scallops seasoned in pepper; tiger prawns over creamed polenta and carved chop of Piemontese veal over mushroom ragout. A dinner like this in town (if one can find a town with this quality of food and service) would cost at least ten times the mere $20 per person cover at Sabatinis.
After our three and a half hour indulgence, we stumbled out of Sabatinis a bit late for the 9:15 show but nonetheless headed to the Princess Theater for the SRO presentation of “Do You Wanna Dance”.
Although we had only intended to peek in, we stood in the back aisles and enjoyed it all the way to the end: excellent performances with real singing, acrobatic dancing, state of the art sets and costumes. For dining and entertainment, Princess is tops in the Premium cruise sector.
It was barely twilight when the show let out at 10:15.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Glacier Bay is a relatively transient phenomenon in geological terms. Just 400 years ago, it was a wide, grassy valley with a multitude of springs at the base of a massive glacier and home to a Tlingit village. The Little Ice Age came, filling the valley with a huge glacier that extended out into the Icy Strait at its peak in 1750. When it retreated, a five mile long bay was gouged out by 1790 when Captain George Vancouver discovered it. By the time John Muir came upon the scene in 1879, it had retreated another 40 miles. Today, the bay is 65 miles long. Tourists followed in Muir’s wake and the 3.1 million acre sight was declared a national monument in 1925. Finally, in 1980, it was declared a National Park by Jimmy Carter when he signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
We sailed past Russell Island at the end of Tar Inlet to view the famed Margerie Glacier, possibly the most spectacular of the park’s dozen tidewater glaciers. Cruise West’s little MV SPIRIT OF OCEANUS had just finished her visit, allowing SAPPHIRE PRINCESS to move slowly into place, a mile or so across from Margerie. Ahead and unheralded, lay the larger, tar-colored Grand Pacific.
Every inch of port side railing was lined with passengers, cameras poised to capture a hoped-for epic calving. At intermittent intervals, a small pop would be followed by a bit of tumbling ice. Sometimes it was a precursor to a much larger shelf collapsing dramatically into the berg-filled waters.
Meanwhile, on the starboard side, giant peaks loomed overhead, their elusive, snowy summits fully revealed. In the midst of it all was the sun-parched Neptune’s Reef pool area, an alluring incongruity in a panorama of glaciers and alpine majesty. Rather democratically, SAPPHIRE PRINCESS pivoted around to the other side, which quickly filled with migrating passengers.
After spending equal port and starboard time with Margerie, we slowly proceeded down the inlet. Binoculars were aimed in every direction, looking for wildlife: moose, bears, bald eagles, dolphins, orcas and basically anything that moved.
By the time the ship turned into neighboring Johns Hopkins Inlet, we had retired to the comfort of our balcony for a relaxed study of the Lamplugh Glacier before dinner.
In lieu of traditional dining in first or second seating in the ship’s largest non-buffet eatery, the 518 seat International Dining Room, we chose Princess’ convenient Anytime Dining, allowing us the option of eating when we like in any one of four smaller, 260 seat restaurants, each with its own specialty dish: the Savoy (double cut pork chops with gravy, mashed potatoes and a baked apple); the Pacific Moon (Asian stir fry rice noodles, shrimp and scallops in soy sauce); Vivaldi (oso bocco veal shank with saffron risotto) and Santa Fe (chicken or beef fajitas with tortillas, guacamole and salsa).
Other than the specialty dishes, the menus in all restaurants are identical. We had a wonderful table by the window in the Savoy with a close-to-the-water view of lower Glacier Bay’s Bartlett Cove in the early evening sunlight. We watched as the rangers disembarked into a small boat and sped off to the Glacier Bay Lodge.
Service was impeccable, once again. Romanian waiter Valentin and his cabal of assistants took great care of us as we ate our way through a procession of “delishes”, starting with Princess’ popular “Anytime” fettuccini alfredo, grilled eggplant and peppers, broiled chicken breast and the signature pork for main courses. My mother checked out on dessert but I succumbed to a rhubarb napoleon before we headed off to the Princess Theater for an encore presentation of “Do You Wanna Dance”.
We didn’t dance (but certainly had a great time watching the show in its entirety).
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
SAPPHIRE PRINCESS had tied up at the one-time gold mining town of Skagway well before I parted the curtains at 5:30 AM. Berthing behind us, I could see a portion of one of the earlier Grand series of ships. The MV SPIRIT OF OCEANUS was the first arrival at the quay closer to town.
Alaska Marine Highways lovely, classic MV MALASPINA was tied up at the ferry terminus, loading cargo and lorries through her shell doors. A chilly, damp gloom permeated Lynn Canal, whose morning peaks were obscured in clouds. This was more like the Alaska I had visited on three prior occasions.
Over the next hour and a half, I popped back out on the balcony for the arrivals of ZUIDERDAM (6:00 AM) and RADIANCE OF THE SEAS (6:30 AM) and the departure of MALASPINA (7:00 AM).
A groggy day followed with breakfast in Sabatinis and a full top-to-bottom documentation of SAPPHIRE PRINCESS. Today would be my first chance to roam the Mitsubishi-built ship and take note of her unique features without her contingent of 2,700 passengers.
Aside from being the starting point for the Alaskan gold rush of 1898 when its population soared to 20,000 (now it is just over 800), Skagway boasts a largely-ignored pastiche of passenger shipping in its granite cliffs. Painted with varying degrees of skill are house flags, crew lists, funnel markings and the names of many ships that once called here. Oldies but goodies like the DES XANADU, SS STATENDAM (and as RHAPSODY and REGENT STAR), SS ROTTERDAM, SS UNIVERSE, SS UNIVERSE EXPLORER, SS PRINCE GEORGE and SS ARCADIA are mixed in with cruising’s latest behemoths.
Especially noteworthy since SAPPHIRE PRINCESS is a spawn of her legacy is the PRINCESS PATRICIA, the former Canadian Pacific Rail liner that was chartered as the first Princess ship in 1965. Her CP funnel and the date of June 1963 are still clearly visible between trellises of vines and saplings.
I began my coverage of SAPPHIRE PRINCESS from her uppermost interior space, the 169 seat Skywalkers. But first, I had to stop for a couple views of GOLDEN PRINCESS, which was berthed stern to stern with us. She is part of the same platform of ship but with some very distinct differences, the most obvious of which is the Skywalkers pod suspended high above her stern.
From the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS’ aft Promenade Deck, it was a long way up to the GOLDEN PRINCESS’ Skywalkers. Aside from the architectural variation, GOLDEN P
RINCESS curiously sports a vivid blue boot topping in contrast with the other Princess ships’ jade.
Among the more dynamic spaces on the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS is the three deck Grand Plaza. On the latest ships in the class (CROWN, RUBY and EMERALD), it is called the Piazza, although it serves a similar function as an entertainment and shopping venue in the heart of the ship.
By 2:00 PM, many passengers were returning from their excursions. It was time to put the cameras down and grab a bite from the Horizon Court. There were a few spare moments to upload and edit some images for this blog before I gathered my mother for the 4:20 White Pass and Yukon rail excursion.
No trip to Skagway (or any cruise to Alaska, for that matter) is complete without a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway. The discovery of gold in the Klondike in 1896, was followed by a rush of prospectors. At first, only the perilous Chilkoot Pass linked Skagway with the interior of Northwest Canada and Alaska, its steep ledges and below freezing temperatures taking a huge toll in equine and human lives. In May of 1898, construction began on a railway that would climb 3,000 feet in a mere 20 miles via a series of bridges, tunnels and trestles. The ultimate destination was 110 miles from Skagway, a town called Whitehorse, in the heart of the Yukon Territory.
Shortly after we boarded the train, the day’s early gloom parted to reveal majestic mountain vistas, patches of snow, roaring rapids, waterfalls and blankets of spring flowers.
Connecting on the White Pass and Yukon.
The narrow gauge railway climbs in an hour or so through spectacular scenery to the White Pass Summit, where the engine is switched from front to rear to begin the downward journey.
It was just as beautiful, if not even more so, in the return direction.
We were back at SAPPHIRE PRINCESS by 7:15, in time for a quick bite in the Lido, then a moment or two on the balcony to watch the procession of departures, beginning simultaneously with RADIANCE OF THE SEAS and SPIRIT OF OCEANUS, followed by the GOLDEN PRINCESS, before we backed into Lynn Canal. ZUIDERDAM eventually trailed.
It was a long, full day, so I spent the rest of the evening preparing the blog, then hit the hay.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Juneau, Alaska’s state capital, is located on the Gastineau Channel at the base of the approximately 4,000 foot Juneau mountains and flanked by the dense Tongass Forest. Originally a Tlingit fishing ground, it now is home to some 30,000 permanent residents, who must either rejoice or recoil on busy summer days when visiting cruise ships double its population. When I arose, SAPPHIRE PRINCESS was already berthed at the end of the quay along the highway south of the town center.
Since this was my fourth visit and I had already partaken of the city tour, hikes, glacier fly-overs and the vertiginous aerial tram to Mount Roberts (adjacent to the cruise terminal), I headed into town to get some blogging done. I was told that across from McDonald’s, there was a decent wifi hotspot, so off I went, following two laptop-wielding members of the ship’s staff for good measure. I set up shop at the Heritage Coffee Connection, paying for their speedy internet access with a succession of cappuccinos as staff from the four ships in port came and went, often exchanging morsels of gossip as they caffeinated. One thought another (not to be named) ship in port was really “small and ugly” compared to his. Another was upset that her boyfriend (the male lead in one ship’s theater company) chose whale-watching over spending the day with her. Yet another chided her friends for sitting in a coffee house when they could be outside enjoying the spectacular, sunny weather. She had a good point…
At 3:00 PM, I finally unplugged and headed back to the mother ship. On the waterfront, I stopped for a view of the cruise ships in the brilliant afternoon light: Holland America’s STATENDAM (still fetchingly original and without the ducktail stern that will soon be added as part of an “S class” modernization); Holland America’s WESTERDAM; our very own SAPPHIRE PRINCESS and her cousin, STAR PRINCESS (filling the outer wharf vacated by NCL’s NORWEGIAN SUN earlier in the day).
Safely back on board, it was directly up to Horizon Court for a quick bite before SAPPHIRE PRINCESS thrust away from still sun-drenched Juneau shortly after 4:00 PM. We passed close to the STAR PRINCESS for a Grand Class face-off, then picked up speed for a spectacular cruise down the Gastineau Channel.
We enjoyed dinner at 6:30 in the 230 seat Santa Fe Dining Room as the Inside Passage unfolded before us. My courses began with yet more of that irresistibly flaky Princess artisan bread (never far away from cruets with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), a stilton cheese soufflé, butter lettuce with shallot dressing and the house specialty, a sprawling plate of cheese-drenched chicken fajitas accompanied with corn tortillas, guacamole and salsa. My mother did not need much coaxing to finish her buttery King Crab legs and baked potato. Dessert? Blueberry sorbet (light and delicious!) for me and New York cheese cake for the lady.
Another show beckoned, so off we went, a bit late to find a seat but we did manage to carve ourselves a nice little niche by the starboard Princess Theater proscenium to thoroughly enjoy the hits of Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Carly Simon and even a little Britney in the energetic “I Got The Music” opus.
Almost every night, returning to the cabin after a wonderful meal and show to find sheet after sheet of glossy adverts promoting auctions and various onboard sales made me wary for the trees along the passage and elsewhere. And the announcements, especially on sea days, made me groan for myself and my fellow passengers. ‘Tis but a small gripe in an otherwise ideal sea-going world — I suppose all of it is a necessity, especially when fares are at all-time lows.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
SAPPHIRE PRINCESS had a pretty substantial 285 nautical mile sprint to cover on her passage between Juneau and Ketchikan. Conveniently, we could watch from our portside balcony as Ketchikan neared, edging by a fleet of Beavers and Otters (the small sea planes used for local transport and aerial tours). Just past the drydock, we’d begun berthing maneuvers and were alongside by 10:00 AM. A relatively low tide left the barnacle-encrusted piles mostly exposed.
I spent the morning on a bench in front of a bar across from the ship, utilizing a weak internet connection to continue adding to this blog. Most of it was lost when the connection cut out. An old lesson known but not abided: always save a work “in progress”! It could have been my mood, but after five days of ideal weather, today seemed a bit damp and gloomy by comparison.
As with Juneau, I had visited Ketchikan three prior times, so there were no regrets avoiding the crunch of tourism downtown where no less than five ships’ (SAPPHIRE PRINCESS, ZUIDERDAM, AMSTERDAM, GOLDEN PRINCESS and SPIRIT OF ENDEAVOR) companies of passengers and crew clamored. I had hiked the trail twice, watched salmon flip around in the creek that runs through town and even taken the spectacular Misty Fjords flightseeing excursion.
Once back on board SAPPHIRE PRINCESS, I squeezed in a quick work out and wandered the upper decks for some views of the ships and Ketchikan, which was finally emerging from its June gloom. The tide had risen a bit by the time we prepared to sail for Vancouver.
On this second of two formal nights, we opted for a nice dinner at 7:30 in Sterling’s, the ship’s extra tariff ($15 cover) steakhouse, an area set aside in the aft/starboard section of the Horizon Court. Shortly after we were seated at a table with a spectacular view of Dixon Entrance, our waiter rolled out a cart displaying the various cuts for our perusal. I deferred to my latently carnivorous mother to select a filet mignon, which she gave high marks, as evidenced by its gradual and complete demise. Other steaks included a New York Strip, Bone-In New York Strip, Por
terhouse and Ribeye. I mulled the barbeque chicken but went with the fish of the day, an excellent sea bass in lemon butter. By now, I was content to start with just the amazing breads and the usual potion of oil and balsamic but did manage to squeeze in a brie and papaya quesadilla appetizer while the lady played cat and mouse with her caesar salad. That decadent fried peach cobbler with vanilla sauce and my mother’s raspberry creme brulée would cause some serious caloric aftershocks.
With just one sea day ahead of us and the clock hopping forward an hour, it was time to give some props to our phenomenal cabin stewardess. Not only could she fashion a towel animal worthy of the Bronx Zoo, she took care of or anticipated our every need.
Here’s to pretty Paula from Manila — Thank you for making our stay in Baja 704 such a pleasant one! Hope we get to sail with you again soon!
Friday, June 12, 2009
Unfortunately, in this day and age, bridge visits are generally off limits. However, as part of Princess’ recently implemented “Ultimate Ship Tour” ($150 per person), a limited number of cruise ship aficionados can visit behind the scenes areas on the ship, including backstage in the Princess Theater, the galley, engine control room, print shop, photo laboratory, medical center, laundry, the funnel and bridge.
During my brief late morning visit to the wheelhouse, SAPPHIRE PRINCESS was making her way at a fourteen knot clip southbound in the Queen Charlotte Sound. Seas were calm, although it was a bit gloomy outside.
Captain Nicolo Binetti hails from Molfetta, a fishing town in southeast Italy. He studied at the maritime academy of Bari and first served as a tanker officer. In 1988, he signed on with Sitmar and remained with the company through its transition to Princess. He was a bridge and safety officer on the original DAWN, STAR and SKY PRINCESSes as well as the REGAL and FAIR PRINCESSes. In 2000, he became staff captain of the SKY PRINCESS and captain of CORAL PRINCESS in 2004.
The bridge operates on a NACOS system with integrated communication between the navigation equipment. It is manned 24 hours a day, of course, by three watch teams on four hour shifts (12:00 — 4:00, 4:00 — 8:00. 8:00 — 12:00).
I had a moment to speak with maitre’ d, Jacques Ghennai, who superbly oversees the operation of the ship’s dining rooms and grills. Jacques was born in Monaco and attended the Catherine Culinary School in Monte Carlo for his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He has worked in a number of prestigious hotels and resorts from the Sporting Club and Hotel de Paris in Monaco to the Dorchester and Savoy in London as well as the five star El Toula in Italy. He went to sea with Regency Cruises in 1987, serving on the REGENT SEA (ex GRIPSHOLM), REGENT SUN (ex SHALOM) and REGENT RAINBOW (ex SANTA ROSA) before moving on to Premier Cruise Line (OCEANIC, ATLANTIC, MAJESTIC) and Premier Cruises before joining Festival and Celebrity Cruises. He came to Princess in 2000 with the OCEAN PRINCESS, followed by the SUN and REGAL before signing on with the SAPPHIRE PRINCESS. When not at sea, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Dominican Republic.
Alas, there was much to do on this final day, from packing to taking notes about minutiae such as the machinery in the gym, slots in the casino and various other bits needed for future writing assignments.
In the late afternoon, the sun finally breached, turning the gray seas a shade of silty brown.
We were playing “chicken” with HAL’s ZUIDERDAM (Dutch for “South Town/City”), which passed us at one point, disappeared behind an archipelago and then reappeared hours later only to yield us the right of way. By sunset, as my mother and I watched from the fantail, she was off in our distant wake with the RADIANCE OF THE SEAS trailing her.
Dinner tonight was at 6:30 PM in the Pacific Moon with an excellent, close-to-the-water view of the oncoming traffic — a series of tugs and barges full of everything from ore to cars and work sheds. I was pretty certain I recognized the jagged peaks of Whistler, B.C. between gaps in the forested hills on our port side.
Our waiter seemed a bit stressed and forgot to mention the off-menu Asian stir fry specialty but we did just fine with what we had: feta and watermelon starter, grilled vegetables, turkey with stuffing and apple pie with rum raisin ice cream.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Had I known the immigration pandemonium and security chaos that awaited later in the day at Vancouver Airport, I would have opted to sleep in a bit and deal with it fully rested. A word to the wise — allow three hours to deal with the long lines on busy summer weekend days.
In retrospect, I’m happy we were up at 6:30 AM to witness our arrival in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Vancouver, B.C., Canada. SAPPHIRE PRINCESS’ towering superstructure looked as though it might take part of the Lion’s Gate Bridge with it as the ship passed through the narrows off Stanley Park.
Somehow RADIANCE OF THE SEAS passed us in the night. She was already berthing at the Ballantyne Terminal as we made our approach to Canada Place. ZUIDERDAM was following closely behind and closed in on the west side as SAPPHIRE PRINCESS spun around and backed in to the east side berth.
Here is where I need to salute and thank SAPPHIRE PRINCESS’ outstanding PSD (passenger services director — aka “hotel manager”) Andreas Pitsch. I don’t know how anyone can run such a massive operation and do so with so much finesse and seeming ease. Even his reception staff are polite and considerate (which is not always the case with certain megaships where requests can be met with indifference or a rebuff). Andreas arranged, rather heroically (considering the short turn-around and time constraints), for me to photograph some of the ship’s cabin categories that morning. I needed the images for Cruise Travel Magazine but will publish them here on
ce I get a chance to do a full “Decked” tour of the ship for MaritimeMatters.
I finished off with Grand Suite 750 on aft Baja Deck. It features a huge private balcony, living room, dining alcove, separate bedroom, tiled bath with whirlpool tub, shower with multiple heads and walk-in closet.
From there, we were off into the madness of Canada Place and queueing for a taxi for the 30 minute ride (Canadian $40) to Vancouver Airport. Nothing like an airport to snap one back into reality, eh?
Hats off to Princess for maintaining such an enviable standard of quality in these rough economic seas. SAPPHIRE PRINCESS will summer in Alaska and then return to Los Angeles in the fall for weekly cruises to Mexico.
Special thanks: Julie Benson, Rosalee Calvert, Karen Candy, Martin Cox, Charlie Doherty, Jacques Ghennai, James Mansfield, Andreas Pitsch