THE CRUISE: One-way Vancouver-Whittier, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. Highlights include Glacier Bay and College Fjord. We joined a post-cruise rail tour from Whittier to Denali and Mount McKinley national parks, with an overnight in Anchorage, before flying to Seattle and on to London. Available mid-May to mid-Sept.
STATEROOMS: My Oceanview double with balcony was a good size. Champagne and chocolate-coated strawberries greeted us. Twin beds made a Queen. There was a chair, desk, fridge, TV, and a generous closet/storage area. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors led to a balcony with two chairs and a table. The bathroom had a shower and a sitting area with drawer space. Décor featured caramel-coloured wood trim and soft brown and yellow tones.
HEART OF THE SHIP: The Atrium is a sparkling Art Noveau centrepiece that bisects decks Five, Six and Seven. A string quartet played Vivaldi and Mozart, signalling the passage from afternoon to the start of the evening’s entertainment.
DINING: Guests choose between ‘Traditional Dining’, with two set sittings in the 500-seat International Dining Room and Vivaldi restaurant, and ‘Anytime Dining’, in a choice of four others, each night offering identical menus. These varied from Asian-inspired choices such as sushi, seafood stir-fry and dim sum to Tex-Mex-style fajitas and tacos to Italian favourites such as pasta and veal. We opted for Anytime, and enjoyed the different restaurants, different waiters and different dining companions. Two speciality restaurants, Sabatini’s and Steakhouse, charge a $15 per head cover charge – and both were excellent. Daily imaginative offerings included an English Pub lunch of bangers and mash, fish and chips or cottage pie, with Bass or Guinness. Ever-popular was the poolside pizzeria, hamburger grill and ice cream bar. A ‘must do’ is the Champagne Breakfast for two, delivered to your stateroom: a half-bottle of Heidsieck champagne, pastries, cold smoked salmon, fresh fruits and berries, and Alaska king crab and onion quiche Lorraine – all for $32.
LOUNGES AND BARS: Plenty, from intimate bars with dark-wood panels to mid-ship open tables with a view on the passing scenery. We enjoyed the nautical-themed Wheelhouse Bar, with its various P&O memorabilia. In every bar the cocktails were superb and excellent value at $6.95.
ENTERTAINMENT: The choice seemed endless from Broadway-style productions in the large Princess Theatre to stand-up comics in the intimate nightclub-style Explorers Lounge. The Crooners Bar featured Rat Pack-influenced performers while an American Idol competition in Club Fusion attracted a high-calibre line-up of singers. There was an Africa-themed casino and, on the top deck, a club/disco.
ACTIVITIES: The range and diversity was almost overwhelming. There are four swimming pool – including an ‘indoor conservatory’ pool – a Lotus Spa, a fitness centre, hair salon, jogging track, two hand-tennis courts, two shuffleboard areas, a nine-hole putting green and even two golf simulators. Organised activities – which took plenty of forward planning with help from the Princess Patter, the ship’s daily newsletter – included a golf chipping contest, table-tennis tournaments and ceramic and bead-making classes. The Atrium featured lots of quality shops while the internet café had 30 computers – with the internet good value at 35 cents a minute. I liked the nature talks backed up by park rangers who came on board during our day in Glacier Bay.
FAMILY FUN: Dedicated teens’ and children’s areas were equipped with computer games, jukeboxes, table football, arts and crafts – even a movie screen. Smaller children could sign up for pizza parties and kids’ karaoke; there was a pool just for kids.
VERDICT: One of the world’s largest cruise ships manages to be intimate and welcoming – even cosy. The passenger load is spread among the several restaurants, which ensures that the dining experience mostly feels like that of a small or mid-size restaurant. Sapphire Princess offers all the deluxe amenities and extras you would expect to find in a top hotel: from 24-hour room service to chocolates on your pillow - and the overall superb quality doesn’t taper off for a second. If possible, take the entire family. An Alaska cruise, with its many sights and sounds from glaciers to totem poles to whales, etc, is one of the richest experiences they will ever enjoy.
PRICE RANGE: In 2010 the lead-in fare for the equivalent cruise (No: M022) on Diamond Princess is £2,109 pp, based on two sharing an inside grade cabin, and £2,529 pp. for a balcony cabin. This includes, flights, hotel stays (where outlined), transfers, meals and entertainment.
ADD ONS: A five-night pre-cruise Canadian land tour starts from £630pp. A four-night post-cruise Alaska land tour starts from £620pp.
TO BOOK IT: 0845 3 555 800; www.princess.com
First Launched: Refitted 2008
Length/Tonnage: 3218.8 metres/43,537 tonnes