Updates from the Original Loveboat Itinerary, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo san Lucas on a the modern day Sapphire Princess

We sailed on Sapphire Princess on the original Love Boat itinerary last week, from Los Angeles down to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Below are several of the notes we made and recorded throughout the cruise. One nice surprise you will sewe in the first paragraph, no more charging for Ice Cream on Princess ships - at least not on ours - we had Sundaes guiving us free softserve daily. I am sure Ruby and Emerald still have the gelato stations in the main atrium, however.

Free Ice Cream on Princess
Ywidth=220es, you can get free ice cream on Princess ships now. In fact, on my Sapphire Princess cruise we don't even have the old stand-by Haagen Dazs counter that once dominated every Princess ship. Instead there is a counter called Sundaes which is open 11:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. Sundaes offers free soft-serve ice cream daily with free toppings as well.

Unusual Dining Options on Princess
I am writing to you from the Sapphire Princess making the 7-day Mexican Riviera run out of Los Angeles. This is the same run the original Love Boat, the Pacific Princess, used to take on the T.V. series. I felt it was only right that I should sail the same cruise line as the series that inspired me to try my first cruise. Sure enough I fell in love - with cruising.

The other two mega-ships on this run, Carnival Splendor and Mariner of the Seas, just arrived in California last season, Winter of 2008. All three ships are greater than 100,000-tons, sail out of Los Angeles area ports, and go to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

Of the three ships, Carnival Splendor is the newest and arguably most fun for passengers who want to get involved with the crew and each other, while Royal Caribbean's Mariner is the most active for sports enthusiasts and kids with its rock-climbing walls, ice rink, Johnny Rockets and Royal Promenade area for parades and parties inside the ship.

Sapphire Princess is a classier ride, the only one of the three ships that falls into the premium class, while Splendor and Mariner are considered contemporary cruise lines, also sometimes referred to as mainstream.

As we are sailing south to our first stop, Puerto Vallarta, I had a chance to interview the executive chef onboard, Marcello Bernardi, as well as the Food and Beverage manager, Giuseppe Arrigo. They explained how Sapphire Princess manages to maintain a much more personalized level of service, especially in the dining rooms.

Of the three mega-ships sailing this Mexican Riviera run, only Sapphire Princess has five distinct dining rooms for all passengers to choose from, each of them with a unique ambience and at least one unique entree item on offer per dining room, although the rest of the menu is the same.

Open from 5:45 pm to 10:00, none of these restaurants ever has more than 250 patrons at any one time. The service is attentive and professional.

This idea of having several small and intimate dining rooms is exclusive to Princess Cruise Lines. Carnival Splendor has two dining rooms on the ship with two seatings and Mariner of the Seas has but one large dining room for the entire ship. These rooms get very busy and noisy during the dinner hour while serving as many as 2000 people at once.

Princess' Personal Choice Dining allows diners to have anytime dining in four of the five restaurants. Or they can opt for traditional cruise ship dining with a pre-assigned dining time and the same team of waiters, sommeliers and bus-people every night.

It is easy to change from any one dining room to another on Sapphire. In fact, if you opt for anytime dining upon check in you are not even assigned a dining room. You have four to choose from every night of the cruise - plus the Horizon Court and two specialty dining restaurants.

It shows how much tastes have changed in the cruise industry. Only one of five, the International Dining room is traditional dining every night for both seatings, while the Vivaldi dining room has traditional dining for the first seating, 5:45 to 8:00, pm, and open seating for the rest of the evening.

If you want to pay a little extra for a special dining experience, all Princess ships offer the Italian eatery Sabatiniwhere a $20 per person service charge gets you so much food you will wonder if you have room for the main course when it finally arrives.

The Sterling Steakhouse offers the best in steaks and chops, all grilled to perfection, along with traditional side dishes like baked potatos and exquisite desserts. The cover charge is only $15 per person - very reasonable in the cruise world today.

By the way - everything is prepared from scratch on Princess ships - nothing arrives pre-cooked. They even do their own butchering, and breads are made with fresh flour from scratch.

For casual dining there are options by the pool; a hamburger grill and free ice cream during the afternoon. Yes, you can get free ice cream on Princess ships during certain hours. It is soft-serve chocolate or vanilla with toppings available.

The Horizon Court - Princess' Lido buffet area - has the highest distinction of offering 24-hour dining. In fact, Princess has been maintaining an open 24-hour dining buffet on all of its ships since the 1990s, while some cruise lines are just now getting the idea. All cruise lines have always had 24-hour room service available, but sometimes you need to get out of the room to eat a midnight snack, especially if you don't want to wake up your spouse.

All in all, one would be hard pressed to find a higher quality cruise than Sapphire Princess at a time when cruise prices are ridiculously low. Get out and cruise, it has never been a better value.

Princess Goes to Electronic Documents
When we were first launched CruiseMates in 1999 we heard the prediction that within ten years time every single cruise sale would have an Internet component. This week Princess Cruises just announced they will no longer mail boarding passes to future cruisers - they will rely upon every guest to go online to the Princess.com web site, fill in their reservation information electronically, and finally print out the boarding passes for their cruises.

This assumes that everyone who books a cruise has a computer with web access, or at the very least knows someone who with Internet access. But as anyone who has flown recently knows, that is a pretty safe bet. These days it is obvious that almost everyone in line for a flight completed their check in online and printed out their boarding passes.

Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines still mail the cruise documents, luggage tags, emergency contact forms and transfer vouchers to the future passenger. Receiving this package is a rite of passage for many cruisers - it leads to the now famous impromptu document dance which many cruisers perform upon opening the mail and seeing the cruise tickets in their possession for the first time. It's a little harder to get spontaneously excited about a document form you fill out online and print out on your inkjet.

Still, the process does save lots of time and money for the cruise lines, keeping your cruise costs lower. It also save plenty of time at the port since everything they need to know is already in their computer. Indeed, when I arrived to board the cruise I am currently sailing they already had my passport information, home address, credit card information, emergency contact information and other data in their computer. All I had to do was show my passport and credit card for verification before we received our keycards and headed on board the ship.

Future Princess guests will soon receive a new, downloadable Princess Countdown Connection widget, which sits on the cruiser's desktop and actually counts down the number of days before the cruise sails. From the widget will come customizable shore excursion eBooks, and links to personalized online luggage tags. The cruiser will also be reminded when it is time to make some of the more important decisions for the cruise or fill in more of the required paperwork.

Each widget message is fully customized to the specific cruiser, showing details about the cabin they have booked, the shore excursions available, the spa facilities on their particular ship, and more.

The change from printed information to fully digital documents has already started and applies to all North American passengers on voyages departing on or after January 21, 2010.

New West Coast Itineraries for Sapphire Princess


Tomas Mascardo

We are cruising upon Sapphire Princess to the Mexican Riviera this week. As noted before, there are three megaships doing this itinerary of L.A. to Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. The other two post 100,000-ton ships are Mariner of the Seas and Carnival Splendor.

Sapphire Princess is going to continue this route only through the summer season. Starting next fall it has added seven new itineraries including two leisurely Pacific crossings between California and Sydney, Australia, plus additional Hawaii cruises. Here are the added routes:

* 2-day Pacific Coastal (Vancouver to San Francisco) -- September 20, 2010
* 30-day Hawaii, Tahiti & South Pacific (San Francisco to Sydney) -- September 22, 2010 
* 29-day Hawaii, Tahiti & South Pacific (Sydney to Los Angeles) -- October 23, 2010
* 10-day Mexican Riviera (roundtrip out of Los Angeles) -- January 5, 2011 
* 14-day Hawaiian Islands (roundtrip out of Los Angeles) -- January 29, 2011 
* 14-day Hawaiian Islands (roundtrip out of Los Angeles) -- February 26, 2011 
* 14-day Hawaiian Islands (roundtrip out of Los Angeles) -- March 26, 2011

Fares start at just $199 per person for the new two-day coastal cruise. The 14-day Hawaii sailings begin at $1,995 per person, and 30-day crossings of the Pacific Ocean with stops in Sydney begin at $4,195 per person.

The cruises replace 15 previously scheduled Mexican Riviera sailings, although 17 cruises taking the current Mexican Riviera itinerary are still on tap for next Fall Season.