Diamond and Sapphire are two of the best megaships ever, with beautiful proportions, airy outdoor spaces, and clubby, intimate public areas.
Typical Per Diems: $90-$195
Diamond Alaska, from Vancouver and Anchorage/Whittier (May-Sept).
Sapphire Mexican Riviera, from Los Angeles (Nov-Apr). Hawaii, from Los Angeles (Oct-Mar). Alaska, from Seattle (May-Sept).
Built in Nagasaki, Japan, Diamond and Sapphire are Princess's best ships ever, with a design that's more sleek, graceful, and streamlined than the line's more visible Grand-class ships, while still embodying the idea of "big ship choice with small ship feel." Inside, the nearly identical vessels have comfortable cabins; woodsy lounges with hints of seagoing history; understated central atrium lobbies; relaxing indoor/outdoor "Conservatory" pool areas; and large Asian-themed spas. Outside, in the stern, four decks descend in curved, horseshoelike tiers, creating a multilevel resort area with two pools, two hot tubs, two bars, and magnificent views of the ship's wake. One of our favorite things about these ships is that the Promenade Deck wraps around the bow, just below the open top deck, affording a view straight out to where you're going. When we sailed, we walked up there late one moonless night and made a discovery: With the whistling wind drowning out the ship's hum and no light coming from above, behind, or to the sides, the starry sky and dark sea merge and you feel as if you're all alone, flying into outer space.
The only thing that keeps these vessels from a five-star rating is their relative dearth of dining options: Even though there are eight restaurants in all, five of them have the same basic menu (though a steakhouse and Italian trattoria do liven up your options). That said, Princess has significantly improved its cuisine in recent years, so what you do get is choice. At press time, Diamond was slated for a late-2010 makeover that will add Princess's Movies Under the Stars outdoor movie screen and adults-only Sanctuary option. Sapphire will get the same treatment in 2011.
Though cabins on Diamond and Sapphire are a bit bigger than those on the Grand- and Coral-class ships, they still stick close to the Princess family look, with upholstery and walls done in easy-on-the-eyes earth tones and off whites, all trimmed in butterscotch wood. All have safes, hair dryers, minifridges, and TVs. Standard inside (168 sq. ft.) and outside cabins (183275 sq. ft.) are smaller than those aboard the newer Holland America and Carnival ships, but are still comfortable and stylish, and more than 70% of outside cabins have verandas. Balconies are tiered, ensuring direct sunlight for those on Decks 8 and 9 (where most of the popular minisuites are located), but also ensuring voyeurism, as folks standing on the balconies above can look right down on you. Standard cabin bathrooms have smallish shower stalls and adequate counter space.
Minisuites (354 sq. ft.) provide substantially more space without jumping into the cost stratosphere. All have those big, less-than-private balconies and sizable sitting areas with sofa beds and two televisions, one facing the sitting area and the other the bed (cheaper and less bothersome, the line told us, than installing a Lazy Susan to swivel a single TV). They're ideal for families with children. Bathrooms have bathtubs and more counter space than standard cabins. Storage space in both standard outsides and minisuites is more than adequate, with a large shelved closet and open-sided clothes rack facing a small dressing alcove by the bathroom door. The 16 full suites have curtained-off sitting and sleeping areas, very large balconies, a complimentary stocked minibar, robes, a walk-in closet, and separate whirlpool tubs and showers in the bathroom. Suite guests are also on the receiving end of numerous perks highlighted in the "Service" section, above.
Twenty-seven cabins on each ship are wheelchair accessible.
These ships are huge -- a fact you'll learn the first time you have to walk from one end to the other to retrieve something you forgot in your cabin. On the other hand, when you're sitting in one of their cozy lounges or bars, you might well think you're on a 40,000-ton ship rather than one three times that size. It's an appealing combination, giving passengers a large ship's range of options in a more personal, human-scaled package. You don't feel like you're lost in the crowd.
Most public rooms on these ships are on Decks 6 and 7. Toward the bow, the two-deck Princess Theater is the main show space, with tiers of upholstered theater seats (with little cocktail tables that fold out of their armrests, airline-style) and a pair of opera boxes to either side of the large stage. It's a very minimalist room, and a very appealing one, putting the emphasis on the stage rather than distracting with fanciful decor. Just outside the entrance is the clubby Churchill's, a classically decorated cigar bar with TVs for sports. You'll also find a multipurpose entertainment lounge called Club Fusion, used principally for games (think bingo and talent shows) and evening music. Down a spiral staircase in the back of the room, you'll find one of our favorite spaces, the very small, cozy Wake View Bar, a classy nook full of dark wood, leather chairs, and paintings depicting turn-of-the-20th-century tobacconists. TVs are tuned to sports (though the sound is often off), and six portholes overlook the namesake wake. Few people seem to venture down here, so let's keep it to ourselves, okay?
At midships are two of Princess's signature lounge spaces: the English-adventurer-themed Explorer's Lounge, a secondary show lounge for comedians, impressionists, and other small-scale entertainment; and the ocean-liner-themed Wheelhouse Bar, the prime space aboard for elegant music, with a jazz combo playing in the evenings. Decor matches the name for both rooms, with Egyptian art, jungle-pattern carpeting, clubby furniture, and faux Moorish screens in Explorer's, and leather couches, dark wood, brass candlestick sconces, and paintings of old P&O liners in Wheelhouse. There's dancing here, but the "I love the nightlife, I like to boogie" crowd is more likely to be up in the top-deck disco, the highest point of the ship, with a balcony looking back over the stern if you want to head out for air or romance.
Explorer's jungle theme carries over into the ships' casinos, with their tree-trunk pillars and leafy ceilings. Next door, the three-story atrium is admirably restrained, with lots of creamy marble and wood, understated grillwork art fronting the atrium elevators, and musicians performing throughout the day. Opening off the space is the relaxing library and the charmingly old-fashioned writing room, along with several shops, a coffee bar, and Crooners, a Rat Packthemed bar serving 56 different martini recipes in two sizes: the standard Sinatra and the supersize (and misspelled) Deano. Clusters of low-slung wicker-frame chairs along the windows give a '50s-rumpus-room effect. Very slinky.
On Deck 7, the Internet Café is notable not only for being large and exceedingly stylish (among the most attractive at sea), but also for being a cafe in more than just name: A bar toward the back dispenses gourmet coffee for a few bucks, along with free croissants and sweet rolls. Passengers who bring their laptops can connect wirelessly here, as well as in the atrium. Four computer terminals are also located in the atrium's library, and computer classes are generally held in the wedding chapel, just across from the Wheelhouse Bar.
For kids, Diamond's and Sapphire's Fun Zone centers are divided into four separate and sizable rooms, segregating kids by age. Younger tots get a climbing maze, flower-backed chairs, toys, computers, and a great, cushiony amphitheater for watching movies. Teens get a sort of Austin Powerslooking room, brightly colored and looking much like a normal adult bar. "That was on purpose," one Princess exec told us. "What teen wants to be treated like a kid?"
Pool Fitness & Spa Facilities
Like most megaships, Diamond and Sapphire have two pools at midships: a partying main pool out in the sun and a secondary "Conservatory" space with a large pool, two hot tubs, a balcony (which does double duty as sunning space and as a venue for the line's pottery-making classes), and a retractable roof for bad weather. Our favorite outdoor spaces are in the stern, where four decks descend in curved, horseshoelike tiers, creating a multilevel resort with two pools, two hot tubs, two bars, and a magnificent view of the ship's wake.
Another pool, this one an adults-only resistance pool for swimming laps in place, is set in a cleft just outside the large, well-appointed spa. The spa is totally minimalist in its elegant Asian theme, with a great suite of steam rooms and stone lounging chairs for guests to use before or after their treatment. Next door, the gym is one of the few sour notes on board -- well stocked (and with little TVs on all the aerobics machines), but still inadequately small considering the number of people aboard. When we sailed, it got crowded often. A large aerobics studio is attached, offering spinning, yoga, and other aerobics and fitness classes (mostly for $10 a class).
Out on Deck 16, at the top of a very quietly marked stairway and almost completely shielded from wind and view, is a small miniature-golf course. More serious golfers can play illusory courses at a virtual-reality center farther forward, near a nicely designed, covered and netted sports court suitable for basketball and volleyball.
Travel page content provided by Zagat © 2013, Google.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.