Cruise like a princess - onboard the Sapphire Princess
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be onboard a cruise ship, check out our writer's experience.
It had been a long time since I'd stepped onboard a cruise ship. So getting an invitation to check one out was quite exciting, even though I didn't actually get to go on a cruise. Pulling up at the Port Klang Cruise Terminal, I could not help but notice the shadow of the enormous cruise ship docked there - the Sapphire Princess.
I've been on a cruise before, on a lovely liner, but it pales in comparison to this gigantic beauty. This ship, operated by Princess Cruises, a leading cruise-line brand, recently made its maiden call at Port Klang. Starting in Singapore, the ship was on a four-day round-trip voyage around Malaysia with about 2,500 guests. She also called at Penang and Langkawi.
I noticed that the interior of the ship is elegantly decorated, with a European touch.
Our media group was led to the atrium, the heart of the Sapphire Princess. It is a soaring three-tier centrepiece where the elegant bars and refined boutiques are. The featured brands include Swarovski, Clinique and Gucci. Shopping on Sapphire Princess is duty-free, by the way. The only downside is that the shops close once the ship is docked, unfortunately for me.
We walked through the atrium towards the piazza, a gathering place where passengers can mingle while enjoying live music such as guitar and piano performances.
Our tour guide explained that passengers can take part in contests, such as the egg drop contest, where participants have to design something to prevent an egg from breaking when dropped from the seventh floor.
The piazza also houses the International Cafe and Vines wine bar, where passengers can get light bites throughout the day (and night) as well as enjoy some wine.
"The attraction is the ship itself. Passen-gers go onboard to try what our ship has to offer. It's the cruise experience, not the destination. But the destinations can add to the experience of going on a cruise," explained South-East Asia Princess Cruises director Farriek Tawfik.
Onboard the Sapphire Princess, passengers get to travel in style and enjoy the comfortable staterooms and suites, each with a balcony, allowing passengers to feel the fresh and cool ocean breeze whenever they please. There are five types of staterooms to choose from. A big plus point: There are wheelchair-accessible staterooms as well.
Our tour guide explained that passengers can plan out their day with the Princess Patter Guide (the daily guide to life at sea) which lists all the programmes available onboard. I didn't realise there were so many! They include savouring delectable cuisines from a number of restaurants, namely the Trident Grill & Prego Pizzeria, Crab Shack, Horizon Court Buffet, Alfredo Pizzeria and the upscale Sterling Steakhouse, named among the "Best Cruise Ship Steakhouses" by USA TODAY.
Passengers can start with breakfast at the Horizon Court Buffet for free. Don't feel like getting up early? Try ordering room service which is available 24/7 and also free of charge. All eateries onboard the Sapphire Princess do not require a cover charge, except for specialty restaurants like Sabatini's Trattoria, Sterling Steakhouse and Ultimate Balcony Dining.
These specialty restaurants impose a US$25 (S$34) cover charge for free flow of food. Meanwhile, drinks at all bars and restaurants come at an additional charge, except for water and tea. The various types of entertainment onboard are all free as well.
Room service is available 24/7. I could just lie in bed waiting for breakfast to be served. For passengers who are alcohol connoisseurs, there are bars available onboard - the Wheelhouse Bar, Crooners Lounge, Calypso Bar and The Wake Bar.
Those who like dancing can dance the night away at Skywalker's Night Club. The children are not forgotten; there are clubs dedicated to them, namely the Pelicans club (for three- to six-year-olds), Shockwaves (six to 12) and Remix (12-17).
The ship also has a well-equipped and airy gym (not a bad place to check out the guys!) and a spa. For passengers who are not into working up a sweat, there are yoga and spin classes available. As for the Lotus Spa, I turned green with envy when I saw the list of pampering services available to passengers onboard. Mani-pedis, hair treatments, massages, acupuncture ... you name it!
There are outdoor jacuzzis and five swimming pools located on the spacious decks and one is a covered pool, perfect for those who do not want to turn a shade or two darker (like me). If you just want to sun yourself while satisfying your sugar cravings, there is a poolside ice cream bar.
However, if peace and tranquillity by the pool is the objective, one can opt for The Sanctuary. But there is a cover charge of US$20 for half a day and US$40 for a full day.
Movie buffs can check out the Princess Theatre as well as a new addition, Movies Under The Stars poolside theatre where passengers can watch a movie while munching on free popcorn under the beautiful night sky. There is also the casino for those who want to take a gamble - it's open till midnight (and closes when the ship docks).
For me, a vacation would be more meaningful if there are pictures to share with loved ones. Sapphire Princess has that covered with in-house photographers. Techies and environmentalists alike will appreciate the digital kiosks where photos taken by the ship's photographers can be viewed and purchased. Passengers can head on to the passenger service desk for payments, complaints (hard to imagine any complaints) and queries.
Lastly, a shore excursion desk is available for passengers to book their tours when the ship docks. As most of the passengers had gone for their excursion to Kuala Lumpur, the ship was rather empty when we were onboard. Passengers have options that include the Petronas Twin Towers, the National Museum, Kuala Lumpur Tower, Merdeka Square and Batu Caves. Passengers usually start the shore excursion at 9am and are required to be back onboard by 5pm.
Above it all, Farriek highlights passengers' safety as the top priority of Princess Cruises. "If the tide is rough or high, we will scrap the destination despite passengers' demand to dock. We always emphasise that safety is the most important thing."
Based on the overwhelming response to its inaugural homeporting season, Princess Cruises will soon launch its second homeporting season in the region next year. The extended season will feature eight cruise sailings with Malaysia-focused itineraries, calling at Penang, Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang) and Langkawi.
"These are exciting times for us as we witness cruise destinations such as Malaysia live up to its full potential. Malaysia continues to be one of our key markets in South-East Asia. Its captivating cultural and natural attractions, level of infrastructure and strong government support anchors its position as a cruise hub in South-East Asia," said Farriek.
He added that Malaysia's cruise-goers are mostly first-timers from the younger demographic. "We also found that more and more young families and young working professionals are coming onboard," noted Farriek.
If reports from the Cruise Lines Inter-national Association is anything to go by, the market is only going to flourish, and Asia is the fastest-growing cruise market region in the world.