The quality of free food onboard Sapphire Princess is impressive for a ship this size, as is the variety of dishes. We were really impressed by the snacks available in the International Cafe, which are all freshly prepared and super tasty -- and available 24 hours. And the Horizon Court buffet delivered every time. Generally, there's a lot of attention to detail and evident care at every level, especially in the main dining rooms. In terms of dietary restrictions, there is a good selection of vegetarian dishes in the main dining rooms, but we didn't notice evidence of vegan or gluten-free dishes.
There is just one dedicated for-fee specialty restaurant -- Sabatini's -- and two specialty dining experiences -- Sterling Steakhouse and Crab Shack -- neither of which are in a dedicated space.
Savoy, Vivaldi (Deck 5); Pacific Moon, Santa Fe (Deck 6); The International (Deck 6): There is no single main dining room on Sapphire, but five dining rooms. Though all the dining rooms have a distinct design, and to a certain extent, vibe, they all offer the exact same menu.
Savoy, Pacific Moon and Santa Fe are for those who choose the line's flexible "Anytime Dining" program, which gives people the option to choose when they want to eat. Dinner in these restaurants runs from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Vivaldi offers traditional seating (same waiters, time and tablemates each evening) at 5:30 p.m., but becomes Anytime Dining from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. The International is the only dining room that offers traditional seating at both sittings -- 5:30 and at 8 p.m.
You can make reservations for those dining rooms offering Anytime Dining -- and if you're counting on a special table for a special night, we'd recommend it. Otherwise, waits aren't typically too bad even at prime-time dining hours (restaurant-style pagers are available to beep you when a table is ready); restaurant managers have a good sense of which dining rooms are busier than others and suggest alternatives if one is backed up.
Of the five, The International is the only one that serves breakfast and lunch, both of which are open seating. (This restaurant is a tricky one to get to -- you have to go up to Deck 7, walk all the way to the back of the ship, and then go down to Deck 6.)
Breakfast features everything you'd expect (cereal, yogurt, a selection of eggs, sausage, bacon), but with a daily specialty or two, typically the same choices available in the buffet, such as flavored pancakes or eggs Benedict. Breakfast runs from 6:30 to 9 a.m. on port days and 7 to 9:30 a.m. on sea days.
The lunch menu might include chicken liver mousse or a seafood quesadilla to start and for mains, a selection of pastas, roast chicken, griddled rockfish or a selection of salads and staples such as burgers and sandwiches. Lunch is served from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Afternoon tea -- complete with white-gloved waiters serving scones, piping hot tea and petite sandwiches -- is offered at Santa Fe every day from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m.
Though classics (or "Princess Favorites"), such as burger, grilled salmon and grilled chicken, are always available for dinner, Princess offers an interesting selection of dishes in the dining rooms. Starters might include beef satay with a spicy peanut sauce, sea scallop and shrimp, or mussels in pasta. Mains include pan-seared red snapper, braised lamb shank or island-spiced jerk chicken, which on paper sound appetizing, but although it's all well-cooked, it tended toward the milder side of tasty (the jerk chicken had no heat to it at all and the red snapper was a bit bland).
Sapphire Princess excels when it comes to desserts, which are uniformly delicious, decadent and filling. Options might include warm chocolate fudge cookie, Princess Love Boat dream (a chocolate mousse on a brownie), New York cheesecake and creme brulee.
There is also always a good selection of vegetarian options (four starters and two mains). We didn't notice any other allergies or food requirements specifically catered for on the menu, but if you inform your steward beforehand every effort is made to cater.
A special mention must go to the wine list -- and the knowledgeable sommeliers -- which was outstanding -- keenly priced, a wide selection and some really standout bottles. There is an emphasis on Italian and New World varietals, with the Belle Glos pinot noir ($59), romping home as our firm favorite (it's not cheap, but it's worth it for a special meal).
Horizon Court (Deck 14): You'll find the ship's buffet venue toward the aft of the ship. It's a large, well-thought-out space with plenty of seating, including lots of tables against the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that flood the space with light. It never feels too crowded even at peak times (i.e., breakfast on a port day) and leads out to the Pool Deck toward the middle or out to the more private Outrigger Bar, which has plenty of outside seating should you wish to take your meal outside. There are buffet stations on both sides, offering the same food and several cooking stations with themed cuisine where you can grab a freshly made pizza or wok-fried noodles, for example.
It serves an early continental breakfast with freshly baked pastries and breads from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then a full breakfast until 11:30 a.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. offering everything from the aforementioned cooking stations to create-your-own sandwiches and build-your-own salads and classics such as burgers, dogs, pasta and roasts. One area is given over to the Pastry Shop, serving delicious, freshly made pastries throughout the day and into the evening.
Light snacks are served in the afternoon from 3 to 5:30 p.m.
It opens for dinner from 5:30 p.m., but note on some evenings the rear of the buffet turns into the Sterling Steakhouse, which is a "pop up" specialty restaurant.
Alfredo's Pizzeria (Deck 5): A Princess stalwart, this occupies a prime spot in the Piazza, offering a selection of tasty pies including capricciosa, Romana and the Sapphire Princess, which includes Parma ham. Oddly, there is no pepperoni or margherita listed, but just ask and they will make one up for you. The pizzas are not the best we've tasted at sea, but they are certainly up there. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
International Cafe (Deck 5): Occupying one part of the Piazza, and serving up some of the best coffee we've had at sea, the cafe also offers a lovely selection of freshly baked pastries at breakfast and a wide selection of sandwiches, wraps, melts and soups at lunch. We loved this spot, it's ideal for spending hours people-watching and observing how the character of the Piazza changes, depending what time of day it is.
Trident Grill (Deck 14): Trident is a poolside grill serving hot dogs, cheeseburgers, veggie burgers and chicken sandwiches (among other things), along with French fries. It's open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Prego (Deck 14): A pizza counter (Sapphire's second pizzeria) offering a selection that ranges from day to day. It's open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Room Service: There's no extra fee (except for pizza), but the menu is limited. For breakfast, it's continental fare (pastries, cereal and coffee, for instance) with no options for hot food such as eggs or bacon, disappointingly. The rest of the day you can order a handful of sandwiches and salads; under "hot dishes" you are limited to soup and sandwiches. You can also order room service pizza -- medium-size pies only -- for a $3 surcharge.
Sabatini's (Deck 7); $29: Sabatini's is Princess' popular Italian option serving pasta, seafood and meats. Dinner begins with herbed focaccia grissini, rosemary flatbread with air-cured prosciutto and marinated green and black olives. Then you choose an antipasti (soft-shell crab over baby arugula), a pasta (vegetable pappardelle), a secondi course (duck with fava beans and pancetta, or baked striped bass in a herbed salt crust) and a dessert (raspberry frangipane tart tiramisu). All in all, it's a delightful experience. It's definitely worth making a reservation here.
Sterling Steakhouse (Deck 14); $29 per adult and $14.50 for children ages 3 to 12: Offering the same fare as the Crown Grill on other Princess ships, the biggest drawback of this specialty "restaurant" is that it's not a proper restaurant -- it's a space given over in the buffet, which means there's no special atmosphere, people are wandering by from the buffet and it just doesn't feel, well, that special. However, the food and service are both outstanding. It's straightforward steakhouse fare: chops, steaks and lobster, all served with a selection of sides including delicious garlic and herb French fries. There are also soups, salads and a selection of appetizers, with an emphasis on seafood (shrimps, scallops, mussels). It's all done to perfection, in fact one of the best at sea. Note: Sterling is not open every night; check the Princess Patter for opening days.
Crab Shack (Deck 14); $29: This is another pop up, which you'll find in the Horizon Court buffet once a week. It's a more casual specialty option, with bibs and crab-crackers and a lot of mess. The meal starts with popcorn shrimp in a basket, followed by soup and then you get to choose from mains including "Bayou-style Mad Dog Boil," which includes crawfish and corn on the cob; or steamed Alaskan king crab legs; a mixed steamer; or a shrimp pot. Again, what it lacks in atmosphere (in that it's not in a designated dining room), it makes up for in service, quality of food and fun. But don't even think about booking this if you don't like seafood, in particular shellfish.
Swirls (Deck 14); a la carte: This poolside ice cream parlor offers soft scoop ice cream for free, but if you want a frozen yogurt sundae there is a charge (from under $5). Create your own by selecting a flavor and toppings (like whole chocolate chip cookies and Caribbean rum cake), or order from the menu of concoctions.
Room Service; a la carte: Canapes and snacks are available for purchase to accompany your cocktails, from guacamole and chips to pate de foie gras.
And for a really special evening, try the Ultimate Balcony Dining room service experience. You need a cabin with a veranda, of course. The $100 per-couple dinner includes a four-course meal, a half-bottle of sparkling wine, a pre-dinner cocktail and a photo portrait. The Ultimate Balcony Breakfast includes a chilled half-bottle of Champagne, an assortment of fresh fruit and pastries (including the line's popular Norman Love chocolate bites), as well as smoked salmon and quiche. Unlike dinner, the wait staff at breakfast leaves food and drinks at the table versus serving them in courses.
Chef's Table (Savoy Dining Room); $95: Another splurge-worthy experience on Sapphire Princess is the Chef's Table, which involves a personal, behind-the-scenes galley tour (including hors d'ouevres) with the head chef, followed by a six-course wine-pairing dinner, especially prepared for your small group. Depending on how many passengers sign up, it usually happens twice a cruise.