1st September 2018 and no chance of seeing Sapphire Princess from Hythe Pier as the city was gridlocked with 4 ships in port, start of the Southampton Boat Show, England-India Test Match, roadworks at Redbridge and the short M271 being a car park. After seeing one of 'Hampshire's Finest' zoom past near Redbridge we decided to follow him and arrived at the QE terminal much earlier than scheduled. Check-in and boarding was even faster than our previous cruise - might try a 'personal best' the next time we're in Southampton! Back to a Balcony Stateroom on Caribe Deck (10) where we felt more comfortable than previously in a mini-suite. Princess still play the dreadful 'Love Boat' themed TV intro and safety video performed by aged has-been singers, it is Safety and needs to be taken seriously. Our luggage arrived early and after unpacking, coffee in the piazza, and quick lunch in the Horizon Court. Then the briefest safety briefing I've come across at our Muster Station. After a slightly delayed departure from Southampton as a result of poor souls stuck in a gridlocked Southampton, we sailed quietly down Southampton Water. Now for dinner! Of the four restaurants off the piazza, we learnt our lesson by using the Vivaldi Restaurant which appears to have minimal waiting times. The meals were very good with exception of the Lobster Thermidor on the second formal night, the best way I can describe it as a 'car crash' - It was certainly a small lobster (more like a crayfish) was stuffed full of prawns and mushrooms and finished with a cheese topping, there was no taste of lobster inside it and we were disappointed. What's happened to the good old lobsters with butter sauce that waiters broke open for you? This really was a 'car crash'. The rest of meals were very good and the service was exemplary. Theatre entertainment is always variable. Excellent being the Back Beat Beatles, and Jeff Stevenson, comedian on the final night. Princess Singers and Dancers excelled themselves on their performance nights. Breakfast is standard self-service in the Horizon Court which never appeared to be overcrowded. Now for the cruise, first Port of Call was Zeebrugge where we got the cheap(ish) port shuttle to nearby Blankenberge, then a tram ride along the coast to Ostend and back to Blankenberge for coffee and crepes by the market square and watching the world go by. Copenhagen was our second port and we docked at the new International Cruise Terminal which is well away from the city, but a free shuttle service was provided. Unfortunately, 'Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen' was in reality 'Massive Construction Sites Copenhagen' as the city is getting another metro line. The old classical Copenhagen remains unchanged as we saw on our evening canal boat trip. Skagen was the third on the cruise, rhymes with 'stain' but it is clean, very clean and very quiet! After a long circuitous walk from the ship, we got to the centre and it made one of our local Suffolk villages seem cosmopolitan! Skagen did have some redeeming features and a street full of cafes and restaurants for that lunchtime snack. then shuttle bus back to the ship. Oslo was our final port, we've been there before so we headed for a harbour-side cafe and unwound before eventually boarding for the voyage home. Once again Captain Paolo Ravera was our Master and once again Paul Chandler-Burns was our Cruise Director, at this rate they could be soon on our Christmas Card list!! The purpose of this cruise for us? Well we finally reached Elite Level (Took us 14 cruises and 18 years) and we wanted to see if Elite is Elite, it is! The biggest perk is free laundry and my wife put all but two of my shirts through the system and they came back like new, it also saves washing and ironing time at home. The complimentary mini bar was varied and interesting, although we did change some of the drinks to suit us and there was more than 7 days supply. Sadly, it was our last coffee card and the new system won't really work for us for I drink black coffee and my wife has ordinary white coffee, so it's drink in the Horizon with the odd one down in the International Cafe. neither of us drink so a drinks package would be wasted on us as would be a soda package, never mind we'll still enjoy ourselves. Tip for leaving Southampton by car, the Redbridge roadworks leading out of the docks to the M271 will be ongoing for several more months, instead head for the city centre and drive north until you reach the M3, it's far quicker than messing about on the A33, M271, M27 and M3. We return to Sapphire Princess in January staying in the same stateroom as this cruise but sailing from Shanghai to Singapore with a week afterwards with family in Singapore and attend my niece's wedding.
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