The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 1, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane: Cruising Down the Pacific Coast on the Sapphire Princess

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 8:04 pm

From where I am writing this in my apartment in Downtown Bellevue, the approximate distance by car to any given point in the Los Angeles metropolitan area is going to be roughly 1,150 miles, give or take 50 miles depending on exactly what your final destination happens to be.  Assuming reasonably ideal conditions (of the kind that are rarely found much of anywhere) Bing Maps estimates the trip down I-5 to be a roughly 17 hour drive, while by air, a nonstop flight from Sea-Tac Airport to either LAX (954 miles) or John Wayne airport (978 miles) in Orange County will get you there in about 2 1/2 hours of flight time, plus whatever time you have to allow for getting to the airport and through the various mandatory pre-flight inconveniences beforehand.  A far more leisurely option than either flying or driving is the Amtrak Coast Starlight, which completes the trip between LA and Seattle in just 34 1/2 hours, or roughly twice as long as it would take to make the same trip by car.

Although the drive is certainly doable, the vast majority of travelers between Seattle and LA will be making the trip by air, being the fastest and in most cases the cheapest option out of these (I figure that my car would take about three tanks of gas in each direction to get there and back at a cost of about $50 a tank, whereas flights between Sea-Tac and LAX can often be found for $79 each way, and Orange County for only a little bit more than that.)  A train ticket can also be purchased relatively cheaply (assuming you can handle 36 hours in a coach class seat without completely losing your mind,) but for those people for whom a day in a half is just too fast, there’s another option:  Why not go by sea?

Granted, the days of the classic ocean liners are now just an increasingly distant memory, so it’s not exactly a matter of just hopping on the nearest ship to get from point A to point B.  In fact, most of the itineraries being sailed by the many cruise ships found throughout the world are round trips, beginning and ending in the same port and throwing in a few sunny and/or exotic destinations along the way.  There are a few that make one-way trips, but obscure Maritime laws from the 1880s prevent foreign-flagged passenger vessels (which is basically every cruise ship in the world except for one stationed in Hawaii) from making one-way trips from one US port to another one unless they stop in a distant foreign port (which, in this case means somewhere in South America,) so almost all of the one-way trips made by cruise ships, with the exception of a few Panama Canal trips that make a port call in Colombia, Aruba, Bonaire or Curacao along the way, would have to originate from a foreign port to be legal.

This was the case with the trip I took last week, which was a one-way trip down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to Los Angeles.  In a Grand Class Princess ship, a nonstop trip can be made between Vancouver and Los Angeles in approximately three days at a top speed of 22.1 knots (although in practice the ship will only go as fast as it needs to in order to make it to the next port on schedule,) but this particular trip added port calls in Victoria and San Francisco along the way for a total of five days and 1,244 nautical miles of travel (which comes out to a bit over 1,400 statute miles.)   If you’re in a hurry, than this certainly wouldn’t be the way to go, but being in a hurry really isn’t the point here.  Far from it, in fact.

Although a cruise to pretty much anywhere provides a nice little chance to get away from things and unwind for a while with only as many distractions as you permit yourself, this particular trip was interesting primarily for being a somewhat unusual itinerary, as these ships generally only do a couple of repositioning cruises a year.  Oddly enough, before I took this trip I had never been to Victoria at all, and the only times I had been in San Francisco previously were on airport layovers, which don’t exactly give you much chance to see the place.  I also haven’t had much time in Vancouver, which is really one of the nicer places I’ve seen to sail out of on a ship.

Perhaps the most interesting features of this particular trip that one would be hard pressed to find on another cruise were the nighttime sailaways out of both Vancouver and San Francisco.  Although the embarkation mess at Canada Place back in May when me, my sisters and their husbands went on the one-day trip down to Seattle didn’t exactly give me the best impression of the place, boarding was much easier and quicker this time around, and the Midnight sailaway even provided a chance to get off the ship for a while and go wander around town a bit after the mandatory safety drill.   Which was a good thing, because I found out a bit too late to do anything about it that I had forgotten to pack swim trunks, so I had to make a trip back into the city to find some lest I find myself unable to make use of the ship’s many pools.  Fortunately I managed to find a Sears on Robson Street that had them on closeout, and my vacation was un-ruined.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of Victoria, but I didn’t do a whole lot there anyway, mostly just went into town and wandered a bit.  I figure Victoria is close enough that I could get there as a day trip without too much trouble if I want to spend more time there.  The ride down to San Francisco from there was mostly foggy, and as a result didn’t provide a lot to see.  The fact that the ship’s horn was blasting for five seconds every couple of minutes also made it tough to spend much time above deck.  Fortunately, the weather in San Francisco was nice and sunny, but for much of the day the Bay was covered by a strange layer of thick fog that just never went away.  Originally, my plan for San Francisco was to take a trip over to Alcatraz, but due to some issues with customs that caused delays in allowing passengers off the ship, the shore excursion I had planned ended up getting cancelled.  Instead, I took a boat tour of the bay which went underneath the Golden Gate Bridge (which was a good thing, because when the ship went under it while departing San Francisco, there was so much fog we couldn’t see anything but a few vague lights.)  This was about as good a view as I was able to get of the bridge, although the fog does make for some interesting photos on its own.

The stop in San Francisco also featured a nighttime departure, and some excellent views of the city on the way out.  If you look in the background here, you can see some of the incredibly thick fog that had begun to form on the Bay and the surrounding areas, but never quite reached the city itself.   All in all, it’s an interesting place to visit, and one of these days I may have to go back to try to get to Alcatraz again, but I’m not so sure I’d ever want to live there.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this trip, although it would have been nice if the weather on the sea days could have been a bit better  On the other hand, it definitely could have been worse; the Sapphire Princess’ sister ship Golden Princess made the trip down from Vancouver to Los Angeles a few days after we did, and encountered some pretty severe weather off the Washington and Oregon coasts that actually broke some windows on the ship.  Next year, the Sapphire Princess’ southbound repositioning cruise will be done as a seven-day itinerary instead of this year’s five days, and add stops in Nanaimo BC and San Diego along the way.  After this particular trip I wouldn’t hesitate to book this ship or this itinerary again.  Just don’t plan on being in too much of a hurry.



  1. Great commentary and pics. I never would have imagined there were cruises that went down the Pacific coast from Canada to LA. – I’m always flying up and down the West coast. It sounded like you had a great time.

    Comment by Melissa Butler — October 2, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    • They don’t do a lot of them (generally each ship that does Alaska cruises will do one coastal trip coming up the coast in late April/early May, and one in late September/early October) but quite a few ships do have these. Princess has also recently started doing a California Coastal roundtrip itinerary out of Los Angeles on some trips that goes to Santa Barbara, San Francisco (I believe it actually stays overnight here), San Diego and Ensenada.

      Comment by Brian Lutz — October 3, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  2. Hey Brian,
    Hope you enjoyed your short time in So Cal. Remember, you can follow us on facebook or check out

    Your dinner ship friends,
    John and Jennifer

    Comment by John — October 10, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    • Glad you found the place. I figure I’ve got a good excuse to sneak down to SoCal a couple of times in the next few months, so I’ll probably be in the neighborhood again at some point.


      Comment by Brian Lutz — October 10, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

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