Luxury cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

What cruising means to you?

A Trip takes us out of our coziness and inspires us to touch, taste and try new life. It constantly challenges us, not only to adapt to and explore new surroundings, but also to engage with different individuals, to embrace adventures as they come and to share new and significant experiences with best friends and loved ones.


In a recent article titled “Three Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise from San Francisco,” we wrote about the joy of spending part of a vacation in the famous City by the Bay, and cruising part of it to exciting destinations such as Hawaii, Alaska, and the South Pacific. This story is about the cruise we chose to do our own tour of San Francisco.

Select a cruise

As Mark Twain often pointed out, it can be a little chilly in San Francisco no matter the time of year, so we thought a cruise to a warm place would be the perfect other bookend for a vacation.

We searched the web and explored all the itineraries of the cruise lines that sailed out of San Francisco on our travel dates, and Princess Cruise Lines had exactly what we wanted: a round trip from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. We made the right choice and here’s what to expect if you decide to take the same leap.

The day before the cruise

We arrived in San Francisco the day before our cruise to Hawaii departed. We toured our favorite spots in the city, had a nice dinner at Scoma’s on Pier 47, and checked in at our favorite and ever-fashionable San Francisco Hyatt Regency. The hotel is located directly opposite the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and a very short distance from the cruise terminal at Pier 35.

Sailing out of the Golden Gate

We settled in our port stateroom, opened a bottle of bubbly, and as the ship pulled away from the dock, we went to our patio to watch the San Francisco skyline in slow parade. There was Ghirardelli Square lit up in all its splendor, and the famous Transamerica Pyramid Building – outstanding among its traditional “square” neighbors.

We could see the Golden Gate Bridge rise above the bow and we said a fond goodbye to old Fort Point as we left San Francisco Bay and entered the vast blue Pacific Ocean. All we could think at the time was, “What a spectacular way to start a cruise!”

Next stop – Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A future article will detail Hawaiian ports of call in Hilo, Nawiliwili, Lahaina, Honolulu, and our final stop in Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. Why do cruise ships sailing to Hawaii from US ports have to stop at a foreign port like Ensenada? We will explain it in the coming article.

This story is about the many holiday fun aboard the Star Princess. Note: The Grand Princess has now replaced the Star Princess on the Hawaiian route from San Francisco. They are sister ships, so the differences are minimal.

Sweet suites

The Star Princess has several luxury suites spread across the ship. The Grand Suite is 1,314 square feet of pure indulgence, with a walk-in closet, large bathrooms and an oversized balcony. These elegant digs are for the truly fortunate among us.

In addition to luxurious accommodations, the suites come with additional amenities such as an exclusive suite breakfast at Sabatini’s specialty restaurant – where you can start your day with a complimentary “Good Morning Mimosa”, and choose other delicacies from an extraordinary breakfast menu. We expected the service to be impeccable, and it was.

Did you know that the now famous champagne and orange juice “Mimosa” was first created and mentioned at the Paris Ritz in 1925? Its namesake is the mimosa plant, which has bright and frothy yellow flowers.

There are also afternoon and pre-dinner cocktail and private nosh parties where suite passengers can mingle with the ship’s officers passing by.

Fancy a quiet dinner for two? A lavish room service meal served in a ship’s suite is the epitome of ocean-going indulgence and sublime privacy.

Suite passengers also receive priority boarding and disembarkation through the Elite/Suite Disembarkation Lounge. When visiting ports that require a launch to shore, the suite residents are given Priority Tender disembarkation tickets – a nice time-saving touch.

dinner time

It was soon time for our first dinner aboard the Star Princess. The first night on board a cruise ship is a casual affair, so after some clean up we went to the Portofino Dining Room on Deck 6.

The Maître d’hôtel was busy orchestrating the process of directing the first guests to their assigned tables. Remember when everyone ate at an “early” or “late” meeting? Nowadays you can dine in the traditional way or decide to eat whenever you want during the dining hours. Both practices have advantages – it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

That’s entertainment

After a sumptuous dinner, it was time for our opening night of entertainment at the Princess Theater on Decks 6 and 7. The first show featured the full cast in an extravaganza review. The large two-story theater was crowded but comfortable, and everyone enjoyed the lavish music production.

We took a stroll on the Lido deck before returning to our stateroom after the show. Not quite ready for bed, we turned on the TV and watched our first movie from the library of closed-circuit movies. It was an oldie, – An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – a typical tearjerker with a plot that started on a cruise ship. What would be more appropriate for the setting?

Days at sea

It took four days to reach our first port of call in Hilo. We traveled 2,003 nautical miles (2,303 highway miles) from San Francisco. Time passed quickly.

Days at sea can be peaceful or exciting – it’s your choice. You can shop endlessly in the countless Ship’s Boutiques. You can visit the internet cafe to catch up on emails, listen to live chamber music and attend lively art auctions. How about a workout in the extensive Gym, a Seminar at Sea, eating pizza, a hot dog or hamburger, or trying your luck at the Casino?

Whitening your teeth is another option, as is enjoying various spa treats, napping by one of the pools and socializing while enjoying the entertainment of your choice from the many bars and lounges. There is also the option to watch movies outdoors or indoors, browse the library, read and of course – eat.

The captain of the ship

On one of our days at sea we had the opportunity to interview the captain of the ship. At the time of our sailing trip, the captain of the Star Princess was Edward Perrin, from Dorset, England. As is usually the case, Captain Perrin was very sympathetic and very willing to share stories about his ship and experiences at sea.

We always ask sea captains what they like most about their job. Captain Perrin revealed that he most enjoyed the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives – both crew and passengers. He gave an example of an elderly couple who saved their entire lives to go on a cruise. They approached him with the problem that they had no money to spend during the cruise. Captain Perrin succinctly wrote a list of “free” things the couple could do during their cruise vacation. They were delighted and the good captain was equally happy – it made his day and he never forgot the feeling of being able to help.

When it comes to passenger services, an important member of the crew is the Hotel General Manager. On the Star Princess it was Terri Lynn Cybuliak, and she contributed immensely to our fun discussion.

As we’ve mentioned in previous cruise articles, ship captains are contracted to be captains for months, not years, and therefore move from ship to ship quite often. Keep an eye out – it’s very possible that Captain Perrin will be at the helm of your next Princess cruise.

Attention on the bridge

After our meeting, Captain Perrin invited us to join him on the bridge. The ship’s bridge is always manned 24 hours a day by two officers who work in four-hour shifts in a three-watch system. It is interesting to witness the vast array of advanced systems that control these megaships in a controlled and quiet atmosphere. We remain fascinated by the fact that the traditional ship’s steering wheel has been replaced by a small joystick on a desk panel.

Dine in the specialty restaurants

All the food aboard the Star Princess, and most other cruise ships for that matter, is quite tasty. It’s amazing that ocean-going chefs can prepare thousands of different meals every day, with such finesse.

People always ask, “If all meals are included in the price of the cruise, why would anyone pay extra to eat in a dedicated dining room?” The answer is very simple – intimacy – and something extra special for an important occasion.

Each specialty restaurant has its own kitchen, so there is just that little bit more attention to detail in the preparation and presentation of the food. The waiters have fewer tables to attend and the overall experience is that of eating in a really good restaurant. The fee is never extravagant and the experience is worth it.

Avoid disappointment, book your specialty restaurants in time.

Our recommendations

We have taken many cruises over the years and Princess Cruises is one of our favorite lines. It offers novice cruisers an enjoyable introduction to cruise vacations, and offers experienced cruisers a nice selection of accommodations and amenities. Whatever your wallet dictates, a Princess Cruise offers good value for your vacation dollars.

if you go

San Francisco International Airport is approximately 20 miles and a $65 taxi ride to the Cruise Terminal or Hyatt Regency. Your travel agent or Princess Cruises can also arrange transfers to and from the airport, but if two passengers are involved, we recommend taking a taxi, which is a lot less hassle.

One final note:

San Francisco’s cruise terminal is currently at Pier 35. That will change when the America’s Cup headquarters picks up the stake from Pier 27 sometime around September 2013 — after the US (hopefully) wins the Cup.

Following a rapid facelift and the addition of a new park at the site, the much-improved cruise terminal at Pier 27 will accommodate larger vessels and offer expansive views of the city, including Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Bay Bridge.

Happy travels!


Why is cruising good for you?

Travelling relieves stress and boosts testosterone

Travel has the ability to take you out of our daily routine and into new surroundings and adventur and this can reset your physics and mind. Even planning a adventure can have an fantastic effect on the body & mind – it boosts happiness and feels satisfying.

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