Having taken 3 European cruises, we looked forward to visiting Asia, where we last traveled 30 years ago. Singapore was a great introduction, hot and humid but clean and modern. We spent 2 nights enjoying the city on our own before having to meet at the cruise center to be bussed to the ship. Embarkation wasted half a day but once onboard, we were fine. First 2 days were at sea, a great way to unwind, enjoy the sun, and make ourselves at home on the ship. Nearly every port stop was followed by a sea day, and we'd learned from previous cruises that port excursions can be exhausting, so the sea days were welcome, resting, reading, exercising, gambling, eating.
We're not much into shipboard activities (except that I did enjoy Zumba on sea days while my husband played video poker in the casino, we participated in both of the wine tastings, I ran the On Deck for the Cure in 50 degree windy weather, and we enjoyed the chef's demonstration and galley tour). We'd prearranged thru the cruise critic member board to attend the Meet and Greet and to participate in a slot pull--they were great ways to meet other passengers who we would later see on shore excursions and around the ship.
We'd utilized Cruise Critic to join shore excursions in various ports, only using the ship's tour in Nagasaki, where we enjoyed a trip to a feudal castle and samurai village. (Nagasaki was so welcoming to us since Diamond Princess was built there and we were the 1000th ship to visit there.) Small tours (20 or fewer participants) were the most enjoyable, and although the full bus-load in Nagasaki worked out fine because we weren't ever in crowded locations, our visit to Bangkok on a private excursion with nearly 40 passengers was chaotic. As we'd found in the past, the ports that we visited with only a few other passengers were the most pleasant. Highlights included the Nha Trang River Cruise, a private tour (just the 2 of us) in Shanghai with Shanghai Pathways, and 2 days in Beijing with 2 other couples, visiting the Great Wall and other must-see tourist attractions.
The one major drawback of the Diamond Princess is her size, not because of the number of passengers (except during the embarkation process, they did a great job of dealing with all 2000 of us, and we never felt too crowded) but because she is too big to dock at many passenger ports so we had to dock in container ports and be shuttled to the cities. We can't imagine what it must be like on the new mega-ships. It's one thing to need a shuttle in one port on a cruise, but only in Nagasaki could we disembark and walk anywhere--everywhere else we couldn't come and go at whim because of the need to use a shuttle. We cruised previously twice on the Grand Princess but didn't have this same problem on her in the Mediterranean.
We do Anytime Dining, eating nearly every dinner in the Pacific Moon Dining Room with Luis as our waiter; he made the experience fun and was always very accommodating. We're not big drinkers so appreciated being able to store our wine bottle with the restaurant from one night to the next. We also ate one night at Sabatini's, a nice quiet change. My recommendation for this specialty restaurant is that you find out early in the cruise what the specials will be each day so you can be sure to get reservations on a day that has what you like most. We also did one sit-down lunch (I think in the Savoy Dining Room), where we connected with the couples we were going to travel with in Beijing. This was a nice change since 16 days of buffet breakfasts and sea-day lunches in the Horizon Court, though plentiful and good, did begin to become too much of a good thing.
The cabin layout on the Diamond Princess matches that of the Grand. We've done balcony staterooms and mini-suites, being fine with both, but because we spend a lot of time relaxing in the cabin, the mini-suite was perfect for us for this 16 day cruise. And since we tend to not lounge much by the pool, having a relatively comfortable sitting area in the room and on the balcony was a nice escape, especially as we sailed North and the weather got cold.
Packing for a trip like this was a challenge since we started with temperatures over 90 degrees F and ended in the 40's. Layering was the way to go, and the ship's self-service laundromat was very helpful to have.
Our favorite stops were Singapore, Nha Trang, Shanghai, and Beijing. After the Diamond returns from dry-dock (where I believe she's scheduled to go in the Fall 2013), we hope to return on her on the Anchorage to Beijing cruise.