We took this tour because, unlike others, we had not been to many of the ports of call. Planning for the trip is tedious, particularly the China Visa requirement which necessitates a substantial investment in time and a fair amount of money. We arrived in Singapore a couple of days earlier and stayed at the Marriott on Orchard Road which is a great hotel and with which we were very pleased. I am told that starting next year, this cruise will depart from Bangkok which it did until last year when Princess changed to Singapore. That is a positive change, as there is more to see in Bangkok than Singapore which, while a great city, is like most metropolitan cities. I, for one, would have enjoyed more time in Bangkok to explore elephant rides and the palaces which are unlike anything you've seen before.
The service on the ship was remarkable. I noticed a distinct improvement over last years cruise as ALL of the staff went out of their way to be helpful. If you needed something they took care of it. If something was not on the breakfast buffet, they got it for you and if you had a dietary requirement they went out of their way to see that your food was cooked accordingly.
One particularly touching moment was for the ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) service which marks the tremendous loss of life at Gallipoli. At the request of some passengers, Princess arranged a sunrise service complete with Order of Services pamphlets, moment of silence, the laying of the wreath at sea, readings and music accompaniment which was very touching. In addition, the kitchen baked up some ANZAC biscuits with coffee and tea which was a nice touch and a classy sign of respect for those that lost their lives in the horrific campaign.
While the cruise was completely enjoyable, there were some concerns. First, Princess needs to make a fundamental business decision. The Diamond Princess is a great ship and its captain Dino S. is a great seaman. However, the ship is too big for these ports of call. Consequently, the ship docked at large, isolated commercial ports which necessitated long rides to the town centers. Bangkok was 2 hours and Ho Chi Min City over 2 hours each way. Hour or so trips were common place and passengers spent a considerable part of their day commuting. Princess needs to decide whether it wishes to continually inconvenience their passengers this way or to shift to smaller ships and a larger number of sailings. I suggest they do. The travel times are onerous and waste too much port time, not to mention incur travelling expenses that are avoidable.
In addition, the Internet needs to be addressed. I understand that ship internet by definition is slower than its ground counterpart. Yet, the wait times for service are at times ridiculous. There needs to be greater bandwidth so as to allow today's traveler the internet service they deserve. The issue is of particular concern as Princess charges for Internet use. It is unfair to charge for a service that you know is inadequate and whose paid for time is substantially consumed by waiting. I had 210 complimentary minutes yet twice had to buy additional time b/c of the large amount of time waiting for service or response. It is frustrating and needs to be addressed.
Finally, Princess needs to get off of the nickel and dime mentality. Why is their a 12 USD charge for a pilates class when there is none for yoga or any other class? Why do we have to pay for a cup of coffee at the 5th floor bar? Because it's brewed as we were told? Add a couple of dollars to the cruise price and stop this cheap practice which undermines the spirit of elegant cruising that Princess endeavors to achieve.
Na Trang is a great stop and more time should be given to shop at the open market that the excursion stops at in the afternoon. Too often you are placed somewhere and told you have to be back in 20-30 minutes. It's too overwhelming.
The port lectures are informative, but Hutch needs to be more engaging. His one line answers to questions are inadequate and he assumes we have the working knowledge he has. He needs to break things down more, understand that we've never taken a tram in Nagasaki before and are unfamiliar w/the change/fare mechanism. That we don't know that you have to put the money in, get the change and from that pay the fare. Explain it as if you were walking onto the tram for the first time and not for the umpteenth time that you have. He is a very knowledgeable guy w/a ton of information to convey, but much gets lost in the message or is not communicated at all. With some work he can be a great asset.
The other lectures by Dr. Peck and her journalistic companion Ken, were informative and gave room for thought.
Overall, the cruise was well worth while and I would recommend it. However, there is some work to be done in preparation, but it is time well rewarded.