Before we get into the detail we want you to know we really enjoyed this cruise and would do it again.
Our holiday started in Bejing, and we flew from Manchester via Dubai with Emirates on their A480s with 30 Kilos each of luggage allowed. We had a two nights pre-cruise stay at the Marriott (City Wall) hotel. The hotel has good rooms, a good Pizza restaurant but breakfast (which was provided free) was only so-so (pre-prepared food only warm, not hot and eggs decidedly underdone for us). Note we were there 29 April to 1 May which is a Chinese bank holiday, Beijing was very busy with the world and his wife on holiday there!
On the 30th April we walked to the Temple of Heaven (this took us about an hour -- Bejing is a large city and distances on the local maps underplay the distances). We bought a Temple, Gardens and other parts ticket, however did not really understand it as all in Chinese, and one of the buildings within the gardens we then would have had to play extra to go into (so we opted not to). After we left the Temple we went across to the acrobatic theatre and booked tickets for the evening acrobatic show -- only charged us 100 Yuan. It was a warm day so after an ice cream in the local KFC we then got a bus up to Tianamen Square (only 1 Yuan/RMB to travel any distance on the bus) which took about 10 minutes -- the buses have the stop place names in English(ish) as well as Chinese which was useful.
After a tour of the square (we had been before on a previous holiday) we caught the bus back to the acrobatic theatre. It was an excellent show, we really do not know how people can be so flexible and strong!
Transfer to the cruise ship took around 2 hours (with a 20 minute stop half way), it is amazing how much building work is still going on (and how much the new developments mimic American/European architecture).
We were on the Diamond Princess in Cabin D503 -- a very good mini-suite but occasionally we could smell cigarette smoke in the bedroom area, perhaps this is because we were above the starboard promenade deck. Since our last cruise on the Diamond Princess (2009) we found a few changes:
- they have introduced discounted drinks for platinum, elite and suite customer in SkyWalkers bar from 17:00 to 19:00 if you have the cocktail of the day (plus canapes/nibbles provided) which we enjoyed most evenings;
- In the Horizon Court restaurant the cutlery & napkins are on the tables now, rather than with the trays;
- Sabatini's has a new (very good menu).
We were "Anytime" dining, and usually ate in the Savoy restaurant -- it is advisable to book a table if you want to eat at a particular time (or if you are a couple and want just a table for 2). Remember that if you are on a large table, you may only want 2 courses but other may want more, and they always serve all the same courses together!
The ports we called at on the Asian side of the cruise were Dalian (China), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostock (Russia) Muroran (Japan) -- do read the instructions provided in the cabin regarding your passports and immigration checks as it will save you time in the long run.
After Japan we then had 6 days at sea -- every night the clocks went forward an hour, which can interfere with your sleep patterns. We also crossed the International Date Line, so we went from 12 hours in front of the UK to 12 hours behind, and we had 10th May twice! During the sea days there was therefore lots of people doing the on-board activities. We did all of the quizzes (general knowledge, music, movies, theatre and musicals), and although there are prizes for the winners, it really is the winning that counts (as the prizes are really only token gifts - such as lanyards, drinking beakers, keyring lights and fridge magnet clips). We used the internet whilst on board, however as this is via a satellite it is more like a dial up speed rather than broadband
There was a storm in the northern pacific, so the captain took a more northerly route into the Bering Sea, before crossing back into the Pacific near Kodiak island, therefore we got to see some of the Aleutian Islands. Due to the Captain's change the Pacific Ocean lived up to its name and most days the ships navigation system recorded the waves as "slight", only once during the entire cruise did the sea look remotely rough and with the ships stabilisers out you really did not feel it. After leaving Muroran the temperature started to drop and the day before we had our first Alaskan port (Seward) it snowed. Many of the passengers (and crew) had never seen snow before and were very excited by this (some of them soon learned that snow is also very slippery, and the outside decks were closed for safety reasons).
We were not lucky enough to see any whales during the cruise, but we saw dolphins, seals and sealions.
We did the following excursions:
Dalian -- City Walk and kite flying. Dalian is a big, modern city. English speaking student guides took us round and were friendly (and you needed them to help crossing the roads, as there was lots of traffic!) midway through the tour we went to a restaurant and were provided with drinks, we chose Beer. Then off to a park for kite flying (cheap kites that you then take home with you), it was a calm day with little breeze so not actually that successful for kite flying. We had lunch back on the boat.
Busan -- we went to Yunggungsa Temple, the APEC building and short time around the central market area (not really enough time to shop, but there were shops opposite the ship) Free shuttle into town (not walkable).
Vladivostock -- The ship docks pretty much in the centre of town so you can easily walk everywhere. Our trip went to the "Eagles Nest" (a hill overlooking the town), a Russian Orthodox church, the local natural history museum and a submarine. All apart from the Eagles Nest was an easy walk from the boat. For us, not going to the museum would not have been a loss but the submarine was excellent! Next door to the dock was the railway station, which is the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. This is well worth a look around (even if you do not like trains).
Muroran -- We did the trip to see the Lake and volcano, but if you have been somewhere like Lanzorote then this is not on the scale of what you find there. Muroran is an industrial port town, not really a tourist destination as such. We did go to the big supermarket for Sapporo Beer. There were free shuttle buses that do circular routes around the town, which is quite spread out . You can hop-on/hop off at the designated stops.
Seward -- We did our own thing, getting the free shuttle into town. We went to the Aquarium which was interesting, and generally walked around the town (lots of tourist shops there) as well as looking at the Iditarod dog sled trail. We (seemingly like a lot of people) went to Safeways. Other passengers who went on the whale watching trip reported seeing whales etc on that trip. Remember that it can be cold there in May.
Juneau -- We went to the Glacier, a rainforest tour and salmon hatchery. The trip did not start until mid morning, so we walked into town first thing (again the ship is moored right in town) and looked around. There was no food provided and no shopping time available after the trip (at the rain forest there was a Cafe, we never made it to the visitors centre at the glacier but probable there are snacks and drinks available there too). As it was not Salmon season (early July they return) there was not really that much to see at the Salmon hatchery!
Ketchikan -- The ship is moored right in town. We went on the "Misty Fjords" seaplane trip, great little flight and after landing in one of the fjords we all (6 passengers per plane, everyone gets a window seat) got out and walked on the floats. Amazingly calm and quiet. We had a good walk around the town, again lots of touristy shops!
Vancouver -- The only negative comment we have is the final transfer from the ship terminal to the hotel -- getting through customs and immigration was fine, and then we picked up our cases. However once outside it was disorganised chaos, as there then 3 ships berthed all with passengers disembarking and new passengers joining). It took around 20 minutes to get through the formal bits, and then we waited 1hr 40 minutes for the coach to take us to the hotel (the Four seasons) which was literally only a 10 minute walk away.
The hotel was good (no food included as part of the stay), and as part of the "Pacific Centre" complex meant you could access the underground shopping network from the hotel. We Walked to Stanley Park, The Vancouver lookout (ticket is for 24 hours, so you can go during the day, leave and then go back at night), and Gas Street.
The next day it started to rain, so we first went to the Aquarium by bus (we bought a day pass). It was again a bank holiday weekend, so again things were pretty busy in Vancouver too), then we went back into town and went to the cinema. We checked before we went, but there were no significant theatre/music events on whilst we were there, otherwise we would have booked a show.
Princess provided a voucher for the taxi transfer to the airport, we flew home with Air Canada (only 23 Kilos of luggage allowed, if you are over they will charge you $100 Canadian and they were very strict!!).