I sailed on the Diamond Princess from BeiJing to Vancouver in 2012. The distance sailed was 11277 kilometers. It was a very nice experience.
Pictures are at http://www.pbase.com/wwll/dp2012
I call this cruise my re-enactment of my father's sailing to Gold Mountain. Chinese call the USA Gold Mountain. I was five-months old when he sailed from Shanghai to San Francisco. I know of no cruise for that route these days and this cruise was the closest I found.
While for me this cruise was hedonistic enjoyment on a familiar ship and lifestyle, I think my father's cruise was quite different. He had just sent his wife and son to GuangZhou to live with his father. At 37 he was seeking a new life in an unfamiliar culture. Meanwhile his old world was changing as the Communists came to power in China. I would think it was a time of uncertainty and anxiety.
On this cruise the Diamond became Chinatown. Cantonese was heard everywhere. Menus were printed in Chinese although the translation was often incorrect. I even heard an announcement in Chinese.
I organized a Meet and Greet for the folks on board from Cruise Critic and most of the senior staff came, the Captain, the Staff Captain, the Cruise Director and his deputy, the Hotel Manager, the Customer Service Manager plus some underlings.
The cruise terminal at TianJin, the Cruise Ship Home Port, is only about two years old. It is huge. It is about 45 km from the center of TianJin.
Just about the only alternative to Princess's transfer is a similar one run by Tour Beijing. Their bus run from the International Hotel, a major landmark and a short walk from Beijing's main train station.
To book by credit card you need to send them an image of both sides of your credit card. To book via PayPal you need money already on deposit at PayPal.
I got to the International Hotel at about 8:15 am and the buses were already there. Luggage went on a separate van. My suitcase beat me to the cabin.
We departed at 10:00 am. May 1 was a major holiday so there was little traffic on the highways. We made excellent time to the TangGu region of Tianjin. Then we stopped because the driver did not know how to reach the pier. I provided two maps [in Chinese] and eventually we reached the pier around 12:40 pm.
The cost of the transfer was RMB 376 or US$60, less than the $84 that Princess charges.
The cruise terminal has large duty-free shops with a good selection of liquors and some wine.
I thought the embarkation process was unduely complicated. People were called by groups. Although drinks and snacks were provided, we waited quite a while to board.
2. Ship condition
The ship was in good condition because of the continuous cleaning and fixing. The Diamond does not have an International Cafe nor Crown Grill.
All the crew I encountered were courteous and smiling. They work hard to keep the passengers happy.
I had an inside cabin. The TV is a flat screen about 21 inches. Everything worked.
The gym was open from 7 am to 10 pm. All but one of the machines worked. The aerobic machines have individual TV screens.
Movies Under The Stars was continuous, even when temperature was 0 C and the deck iced over.
Food was good but not great. I had anytime dining and never waited for a table because I share. About seven days into the cruise, the menu began to be repeated. There was no effort to get local specialties. Every other day or so there was a special buffet in the covered pool area.
I thought the selection and quality at Horizon Court were very good. Most of the time I found tables difficult to come by.
There were five production shows on this 20-day cruise. Actually there were two troupes of singers and dancers. One troupe ended their contract half way through and the replacement troupe was already on board, so the new troupe did the last two production shows. In 15 minutes it was obvious that the new troupe was much superior to the old troupe. The last show was done to canned music.
Maurizio was on board. Whenever he performed in the atrium, it was completely filled with people dancing and singing. There was a couple who must be in their 80's who danced every song. He made the jerky movement of his arthritic joints a feature!
5. Ports of Call
* DaLian was the first port of call. There was a free shuttle into town. There were some young people who served as human arrows to point the way. I found out they have been imported and cannot give directions locally.
The shuttle bus went to the Friendship Store. This Friendship Store is an upscale mall. In the basement supermarket I got an expensive bottle of Chinese wine which turned out to be very ordinary.
Down a side street there is a local market. Other than that DaLian offers no attractions for me.
The cruise port at Busan is spartan. There are no permanent buildings. But the people in Busan more than make up for it. They provide a free shuttle from the port to the Hotel Phoenix in the center of town. From there all major points of interest are easily reachable.
At the dock a bank came in a truck. There are three money changer desks and ATMs.
The shuttle to town takes 20 minutes through pretty bad traffic.
The free Wi-Fi at the Hotel Phoenix was so busy as to be unusable.
I did the kilometer-long underground shopping mall Nampodong. At 10 am therre was not much action. I bought a pair of socks for US$0.50.
The seafood market is truly remarkable. There are seafood vendors for blocks around. One can see the seafood being unloaded from ships. On the ground floor of the market there are some 300 stalls. The range and quality are fantastic. One can take the seafood to the second floor and have it cooked. The restaurants on the second floor also sell seafood directly. But all the seating is Korean style. On the fifth floor is OASE seafood buffet restaurant, 26,000 won per person.
At lunch the next day a guy told me he plus three friends went to the beach and had two fish for lunch. The bill was US$168.
I opted to search for a ginseng chicken for lunch. I found one that has been in business for 55 years [www.nampo-chicken.co.kr]. The menu is only about ten items, various kinds of ginseng with chicken. An array of kim chi comes with it. My chicken soup was 18,000 won [US$16.37].
In Busan I found that the first alley inside from the main street to be the most interesting, full of bars.
I found an internet cafe that charge US$0.90 for an hour and did my email.
There was a very long queue for the shuttle back to the ship.
At the pier there is a stage. Just as we were ready to depart, Korean women came and performed traditional dances for us. I watched from Deck 7. See my pictures and videos. Scheduled departure was 4:30 but some of the Princess excursions did not get back until 5 pm so we were treated to more dances. As we pulled away volunteers held up placards that said "See You Again." It was touching.
Vladivostok was grey and dreadry. My string of 12 sunny days has ended.
Vladivostok is the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Diamond Princess was docked right next to the train station. It turns out the train station is small.
The center of town was about a 12-minute walk away. I got some rubles at an ATM. It was Sunday and the moneychangers were nowhere to be found.
My objective was to buy vodka and caviar. I accomplished this quickly at a supermarket at the intersection of Svetlanskaya and Aleutskaya.
My search for an internet place failed, however.
US$1 = 76.86 yen
The City of Muroran has gone all out to welcome us on the Diamond Princess. We were welcomed with six pages of color maps. There is a free shuttle service, with buses running in two directions. At the four stops there are volunteers who can guide and translate. Even two blocks from Stop 5 there was a lady to guide me into the internet shop.
Undeniably though, Muroran is a city in decline. By noon most shops were not open. The Japanese certainly have pride in their cities. Muroran is spotless.
At Stop 5 I was in Nagasakiya, a hyper mart, and bought a single piece of tempura ebi (large shrimp) for 50 yens. Had it been piping hot and crispy I would have bought more.
Also at Stop 5 I used the internet place Free-Style. You can only use their computers which do not have Skype. It is a semi-private booth with what I consider uncomfortable seating. Half an hour use was 480 yens.
For those looking for wine, there is Matsunaga which is right at Stop 4, in the Platto Tetsuichi. They have a large range of wines at all prices.
After six sea days all of us were glad to be on land again.
A free shuttle runs from the ship to downtown Seward, about a five-minute drive. The buses also stop at the Tourist Information Center which is immediately adjacent to a huge Safeway with both a Starbucks and a liquor store inside.
When we were there the road to Exit Glacier was still closed so a major attraction was unavailable.
With only 2,000 people there is not much in Seward. In downtown I entered a bar/liquor store. The lady bartender had to be there with me in the liqour store. The shuttle buses came from Anchorage.
The Library in Seward offers free Wi-Fi. They even have some machines of their own for which there was a queue. I was also glad I was there early as the librarians said at 2 pm the place would be filled with kids.
With snow on all the nearby hills practically down to sea level, the scenery is spectacular. One of the drivers said this overcast day is the best day they've had in a long time.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska but the population is only 30,000. It is a short walk into town.
I discovered that I had only $20 in my pocket! I spent $5 for an hour of internet and bought a sweatshirt for $10.
Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Itidarod sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, came on board to give a talk, show video and meet the passengers. It was a moving and enjoyable time. [http://www.libbyriddles.com]
By now I am tired of the tourist stores which appear to be the same in all the Alaskan ports. I was happy to be in the Tribal Store where for $3.25 I got a latte and internet usage.
The Forest Service sent two rangers to give a talk. It was somewhat interesting. There are some national forests bigger than some states.
Four ships arrived at Vancouver together. It was long lines and chaos. I was glad to be picked up by relatives.
The Chinese food in Vancouver was unbelievably good.