Lovely ship with nice atmosphere being well managed by Captain Roger Bilton and Cruise Director, Brett, who kept everybody informed. Food was good but not up to the standards enjoyed on previous cruises on Sea Princess. Entertainment was poor, especially in the theatre, evidently due to excessive cost cutting. Well managed port calls with minimal queues and formalities handled very efficiently. Good mix of passengers (31% UK, 30% USA, 42 nationalities) and friendly staff (50 nationalities with the majority from the Philippines). Great itinerary from Beijing to Bangkok. Avoided the Princess tours as it was easy to get around using the free shuttles.
In April 2013 my wife and I joined the Diamond Princess in Beijing for a cruise to Bangkok. Having cruised with Princess several times we had priority ("platinum") boarding, which avoided queuing for embarkation after the long flight from London. Previous cruises had been on smaller ships (notably Sea Princess with under 2000 passengers) so we were pleased to find that the Diamond Princess (with 2700 passengers) felt very similar. We had opted for an inside cabin because the first half of the cruise would be cold and the second half too warm to make a balcony useful. This worked well as the cabins were more spacious than the earlier ships.
The itinerary had one sea day between most port calls, which worked really well and gave us time to reflect and prepare between busy days in different countries. Princess handled all the immigration formalities with amazing efficiency, which avoided queuing delays and the need to carry passports. Having previously travelled across most of the countries visited, albeit many years ago, it was fascinating to see how much had changed.
We avoided the over-priced tours offered by Princess because the free shuttle buses made it so easy to do our own thing. Travelling on the local trains, buses, ferries and trams was cheap and easy and all the main sights were in easy reach. Passengers who attended the informative port lectures soon realised how easy it was to explore by themselves but some research before joining the cruise is always worthwhile.
FOOD AND DRINK
We opted for fixed dining, which worked really well on our table of eight. We also used the same (International) dining room for breakfast and lunch to avoid the busy Horizon self service on deck 14. We also took afternoon tea on occasions but found that the waiters tended to rush everybody through this rather than serve at a relaxed pace.
Food was generally good but not up to the standards we have enjoyed on previous Princess cruises in terms of both choice and presentation. We were well fed but none of the dishes had that "special touch" to make them memorable. Choice of desserts was disappointing and even the souffles were rather boring. We appreciate that this is mass catering on a large scale but have enjoyed better.
Wine prices appear to have increased by 50% over the past 2 years and drink prices seemed rather high, with no Happy Hour on this cruise. Princess coffee has never been great, as they encourage you to buy their speciality coffee.
We did not try the Italian style Sabatinis (or the other small speciality eating places) because we were already eating too much and felt no need to pay the 25 USD per head surcharge.
We have enjoyed some great entertainment on all previous Princess cruises but can only describe the theatre entertainment as poor. The theatre seated about 1000 passengers but was seldom full because the 30 minute shows had a single act with third rate, mainly Australian, artists. We walked out of a couple of shows, as did others, because they were so bad. The on board song and dance team produced five shows but they were low budget versions of tired shows, like The Piano Man, which were much better 5 years ago.
The theatre was packed on two occasions, the first being a welcome back show by 5 and 6 year old children at Nagasaki, where the Diamond Princess was built. The children were amazing and must have rehearsed for months. The staff show on the final night was packed, as usual, with everybody behaving like juveniles and having a good time.
Entertainment in the various lounges was better but often far too loud. One singer/comedian, who was actually one of the cruise staff, (Jamie something) was tremendous and a great entertainer.
Trivia was as popular and competitive as ever with keen competition for worthless prizes. We won several times but there was no "bubbly" to celebrate with the team members, as enjoyed previously. The scavenger hunt lasted several days but timing tended to clash with other activities. The egg drop competition was fun but had few competitors. Bingo seemed as popular as ever but those playing commented that they felt cost was too high. The art lectures were interesting but poorly attended because passengers evidently preferred the sun deck.
We did not see much of China because we opted for just an over-night stop in Beijing then the Shanghai port call was cancelled due to high winds. Others, who stayed longer, endured the smog and chilly weather to make quick trips to the Forbidden City and The Great Wall, which was barely visible. After a day at sea, we reached Busan in South Korea. The Jagalchi Fish Market was fascinating and the BIFF area featuring Asian movie stars was worth a visit. The smart roof area on the Lotte department store provides great views and their food hall is superb.
The following day we stopped at Nagasaki, where, like most passengers, we visited the Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum. Ships dock right in the town, where the Glover Garden and Catholic Church are just across the road.
The Captain was obliged to avoid the long estuary to Shanghai, where the port was closed due to high winds. This gave us an extra day in Hong Kong, which we loved, after three days at sea. We avoided the busy and misty Victoria Peak and used all forms of public transport, using an Octopus Card, to get around. Watching the nightly 8pm light show, around the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade area, from the ship as we departed was a bonus.
We had two consecutive stops in Vietnam, the first being Nha Trang. The Long Son Pagoda, with its huge white Buddha and the reclining Buddha can be reached on foot from the shuttle stop, as could the smelly Cho Dam market. Ho Chi Minh city was only reachable on a tour because the ship docks at the Phu My container port, which is 2.5 hours drive. Ho Chi Minh is a vibrant unspoilt place with plenty to see.
Singapore has become increasingly smart and, in our opinion, lost much of its charm, especially in China Town and Little India. The buildings get ever higher as more land is reclaimed.
We finished the cruise in Bangkok with a busy day visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Trimitr, Wat Pra Keo and a river cruise.