Sailed on Diamond Princess from the port of Laem Chabang following some private touring in Thailand.
Diamond princess looks as good in port as she did when we first sailed on her in 2005 to Alaska. However once onboard we were disappointed. Whilst everything is in good order, the ship looks tired. The decore is at best bland.
The cabin could only be described as basic with a tiny balcony.
Days at sea saw the pools crowded with sun worshippers for the first half of the cruise. Simple activities like Trivia,Golf putting competitions and bingo were offered by the cruise staff.
Food onboard varied from good to outstanding. We had anytime dining and initially joined a couple we met prior to the cruise for dinner in a different restaurant each night. Then we discovered that we preferred the Savoy dining room. The MaitreD and our favourite server Pat always enhanced the dining experience for us, so we booked there most nights. This seemed to work well for us as there were occasionally queues of diners waiting for a table.
We booked the specialty restaurant Sabatini's one night and were pleased with the food and friendly service.
Choice of staff was of great importance, as there were several waiters and bar staff onboard who were obviously experienced, whilst at other venues they were clumsy or inefficient or just plain disinterested. This was particularly noticeable in Explorers, where it was sometimes difficult to get anyone to serve us.
This reminds me to mention the Princess soda package. I purchased one, whilst my husband just drank beer, wine or cocktails, highlighting a fault with the system. Anyone purchasing an alcoholic beverage (thus attracting a service charge) had their drink made immediately. Those of us who ordered a soda were left till last. So if my husband and I ordered drinks at the same time I often had to ask for mine several times, or he would finish his drink before I was served. Second class citizen, or second class service?
Service on the ship was in general patchy. There were some people who had the usual bright and breezy cruise attitude, whilst others were disinterested. Was this due to the Norovirus outbreak? This caused most crew members to lose valuable down time, and instead carry out extensive disinfection procedures repeatedly. They may have been worn out.
Entertainment varied enormously. There were some outstanding acts like the Aussie magician, whilst one singer billed as a comedian was not only not funny, his singing was completely flat! Many people walked out.
The port lectures were outstanding, combining toilet instructions with excellent tips for negotiating highlights around each port.
The itinerary was my main reason for choosing the cruise, a brief snapshot of seven countries in just 16 days, and on this score it fulfilled the brief. Viewing so many cultures in such a short timespan really accentuates the differences.
We began with an independent trip to the Songkran festival in Chiang Mai; a wild and wet Thai New Years celebration which really highlighted the Thai enjoyment of innocent fun- squirting water at one another in 40 degree heat. Then the wild hustle of Bangkok. Be aware that many tours/shops/taxis are unavailabe during the festival.
Singapore- think Asia sanitised for a western palate. Still offers some great day trip experiences. No need to take a ship's tour as everything is easily accessible. The Zoo, Botanic gardens, China Town, Sentosa Island and Little India are all an easy ride away. We caught a taxi this time, but have found the local buses easy to negotiate in the past. You could easily explore the new Marina Bay complex and Raffles for a more expensive "Singapore Sling" experience.
Took a ship's tour to Saigon as it is a couple of hours from the port. They provided a knowledgable guide and the Water Puppet Show was adorable. Lunch was terrific, with wonderful local dishes and a cultural show. In the true Princess spirit we were taken to a factory/shop which produced lacquer ware. Naturally most people made purchases, then later discovered that most outlets in the city sold similar/identical items for a fraction of the price. Princess take every opportunity to gouge extra dollars, from port excursions to their onboard selling disguised as "information."
Nha Trang was easily accessed independently. The ship provided a shuttle to a good position in town to access the Cham temple, markets and beaches. Slight culture shock as we walked through town to the temple (in 38 degree heat)when we viewed the tiny shop fronts/homes. Passed a coffin shop, bridal shop and motor mechanic within metres of each other. Then off to the beach for a quick swim in the South China Sea - which some Vietnamese would like to re -name the East Vietnam sea!
Hong Kong- a simple shuttle into town, explored a city we know well on foot. Easy, with the usual Hong Kong buzz.
Shanghai, what a highlight! The ship provided shuttles for the 1hour trip to the Bund. Well done Princess! Great starting position with good toilets. Don't forget your tissues. We had a private tour with Janny Chyn, recommended by a friend who works in the city. The cost for 2 was expensive (about the same as tours from the ship) but what variety! We explored the architecture of some older buildings on the Bund, visited the French Concession, tried to find new partners at the Marriage market, visited the birthplace of communism ate dumplings in a fab restaurant and of course squeezed in a spot of shopping. Great commentary and well paced. If I had organised more people the cost would have dropped.
Nagasaki was easy as we docked right in town. The trams are cheap, simple to understand and stop close to many landmarks. In typical Japanese style the people are reserved but polite and helpful. The Peace park and war museum were crowded with tours from the ship.
Busan. Fears for many us with the North Korean threats of war, but the locals just carry on as usual.Great fish markets display an amazing variety of sea creatures, most of which are alive in tanks! Fresh. But there did not seem to be any people actually buying? The markets were similar to many in Asia except they did not bargain.
Beijing at last. We wanted to catch the bullet train from Tanggu station. Internet research indicated that we should pay 50-80RMB for a cab to the station. We stepped out of the Ships terminal and were besieged by aggressive drivers demanding 300RMB! After resisting and trying to enlist the help of Princess we realised that there was a single taxi company accessing the port. They had an aggressive leader who spent 20 minutes following us screaming. Eventually we crept down the row of cabs and paid 200RMB to a quieter driver. At the station we discovered that all the first class seats had been per-purchased, despite the research saying tickets would be freely available. That turned out to be a bonus as there were some VIP tickets available. Yippee! More space for the bags.
A little more to pay, but a fraction of the cost of the ship's shuttle, no traffic and direct to Beijing South Station.
Did the independent thing in Beijing. Highlight was seeing The Great Wall at Mutianyu. The steep terrain presented a few huffing/puffing moments and I was pleased to see that this applied equally to all who undertook the climb. What a shame I was too scared to take the toboggan ride down the mountain!