Flights-We flew non stop on Korean Air Seattle to Seoul. We had 24 hours in Seoul and enjoyed every moment of our visit. It was a delightful city and we will definitely spend more time the next time in Asia. We flew non stop from Seoul to Singapore and had a 24 hour visit in Singapore before boarding the Diamond Princess in Singapore.
This 16 day cruise was the Diamond's first cruise after being in dry dock for renovation.
Embarkation-Unfortunately, this was horrible. I am not sure if this was the first time Princess had embarked a boat in Singapore but it sure felt like it. The cruise terminal clearly was not designed for a ship the size of the Diamond Princess. In fact, the ship was not even at the cruise terminal. Upon arrival at the cruise terminal (which is also a shopping mall which contributes to the confusion) passengers were directed to drop off baggage and take a escalator to the second floor for check in. The baggage check in was slow, located outside in the 88 degree heat and in the same location of the shuttle buses. The line was very long and moved very slowly. Once the bags were checked you were directed upstairs to another very long line. We checked in and then were directed back downstairs to stand in a line for a shuttle bus that was going transport us to the ship which was a 30 minute drive. The line for the shuttle bus was now mixed up with the line of people dropping of their bags and it was sheer chaos. With the heat and the confusion, it made for a bad experience and it caused a late departure because they still did not have all of the people on ship.
The Ship- The appearance looked top notch. New carpet was evident throughout the ship. They had added MUTS and a Sanctuary. Our room was spotless. All in all it was in pristine condition.
The Weather- This were not cooperative on much of the cruise. We were sailing during the end of typhoon season but this was a particularly harsh season. Our day in Ko Samui was cancelled due to massive flooding on the island. The captain made a decision to sail straight to Bangkok for safety reasons which was a good call after watching the you tube videos. We had 3 at sea days that were very rough weather. The captain reported waves as high as 12 meters. Passengers and crew were sick. I was very thankful we were on a ship as large as the Diamond Princess with stabilizers. I can't imagine what it would have been like on a smaller ship. The captain did an excellent job guiding us through very rough waters and keeping us all safe.
Shuttle transportation in port-This was very hit or miss. Somedays it was very smooth and some days not. In Ko Samui and Nha Trang we had tenders into port. It takes 3 1/2 hours to tender in a ship with as many passengers as the Diamond Princess. It takes and equal amount of time to bring them all back. This cuts severely into your time in port. Nagasaki was the only port we could walk off the boat and into town. The other ports required shuttle service into town because the Diamond Princess required docking in a container port. There was no problem taking a shuttle into any of the cities we visited. Getting back to the boat could be a problem. In both Hong Kong and Busan we had a 75 minute wait standing in a line on a sidewalk to get on a shuttle to get back to the ship. Again, the dynamics of moving 2700 passengers can be cumbersome but as I mentioned above I was glad to be on a big ship although I do think Princess can improve on the shuttle process and make it move faster and smoother.
The Air- Word of warning to anyone thinking of traveling to Asia if you have a respiratory issue. The air in many Asian cities is very bad. Many Asian cities do not have controls in place which creates very bad air. This was noted in Bangkok, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. We ended our cruise in Beijing and the day we arrived the air pollution control index measured above 500 which is the top of the scale.
The Food-Princess did a great job with their food. It was high quality and there were many choices. We found our meals each evening in the dining room to be very satisfying. We chose any time dining and never had trouble booking a table for 2 at 8 PM. Of course the rough sea days created many empty spots in the dining room which made reservations on those days readily available.
The Entertainment-It was excellent. My daughter lives in NYC and I have many opportunities to attend shows on Broadway. The entertainers were all exceptional.
Shore Excursions-I am not a big tour kind of person. We booked only one Princess shore excursions which was in Bangkok. My husband was concerned about the political unrest in Bangkok and knew that booking a tour with Princess would be the safer bet. The rest of the cities I had prearranged private guides or we toured the city independently. We speak no Asian languages but we were readily able to tour independently in Hong Kong, Nagasaki, and Busan. We hired a private guide in Saigon, Nha Trang, Shanghai, and Beijing.
Customs in Asia-This was the most complicated customs I had ever experienced on a cruise. The Princess information on embarkation warned that the rules were different in each country and they changed constantly. We were required to follow a different set of rules in each country. Luckily, Princess personnel handled all of the details. We just had to get into lines and follow directions. Get ready to go through multiple thermal scans.
Personnel- Princess does a great job in training their staff. There is a consistency of excellence wherever you go on the ship. Even the purser's desk remained cheerful despite the multiple issues they dealt with on the cruise.
Lectures-We had two excellent lecturers on the ship. Elizabeth Moran was the tour guide specialist on the ship. She gave an clear concise lecture illustrated with power point for each port. These lectures were repeated on the TV each day before the given port.
James Leavell was a professor of Asian Studies. His lectures were fascinating and covered a broad range of history and culture in Asia.
All in all, it was a good experience but not without some bumps in the road.