We flew from Heathrow to Beijing with British Airways. The service was really good (who said BA cabin staff are demoralised?) and the food was excellent!
We stayed at Marriott City Wall, a very good hotel except for breakfast when they could not cope with the numbers. There was a long queue to get into the dining room and they kept running out of food and were slow to replenish. Food was good though!
We had booked the three day pre-cruise tour and added on two optional evening tours. The daytime tours were excellent and the evening tours worth doing. We had the same guide (Tom) for the daytime tours, he was really good and had very good English. We visited the Olympic Stadium, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Hutong (where we visited an old quadrangle house and had a rickshaw ride), the Summer Palace, The Great Wall of China (the highlight of the holiday) and the Temple of Heaven.
All five tours included a Chinese meal and while they were good (especially the Peking Duck lunch) we realised we could easily get tired of Chinese food.
Transfers from the airport to the hotel and from Beijing to the ship were efficient. Embarkation was super fast taking less than 30 minutes from coach to cabin.
Diamond Princess is a nice ship. It is almost a twin of Ventura (P & O) that we are familiar with so we had little difficulty finding our way about. The ship didn’t feel too big – unless you had to get from bow to stern in a hurry! There always seemed to be plenty of room on the ship and sunbeds were always available even on sea days. Our cabin steward was good and always eager to help.
We were “anytime dining” for the first time and it suited us well. We didn’t book ahead and got straight into our chosen dining room almost every time. On only one occasion did we see a long queue and we moved to another dining room and got straight in. We met lots of interesting people mainly from UK, US and Australia (strangely all the Aussies claimed not to like cricket and didn’t want to talk about it!!!) The service was very good in all the dining rooms and the food was of a high standard. The buffet at the Horizon Court was good for breakfast and lunch.
The entertainment was mixed, some good, some poor. This was our first cruise with Princess and we were disappointed with some of the shows. Some regular Princess cruisers we met said the same thing. Maybe this is a Far East problem!
Dalian: We took the walking tour of the city with kite flying. It wasn’t worth doing – there wasn’t even enough wind to fly the kites.
Shanghai: Unfortunately we missed out on Shanghai as the port was closed due to severe fog.
Ho Chi Minh City: We visited a Lacquer Factory and a market and had time in the city on our own. This was a good tour. The journey from the port to HCMC took two and a half hours but it was an interesting journey and the time passed quickly.
Bangkok: As we had been to Bangkok before we opted for the Elephant Krall. This was an excellent visit where we learned a lot about elephants and how they are being looked after and had an opportunity to ride on one (and get a photograph).
Singapore: We enjoyed a tour of Singapore on the last day even though we were expecting a hospitality room – more later!
Shipboard activities: Outside activities like shuffleboard and quoits were very badly organised – Princess could take lessons from P & O. The beer tasting was a complete rip off, $10 for five thimblefuls of beer and a poor talk! The Computers at Sea seemed overpriced at $30 for a 45 minute session on photo editing.
We obviously “drew the short straw” as we were booked on Quantas for the return journey Singapore to Heathrow. The service was good but the food was like airline food used to be. I had forgotten how bad that was. The presentation of the food was awful and the taste even worse!
The pre-cruise tour was superb!
The cruise was good and we liked Diamond Princess, the staff and the food.
Princess needs to improve its communication with passengers. Between booking the cruise and joining the ship the cruise itinerary changed some seven times and we were only informed about the last two changes. In addition, we were promised a hospitality room on the last day in Singapore. I found out when I received the disembarkation schedule that we were “Late Departing UK Passengers with Tour” i.e. a tour had been substituted for the hospitality room and I had not been informed of the change.
A general point: The trend in cruising is to bigger ships. The effect of this can be two fold. Firstly there is more need to use tenders. This is no problem if you have booked an organised tour as you get priority but if you are not on a tour it can take up to three hours to get ashore! Secondly in some cases the bigger ships can only berth in commercial ports that can be up to three hours drive from the visiting city. We encountered both these issues on the cruise. While they did not spoil the holiday it is something we will have to take into account in the future when choosing a cruise.