Diamond Princess Review (Sydney-Beijing) February 4th-February 28th 2012.
We just returned after an amazing and very enjoyable 23 day sailing on the Diamond Princess. Over 110 Cruise Critic members were aboard! The first of two togethers were held in Skywalker lounge and the Ship's senior officers: Captain, Staff Captain, Hotel Manager, Excursion Desk Manager, Executive Chef were present to welcome us and and to answer questions. It was clear to all of us that Princess pays attention to Cruise Critic and want to be sure we have a great experience.
The best part of the entire Princess experience on this trip was the ship's crew and how polished they were. Although I've sailed on Princess many times, as well as on Silverseas and Seabourn, the crew on the Diamond were consistently able to deliver exceptional service everywhere we went. Whether it was a cabin steward encountered in the hallway on an entirely different deck from my own, or a member of the crew varnishing a railing out on deck, everyone greeted me with a "cheerful" hello and a smile. I never witnessed any cross glances or disagreements among crew members or dining staff. Everyone worked as a team.
This was the first time we have had time to sign up and to take the "Ultimate Ship Tour". We found it fascinating and well worth the price. The tour takes you to areas off limits to passengers. Our tour (of 11 people) was led by one of the assistant Cruise Directors and lasted 3 hours.
Sailing this itinerary in February is not always ideal because of the risk of encountering bad weather (typhoon season) and going northward from summer into gray and cold, winter ports. After 16 days of sunny, summer weather in and around Australia it was an "adjustment". However, the price offered for our balcony cabin (B529) was too tempting to pass up. Moreover, we were extremely fortunate to have ideal weather. A typhoon with 70 knot winds had blown through the Great Barrier Reef area and our exact route just a week prior.
The ship itself, although the largest vessel I have ever sailed on, was spacious and beautifully fitted out. Our experience was perhaps better than others, because the ship wasn't sailing full. We numbered 2000 and the ship can hold upwards of 2700.
In my opinion, during this cruise, the Princess Theater productions were an overall disappointment. It is unfortunate, given the considerable money spent for costumes, musical arrangements, production values and copyright permissions.
The shows could have been much improved if the bar had been raised to hire more talented performers and singers. One of the lead male singers was someone I recall from a Princess cruise many years ago. I personally think it caused the best songs in the production to suffer due to miscasting him to sing romantic songs to someone who appears young enough to be his daughter. The use of Chorus vocal tracks with dancers lip syncing, coupled with the highly predictable stage direction detracted from the overall experience and made the shows appear to be out of a can. Some of the dancers lacked natural rhythm, and there didn't appear to be much cohesiveness in the tap numbers. Some dancers didn't appear to have much ability in tap dancing or in Irish Line dancing.
In my opinion, the best performances by individuals during the cruise where: an amazing "mind reader", a talented ventriloquist, a black vocalist who had a beautiful voice and knew how to connect with her audience and a big Texan who played the piano extremely well, told jokes and played country western music on an 12 string guitar.
There were some excellent lecturers aboard throughout the cruise: specifically, a retired Australian Diplomat, Geoff Gray who delivered an informative series of lectures on a wide range of subjects: the growth of China and the Asian region, trade agreements among nations like Australia, China, Japan and the USA, and his experiences serving in diverse parts of the world. John Maxtone-Graham gave highly informative and entertaining lectures about the world's great passenger ocean liners with incredible slides of the ships interiors.
An Australian commercial vessel ship pilot gave a great lecture in the Princess Theater too telling us about what they do, where they spend there time while aboard ships (not just passenger vessels) and what their responsibilities are.
By sharp contrast, the port lecturer ("Hutch"); his lectures were not particularly useful nor informative. His inflated sense of self was detrimental and a turn off for some.
Booking tours in advance turned out to be a good idea. The Shore excursion desk was busy throughout the cruise and seemed busiest in the late afternoons. Sea days were generally less busy in the morning.
Matt, one of the Assistant Cruise Directors, was quite good at having the facts passengers would need readily available in his memory, and seemed to be the most visible during the cruise in the public areas.
We spent well over $2000 in Princess tours during our cruise. Given my love of the sea, the most memorable excursions were on the Great Barrier Reef which one can't really arrange to do privately given the short time at each stop and the fact that the ship is anchored off the coast. Of the two tours offered, I would most highly recommend the tour offered using Quicksilver in Port Douglas. They were by far the best organized and had the best equipment. I am a certified diver, and was able to complete two dives, although some of my traveling companions just snorkeled. The snorkeling experience was better organized by Quicksilver, than by Whitsundays in Arlee Beach. One can cancel tours once on board easily without having to wait in line. The cancellation deadlines were set very far in advance, so it is wise to be aware of the deadline for canceling a particular excursion.
We were very glad we made our own arrangements in advance with some outstanding and very affordable private guides in Hong Kong with ( Ski email@example.com ) and in Beijing with ( Bevis firstname.lastname@example.org ). We got to do more things and get the flavor of these magnificent cities. Ski took us places using ferries, subway, double decker bus, tram and on foot. She is extremely knowledgeable and yet very intuitive and perceptive about those she is with. We never felt rushed and she constantly surprised us with aspects of Hong Kong we would never have otherwise known.
In Beijing, Bevis arranged a car and driver so that he could be with us at all times, especially at the cultural heritage sites that are best seen on foot. The car would meet us at the other end of the site so we would not waste time backtracking. He showed us things that we expressed interest in seeing, as well as things that we didn't know to ask about, like seeing the incredible acrobats. We negotiated an all inclusive price
I found Matt, one of the Assistant Cruise Directors, to be very good at having the facts passengers would need readily available in his memory, and seemed to be the most visible during the cruise in the public areas. The Wake Show every morning was hilarious. I appreciated it was possible to view the pretaped show the night before, so I had a better idea about what to expect the following day. The banter, references to specific passengers and excellent sense of humor on display at all times made it fun watching too.
Overall, the Diamond Princess is a lovely ship. She is well designed, and we were glad to have all 116,000 tons around us during the 23 days and especially in the South China sea when we hit some rough weather. We had a fantastic 23 day cruise in practically every respect. Again, the crew and the their service and their positive, team attitude made our time aboard unforgettable.
Peter, The Captain Circle Host, worked very hard and successfully to resolve some minor things for us whenever we consulted him.
The only improvements I would recommend are minor:
1. Install cruise card readers on the washers and dryers as well as the soap dispenser, eliminating the need to have rolls of quarters to do our washing.
2. Provide a full service Starbucks brand coffee/espresso bar, in lieu of either the under subscribed Sabatini's or Steak House .
3. Give Premier and Elite passengers priority for disembarking when the ship docks at ports, not just for days when tender service is used.
4. Take better advantage of the many public spaces for assigning passengers to gather who are taking shore excursions. For example we arrived in Busan South Korea over 3 hours late. Despite knowing we would arrive late the night before, the Shore excursion manager failed make alternative plans the night before. "Plan B" could have been issued much earlier than on the day of our arrival. Instead, instructions were not issued to those on tour until the last minute on the morning of our arrival. Moreover, several tours were told to go to the same small lounge mid ship, which resulted in confusion and crowd control problems until the tour groups were separated into different lounges.
5. REDUCE the amount of printed promotion materials put in the cabins...advertising spa treatments, sales, etc. TOO MUCH PAPER.
Make the PATTER available via wifi for free for those with IPADS and PDAs