After undergoing a $30 million refurbishment, 10-year old Diamond Princess looks anything but faded. All gleaming brass and glass -- with Asian accents like three-deck silver statues of peacocks, dragons and mermaids in the atrium -- the ship is beautiful.
But it's the laid-back, subdued atmosphere that really makes it feel comfortable. It's hard to say whether that feeling was a result of being on a reduced capacity sailing (only 1,700 passengers on our cruise) or the intriguing mix of fellow cruisers, which is par for the course for Diamond Princess, now that it sails permanently in Australasia. On our sailing, about half were from Japan, while most of the other half was from Australia and New Zealand.
While the cultures are completely different, the easygoing mentality of the Australians and New Zealanders blended beautifully with the polite quietness of the Japanese. Though Easterners and Westerners didn't interact a lot, it was always with respect and a sense of adventure when they did. Westerners loved watching the Japanese learn to samba and kept their cameras at the ready on formal nights when ladies in stunning kimonos came out for dinner. The Japanese practiced their limited English with big smiles and mingled with Westerners any time ballroom, Latin or line dancing was on offer.
Dancing and music are a big part of the experience onboard Diamond Princess. Music can be found in at least five venues every evening, from a daytime jazz trio in the Atrium and late-night pop music in the disco to evening ballroom in Club Fusion and a fantastic piano player in Crooner's Bar.
But if you're not into music and dancing, don't worry. It's never too loud, and there's always something else to do, whether it be a comedy act in Explorer's Lounge or trivia in Wheelhouse Bar. Want to stay in for the night? There's always a nice selection of movies on demand on your in-cabin TV.
Diamond Princess homeports in Australasia, so the majority of passengers are from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. On cruises departing from Japanese ports, the majority of passengers are from Japan, while cruises departing from Australian ports carry a majority of Westerners. On all cruises, a minority of passengers are from the United States and Canada, with a mix of Europeans and those from other Asian countries. The age of passengers skews toward baby boomers, though you will find a handful of 30- and 40-somethings and even some kids, depending on the season.
Because of the mix of passengers, especially when the ship sails out of Japanese ports, announcements are made in both English and Japanese. The only time this was a problem was during the muster drill when the entire drill had to be done first in English, then in Japanese, and all passengers had to sit through both.
During the day, resort casual is the norm. Most nights are smart casual, with women dressed in skirts or dark pants with blouses and men in collared shirts. Shorts may not be worn to any of the main dining rooms. During a seven- to nine-night cruise, there are two formal nights. You won't see too many women in gowns. Instead, cocktail dresses, skirts and pantsuits are preferred. On cruises out of Japanese ports, you'll also see Japanese women in beautiful kimonos. For the guys, dark suits or slacks with nice shirts and sports jackets are common, with many men foregoing the ties.
The cruise line automatically bills $12.95 per person, per day, for mini-suites and suites and $13.95 per person, per day, in all other staterooms; that includes children. The tips are split among the waitstaff, stateroom stewards, buffet stewards and housekeeping staff.