Diamond Princess Entertainment
Princess knows entertainment and the stage shows are very impressive. On our cruise "Piano Man," featuring the songs of Billy Joel, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Liberace and Elton John, with a piano player and the six-piece as Diamond Princess Orchestra backing up the troupe of singers and dancers, drew raves. And we particularly enjoyed "Undercover" in its premier season, an entertaining show based on a spy theme: 007 to Austin Powers.
During our seven-night cruise we impressively had three wonderful comedians as well as a comic magician performing in both the Princess Theater and Explorer's Lounge. There was music virtually at every turn: live jazz in the Wheelhouse, a crooner at Crooner's, karaoke in Explorer's, quieter piano music or strings in the atrium, techno rock (or anything else you want to request) at Skywalkers. Second-run movies are offered in the Princess Theater or Explorer's Lounge. Club Fusion hosts Princess Idol, a ship favorite, basically a talent quest -- several rounds take place throughout the cruise -- based on American Idol (if the smoky-voice winner on our cruise had an album out I'd buy it).
The casino draws crowds to its clanging slot machines and lively tables, with frequent tournaments and contests (on the Diamond, bingo also draws a huge crowd as does wooden horse racing).
On the activities front there is nearly always something happening from line dancing classes and art auctions to napkin folding to shopping and beauty seminars. Princess' ScholarShip at Sea program offers courses in photography, computer technology, culinary arts and more (some for a fee). On this ship you can also create ceramics, with a studio located above the Neptune Pool (bring home a fish-shaped tray for $22). Lectures are on such topics as "What Makes You Tick,' conducted by a therapist, and "Makeover Madness," offered by giggling members of the spa staff. (Note: The makeover lectures included a big sales pitch for products.)
There were two wine tastings on our seven-day cruise. At the $7.50 per person tasting, Marius from Poland told us about the vin-ee-yard, and said the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc had a nice are-o-ma, "very winey." The separate gourmet tasting was $25 per person.
A nice touch one afternoon was a public interview session with the Captain, where he answered such questions as "If you're here who's driving?" Answer: "I have no idea."
Movies Under the Stars (M.U.T.S.), the big-screen outdoor theater that's proven so popular with the line's newest ships, will be installed aboard Diamond Princess in November 2010. Passengers can enjoy movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening.
Diamond Princess Public Rooms
We've made no bones that we like the layout of this vessel, from the enticing Grand Plaza atrium, a warm, central spot for meeting up with pals, to the rocking Skywalkers on the very top of the ship. Only one tiny quibble is we often got lost looking for the various dining rooms.
At Crooner's martini bar in the atrium, you can order a 007 (traditional martini with Vermouth), watch passersby and just feel downright sophisticated. The Explorer's Lounge has our heart for being such an accessible space, and we like the Egyptian-inspired decor.
The Wheelhouse Bar is bigger than on other ships, but still has a nice, club-like ambience and nautical accents. We were very impressed with the bartenders here who will concoct original creations if you ask -- one made a cosmo-type drink and then took out matches and burnt an orange rind to add extra flavor. Club Fusion, a new entertainment lounge with dozens of high-definition TV screens and an energetic, high-tech vibe, is just plain cool and a perfect venue for "Princess Idol," the ship's takeoff on "American Idol" (it's also used for other game shows and dance events). The Wake View Bar underneath Club Fusion (you have to take the staircase in the back of the club) is a hidden spot with aft-facing portholes that serves as the green room for the Princess Idol show (with interviews from there broadcast in Club Fusion). We always drop our jaw at the spaceship-like Skywalkers, and here the trademark disco and observation lounge is bigger and even has an aft-facing balcony (for smooching and smoking) in addition to floor-to-ceiling windows. Princess' wonderful stage shows take place in the Princess Theater. Get there early, it gets full.
Our very favorite spot for nighttime imbibing and chatting was tiny Churchill's, the ship's cigar lounge/sports bar, where we were as comfortable as if in someone's living room.
The ship's small library includes music listening stations. The wedding chapel doubles as a venue for religious services and computer classes. The Internet Cafe is huge and enticing, especially with its coffee bar (cappuccinos and the like come at a nominal cost, but the tasty pastries are free). Access is 35 cents per minute; wireless users can also get access for $10.50 per half-hour in the wired atrium.
There is a dedicated art gallery where you can buy reproductions and original art (more art is for sale, of course, in the frequent art auctions).
Diamond Princess Spa & Fitness
There are four pools including the popular Neptune Pool and the Calypso Pool with a sliding glass roof providing for all-weather swimming. Little kids also get their own splash pool. The pool near the spa is designated adults-only (there is nice private sunning space above this pool).
Golfers get plenty of attention with a virtual golf simulator on Sports Deck (Deck 16), $50 for 45 minutes. A golf pro runs the show and offers lessons (he also leads golf shore excursions). There's also a 9-hole putting green. Those who like to keep active will enjoy the jogging track, basketball and paddle tennis court, all on Sports Deck.
Relaxing comes easy at the Asian-themed Lotus Spa, where a reasonable $83 will get you a Couples Rasul Ritual, a treatment involving mud and based on a traditional Moroccan cleansing ritual. Look for lots of discounted day-in-port specials.
Some of the massage rooms have the basketball and jogging track above producing squeaking noises (the New Age music was turned up louder than usual to compensate). Still, the Blissful Hot Stone Massage ($175), delivered by a Swedish therapist, was one of the best we've had at sea.
The spa's Thermal Sanctuary Suite is a must-do, an oasis with heated mosaic lounge chairs, an Aromatic steam room, a refreshing mint/fog shower and other steam and sauna options. You can enter free with a spa treatment or pay a fee for a week's use.
A beef: The spa does not provide slippers (though they do provide robes), or even combs or hairdryers for those who take a shower.
The gym is a surprisingly narrow space in front of the ship with ocean views and dozens of implements of destruction (or construction as the case may be). It was less crowded than you'd expect with a California crowd, and rarely were the equipment signup sheets necessary. There are about a half dozen fitness classes per day, half for a fee ($10 for Pilates and SpinXpress).