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Sail Date: November 2005
This was the worst possible cruise. They acted like this was the first cruise they had ever hosted. It started in Beijing with a tour bus guide who could not speak English and who did not respond to guest requests. Registering at the ... Read More
This was the worst possible cruise. They acted like this was the first cruise they had ever hosted. It started in Beijing with a tour bus guide who could not speak English and who did not respond to guest requests. Registering at the port was poorly handled. We had to get off the bus, go into the hotel ballroom, register, get back on the bus and wander aimlessly through the port (bus driver was lost). The problems were just beginning. The food was mediocre. Fish was dry, seasoning was bland, meat was tough, desserts were nasty, etc. Service was extremely poor. Indifferent. Try getting a cup of coffee without serving yourself. Wait staff acted like passengers were a true inconvenience to them-rude, rude, rude. We were given information about the ports, but not the information you really needed. You had to watch a poorly produced video to get very meager information. Don't try attending the port information lecture-not enough room for all passengers to attend anything. They had movies in the room-yippee-if you are into sports movies-boxing, football, soccer, hockey. The in-room television service was a joke. The "internet service" worked only periodically and was slow as molasses in January. The ship docked in container ports which were so far out the passengers had to pay $10-20/passenger to take a bus into the city. Some bus rides were as short as 30 minutes but some as long as 2 1/2 hours EACH WAY. With 8-10 hours in a port, a traveller really wants to spend hours and hours on a bus just getting into the city. Getting off the ship followed the same nightmare. What should have taken a couple of hours went on forever. There were too many problems to relate. Never again on Princess. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2005
I agree with "cruises two" that a cruise on the Diamond Princess is something to avoid. It was not long after departure that many of us renamed it the "Rhinestone" Princess. We started off with a virus running rampant ... Read More
I agree with "cruises two" that a cruise on the Diamond Princess is something to avoid. It was not long after departure that many of us renamed it the "Rhinestone" Princess. We started off with a virus running rampant throughout the ship. We could not serve ourselves at the buffet; waiters served the items we pointed to. Even with that inconvenience, the buffet remained the best eating place throughout the trip. Service in the restaurants was generally poor to terrible. A before-dinner drink was almost impossible to get. I ordered bourbon and water one evening, and shortly received a bottle of Perrier. I asked about the bourbon. It arrived within minutes in a tall glass without ice. I gave up at that moment and took ice from my water glass and mixed my own drink. My wife got the same treatment the next evening when she ordered a rum and coke. Food quality, despite the service, was up to Princess standards. Hot tubs were "lukewarm" tubs thanks to a purser's fear that we might burn ourselves, and those not lukewarm were closed due to repairs. But the really big crisis of a Diamond cruise is the size of the ship. We never docked where normal cruise ships dock. We had to tie up at container ship ports miles from the places we had paid to see, and then spend hours on shuttle busses, at additional cost, to catch quick glimpses of the wonders of the Far East. We never had access to duty-free shops that you find at most piers. We could never walk from the ship to any sightseeing attraction because the container ship ports have high security. My advice? Never sail on the Diamond Princess, or any ship under the command of Captain Paul Wright. Wright is wrong when it comes to providing a pleasant cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2006
Just completed June 15, 2006. Pacific Princess Beijing to Bangkok, 16 days. I highly recommend the Princess Pre-Cruise 9 day package which consists of tours of Beijing, flights to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, flight to ... Read More
Just completed June 15, 2006. Pacific Princess Beijing to Bangkok, 16 days. I highly recommend the Princess Pre-Cruise 9 day package which consists of tours of Beijing, flights to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, flight to Chongching to pick up a 3 night riverboat cruise thru the Yangzee River including the Three Gorges Dam. Return flight to Beijing to tour and pick up the ship. This pre-cruise package is a DON'T MISS EXPERIENCE Excellent food and service. Very intimate ship carrying only 690 passengers. Very few small children, but some teens and young adults traveling with their parents. I would highly recommend this ship and it's itinerary. But.....there were some "flaws". 1. The ship does not display fresh flowers, all arrangements are silk, also you cannot order flowers to be delivered to your room unless they are pre-ordered. 2. The ship does not lauder and dry clean. There is one laundromat consisting of 4 washers and 4 dryers. 3. The bedding is in serious need of an upgrade. The pillows, blankets, and sheets are way past their prime. 4. The draperies and slip covers are frayed and colorless and the chair coverings in the main lounges are need of re-covering. 5. The beauty salon does not do acrylic nails (only regular manicures and pedicures). The beauty salon also does not do any face or body waxing. I found this to be a problem for a 16 day cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
This is my first Princess Cruise. I have sailed in the past on Celebrity 4 times, Royal Caribbean, Holland American, and others. Although Princess was not a total washout, I was still not satisfied. PRETOUR: This was the best part of the ... Read More
This is my first Princess Cruise. I have sailed in the past on Celebrity 4 times, Royal Caribbean, Holland American, and others. Although Princess was not a total washout, I was still not satisfied. PRETOUR: This was the best part of the whole cruise. I flew out to Beijing on Friday Sept 30. The cruise line put us at The Presidential Hotel in Beijing which was very nice. Package included tours, breakfast and lunch. Saw the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and Forbidden City. EMBARKATION: This was totally messed up. First our bus was lost trying to get to the cruise boat, which resulted in us boarding late. When we arrived, there was no one there to greet us except 2 security people. We had to find our room on our own, realizing at this time the Lifeboat Drill was ending, never repeated for the busloads of people that were brought to the ship on Oct 2. SERVICE: Service on the ship was excellent. Our room steward had our room immaculate at all times. Our wait staff in the SANTE FE dining room was very efficient and pleasant. FOOD: We had chosen early dining requesting a small table (3 of us) which was booked last July. We ended up being placed at a table for 6 people. Luckily, the Matre' D was able to move us into one of the freestyle dining rooms and have a permanent table there. The food selection was poor. There was no options if not happy with food selection on menu. The 24 hr buffet served the same food as the main dining and anytime dining areas had. Pizza and grill all shut down by 6 pm. Ice cream is free only between 3 and 4 pm, after that there is a charge of 3 to 5 dollars. Only beverage available is iced tea, coffee, and water. TOURS: Tours were not very appealing for the price. Port talks were given after the day the tours had to be purchased or traded in. There was no chance for change after hearing the talks. FLIGHTS: Flights were purchased thru Princess Cruise Line. We flew home on a airline where there was very little space to move. Water was poured out of a pitcher instead of a bottle. Food was terrible. Saw very little of the stewards/stewardess on the 12 hour flight. Had only 1 main screen for movie, we were sitting towards the back so we couldn't see anything. SHOWS: On a 14 day cruise, there was only 3 big shows, two nights were a repeat of the acts from previous nights. The shows that were performed by the dancers were excellent and we all enjoyed them. In conclusion, I think Princess should take a little time to research their tours before offering them to the public. They should offer the port talks at a time which would allow passengers to buy the tours they hear about, instead of saying "I would have liked to see this." The food selection at the 24 hr buffet should be offering a different selection of food than what is being served in the dining rooms. Pizza bar should be opened in the evening after shows until midnight to allow people to have snacks. I am not sure I would consider going on another Princess Cruise. I would definitely have to do a little more research. Our favorite cruise line is still CELEBRITY (and so far cannot be beaten). Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
We were first time cruisers and apart from what we had read on the roll call and boards we did not know what to expect. We are in our early fifties and were travelling with our 8 year old grandson. Our airline travel to embarkation port ... Read More
We were first time cruisers and apart from what we had read on the roll call and boards we did not know what to expect. We are in our early fifties and were travelling with our 8 year old grandson. Our airline travel to embarkation port was arranged privately as was our three night stopover in Beijing at the Holiday Inn Central Plaza prior to cruise. (We are reviewing this hotel together with our Tokyo hotel on Tripadvisor.) We wanted to make our own way to the port because the Princess transfers were very expensive and also because we have travelled by train in several countries and wanted to experience it in China if only for a relatively short 2 1/2 hour journey. Our stay in Beijing was at the time of the National Holiday week and so everywhere was more crowded and much more difficult to get around timewise. We were assisted with touring in Beijing and buying train tickets by the fantastic guest relations officer, Storm, at the Holiday Inn. Nothing was too much trouble for him and after 3 days he was more like a friend and even travelled down to the port with us and saw us onto the ship. It worked out a fraction of the cost and was a very "interesting" journey. To get a taxi down would also have been quite reasonable only about 700-800 yuan. Embarkation - Unfortunately Princess Cruises did not advise that we needed to check in at a nearby hotel and so when we arrived at the Terminal after a bit of confusion we were finally able to get the porters to take our bags on board and then we had to go on the shuttle bus to the hotel, check-in and then come back to the dock on the shuttle bus. By this time the embarkation line was relatively short as we were probably among the last to board. First impressions - Once on board we knew we were in for a great trip. We had a mini suite and were greeted by our cabin steward with glasses of champagne and the accommodation was just as it was pictured on the Princess website. The bed had been converted into a Queen, there was a sofa bed which the steward made up every night for our grandson and quite a reasonable size bathroom with a bathtub and shower over. The bedding was very comfortable and we were never disturbed by noise in the corridors. Our cabin was on the port side in the aft of the ship. We did have a balcony which was not covered (I have noted complaints from some people about this) but we thought it was fine and if you sat in closer to the door it was reasonably private from above and we liked being able to lean over the railing looking straight out to sea. The public rooms on the ship are very impressive and there is something happening somewhere all the time. We really enjoyed the Art Auctions and enjoyed the free champagne at the first auction and the free wine and cheese get together in the Art Gallery. We didn't buy anything this time because we hadn't done any research on the prices or how relative they were to our own country. We will be more prepared next time. The shows in the Princess Theatre were very good and on the night we stopped over in Shanghai there was an Acrobatic Show in the Princess Theatre which was outstanding. We did not participate in lots of activities on board. There were many shore days on this cruise and we didn't get the time. It was very nice to sit up in the Skywalkers Lounge mid afternoon and enjoy a glass of red wine while looking out to sea. Children's Activities - It had not occurred to us that with 2,500 people on board there may not be many children because it was our country's spring vacation time. We were happy to see that there were about 12 in the 8-12 age group although not all attended the Kids Club. This did not matter because our grandson had a fabulous time and the young people looking after them were great fun and made sure the kids were well entertained with all types of activities. Our grandson made some nice friends and was sad to see the cruise come to an end. He ate only two meals with us in the dining room preferring to go to the 3 dinners which were organized by the Kids Club or have room service before heading to the Kids Club for the 7-10 session. The swimming pools did not interest him as we have a pool at home and it was not a novelty. We prefer the beach. We did not see any children behaving in the manner described on some of the reviews of other cruise lines. We may not get to cruise alone as he is already deciding on "his next cruise". Dining - We chose the Anytime Dining because we thought this would be preferable travelling with a child. There was one traditional dining room and four anytime dining rooms. We went to all and we really enjoyed the opportunity of a different setting each night. Our favorite was the Savoy and we liked the way the tables of two were arranged side by side. It was easy to chat with other diners alongside and we met many different people from all different countries. We did not go to either of the alternate dining rooms. The waiters were very friendly and we received excellent service without resorting to additional tipping over the amount charged to our cabin account. Contrary to another review we found the choices on the menu were very good and the standby dishes which were available every night were also good. The dining room food was very good the only exceptions being the inclination of the kitchen to deep fry some meals and the lobster which was not served until the third last night was very small in quantity and rubbery. We have eaten quite a lot of lobster and crayfish and this was probably the worst we have tasted. Some people later told us they turned it into a surf and turf with the standby steak. Room service was good and punctual. We ate breakfast in the buffet and there were enormous quantities of food. We did not like the bacon as it had been deep fried and was so crunchy and burnt up you could not cut it with a knife. There was a lot of choices and although it was always crowded we never had to wait for a table. In fact the buffet was crowded at all hours of the day and night. We could only manage a slice of pizza from the outside grill for lunch on sea days and on shore days didn't need to eat lunch. Shore Excursions - We had booked what we wanted on the internet before we left and only had to go to the travel desk twice to cancel excursions. Apparently this was not so for the people who had boarded the ship in Canada and there were long lines of very angry people trying to sort out excursions. The hours of the travel counter were inadequate and need to be extended and additional staff on duty. In each port Princess had arranged free shuttle buses to take you into the town. They ran all day and you were advised what time the last shuttle would return to the ship. Each city in China was different. Beijing - we were on our own pre-cruise and went to Badaling and got the cable car up. This was not crowded because most of the Chinese chose not to spend the extra money. We were advised that the ship excursion although it went to Badaling it did not take them to the cable car section and many were unable to make the steep climb. Dalian - We took the shuttle and then walked around and got a taxi to take us to a market. It was a modern city and reminded us of Singapore. Shanghai - The first day we took the shuttle in (it was about 1 1/2 hours into the city). The buildings are very modern some even space age looking. We wanted to try and find another market like the Silk Market in Beijing and had the shuttle guide write down an address for us to give to a taxi driver. We ended up in a very Chinese section of the city where there were lots of shopping centers about 6 storeys high. It was so crowded (probably half of Shanghai)and all Chinese, saw only one western couple. It was not for the faint hearted and when we got out of the taxi we were literally surrounded by about 20 people who walked with us trying to get us to their shops or take some of the profit from our purchases. However, we got lots of bargains and all three of us had great fun bartering. Later we went to the Bund and at dusk went on a river cruise to see the lights before taking the shuttle back to the ship. The next day in Shanghai we had booked ourselves on the Shanghai Sampler tour. The Old City and the gardens were excellent but we could have easily done this ourselves and saved a lot of money. The tour director had no intention of taking us back to the ship and suggested we should all get the shuttle so we left the tour in the Old City and went shopping. It was also really good. We saw the Pearl market but ran out of time and had to spend the balance of our money at the higher priced handcraft center because the money changers had left for the day. Kagoshima - A very nice city. We went on the tour to the Volcano. It was a good tour. It was worth the money because of the transportation convenience between sights. A wonderful dockside farewell from local people. Okinawa - Went to Okinawa world. The cultural dancing was good but the tour was poor value. Pusan - We went on the Bermeosa Temple excursion. The temple was good and the fish market was interesting if only for the unusual sea creatures on sale. It was a Sunday and Pusan was really a pretty ordinary place. Keelung - The shuttle only went into Keelung but we wanted to go to Taipei. There were taxis at the dock and we organized a 5 hour trip for 2,300. Unfortunately just as we had made our deal we met the second good samaritan of our trip, a volunteer named Yi-Min Sun (who speaks English) but the taxi manager would not permit him to take over the trip and so he went with us for free as our guide. We crossed paths with some of the tours and we got to see the whole of the Martyrs Shrine (not just the gates), Sun got us into the Museum for free and we paid all the admissions and snacks at Tapei 101. It was a wonderful day and we also ended up going into a local temple very close to the dockside. Please contact Yi-Min Sun (Mobile 886-935-518367 or 886-2-24625752)We will soon review our train journey from dockside to Tokyo on Tripadvisor. Would we go on another cruise - most definitely. Would we travel with Princess - after the pampering and overall fantastic experience yes without a doubt. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
Our Oriental Holiday - Pre-Cruise, Xi'an and Beijing Sept.24th. - Oct.2nd. Sapphire Princess, Beijing to Osaka Oct 2nd. - Oct 14th. Post Cruise, Singapore, Oct.15th. and 16th. Sunday Sept. 24th After months of research and ... Read More
Our Oriental Holiday - Pre-Cruise, Xi'an and Beijing Sept.24th. - Oct.2nd. Sapphire Princess, Beijing to Osaka Oct 2nd. - Oct 14th. Post Cruise, Singapore, Oct.15th. and 16th. Sunday Sept. 24th After months of research and planning, which included numerous hours on my P.C. (many devoted purely to Cruise Critic.com) and with great excitement, we commenced our journey to the Orient. Robert, our Son-in-law had offered to drive us to the airport and, just as we were about to leave, Susan, our eldest daughter, together with Emma and Jordan, our grandchildren, decided they too wanted to come along for the ride. They were sharing in the excitement of the day, as they would be making the same journey in four days time, to meet up with us in Beijing on Friday the 29th. We were going to be cruising together on the Sapphire Princess, but we had plans to fly to Xi'an to visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum before flying to Beijing. Susan, Rob and family would only have time to visit The Forbidden City and The Great Wall of China before the cruise. It was a beautiful sunny spring day and the drive to the airport was completed in about 40 minutes. We'd printed our Boarding Pass on the Singapore Airlines Internet site, so our check-in was easy. However, we were relieved when both our bags got accepted without us being charged a fee for being overweight! Economy Class flights from Australia to Asia limit checked luggage to 20kg. Each of our bags weighed about 25Kg. but I'd packed lots of paperwork about China, so it could have been removed to reduce the weight if necessary. Our flight to Singapore was extremely smooth and the service was excellent. We had upgraded to Business class for the next leg of our journey from Singapore to Beijing using our Frequent Flyer miles. This provided us with the opportunity, during the three-hour layover, to make use of the Business Class Lounge where there is a free Internet service. Monday Sept. 25th. Once on board our flight to Beijing, sleep came to us both within minutes. The transit through Customs and Immigration at Beijing Airport was one of the best coordinated efforts we'd ever experienced and, after collecting our bags from the carousel, we made our way to the Domestic Terminal where we found the service was also well coordinated. No sign of the crowds of people I'd expected. Maybe this was because it was only 7-30am. Within minutes of us arriving at the gate, I spotted our friend Donna walking towards us. Donna had arrived in Beijing the previous day after flying from California and stayed overnight at a hotel close to the Airport. Before long we were all seated together on China Air, Flight 1209, headed for Xi'an. On arrival at Xi'an, our tour guide Melanie was waiting for us at the gate. Following introductions, we all made our way to our tour vehicle, which was driven by Melanie's husband and parked just outside the terminal doors. Melanie was recommended to us by a Cruise Critic member who had hired her in 2005. This recommendation made our time in Xi'an absolutely wonderful. The weather was over-cast and just before we arrived in Xi'an it started raining and rained continuously for the whole time we were there. However it had no affect on the impact of what we experienced during our stay in Xi'an. We left Melanie in the foyer of the Bell-Tower Hotel after we'd agreed to meet at 8:00am. sharp the next day for our trip to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Bell-Tower Hotel proved to be a very pleasant surprise for us. The location couldn't be better, (the main reason we chose to stay there!). I'd read some not-so-good reports about the rooms at this hotel, but from our experience, we couldn't find anything negative to justify them. We were upgraded to a large suite, overlooking The Bell Tower. In fact we found everything about the hotel far exceeded our expectations and we'd certainly stay there again. Across the street from the hotel is a very large modern multi-story shopping centre, as good as anything we have in Sydney. This was a big surprise to me, somehow I had not expected to find anything like the shops we have in Sydney. There were lots of banners advertising "special deals" in celebration of the October 1st National Holiday, Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, (1949). We couldn't understand exactly how much reduction was being applied to the merchandise, and the prices appeared expensive so we didn't buy anything. We had dinner at McDonalds that was next door to the shopping centre. At the time this was the safest option for Dennis who has Diabetes and needs to watch his intake of carbohydrates. It was exactly like the McDonalds here in Sydney and the burgers tasted the same! We were both very tired, so we returned to the hotel and had an early night. Tuesday Sept.26th. This was a day that would be forever etched into our hearts. After a very tasty American style breakfast, we met Melanie who was waiting for us in the Hotel Foyer. The drive to the Terracotta Warriors Museum lasted about 50mins during which time we passed many local Chinese on bicycles and tricycles with precariously balanced heavy loads, some with an umbrella to protect them from the rain. The Terracotta Warrior Museum was far more impressive than we'd expected, but this was China! We were so engrossed in the Museum, we lost all concept of time. That's one of the benefits of having a private tour guide, we could spend as much time as we wished at each attraction. Our next stop was at a Factory Museum where souvenir replicas of the Terracotta Warriors are made. Donna made a few purchases, but everything that I liked was far too expensive! We returned to the Bell Tower Hotel mid afternoon and arranged to meet Melanie at 7pm sharp to go to a Tang Dynasty classical music and dance Dinner Show, which she had arranged for us. The Show was fabulous, however the dinner wasn't what we'd expected. If we'd secured a table in the actual show lounge instead of an adjoining room, it may have been different. We were seated at a large table with two strangers from Switzerland and it was too noisy to facilitate a good conversation. However despite this, we all enjoyed the evening. Wednesday Sept. 27th. Melanie's husband was waiting for us in the hotel foyer as arranged at 5-30am for our transfer to the airport. Our first experience in China had proved to be nothing but absolutely fantastic. On arrival in Beijing, we had no trouble meeting our guide Bevis, he was waiting at the gate with a huge smile on his face, my name on a large board in one hand and a big bunch of red roses in the other! He'd remembered we were celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary! Bevis is a professional guide, also recommended to us by the same C.C. member who recommended we hire Melanie. Bevis made a call on his mobile phone and within minutes we were seated comfortably in a nine-seater mini-bus, driven by a very well mannered non-English speaking driver. Our first impression of Beijing was a very pleasant surprise, I don't remember exactly what we expected but in no way did we expect anything like the experiences of the next five days. From the efficiency in the air terminal, to the standard of the roads, the road signs in English and magnificent buildings to the absolutely wonderful polite attitude of the Chinese people. The staff at the Crowne Plaza, Wangfujing provided us with a lovely welcome, and we decided to accept the offer of an upgrade to the Club Floor at a cost no more than two breakfasts, which come free with the upgrade! We said goodbye to Bevis with plans to meet him at 8am Thursday morning. The Crowne Plaza is a lovely hotel, very well located for shopping, and we will certainly stay there again, given the opportunity. After a light lunch in the hotel, we set out to have a look at the shops. We met another family from Sydney who were just as excited as us to be in Beijing. We found crossing the road in Beijing a real challenge. With Traffic police and traffic signals in action at marked road crossings, the drivers still keep going regardless. We later discovered that if you keep walking they go round you, but it takes a bit of nerve to make the first step into a busy thoroughfare! Initially, we planned to have dinner in the hotel restaurant, but after a few drinks and snacks in the Club Lounge, we decided to have an early night, so we would wake refreshed, in readiness for our visit to The Summer Palace. Thursday Sept 28TH. After a delicious full American-style breakfast in the hotel, Bevis met us as planned at 8am. It was a glorious sunny day and we passed many places of interest on the way out of the city. Bevis walked ahead and purchased our tickets when we arrived at the Summer Palace, so we didn't need to queue. We had a lovely morning exploring the grounds, leaving a cruise on the lake until last and we were all ready for a sit down. We had told Bevis our intention was to remain calm and relaxed during our sightseeing and if necessary, we'd rather miss out some of the tourist locations than be rushed. He respected our wishes and at no time tried to hurry us along. It was time for lunch when we left the Summer Palace, so we decided to drive back to the city to where Bevis knew we would find something to our liking for lunch, we ended up at Subways which was just beside the Silk Market. After lunch we spent the remainder of the afternoon shopping! We loved the Silk Market and enjoyed bartering with the friendly vendors. Dennis was interested in buying a digital camera, so we were testing the market and fine honing our bartering techniques. We next went to see an acrobatic show that was absolutely fantastic and so typically Chinese. We returned to the Crown Plaza feeling very satisfied at how the day had developed. Friday Sept. 29th. This day for me was one of the most memorable. The weather remained absolutely glorious and our visit to the Temple of Heaven early in the day just couldn't have been better planned. Seeing the local people so much in tune with their existence was very inspiring. Some were dancing, others were singing, playing games and musical instruments or acting. The ambience of the whole situation touched my heart; I could have stayed there all day. We'd intended to spend the afternoon at The Pearl Market somehow however, we ended up back at the Silk Market! No matter, Dennis got his digital camera. Bevis dropped us off at the Crowne Plaza about 5pm, then returned for me at 7pm to go to meet the Hastings branch of our family at the airport. The timing couldn't have been better. Within thirty minutes of our arrival at the airport, we were on our way back to the Crowne Plaza with Susan, Robert, Emma and Jordan. Everyone was sharing in the excitement of being together in China and looking forward to spending the next day exploring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Saturday September 30th. This was the beginning of an awesome weekend. We all enjoyed breakfast as a family in the hotel. Then, after meeting Bevis and our driver, we set off for Tiananmen Square intending to arrive before the crowds. It was a holiday weekend, the weather was beautiful, so very large crowds were expected. The public holiday was in celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. The square was decorated with huge flowerbeds and a miniature reconstruction of the Dali Llama's palace in Lahsa Tibet to commemorate the opening of the Beijing to Llasa railway. The communication through Cruise Critics.com before the cruise had resulted in us getting to know several people who would be cruising with us; one of these people was Gai, who was cruising with her mother. In our discussions before we left Sydney we jokingly said that we would meet in the Forbidden City never for a moment believing it would happen. You can imagine the surprise when, as we made our way through the vast collection of buildings in the Forbidden City, we found ourselves face to face with Gai and her mother. The Forbidden City is much bigger than we had expected, it seemed to go on forever and each building or square was highly decorated in the traditional Chinese way. We were very tired at the end of our day. Sunday October 1st. I believe this day, with our visit to The Great Wall was probably the most exciting of the whole trip. Research told us that a visit to the Mutiangu Section of the Great Wall would be the least crowded and most picturesque; we weren't disappointed. The wall runs along the peaks of the hills and we were relieved to find a chair lift to get us to the entrance. The Hastings family, encouraged by Bevis, managed to walk for a considerable distance along the wall which was very steep in places and the steps were high and frightening to walk up at such a height. Donna, Dennis and I were less ambitious and walked along the easy part where we enjoyed the ambience. On our way to The Great Wall, we had a brief stop at a CloisonnE Factory. Cloisonne is a traditional artform that is only practiced at three factories in China. It is based on the technique of decorating copper vases and dishes with complicated enamel patterns and pictures that are outlined with thin strips of copper. I bought a lovely dish, which now has pride of place on our dining room table. Susan also bought a very nice vase. Although we were told the prices were not negotiable, Bevis managed to get us a favourable discount! Monday September 2nd. The pre-cruise part of our trip was about to end. We were feeling very satisfied with what our guides, Melanie and Bevis had helped us to experience. It was now time to start our cruise on the Sapphire Princess. The Sapphire Princess port of embarkation was Xingang, about 2-3hrs drive from Beijing. Bevis had agreed to travel with us to the ship, this was good insurance since most taxi drivers don't speak English and we wouldn't have had a clue what to do in the case of a traffic hold up or if the taxi driver misunderstood the directions. Fortunately, the journey was without incident but on arrival at the port, we discovered Princess didn't have a passenger embarkation facility at the Port as we had been advised. This didn't pose any real problem, our bags were taken on board and we were taken by coach to a nearby hotel where our cruise cards were issued and without too much ado, we were back on the coach and soon on board the beautiful Sapphire Princess. After checking out our stateroom, we headed for the Horizon court buffet. My mouth waters as I write, thinking of the delicious selection of food. Once we'd satisfied our appetites, we strolled around the ship until it was 3pm, the time arranged for the first C.C. meeting in Skywalkers. Alas, we were the only ones to turn up. No matter, there was another one scheduled on our first sea day, so we returned to our Staterooms and unpacked our bags before attending the mandatory Emergency Drill. After a short nap, we all met for dinner (second sitting) in the International Dining room. Our table was very well located at the rear of the dining room facing the entrance. Diana, our waiter and Sebastion, the assistant waiter, provided us with excellent service from the beginning to the end of the cruise. Tuesday Oct 3rd. We arrived early in Dalian, our first port of call and decided to take the free shuttle into the city centre. The shuttle dropped us off outside a friendship store, we went inside but thought the prices somewhat inflated so didn't buy anything. Dalian was very different to Beijing, it was less busy and appeared to be more affluent; it could have been a financial centre. The roads were wide and tree lined and the traffic was more disciplined. We walked into the central square where we took some photographs and tried a bit of bartering with a streetside seller but it was not very successful so we decided to make our way back to the ship. The sightseeing in Beijing was catching up on us! Wednesday, Oct. 4th. This was our first sea day. At last, a day for rest and relaxation! Susan and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the promenade deck, before breakfast, meeting Gai and her mum Pat doing the same. Unlike our first meeting, there was a very good attendance at the C.C. meeting in the Wheelhouse Bar and we all enjoyed chatting together for quite some time. The ship's boutiques were stocked with some good quality merchandise and I took the opportunity to purchase some lovely Christmas presents. That evening we attended the Captain's welcome aboard cocktail party before dinner; everyone looked especially nice in their formal attire, it's a great chance to get dressed up. Thursday Oct. 5th. Shanghai. The Sapphire Princess docked about 45mins drive from Shanghai, Princess provided a shuttle into the city, free of charge. We chose to take a half-day Shanghai Sampler Tour offered by Princess at a cost of $49 PP, this included a visit to Yu Garden and Old Town. We also got to go up the Jinmao Tower to the observation deck on the 88th. floor. This is the highest and largest observation deck in China. Unfortunately for us, the day was extremely foggy resulting in very poor visibility. The tour ended at a Silk Store, which was the turn around point for the Princess shuttle so we had a brief tour of the Silk Museum attached to the Silk Store, followed by a look around the Silk Store. Susan and Robert took the opportunity to buy three silk duvets. By now the children were feeling tired, so Dennis offered to return with them to the ship, while I stayed with Robert and Susan. We decided to investigate the shopping district along Nanjing road that is the main shopping street in Shanghai. The walk from the Silk Store to Nanjing Road took about fifteen minutes. I have never ever in all my life seen such crowds of people. After about an hour or so we decided to call it a day and return to the ship, with the intention of returning on the free shuttle the next day. Friday Oct 6th. Shanghai Day 2. The children wanted to remain on the ship and I was feeling like I needed some R&R, so I agreed to stay with them, while Dennis went back to Shanghai on the Shuttle with Susan and Robert. We were all extremely impressed with the architecture of the buildings in Shanghai, absolutely magnificent. We were told that most of the high rise buildings had been built in the last fifteen years. There were fewer people shopping along Nanjing road but nobody bought anything, perhaps it was because we had spent up in Beijing. Saturday Oct 7th. Sea Day Our second sea day, so we enjoyed the activities on the ship without the anxieties associated with getting off the ship. The Sapphire Princess is such a large ship with so many activities that you could never get bored. Emma absolutely loved her time in The Kids Club, while also enjoying the deck games and the challenge of Trivia with the family. Jordan didn't find the Teens Club interesting but he too enjoyed the activities on board, and the opportunity to catch up on some reading and movies. Sunday Oct 8th Pusan. South Korea: Pusan is the second largest city in South Korea and the nation's primary seaport. Pusan is locally referred to as Busan, not sure why! While researching I'd discovered that the Metropolitan Transport Org. offered a Busan City Tour at a very reasonable price. http://english.busan.go.kr/culture_tourism/03_03_09.htm We decided to take the free shuttle into the city and walk to the railway station but that was a mistake because the station was within 20mins. walking distance from the ship! After looking around some market stalls we returned to the ship on the shuttle and made our way to the Station. We arrived just in time to see the bus drive away! This meant we only had time to do part of the tour we'd intended to do. However it proved to be good value and something I'd recommend to anyone visiting Busan. The tour bus was very modern, it even had lap-top computers connected to the internet. Jordan, with Grandad seated next to him made good use of the connection. Monday Oct 9th Kagoshima, Japan. We decided not to book a shore excursion with Princess. During my research I discovered it was easy to take a ferry across to Sakurajima where the famous active volcano is located, this volcano has a great history and some interesting places to explore. The weather this day was like every other day of the cruise, absolutely glorious. After arriving in the town on the Princess free shuttle, we walked to the ferry terminal that is located close to the Aquarium. It was interesting to hear the traffic lights make bird sounds to indicate that it was safe to cross, instead of the clicking sound that we are used to. The ferries operate about every fifteen minutes and we found one just about to leave. After spending about two hours exploring the town and coastline, we returned to Kagoshima with the intention of taking a city tour on a trolley bus. Apparently lots of folk from the Sapphire Princess had the same idea, the trolley was packed and was standing room only. As we approached the stop where the Sapphire shuttle left, we thought it was a good idea to get off the trolley and return to the ship. Tuesday Oct 10th. Sea Day. We had another enjoyable day at sea, giving us time to recharge our batteries. Wednesday Oct 11th. Keelung (Taiwan) Keelung is about one hour drive from Taipei, so I arranged a Taipei City Bus Tour with a company called Have Fun Travel a tour provider for Taipei City. At a cost of $1200 NTW (New Taiwan Dollars) = $39US per person. Much less than the cost of a similar tour offered by Princess. A very polite young man named Michael, who was to be our guide, met us at the dockside with the driver of our mini bus who was also very well mannered, however he didn't speak English. We visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. It was more of a memorial that contains a bronze statue of the president than a hall. The enclosed area below the main hall houses an exhibition. The most interesting exhibits were the two cars that Chiang Kai Shek used. One of these cars is a Cadillac and the other is an armoured Chrysler. There are soldiers in immaculate uniforms and chrome plated helmets on guard duty, they stand at attention with not the slightest movement. After a slow drive past the Presidential Office Building, the seat of government in Taiwan, we made our way to the Martyrs' Shrine. This is a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives in the founding of the Republic of China and apart from the building itself, the main attraction for us was the changing of the guard. Outside the entrance there are two motionless guards who stand at attention, like the guards in the Chiang Kai Shek memorial, for one hour, after which there is a changing of the guards ceremony and two more take over. These guards wear the same uniform as those in the Chiang Kai Shek memorial but are exposed to the weather. When we were in Taipei the weather was warm and humid but it gets much hotter and the humidity makes it very uncomfortable, even for normal everyday exertion. How these guards stand for so long in direct sunlight and high humidity is hard to understand, perhaps the fact that they are allowed to faint but not move has some bearing! They have a regular spray on the face with water and occasionally someone wipes the perspiration off their faces, which must be some small benefit. When the guard is changed the old guard is replaced in a ceremony that involves some unusual marching which we were told is based on Tai Chi and is intended to stretch the limbs and get the blood flowing into the muscles again. Our next stop was at the Taipei 101 building, the tallest building in the world which has the resemblance of a Chinese pagoda. After our experience waiting in the queue to go up the elevator in the Jinmao Tower Shanghai, we opted not to go inside the building so as to avoid anything that may have caused us to be late arriving back at the ship. Thursday Oct 12th. Okinawa , Japan The Sapphire Princess docked in Naha New Port. This was the only port where Princess didn't provide a free shuttle service; however, we decided not to book a shore excursion and explore on our own. I had read there are many souvenir shops, department stores, clothing stores, hotels, and restaurants on International Street (kokusai-dori) which is the main street in Naha-city so we decided to make our way there. After disembarking the ship, we decided to walk into town instead of waiting in the extremely long queue for a taxi. This proved to be a great decision. It was a lovely sunny warm day with a gentle breeze, so we didn't get too hot. The walk took us over a bridge that stretched a long way over the harbour, and provided us with some magnificent views of Naha City. We walked down some steps at the side of the bridge and made for the city with the help of a very basic map. We noticed that a beach was not far away so we decided to have look; we soon came to Naminoue beach. This is the local beach of Naha and it has lovely blue water and white sand but was very small. Although it was a warm day there were very few people on the beach and on the promenade. As we approached the city centre we came across a monorail station which would have taken us into the city, but we all wanted to keep walking. Eventually we arrived at our intended destination where we enjoyed experiencing the way of life and looking in the shops. After our long walk to get to the shops, we decided to take a taxi back to the ship. Although we felt that we had done very little, the general opinion was that we all thoroughly enjoyed our day in Okinawa. Friday Oct. 13th. This was our last day at sea and it was time to start making plans for our disembarkation, which among other things was to start packing. We decided to do our packing early in the day, and then spend the rest of the time interacting with our newly made cruise friends. Saturday Oct 14th. Osaka, Japan. Our flight to Singapore was scheduled to depart at 5:00pm. so we had quite a lot of time to kill and rather than wait at the airport we decided to book a shore excursion with Princess. We would have to pay for a transfer anyway and if we booked a tour our bags would go to the airport and be waiting when we finished the tour.The Princess deal is that we had to pay $99.00 for the port to airport transfer, in addition to the $72.00 for the tour.After breakfast we said our farewells to the Hastings part of the family and then went to meet Donna. Donna wasn't leaving Osaka until the next day so she also opted to do the tour with us. The overview of Osaka began with a city drive to give us a general orientation of the city's highlights and then took us to the Sumiyoshi Shrine dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea. This shrine is one of the most popular Shinto Shrines in Osaka; the main building is designated as a national treasure. The path leading to the main building is lined with stone lanterns donated by sailors and ship owners. We were fortunate to see guests arriving for a wedding, the ladies wearing Kimono's but we had to leave for the rest of our tour before the ceremony started. The next attraction was Osaka Castle - Built by Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the late 16th century, the castle tower stands on the top of a hill surrounded by a moat and large park. Arriving at the park, we walked uphill to the base of the castle and then climbed the steps to the entrance. Once inside, we continued our ascent to the observatory at the top where we enjoyed panoramic views of the city. We then toured the museum, which presents the history of the castle through multimedia displays and photographs. On our way to the castle we passed monks lining the drive chanting and holding their begging bowls and a display of large Chrysanthemums. Our tour ended at an airport hotel, where passengers from the Sapphire Princess with late flight departures could have room to relax. We remained on the coach, to be transferred to the airport where our bags were waiting for us. We said goodbye to Donna, who was staying overnight at an hotel connected to the airport and made our way into the airport building to locate our departure gate. Osaka airport terminal is, as I expected, very modern! Our check-in was extremely smooth, with no mention that our bags were overweight! Singapore, Sunday and Monday Oct. 15th and 16th. Our flight to Singapore was without incident, and on arrival, we were very pleased with our choice of the Phoenix Hotel on Orchard Street, it was right next to a Singapore MRT (underground) station and very central for the shops. The Hotel Phoenix had a Smart Card system whereby you could charge your room key with a minimum credit of twenty dollars and use the key as a ticket on the public transport system. We enjoyed travelling around Singapore on the super modern MRT for the next two days. When we checked out of the hotel on Tuesday morning we discovered our cards were still in credit for the amount of fifteen dollars, which was refunded to us, amazing! We spent some of our time walking round the Singapore Chinatown, which is full of bargains. The weather was typically hot and very humid so we stopped for a drink at a place that had tables to rest our weary feet. An incredible thing happened to us while we were having our drink, we asked a couple sitting at the next table, to take a photograph of us both. We started to chat and they told us they were enjoying a stopover while on their way home to England after visiting friends in Newcastle N.S.W. It turned out that the friends they had been visiting were old friends of ours but we had not seen them since we left Newcastle. Even more incredible, we found out that Margaret, the lady was in the same year at school as another friend, who was one of our first friends over forty-two years ago when we first arrived in Australia. It just goes to show - is the world really such a large place? The flight back to Australia was smooth and enjoyable with the high degree of attention that we have come to expect of Singapore Airlines. When we cleared customs at Sydney airport we were pleased to find Raymond, our son-in- law waiting to drive us home. We classed this holiday as one of the best we have had; it was full of pleasant surprises and exciting new experiences. It was made even more enjoyable because we had Susan, Robert and our grandchildren Jordan and Emma along with us on the cruise. All the countries we visited were nothing like we expected, but most of all, China and her people. The standard of the hotels and the service they provided was well above what we would normally expect; where else in the world would you get a blown light bulb replaced within minutes of the phone call to housekeeping? It happened and we enjoyed the service along with the friendly hard working people, who were responsible for keeping us satisfied, they certainly did! There is no doubt that we will return to see and experience more of the Orient. November 2006 Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
Started with a 5 day pre cruise tour. Started in Beijing and stayed at the wonderful Beijing Hotel, stayed 1 night and then flight to Xian and visited the amazing Terracotta warriors. What an experience that was, a very interesting guide ... Read More
Started with a 5 day pre cruise tour. Started in Beijing and stayed at the wonderful Beijing Hotel, stayed 1 night and then flight to Xian and visited the amazing Terracotta warriors. What an experience that was, a very interesting guide gave a very comprehensive insight into the history of the place. Then off a very nice hotel, we thought Beijing was good but this one was even better, pity we only had one night. After a clean up we were off to a Chinese meal and theatre show, good meal and first class entertainment. After a good breakfast we were off to the Giant Goose Pagola another exciting place with loads of history and still a very spiritual place for the Chinese.A visit to a jade factory followed techniques and history fascinating but the long stay and sales pitch were a little off putting. After another excellent Chinese meal, it was on a flight back to Beijing and the Beijing Hotel. Next day we were off to the Great Wall an awe inspiring experience. The final day saw us visiting Tianaman Square and the Forbidden City before a 3 hour journey to embark Sapphire Princess. The embarkation procedure was carried out in a hotel some way from the ship. The queuing was a little tedious, but once into the large hall things went smoothly. Once on board ship, our cases were waiting in our cabin, and before we knew it we were going to safety briefing, once that was out of the way we were off to explore the ship and meet friends who had joined the ship and not been on the tour. Opting for any time dining , we ate at the Sante Fe on the first night and found the table we were given in a very cold spot , so asked to moved this was received with enthusiasm and caused some friction with the head waiter so didn't eat in there again.  Our favorite restaurant was Pacific Moon, so we soon booked the same table for the rest of the cruise and this worked very well. The waiters were very efficient and always had a smile, and the head waiter couldn't have been more helpful. We found the ship very comfortable and the public rooms were very comfortable. In spite of there being 2600 or so passengers it was always easy to find a quiet spot if you needed to or join the many entertainment venues. The shows in the theatre by the ships dancers were excellent, but some of the other entertainment left a bit to be desired. The ports visited were an excellent choice giving a great insight into the Asian culture. We took 3 organized excursions from the ship, although we thought these a little expensive they were well organized. Disembarkation was very organized and the hospitality hotel in Bangkok was 1st class, so was the transfer to the airport and the luggage collection. What a relief to have the luggage meet you at the airport and just check it in and pick it up again at the home airport. Well Done Princess for super cruse and pre cruise tour, we will be back. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
We have just returned from a 17 days cruise on Sapphire Princess. The journey started from Beijing,China with port of call at Nagasaki,Shanghai,Okinawa,Taipei,Hong Kong,Nha trang, Vung Tau, Singapore the finally Bangkok. These are ... Read More
We have just returned from a 17 days cruise on Sapphire Princess. The journey started from Beijing,China with port of call at Nagasaki,Shanghai,Okinawa,Taipei,Hong Kong,Nha trang, Vung Tau, Singapore the finally Bangkok. These are interesting ports of call otherwise we wouldn't have chosen this cruise. Having said that, the next best thing was to get off the ship. They should have renamed the ship to Murphy's Princess. According to Murphy's law, anything can go wrong and will,in this case did go wrong. We went with a party of eight and I can tell you apart from these eight I have never seen so many angry passengers in any tour/cruise. There is a huge difference between dissatisfied customers and angry customers. After my friend cruised on Sapphire from Sydney to Bangkok two years ago he called her the "Jinx Ship". The then brand new ship broke down north of Australia and was drifted around for a while resulted they had missed out quite a few ports in Malaysia. They also had virus on board which sent half of the passengers to sick bed. MY friend suffered from food poisoning too after eating some fruit salad by room services. The then brand new ship also had sewerage problem that a stench was very evident. Services in dinning rooms was so poor and food were so bad his wife vowed never to return to any Princess Lines, ever. I thought after more than two years things should be improved, and may be they have been over critical about the ship anyway hence I recommended the cruise to six other friends to join us. The following were my experience with Sapphire Princess. Please make up your own mind whether it is worthwhile it or not to cruise with this ship. 1]. The Princess neglected to inform our transfer bus/guide to call in Radisson Hotel in Tianjin to process embarkation procedures. So when we arrived at the port we were turned back by the local authority. There no representative from the ship at the port.Our bus driver was not familiar with hotels in Tianjin so after 5.5 hours after left Beijing it took another hour and half to look for the hotel and to make the round trip. We were running out of time. In the chaos and rush that follows, the wife of one of our friend fell and cut hers lips and was bleeding. There were a lot of useless people standing around but don't expect any help or sympathy from the ship's staff. A good start for a great holiday. The ship's photographer even tried to stop our bleeding and weeping lady for a "Memory Photo" at the exit of the check-in hall. How sensitive. 2]. When we filled out the Passenger Forms from Princess before we left Sydney , we chose the fixed dining at 8 so that we can catch the 1015 show after dinner. When we fronted up at the main dining room at 8 that night we were told there was no bookings for us. Naturally all other rooms are full so we settled for buffet dinner. Apparently Princess has changed our dining to "Any where Any time" without tell us. I guess for the same reason why they also has changed out cabins twice since the documentation was issued. We then made a series of bookings with various dining rooms at 8 pm for eight people. We were horrified when front up to discover there was no booking again. "Computer errors" was the excuse. I got wised up by now so I have to check with the booking people every night before we went there. 3]. I had a letter from the front desk people that something wrong with my credit card. No wonder they have because they have lost the imprint of my Visa." How can this happen ?" I asked. " Of course it can. We have more than two thousand passengers on board." O.K, calm down. 4]. Finally the bookings in dining room sorted out and we were actually sitting down when the waiter came to ask which kind of bottled water we like to order.You should see his face when we told him we like iced water from the jug. His face was so long you can hang a picture on it. The food served was of very poor quality , e.g.. I always look forward to order Halibut fish as I consider them as one of the best tasting fish in the world, and what did I get? A piece of fish has texture like wood and tasted just came from the salt mine. My main course for next night wasn't much better either, Lobster fettuccini was soggy and watery. I must admit after lots of people complained and threatened to withhold the add on tips the food and services got better. The green salads and the bread were very good right up to the last night. 5]. The first night's production show was a joke. 4 singers mimed to pre-recorded music with no lighting effects . How exciting . I had to be waken up as I dosed off soon after the first song. 6]. One of our favorite spot was the Wheelhouse Bar. This was the conversations we had with the drink attendant after we ordered 4 cans of Foster beers from the drink list. "Sorry we don't have Fosters", "Why not ? I had them for dinner at the dinning room tonight?". So we ordered the Buds instead. " Can we please also have some nuts ?" " Sorry due to health reasons we don't serve nuts with drinks any more." " But we had them last night." "New rules". OK Funny how rules can change after more complains from other passengers. We got our nuts with our beer a few nights later without asking for it but still no Foster beers. Never mind , be positive , things will improve. 7]. Now you may think this is funny but after waiting for more than an hour in the Explorer's Lounge to board the tender to go on shore to Nha Trang one of the passenger nearly come to fist fight with a member of the crew. When we entered the lounge we were given numbered tickets and were told to wait for our numbers to call. When no one was called after an hour or so an American chap went to ask a simple question as to what is going on he was shouted down so a heated argument ensued and nearly gone physical. A large group of passengers got tired of waiting and started to head for the gang way without being called won the applause from all of those patiently waiting. Mutiny at its best. I too got the hostile treatment when I went to enquire some half an hour later I got yelled at by the female crew. This time I demanded an explanation why there was no passengers movement at all for more than one and half hour and the answer was ship was being careful in loading passengers.  8]. Finally our numbers were called and we got into the tender and putting away to shore, except the engine on our tender/life boat died half way from the shore . It is no joke when you have over eighty people on board, including some very elderly people. The boat by now with no anchor and no engine , it was bobbing up and down and rocking side to side. I could see the faces of my fellow passengers were changing from pink to green then white. I knew if I don't do anything no one is going to come near us at all, as the stench would be so unbearable. I told them to look outside the boat rather than looking down at their feet which saved them from emptying their breakfast into the boat. It took half an hour before the rescue came. Bear in mind this is the boat suppose to save your life in case anything happen to the ship. I keep telling myself this is not happening. 9]. As the result of delay getting to shore some passengers missed their excursion tour bus. An elderly Chinese/Canadian couple seeked our help as they too missed their Chinese speaking tour and looking very lost and confused. We approached the only representative from the ship and ask for her opinion. In the typical rude and arrogant manner the couple was to told to return to the ship or go on one of the English speaking bus. No help from her here. What good is it for them as they don't speak English, and even if they went what happens if they got lost in town with no passport. Because we have to catch a bus ourselves we did not wait around to see what happened to the poor couple . 10]. By 5th day all the bananas has disappeared even if they don't, you wouldn't eat them anyway as the inner were all went black and so are the plums. Water melons fared a little better at least they were still edible even on the soft side. 11]. Because of the usual chaos associated with going ashore we opted to stay on ship and waited all the touring passengers departed before we catch the complimentary shuttle bus to Vung Tau. There was no one from the ship to attend us when we got ashore . There was no sign posted to say where you suppose to queue, there was no where to sit except leaning against the wall of a flour mill under a very hot sun. There was no drinking water of course. After an hour and quarter futile waiting I got fed up and started to return to the ship. By then someone has call for help for a wheelchair to cart an elderly lady back to the ship as she was in near collapse state. So much for customer care and comfort. 12]. The sewer stench on Plaza deck is now getting worse and also filling the Art Gallery area. I approached the nearest officer at the Excursion Desk and told her the stench. " I can't smell it" was the answer. My wife and I both invited her to come out from her counter and take a look. " No ! I can't smell it" . Only then a guest worker bearing a Canadian badge volunteered to take a sniff. " Gee that smells rough, I shall report it for you." So much for the "Princess Ten Points Services". 13]. The access between 5 and 6th floors was blocked off the next three day due to flooding. Not sure anything to do with the toilet smell . This ship is only 2 and half years old. 14]. One of my friend has the symptom of food poisoning after hate half of an apple from Room Service. 15]. One more day to go . By now I am actually looking forward to get off the ship so I went to the front desk and ask for the account statement. They still couldn't find my first Visa imprint but I got my final account and paid for it with Traveller Cheques and small amount of cash. I was assured by the clerk that there will be no charges against my Visa car and silly me, I believed her. 16]. Upon my return I found Princess was holding back money in my Visa account. I would have discovered this sooner had there a better Internet services on board. The services was so slow it costs around US$10.50 just to read and reply a simple email, that is if they work at all. 50 % of the computers in the library were not working most of the time. 17]. On disembarkation time was scheduled at 1030 so I thought the best time to take b'fast would be at 0830 at the only opened venue Horizon Court .. When I arrived there I found there was only some food scraps left and not even a tea bag or a tea cup in sight. Get me out of here !!!!!!! Do you still want to cruise with Princess? We are planning for a school reunion cruise next year with more than thirty people involved and guess who is not getting our business. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2006
Pre-cruise: We booked ahead "to save money" however the price dropped and try as we might we could get no adjustment. We were lied to by customer service (no such reduced fares existed), were transferred to non-supervisors when ... Read More
Pre-cruise: We booked ahead "to save money" however the price dropped and try as we might we could get no adjustment. We were lied to by customer service (no such reduced fares existed), were transferred to non-supervisors when we asked for them, were refused an explanation as to why other passengers requested and received the same adjustment. Entertainment - the ship's onboard singers and dancers were not good, they lacked enthusiasm and were overweight. Our experience on a much older Carnival ship this last spring, was far superior! Other entertainment, not part of the Princess staff, were from good to very good. We booked 1 night hotel through the cruise so as to get the transfers to the ship. The downside of the hotel was its location, it was 45 minutes from the center of Beijing, if you wanted to sightsee on your own this would have been a downer. We had booked 3 nights prior to that on our own in the city center so this was really not an issue. Overall the Sapphire Princess is a clean and modern ship. Our stateroom was clean and pleasant, though small because it was an inside cabin. It carries about 2600 passengers but is about the same size as ships that carry fewer - to do this the central promenade has been reduced substantially, which personally I think is unfortunate. The gym is small and the equipment either old or of an inferior quality to those found on most other ships we have taken, especially for a ship which is only 2 years old! There was a 2 hour drive to the Port of Embarkation and then passengers waited in line about 1.5 to 2 hours. Unfortunately the line was in an exposed parking lot and the temperature was about 32 degrees F. In addition one travel group of about 50 people (Vantage) tried to cut the line. This was met by great hostility adding an unpleasant taste to the start of the cruise. This problem was not Princess', the Vantage guide was entirely responsible. The food was good to above average compared with other cruises we have been on (16 other). However, the food area was unsupervised at the beginning of the trip and Norovirus affected many passengers. There were no reminders to avoid coughing on exposed food or cover or turn away when sneezing - a surprising number of passengers apparently were unaware of such practices, and even coughed directly on other passengers. There seem to be fewer activities than on other ships of comparable size. There was a fairly large internet cafe onboard. If you were a platinum member (we are) this was free otherwise it ran $.50/min and there were no package deals! Wireless internet was available but for the same charge and no discount for platinum members (6 or more cruises). I recommend that you do your internet activities in ports - every port had multiple internet cafes with prices as low as $2/hour (verses $30 on the ship). Shore excursions are overpriced as with all cruise lines. You can find comparable tours at most port for about half price or you can get together with other people and hire a cab. The tour descriptions were not always accurate - we took a tour that was supposed to give you a complete overview of Pussan South Korea, in fact it stopped a one site for 10 minutes, then visited the UN Korean War Memorial (interesting) and a cultural show (Very Good), but nothing else. As with most cruise excursions we were taken to a bargain store for 45 minutes, one whose prices were no bargain. (My wife is quite up to date on quality and bargain price for silks, and she says the store items were no bargain.) Disembarkation, though slow, went more smoothly than on some ships but the baggage pickup area in Singapore was a zoo! The dinning areas were pleasant, but probably because we choose personal choice, service was slow and error prone. (One problem with personal choice is that you don't have a set dinning staff, so they are not working for tips, they are just doing a job. With fixed seating we have noticed much better service.) Buyer beware of "Shipboard deals" - One offer was for two digital cameras priced at $444 and about $250. Flyers to all the cabins touted "no taxes and no duty". What they failed to state is that the prices were almost double what these items could be purchased for at respectable online stores such as Amazon.Com. I checked the internet prices after receiving the flyers. One cruise mate also warned us that "links of gold", a big seller, were actually gold plated and highly overpriced. This I can't verify personally, but it sounds like you better know your products before you buy from the ship, as you should anywhere. The problem is we expect the ship's "deals" to be good deals and maybe our expectations are inflated. One final comment not related to the cruise - in Singapore we stumbled on a really great dinner buffet at the Marriott Hotel on Orchard. It is not cheap, but I strongly recommend it for foodies. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2006
Ship:Sapphire Princess Dates: November 25 - December 14th 2006 Cruise Length 16 Days Review Date: January 4th 2007 Pre-Cruise Beijing Flight Nov 25th 10:03 AM  Departed Atlanta [ATL] for Chicago [ORD] on time. Arrived early into ... Read More
Ship:Sapphire Princess Dates: November 25 - December 14th 2006 Cruise Length 16 Days Review Date: January 4th 2007 Pre-Cruise Beijing Flight Nov 25th 10:03 AM  Departed Atlanta [ATL] for Chicago [ORD] on time. Arrived early into Chicago and had a sandwich at the Blimpie stand. Flight was nice and uneventful. The flight to Beijing was about the same, except that the plane was an older 747, which lacked individual video screens. We were also seated right next to the galley, which made for increased traffic and cramped quarters. Beijing New Century Hotel Monday Nov 26 - 27th We arrived at the hotel at around 17:00 [5PM] after a pretty smooth transfer process with Princess. The hotel was very nice. As our pre-cruise research had already pointed out, the carpeting was in dire need of replacement, but otherwise a very nice hotel. We were on the 20th floor and had a wonderful view. There are about 4 restaurants in the hotel. We had dinner at one of them and I ordered a club sandwich. It was quite a bit smaller than what I expected and came with fries. The menu price was about 48 Yuan, yet we were charged over twice that amount. I didn't notice until after we had left the restaurant. Maybe this was an honest mistake, maybe not. We rested up a bit and then took a taxi to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City for about 24 Yuan [less than $3.00 US]. These are both in the same area. There were uniformed police or military people all around the place. We looked around for a while and took some photographs. Eventually, the guards started ushering us all towards the outer gates. Closing time, I guess. The next day was our Great Wall Tour. We departed from the hotel around 07:45 after having a very nice breakfast provided by the hotel. The breakfast consisted of American as well as Chinese cuisine in a very large room with multiple buffet stations. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, but my wife rated it as average. The ride to the Great Wall took about 30 minutes by bus. Despite all of the hype I had heard in advance, Beijing traffic was really not that bad compared to Atlanta GA. Once at the wall, we were given about 1 hour and 45 minutes before we would need to depart in order to get to the ship on time, which is where the tour ended. I started up the wall and thought I was at the top after about 15 minutes of brisk climbing. Wrong. The way the wall zigzags makes you think you have reached the top at each major peak. I did this about 5 times before actually reaching the top. The total climb took about 45 minutes with no breaks longer than 30 seconds. By the time I reached the top I was seriously hurting. The 30-minute trek down was even worse since by then my legs were noodles. The Great Wall is not for the faint of heart. Only about 5 people from our bus of 50 reached the top. Still, a once in a lifetime opportunity I am glad I didn't miss. It was cold in Beijing. Low 50's at best. Transfer to Ship Nov 27th After a pretty nice lunch at a local restaurant, we were on our way to the Renaissance Hotel [for check in] and then to the ship. Well, not quite. The tour operators took us to a large shop, which we were practically forced to walk through before lunch. The restaurant was in the same building. After lunch we were given time to shop. I bought a few sets of decorative metal balls to be used as gifts when I return home. The ride to the ship was a long one, about 3 hours in all. We had one stop for a bathroom break and arrived at the hotel around 16:30. The word bathroom is in quotes in the previous sentence because in Asia, they have a different idea of what a bathroom should be. I didn't mind the men's accommodations, but my wife was mortified. Ladies, you have been warned. Renaissance Hotel  Check-In The Check in process was not as speedy and well organized as on the Golden Princess, but we were still on our way within about 45 minutes. The ride to the pier took another 20 minutes. After having already waited in lines at the hotel, I was disappointed to find long lines at the pier. This time it was the Chinese government conducting document reviews for health screening and passports. Another 30 minutes in line and we were finally on the ship. I had originally scheduled a meeting of Cruise Critic members for 17:00. We didn't even make it to the ship until about 17:30, so I was glad that my wife had suggested changing this meeting until after the mandatory safety drill. At least I thought the drill was mandatory. By the time we got on board, it was already wrapping up, so we missed it entirely. Not a problem. This being my 8th cruise, I felt safe enough without the drill. Cruise Critic Meeting  Wheelhouse Bar Mon Nov 27th 18:00 The Cruise Critic meeting was a resounding success. There were a few folks missing who had pre-registered, but there were just as many or more in attendance, who had not pre-registered. I believe we had about 28-30 people in all. We sat around and talked about the pre-cruise experience as well as the boarding process and the tours for about 2 hours. I agreed to organize a 2nd meeting later into the cruise. We spent the rest of Monday trying to recover from the jetlag of our 16-hour flight. At Sea - Tuesday Nov 28th We were still wiped out from the flight and spent this day basically wandering around the ship between naps. It was another cold day so no outdoor activities. Pusan S Korea - Wednesday Nov 29th I haven't been to Korea since 1987. Wow, things have changed. I was in Osan at that time, which is a smaller city. Pusan is a very nice and reasonably modern city. When I was here before, I saw mainly American and Japanese cars. Now you see Korean brands primarily such as Hyundai and Kia. With economic success comes affluence. The prices in Pusan were among the highest we encountered on this particular cruise. This was completely unexpected. As an example, they wanted US $7.00 for a can of Gillette shaving cream! I could not bring myself to pay that much. I did manage to find some nice chopsticks in Pusan. I bought several sets for various family and friends. There is only one major problem with the city of Pusan, and that is the smell. The whole place smells like a sewer, but we still had a good time there. The locals were also very friendly and even did a dance show on board before we departed. I missed the show but my wife said it was excellent. Pusan's weather was nice and sunny once the morning fog burned off. Temp was mid 50's. Nagasaki Japan - Thursday Nov 30th Again, I have visited Japan before. During my Navy tenure I spent a full year on Okinawa. I never did make it to the mainland during that time. I would have preferred visiting Tokyo this time around, but Nagasaki is a vibrant and interesting city in its own right. We were feeling brave on this particular day, so we bypassed the Princess tour and bought day passes on the Nagasaki Tram. The tram is old and, while historic, not the most comfortable form of travel. Also, with the crowds, it is rare to get a seat. In any case, we found Nagasaki reasonably easy to navigate. The locals do not speak English so we resorted to showing pictures from the cruise material. This worked well in the rare case we could not find something on our own. Our primary place if interest was the Peace Park. This was easy to find and we had a wonderful time there. Several Japanese school classes were at the park for prayers and lectures. They all appear to wear uniforms here, which made for quite a sight as each class was about 50 strong and there were about 4 classes. This area also contains the Atomic Bomb Museum. We did not go inside, but did take pictures of the surrounding area. The other place we wanted to visit was the Memorial for the 26 Martyred Japanese Saints. We needed a bit of help finding this one, and the locals were very helpful once we produced a picture. The weather was nice in Nagasaki, although a bit on the cool side. I would guess the average temp to have been about 56 F At Sea - Friday Dec 1 Today was a day at sea as we journeyed south towards Shanghai. I decided to use this day for our next Cruise Critic gathering. I had spoken to the Cruise Director [Sammi] yesterday and she agreed to put the meeting in the Princess Patter and have one of her staff attend. We met in the Wake View Bar, which doesn't exist on most other Princess ships to my knowledge. Kevin, of the Cruise Directors staff said this area is usually the officers lounge, but had been converted on the Sapphire. It is hidden behind Club Fusion on the Fiesta deck [6]. The meeting was again a great success. There were even a few new faces who had seen the announcement in the Princess Patter and were curious. Princess was nice enough to provide endless champagne for the event. We started at 17:30. This time the meeting ran into dinnertime, and about 8 of us met for dinner at nearby Vivaldi's. After dinner, a few late night types adjourned to the Skywalkers Lounge to witness the ships midnight arrival at Shanghai Harbor. I am not a night person, but my wife is and was among this group. I returned to my stateroom for some much needed rest. Shanghai - Saturday Dec 2 Our tour guide in Beijing tried to prepare us for Shanghai, but you don't get a real understanding until you see it for yourself. By my estimation, Shanghai is a truly unique city. On the one hand, it easily makes my top 10 list for most beautiful cities in the world. On the other hand, it is hard not to notice the severe over-crowding and poverty that also exists here. Compared to Shanghai, Nagasaki would have to be considered spacious. A complimentary shuttle takes you from the ship to the Julong Silk & Crafts Exhibition Hall. The ride takes about an hour or so. In Shanghai, our main interest was the Yuyuan Garden and Shopping Center. Again, being adventurers, we felt comfortable taking a taxi. As long as you have your destinations written in Chinese, you should be OK taking a taxi for most Shanghai destinations. The ship provided Chinese translations for the most visited attractions. The ride to Yuyuan Garden took about 20 minutes. I have been lots of places, but this shopping center is like none other I have seen. First, it is absolutely huge. There are multiple alleyways and twists to get you quickly confused and lost. There are shops for just about anything you could want within reason. One thing about Shanghai is that the street vendors can be very aggressive. You almost have to be rude to get them to leave you alone. My advice, as I tell my wife, is don't make eye contact unless you want to buy something. For 30 Yuan [about $4.00 US], you can visit the actual garden this place is named for. My wife went inside, but I decided to pass. Later, she also visited the Jade Buddah and Peoples Square. By the time we got to Shanghai, I thought the weather would have improved, but it was still very cold. I wasn't dressed for this, so as soon as I could, I returned to the Julong Silk & Crafts Center via taxi. I had some spare time before the next Princess shuttle back to the ship would arrive, so I went inside seeking warmth. There are some very nice pieces for sale in this store. I bought a nice embroidered rose in glass for my wife. I also bought some postcards from a street vendor, and then headed back to the ship. I had a nice time in Shanghai, but after awhile, the crowds started to get to me. There are so many beautiful buildings all over the place. In most cities, you only see this in a centralized downtown area, but Shanghai has them pretty much everywhere. I took well over 100 photos. As stated earlier, Shanghai was surprisingly cold, low 50's at best. At Sea -Sunday Dec 3 About an hour after lunch yesterday, I began to feel nauseous. At first I didn't think anything of it and tried to just walk it off. I ended up rushing back to my stateroom to involuntarily relieve myself of my lunch. The remainder of the day would consist of a series of trips to the bathroom for various reasons. After a sleepless night also marked by frequent bathroom visits, my wife took me to the medical center. Later, a member of the medical staff visited me in our stateroom and said I had the dreaded Nor virus. She gave me some Imodium tablets and kindly informed me that I would be quarantined for at least 24 hours. I just count myself blessed that this happened on back-to-back sea days, so I did not have to miss any ports. Unfortunately, it did mean that I would miss the 2nd of 3 scheduled formal nights. (We were still too tired from the flight to get dressed up for the first formal night.) The tablets I was given did their job rather quickly and I was a weakened version of myself again within a couple of hours. I needed to exhibit 24 hours of symptom free behavior to gain my release, so I ended up spending Saturday after noon as well as the entire day on Sunday in my stateroom. Apparently, there were a significant number of sick passengers aboard. The staff eventually distributed Health Bulletins to all staterooms warning of proper hand washing techniques and advising passengers not to eat ashore. Additionally, Princess begun having crewmembers serve passengers in Horizon Court instead of the usual self-service policy. Interestingly enough, my wife never got the virus. At Sea -Monday Dec 4 I was released from quarantine around 09:00. I stuck to basic foods until I felt I could tolerate regular meals again. Even then, I tried to use the restaurants whenever possible and avoid Horizon Court altogether. It felt good to be among the living again. We used the remainder of this day to prepare for Hong Kong. Hong Kong -Tuesday Dec 5 I was now 100% and not a moment too soon. Hong Kong was quite a challenging port. The ship docked at 07:00 and we were allowed off at about 08:00. Because of the size of the Sapphire Princess, we were not allowed to dock at Ocean Terminal as the pre-cruise literature had stated we would be doing. Instead, we docked at Harbor City, which is about 30 minutes away from Ocean Terminal. There were free shuttles to the Ocean Terminal area and from there you could catch the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island for $2.20 HK [about 35 cents US]. I don't know why Princess listed Ocean Terminal in their pre-cruise literature, since presumably, the Sapphire Princess has always been the same size she is now. This caused me some difficulty, which I will explain later. My wife did not feel comfortable trying to do Hong Kong on our own as she had several definite places she wanted to visit and was concerned that we might run out of time. On the other hand, I thought it would be easily doable on our own. As we often do in such situations, we made an informal little wager and went our separate ways. She took a Princess tour, which included Stanley Market, the Aberdeen fishing village, Victoria Peak, and a jewelry store. The price of the tour was just under $60.00 US. I headed for Central station and after some initial difficulty, found the #260 bus, which took me to Stanley Market for $7.90 HK [about $1.00 US]. I didn't have exact change, so I ended up paying $10.00 HK for the ride. The ride up can be a bit unsettling since the roads are very narrow and winding. I was frustrated that I could not capture any of the fascinating scenery, as you have to hold on to something to prevent being tossed around the bus. After about 50 minutes, I arrived at Stanley Market. I was not overly impressed with this stop. It was nothing special and not really worth the time it takes to get there in my opinion. No different than any other outdoor shopping area you may have seen, and the prices and selection were not that great either. When we compared notes later, my wife even agreed with me on this point. I met a very nice couple on the bus from Washington State. They gave me the great idea of taking a taxi from Stanley Market to Victoria Peak instead of using the bus. This saved me a good deal of time. Victoria Peak was perhaps the highlight of Hong Kong to me. It is an ultra modern shopping complex with great restaurants for all tastes. As its name suggests, it is situated high above the city. There are viewing terraces atop some of the buildings, which allow for great photos of the Hong Kong area. When I was done here, I was able to take the Peak Tram right back to Central Station. Next I visited beautiful Hong Kong Park. It is a nice little park right in the center of the city, just like New York's Central Park but smaller. It contains a man made lake stocked with various fish and turtles, as well as benches for relaxation and a wonderful array of flowers throughout. After the park, I walked the 15 minutes back to the Star Ferry Terminal. I needed help from several of the locals to accomplish this. Hong Kong is not an easy city to navigate. You have to be very careful crossing the streets. Most major intersections have overpasses for pedestrians, but you have to find them and know where they lead. Back on the ferry, I returned to the Kowloon side and visited some of the electronics shops. I needed to get rid of my remaining HK currency, so I purchased a spare battery for my camera, which will come in handy. After being consumed with navigating Hong Kong all day, I had forgotten the exact location where the Princess shuttle had dropped us off. I returned to Harbor City and looked around. Since Princess had changed the location from what was listed in their pre-cruise literature, I found it less than accommodating for them not to have any signage to remind people where to congregate to catch the shuttle back to the ship. I always leave plenty of time for such eventualities, so I had no cause for alarm, but it was still an unpleasant experience that Princess could have easily prevented. I made it back to the ship at around 15:45. My wife's tour would not return until 17:00, so I went and had a very late lunch in the newly sanitized Horizon Court since none of the dining rooms were yet open. When my wife did return and we compared notes, she awarded me with a rare victory for successfully navigating Hong Kong on my own in less time [and considerably less $$] than her tour could manage. She did get to visit the Aberdeen fishing village, which I bypassed altogether, but I was not rushed at any of the places I visited, and her tour did not include Hong Kong Park. We thoroughly enjoyed Hong Kong and it is highly recommended. At Sea  Wednesday Dec 6th I started this day with a much-needed workout in the ships gym. My wife participated in a complimentary stretch class and went on a walk. After that, we had breakfast in the International Dining room, which is one of our favorites. It now appears to be my wife's turn to be sick. In her case, it is seasickness, a common problem for her. Trooper that she is, she continues to cruise. She took her Sea Bands off to go ashore yesterday and didn't get them back on fast enough when we set sail. She was fine the next day. Nha Trang Vietnam -Thursday Dec 7 Today we had a private tour booked with some of the folks we met on Cruise Critic. Our guide met us at the ship as planned and we were on our way. Tomorrow would not be so smooth, but more on that later. This tour was a wonderful alternative to what Princess tours can offer. Our guide really knew the area and took us to some very remote places. We started in a couple of vans and went to an embroidery shop. We were able to watch the young girls as they hand made some of the finest pieces I have ever seen. Of course, finished products were available for purchase. They were happy to answer any questions we had about their craft. Although embroidery means nothing to me personally, I still thoroughly enjoyed this stop. Next we visited Ponagar Cham Tower where we found several temples. You had to take your shoes off to enter any of them, so I just took in the sights from outside. These were the only 2 stops where we saw Princess tour groups. From here we boarded pontoon boats and cruised the river for about an hour as our guide explained various things about life in Nha Trang, which is primarily a fishing town. We eventually arrived at the private home of a family whose business was weaving various items such as tapestries and place settings for dinner tables. They had some very nice items for sale and even let the ladies take their turn at the weaving machine. My wife loved this. Our guide called this the poor families home and it was indeed beyond modest by Western standards. From here we boarded wooden carriages powered by very small horses. A few from our group did not take to the horses, so motorcycles were substituted. We trekked through the woods and finally arrived at what our guide called the rich families house. Still relatively modest by Western standards, this home belonged to wood workers. There were various pieces of carved wood on display. Most of the pieces were very large, such as tables and chairs. All of them were very well made and beautiful. Here we were served a light snack of various fruits and tea. After my previous bout with illness, I decided not to eat ashore for the remainder of the voyage. After finishing our snacks, we returned to our horse drawn carriages [which were very difficult for people of our size to fit into] and headed to a nice restaurant on the river where we were served beer and lunch. The lunch looked very appetizing and our hosts were extremely hospitable. After lunch we boarded our pontoon boats again and visited another family in the jungle where we were served coconut juice. More accurately, we were served actual coconuts. A young boy climbed one of the trees and pitched down enough for all of us. Again, this family was very nice and seemed genuinely happy to see us. Like the others, they allowed us to take pictures with them and answered any questions as best they could, given the language barrier. This was the last stop on our tour. We returned via pontoon boat to our vans and then to the ship. Our guide was a very nice local entrepreneur who really seemed to enjoy showing us his city. At $20.00 [US] per person, we felt we got a truly unique experience for a fraction of what Princess charged for their tour. Vung Tau - Ho Chi Minh City [Saigon] Vietnam - Friday Dec8 We had another private tour scheduled for Saigon, but as alluded to above, things did not go as planned. When we disembarked the ship, we did not see our tour guide. Initially, we were told that they were not being allowed entry to the port where the ship was docked. Later we were told that since there was no contract signed, our tour had been cancelled. Of course, a representative from their organization told us this and was happy to offer us a new contract at a much higher price. We declined this and all subsequent offers and our group of 18 disbanded to find our own way around this situation. We did not feel we could trust this group and did not want to end up paying a mercenary fee just to get back to the ship. Most of us boarded the Princess shuttle into Vung Tao. After about an hour, we were there. Several members of the group decided to take a hydrofoil [fan boat] across the river to Saigon for about $25.00 [US] per person. My wife and I, along with 6 others, choose to hire taxis instead. We ended up with 2 small SUV's. As we left Vung Tao for Saigon, we quickly noticed that we were heading back towards where the ship was docked [Phu My]. Noting this, we all agreed that we should have the taxi drivers return us to the ship instead of returning to Vung Tao and then doubling back to the ship. With all of the morning's events, we didn't arrive in Saigon until around 12:30. Not wanting to take any chances on missing the ship, we decided we should be on our way back by 14:00, giving us less than 2 hours to explore. We walked around downtown Saigon, checking out all of the hotels and taking photos before heading to the market place. We purchased a few of the standard tourist items here such as hats and T-shirts. After that, we looked for the Reunification Palace. My wife wanted to see this and it was close enough to accomplish in our limited time. We quickly found it, but it was not accessible to the public, so we basically just walked around it and headed back to the Rex hotel, which was our rendezvous point for departure. We had one of the Princess tour bus drivers prepare a crude map for our taxi drivers since they had not picked us up at the point we wanted them to return us to. Even with the map, it eventually became clear to us that they did not know how to get us to the ship. We asked [as best we could] beforehand, and they seemed absolutely sure it would not be a problem. We ended up on a dirt road, which had been heavily saturated with rain by the typhoon from a couple of days before. We tried to warn the drivers not to proceed, but they either did not understand or would not listen. Both taxis were soon stuck in the mud. I tried to push ours out unsuccessfully and even tried maneuvering it out from the drivers seat. Eventually a truck passed by and towed both taxis out for about $4.00. Our driver then hit a large brick or something that was hidden in the mud as he sped away. He also lost his cell phone, probably while trying to help push the taxis free of the mud. This poor guy couldn't have been more than 25 years old. I felt very sorry for him and hoped he had not damaged the taxi. After this adventure, we arrived at the ship, my shoes completely covered with mud, at about 17:00. I cleaned my shoes and we prepared for dinner, bringing a close to our 2nd Vietnam adventure. At Sea  Saturday Dec 9th Nothing much to mention. Just a much needed day of rest and relaxation. Laem Chabang [Bangkok] Thailand -Sunday Dec 10 After the adventures of the previous 2 ports of call, we decided to wimp out and take a Princess tour into Bangkok. Still, we just used their tour for transportation and went our own way once we arrived. The trip took about 2 hours, and for a change, the drive in was uneventful. The Princess tour bus dropped us off at the awesome hotel Shangri La. More on that later. Once in Bangkok, we boarded a boat along with several others from the ship. Our destination was the Grand Palace, but the trip was the highlight for me. It afforded wonderful photo opportunities of the colorful city as we continued on our way. The trip took about 20-25 minutes, and cost about 210 Baht, which is the local currency and the only one accepted in Thailand. As of this writing, that works out to about $6.00 US. As we all left the boat, the attendants asked us for an additional 20 baht per person, which they called a landing fee. Since this fee had not been mentioned at the onset, we judged it a scam and continued on our way. The attendants began yelling something to the effect of cheepie at us. I stand by our decision on this one, as a fee undisclosed amounts to simple extortion in my book. At the Grand Palace, we were immediately besieged by street vendors. While no worse than any other similar city, I have little patience for street vendors altogether. If they would just allow me to peruse the merchandise at my leisure, I would [more than not] probably purchase something. Instead they swarm you as if they are desperate drug addicts and you have their all-important fix, but I digress. Since it was 90 plus degrees in Bangkok, I wore shorts. Shorts are not allowed in the Palace. I knew this in advance and had no interest in actually entering the Palace anyway. Local vendors kept tugging on my shorts and gesturing me that I needed pants. Later I found out they were trying to offer pants that I could rent to get into the Palace. What can I say, that's not something that can be easily communicated with gestures. Anyway, we walked the grounds of the Palace and took pictures. We also did some shopping in the area before contemplating our departure. We had gotten cards from the hotel with its name and address in Thai to assist us in getting back. When I showed the card to the first taxi driver, he just laughed and drove away. The 2nd driver was nice enough not to laugh, but still refused to take us to the hotel. Finally, a local woman took pity on us and explained what we wanted to a 3rd taxi driver. We ended up spending about 150 baht [including tolls] to get back to the hotel and the trip took about 30 minutes. That's a little over $4.00 US. We walked around and did some shopping in this area as well and then went into the hotel to relax. The hotel Shangri La is very nice, 5 star to be sure. Beautifully decorated lobby. Spacious ballrooms. Even the men's room was a work of art. I went into the bar and ordered a beer. It made for a nice waiting room for our return ride to the ship. Other people from the ship were there and we had some fun conversation about our journey thus far. All of this 5 star posh came at a price, however, as my beer cost 220 baht or about $6.30 US. Add to this regular and VAT and you have a $7.00 beer. In Thailand? Oh well. We all boarded our busses for the return trip at about 15:00 [3PM] and were back on the ship shortly after 17:30. The ride back was uneventful, which represented a welcome change from our Vietnam experience. At Sea - Monday Dec 11th This was our last sea day and we looked forward to the formal night, since we had missed the first 2 due to either illness or fatigue. My wife actually had a relapse of seasickness and came very close to missing this one as well. After many days of splendid weather, we finally experienced some rain today. A few of us from Cruise Critic got together for a farewell dinner in the Pacific Moon dining room. Of our original 30 or so people, about 8 of us were in attendance. My wife felt good enough to attend, but did not want to eat anything. We used this time to recap all of our many adventures and to say our formal goodbyes. Tomorrow we are in Malaysia and the next morning, we will end the cruise in Singapore. The dinner was very nice, but it did remind us that the experience would soon end. The wait staff was good enough to take several pictures for all of us with our respective cameras. After dinner we went to see a bit of the evening show and then called it a night. Kemaman Malaysia  Tuesday Dec 12th We all wondered why Princess even bothered to stop at this, our last port before ending the cruise in Singapore. Even our local guide on the shuttle into town said that the presence of the ship would temporarily triple the population here. The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes. The town is really not much more than a moderately sized farmers market, consisting mainly of various types of seafood and meats. What interested me the most about Malaysia was its Muslim government. I had not known in advance that Malaysia was a Muslin nation. I had assumed it was Asian, hence the name Malaysia. On our return shuttle to the ship [about 30 minutes after our arrival] our local guide was a Chinese woman. She said everyone is free here to practice his or her own religion, in her case Buddhism. Still, I saw many Asian women dressed as Muslims. I will be curious now to learn more about the history of this nation. In any case, our time ashore was brief as there was simply not much to see or do here. We were back on the ship in plenty of time for lunch. Getting back so early made this feel like a sea day. After lunch and some relaxation, we went up to deck 14 for the sail away party, which featured the Princess in house band Opus. They played a variety of popular tunes covering genres from Soul to Country. We thoroughly enjoyed their performance. Later we attended our last show on board, which featured a very talented ventriloquist/comedian by the name of Kenny Byrd. I had actually met him up on deck 14 earlier in the day. He talked to me for a while without revealing his identity, and then told me to make a point of not missing the evening show. He then went on to tell me how good this guy was supposed to be. At the end of our conversation, he finally told me that he was the guy. Somehow that made the show all the more enjoyable later. After the show we had dinner and returned to our room to finish our last minute packing. [Disembarkation] Singapore  Wednesday - Dec 13th After a quick breakfast in the International Dining Room, we headed to the Wheelhouse bar to wait for permission to depart the ship. We were on our way to our hotel within 30 minutes. After completing a quick pre check-in routine at the Meritus Mandarin hotel, we wanted to see what we could do with the balance of the day since our flight didn't leave until the next morning. We went to the tour desk and booked a safari for later in the day and then jumped on a hop on hop off bus to see Singapore. The bus cost was 12 Singapore dollars [about $8.00 US], so we needed some local money. We accomplished this by finding the nearest ATM machine, which was no problem since they are plentiful here. Singapore is a beautiful place, reminiscent of San Francisco, with one exception. Singapore is much cleaner and you will not find vagrants on the streets. I wanted to take a closer look at the Funan Digi Mall, which is a shopping mall dedicated to Information Technology. My wife wanted to do some shopping in China town. We accomplished both along with a quick lunch in about 4 hours. We had lunch in Chinatown. I had chicken curry. My wife, being a timid eater, stuck to steamed rice. The food was good, but they leave the bones in the chicken here, which made for a less enjoyable experience for me. Some friends from the cruise who live in Beijing had warned me about this, so it wasn't a complete surprise. We returned to our hotel around 16:00 to rest up for our evening safari. The evening safari [which can be arranged through area hotels] was of limited interest to me because you are not allowed to use flash photography. We boarded a tram and took a leisurely ride along a dark trail. Many interesting animals appeared as we ventured along. In attendance were hippos, tigers, rhinos, and many species of deer just to name a few. For my money, I would have preferred a visit to the zoo, which is located right next to the safari, but most will probably enjoy this venue. It has the look of a Survivor or Jurassic Park set. After riding the tram, you can embark on any of several walking trails to get a closer look at the animals, or you can opt for either the fire show or the animal show, both of which start on the hour. There are also several theme restaurants on the premises, if you don't mind overpriced food. Singapore Flight  Thursday Dec 14th  0830 We knew we were in for a long and exhausting flight home. We left the Meritus Mandarin hotel at 05:00 and arrived at Singapore's Changi airport before 06:00. Security was more intense than what we are used to in the US, but still quick. Our first flight was to Tokyo Narita. This took about 7 hours. There we had a 3-hour layover before boarding the 11-hour flight to Chicago, and in Chicago another 3-hour layover before departing for Atlanta Hartsfield -Jackson. In Chicago, we had a comprehensive, but still relatively quick run through customs. We arrived in Atlanta right on schedule at about 21:30, collected our luggage and were in our house by 23:00, thus ending our longest trip to date. Cruise Experience Ship  The Sapphire Princess is starting to show considerable wear, but is in decent condition overall. It is probably the nicest Princess ship I have sailed on. The new Skywalker Lounge and the bonus Wakeview Bar are nice extras not found on most other Princess vessels. The Sapphire was due in dry dock at the end of our voyage where I am sure she will be made good as new. Staff  As has been the trend with Princess, we found the staff to be pretty lackluster, with a couple of notable exceptions. This was the last cruise of the season, and it showed in the attitudes of many of the cruise staff. A notable exception was Sammi Baker, the Cruise Director. She reminded me of what cruise directors used to be like. Very enthusiastic, and she genuinely loves her job. She even got hit with the Nor Virus a few days after me, but was right back at it a day later. I was also impressed with a few members of the wait staff. Since we prefer anytime dining, I did not really get to know any one team very well, but we did have some very nice experiences. Food No 2 ways about it, the food quality at Princess is at an all time low. As a guy, there's not much I won't eat, but they have managed to reach even my limit. Basically, they will continue putting dishes out until they either expire, or are consumed. So you end up seeing items at the breakfast buffet that most people would never actually eat for breakfast, such as refried beans. Or you see different incarnations of the same food with fancy made up names to lend legitimacy. If Princess is going to continue along these lines, then I think they might as well contract with a shore-based operation such as Ryan's or Golden Corral, both of which might actually do a better job. Also, the Horizon Court area is the same size, no matter the size of the ship, which makes for plenty of elbow bumping on a ship the size of the Sapphire. At the poolside grill, when you ask for a hotdog, you need to request that it actually be cooked, otherwise they may just hand you a raw one from the grill. You also need to get to the grill before 18:00 [6PM] or you will find it closed. The same is true for the pizza ovens. Our advice on Princess dining? Stick to the restaurants as much as possible, and bring some Tums. Entertainment  As with the food experience, Princess has also dropped the ball on entertainment. We heard this observation repeated from countless other passengers, so it's not just our opinion. Most of the feature shows are performed by members of the cruise staff. On sea days, there is pitifully little going on, which we found unforgivable for a 16-day voyage with 7 days at sea. Again, there were exceptions. I thoroughly enjoyed both shows by Australian singer Seamus Earley, and the ventriloquist/comedian Kenny Byrd. Summary Princess continues to have a virtual lock on exotic ports for mid-priced cruise lines. With the onset of the Carnival consortium, they obviously see little incentive to satisfy customers beyond their standard offerings. If you are unhappy with Princess, Carnival knows they have enough member lines to stand a good chance of keeping you in the family, and possibly at an even higher price point should you opt for Windstar or Seabourn. Indeed, cruising has reached a saturation point of sorts, and the industry knows it. Because of this, Princess has chipped away at its product to the point where it is now an embarrassing replica of its former self. Princess has succeeded in making their cruises attainable for most, but at the same time has failed at making them desirable for many. Jan 2007 - John D Phillips Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
My partner- we are both in our 40's- and my mum and dad- 60's went on this holiday. It started off with chaos trying to sort out visa's for china/ japan and then one of the destinations in japan was cancelled for ... Read More
My partner- we are both in our 40's- and my mum and dad- 60's went on this holiday. It started off with chaos trying to sort out visa's for china/ japan and then one of the destinations in japan was cancelled for embarkation problems- not a good start we arrived in beijing staying in a good hotel for a few days with our rep John who was a great guy very helpful and informative- beijing was a great experience because of him and Tour East as a company in general. On the night before we were due to board the Diamond Princess one of our party had a text from home to say that the Norwalk virus was prevalent on ship and had made national press in the uk- we were a bit concerned but John assured us he had no information that we couldn't proceed which we did- luckily early. when we arrived at the port armed security guards were blocking the entrance but john walked us into the terminal- we were the first ones there. Previous passengers were getting off and being bused away all shaking their heads at us- one lady put her hand to her neck as if to show she was cutting her throat!. We registered and went to get on board only then being told to wait as we couldn't board. All this time, coachloads of passengers were being bused into the terminal and either had to wait outside in the bitter cold or in buses -some in hotels- we waited over 4 hours with no information or anyone in any form of authority giving us a clear idea of what was going on other than the ship was being cleaned- water and crisps were provided and eventually tea and coffee- the hot water was in the toilet area of the terminus- Norwalk virus be damned! Steve and i eventually found our room- no help from crew - to find a phone message for the previous occupant that her quarantine was now up and she could leave- that made me very nervous to even be in the room. because of the Norwalk virus, certain necessary curtailments were in place- hand washing- no salt/pepper cellars- and no self service personally, i found that the buffet room serving staff were incredibly rude- i literally had a serving of butter thrown at me- i run a service business and always make sure i am overly polite to waiting/cleaning staff because of it- this was hell- we were made to feel as if we weren't entitled to anything the public rooms were very comfortable on board although alot of bars were placed around the edges of the interior- like a waiting room and walking past it sometimes felt as if it was god's waiting room! unfortunately, the bars were not adequately stocked with beers/lagers meaning on many days they ran out of stock completely- even after ports- this wasn't good entertainment- dear heaven it was dire!- so antiquated it belonged on the ark!- origami/ envelope decorating- plate painting and a talent show for passengers of a certain age - we saw a few shows, a couple of films that we'd missed on the plane and was in bed by 8pm every night- it was that bad!!! ports of call we are independent travellers and don't opt for organized trips- these were incredibly expensive!- and poor quality!- one couple went on a hot springs and botanical garden tour and ended up in a hotel sauna walking around the hotels grounds for a whopping $300!- be warned. embarkation was a fiasco and people were getting angry at the sheer incompetence of the staff- they guided you the wrong way- the tannoy system changed in mid stream it was utter chaos every time- we waited once over 3 hours to get a tender simply because they wouldn't lower another boat- on the 2 occasions a tender was used, they broke down (apparently)- princess staff always blame the port authorities but in reality it is them who are totally incapable. its basically a money making system on board- as long as your spending they are happy- the moment you don't your cast aside- steve is a sauna lover and on the first day went to locate the sauna- we knew there was one somewhere- he asked a member of staff who ignoring the free one, immediately tried to sign him up for $150 to use the spa sauna- luckily a fellow passenger intervened and showed him the way- it left a bad taste that. on the day we thankfully left the boat- we were all counting down the days- it was like we didn't exist- the staff simply ignored you- "ive had your money now go away" attitude- we did ask on board about the costing of a cruise to the Antarctic ( our honeymoon) details were supposed to have been given before we left ship but 2 weeks on i am still waiting and with all thats happened i am now in two minds our last destination was bangkok in thailand at the holiday inn we had 2 great tour reps again supplied by tour east- charlie and wanna and spent 2 great days with them being shown around- nothing was too much trouble for them. now, bearing in mind that princess cancelled a stop in japan for embarkation problems you would have thought that they would have been monitoring the foreign office websites and looking into bangkok: but not a bit of it because they sent us there- charlie and wanna on hearing there may be problems at the airport got us there really early but too late to be of any good to us and we were caught in the protests out there- it wasn't anyones fault just sheer bad luck- these two to our great appreciation recalled the buses, negotiated with the holiday inn and retrieved us after only a few hours- their only contractual obligation was to have taken us to the airport- these two are worthy in my book of a medal! so we spent a few more days in thailand managing eventually to get out overland and via an obscure airport in the north at chaing mai- one bus broke down another caught fire en route whilst we were out there it was disclosed by the acting british ambassador that the foreign office website was citing caution re bangkok as long ago as august- and that in october there had been bloodshed between the two opposing factions- princess altered its itinerary to suit its own needs but didn't alter it to safeguard our lives princess cruises now own almost every cruise company afloat with the exception of royal Caribbean carnival- use them not princess- the more i think about the total lack of care from embarkation to finishing the holiday the more angry i am becoming the only saving grace from this holiday have been the ports of call and the good companions that thailand have now brought- please be very careful and take responsibility for checking out with the foreign office each destination before you book Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We were on virtually the same tour as the previous reviewer, but I reckon we must have been in a parallel universe. Firstly may I say that commenting on problems getting visas has nothing to do with Princess, before booking any holiday ... Read More
We were on virtually the same tour as the previous reviewer, but I reckon we must have been in a parallel universe. Firstly may I say that commenting on problems getting visas has nothing to do with Princess, before booking any holiday it is easy to find out what the necessary rules are, and if daunted, don't book. We, and all the friends we made on this trip, researched this aspect thoroughly and had no problems with this whatsoever. The reason that Nagasaki was dropped from the itinerary was due to the protracted process with the Japanese immigration authorities, and due to complaints on previous voyages, Princess acted. Everyone I spoke to agreed that to have gone through the process twice would have been a nightmare. It also meant an overnight in Hong Kong which was the highlight of the cruise for us, and gave us the most wonderful evening sailaway through HK harbor. A shame to miss a port for those already familiar with HK, but still a great treat. The wait to board the ship was not wonderful, but for a large number of people was spent in the embarkation center. Not everyone was outside in the cold, nor on buses, and better that we boarded confident that we were getting on a sanitized ship. It should be pointed out that the ship was sanitized and ready for boarding quite some time before we actually did, due to the Chinese authorities. When we boarded we were met by a very nice steward who escorted us to our cabin. Our luggage was already there waiting for us and we went straight down to a delicious dinner. The so-called curtailments were for everyone's safety. Hand-washing being an example ?!? On all Princess cruises hand sanitizers are provided for use at the eating places, and there are a great number of people who blithely bypass these with the obvious "doesn't apply to me" attitude. Is it any wonder that these bugs flourish on cruise ships ? The use of hand sanitizers was simply more rigorously enforced, and we were all the better for it. I heard of gastric upsets, of course, as is inevitable when people are going to more exotic destinations, but personally heard of no cases of Norovirus on board. As for rudeness, we never encountered this by any member at any time by the Princess crew. We are fervent beer/lager drinkers, and on one occasion only in the 16 days were unable to get Bud Lite and had to make do with Bud - gee that really ruined the whole trip, eh ? Agree completely re entertainment - Princess not renowned for this, most people though were very happy. In bed by 8pm ? obviously no mates to have a laugh with. Bars round edges of rooms ? Get a life. Shore excursions - we mostly did our own thing. Had a wonderful tour in Nha Trang with www.nhatrangrivertours.com, and in Singapore with www.singaporetaxitour.com - both highly recommended. We did go with Princess to Saigon which was not very good and very expensive. Go to Vung Tau instead or even better stay on the ship and relax. Re tender operations - our experience is that on the two occasions we waited not at all for the outbound/5 minutes or so inbound for the first and for the second we were on the first tender (one of our group having went for the tickets at the advertised time - anyone could have done the same), so no waiting time, and 5 minutes or so for the inbound. Have no experience of what the previous reviewer is talking about, the crew were perfectly nice and efficient. One of the officers in charge, in particular, was so charming and helpful. Ignored on the last day ? What exactly do you need the crew for then anyway, other than to serve breakfast ? We were given many friendly goodbyes, and the above-mentioned officer remembered us and came over personally. Regarding future cruise sales, all of the British and Australian people in our little group were invited to obtain the future cruise credit letters by the agent. She sent a letter to our cabin, it took us 10 seconds to fill in the form, and the letter was at our cabin faster than we arrived back. British passengers should not be looking to book on board anyway, they just don't cater for our needs. Get the credit letter and book at home. As regards Princess taking us to Bangkok and putting us into danger, this is preposterous. No-one foresaw that the protestors would take over the airport. In any case, Princess were only responsible for you up to the point of disembarkation - it was the tour companies who were responsible after that if you were booked to have a stayover in Thailand, or indeed you were on your own if you had chosen to do this independently. Thousands of the Princess passengers went straight home/flew to other destinations/carried on cruising with the ship etc etc etc so that comment was plain ridiculous. In any event individuals are responsible for checking the FO advice and if worried in any way, should simply not travel. As regards the great praise heaped upon Tour East, again not our experience. One of them scammed us for money, and someone made a mess of our flight arrangements. This was the case for several of the group, and as Tour East completed the forms on our behalf for Emirates, we can only assume until we hear differently that they made the mistake. Hopefully this gives a different view. If you are booked on this cruise, have no fears - it is a wonderful experience, the ship is fine, don't use the buffet too much as full of ignorant passengers, don't expect great entertainment, make friends and have fun. Use your head re tendering operations, do your own thing ashore, think hard about the transfer time to Saigon, have the sense to know who is responsible for you at the appropriate times, and you will have a ball. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Review of our cruise November 2008 - Asia - Diamond Princess My name is Graham, and my wife Susan and I booked the Asian cruise back in August 2007. This was a 16 night cruise out of Beijing, China, visiting Nagasaki (Japan), Shanghai ... Read More
Review of our cruise November 2008 - Asia - Diamond Princess My name is Graham, and my wife Susan and I booked the Asian cruise back in August 2007. This was a 16 night cruise out of Beijing, China, visiting Nagasaki (Japan), Shanghai (China), Okinawa (Japan), Keelung (Taiwan), Hong Kong (China), Singapore and Bangkok (Thailand). We booked a package with 3 day stay in Beijing, 16 night cruise, 3 days in Bangkok, though the land package and transfers were not with Princess but via a UK travel company.These included 4-star hotels, all bus transfers and several trips in Beijing & Bangkok. Much more than "one night in Bangkok". Unfortunately we were caught up in the political protests in Bangkok, which meant an extended stay in Bangkok of over a week rather than 3 days. Luckily the hotel bill was taken care of by the hotel and Thai Government with an £80 a night allowance that took care of the bill. On another count, the airline managed to get us out from a military airport (the day the protests ended, but the International airport would have taken days to return to normal anyway). Enough of that.... It did tarnish the holiday experience somewhat, but on the whole it was an excellent trip, particularly as we had not visited Asia before. We are both interested in seeing as much as possible in all of the ports of call, in the limited time available. In fact it was the varied and interesting itinerary that attracted us to this package, rather than the ship itself, and this is the main reason why we have chosen Princess for the last 3 cruises, as they seem to offer a large choice of interesting and more exotic itineraries than some of the other major cruise lines. Beijing: The stay in Beijing was VERY enjoyable, the reps met us immediately we exited the arrivals and after a short wait escorted us to waiting coaches.(105 persons in our hotel tour group) We arrived afternoon. The Hotel in Beijing was excellent, high quality, large room with many facilities. Beijing itself we found to be quite tidy appearance (post Olympics?), but after a few days the bad air quality was apparent (dry throat, eyes irritating a little, but not a problem, just a little noticeable). We had some tours included, as well as additional tours on offer for a little extra. These included Tianamen Square, The forbidden City,Summer Palace, Temple Of Heaven & The Great Wall at Badaling. The weather was a little warmer than we expected, not like high summer in the UK, more like warm spring. Tip for the Great Wall is to take some extra clothes to wrap up (fleece etc...) as it was a good bit cooler and a little windy. Walked a small section of the wall, VERY steep and it was fairly crowded, but a good experience. Spent around 2-3 hours there. All the above were interesting in their own right, The Summer Palace in particular at sunset was stunning... lakes, the architecture, atmosphere. As additional excursions we chose to go to an evening Chinese Acrobat show, about an hour or so, which we felt was very good followed by a Chinese buffet style meal. We also chose an evening trip to see the Olympic village, including the Birdsnest stadium, Swimming pool (The bubble!). We could not go in to either, but just walking around the wide concourse and seeing the lights was still a good experience. CRUISE: Departed the hotel around 9am ish, and the trip to the port was around 3 hours. TIP: Chinese Toilets are not the best experience - squat over a hole. Not a problem in your hotel, but on the way to the cruise terminal the toilet stop was not pleasant, with many ladies not bothering due to the state they were in. Take your own loo paper/wipes etc..., and hand cleanser is useful. We had a LONG wait at the cruise terminal as Diamond, had a norovirus breakout the previous cruise, and had to be disinfected twice before the Chinese authorities would allow it to sail. We had to wait around 6 hours in the hall of the terminal, though everyone did have a seat and drinks/snacks (crisps) were provided during the wait. Once on board things improved, we had a balcony cabin on deck 12 (Aloha), and all of the balconies on this deck are covered, so no one is looking down from above. Also handy to pop up to deck 14 and the buffet for coffee/tea/snacks and bring back to cabin/balcony. Nice!! Due to the late embarkation, the ship did not sail that evening as planned, and sailed the following morning, though this did not impact on the schedule. Day at sea followed, allowing us to explore the ship and generally relax We have cruised with Princess previously on the Coral and Golden Princess. We found the Diamond, in our opinion the best of the 3 in all aspects. Not perfect from a service perspective and heard a few stories form fellow passengers of some negatives. However, we had no problems. We found the food to be very good to our tastes, though some said it could be much better. Again, of the 3 cruises, we personally found the food to be better than what we had experienced from Princess in the past.(and as good as the other 2 cruise lines we have used) We were booked on the Anytime Dining, and tried all of the 4 anytime dining restaurants. The food choice was the same as the traditional dining, the difference in the theme of the restaurant. We found the Santa Fe to have best service overall on the nights we dined there, followed by the Savoy.You can choose to sit with others on a larger table or choose a table for two but may have to wait 20-30 mins unless this is booked. It was not a problem as we were given a pager, and waited at a nearby bar with drinks (good excuse). One thing to be aware of though is that the tables for two are VERY close together, so conversations are not too private, and you may end up conversing with adjacent couples anyway!! Generally we used the deck 14 buffet for breakfast/lunch and though it was usually very busy, finding a table was not too bad, and only on a couple of occasions did we have a bit of a search around to find a space. We did after that try to avoid the peak times and it was much more pleasant. As described before the food in the buffet was in our opinion very good, with good choices and reasonable quality bearing in mind we were on a cruise ship catering for nearly 3000 passengers. For quite a few days, the food was served by the servers, no doubt due to the previous Norovirus outbreak and there was no fresh salad produce, though stuff like pasta salad was plentiful. After a few days normal service was resumed with the "help yourself" system. We tried Sabatinis and paid the cover charge - found the experience well worth the cost, and the food was VERY plentiful and varied of high quality, and it was good to try samples of different dishes. Also visited the Steakhouse, and again found this exceptional quality. We booked the Ultimate Balcony Dining on an evening at Sea - the cost is 100 dollars,(50 each) but we found this was worth it for the experience. The price includes a choice of a cocktail each, flowers, a photograph, bottle of champagne, and the dinner of Canapes, Starter, Lobster and steak entree and a dessert. The starter was actually as good if not better than the entree!!! (Crab cakes presented in pastry basket). Definitely the culinary highlight of the whole trip!!, all served up by waiter service on your balcony - they bring table/settings and set this up in about 10 mins. Fantastic experience. It can be booked only when you are on board by calling the DINE service on the cabin phone. We booked it the afternoon we arrived for about 1 week into the cruise. We did not bother too much with the evening shows in the Princess theatre - not really our thing. We did attend quite a few of the "talks" including port talks and some nature talks on sea life/coral reefs - all were pretty good. Also most afternoons there is a recent movie showing in the theatre which we watched on a couple of occasions on sea days. The Cruise Director was "JJ" who we had on a previous cruise. Whilst his enthusiasm cannot be faulted, he did come across as a bit over the top sometimes, and his "enthusiasm" coming across as a little false on occasions. During the fruit carving/Sushi demos, I cannot believe that anyone can be really THAT enthused by the demos, particularly when you know its possibly the hundreth time - still his commitment cannot be faulted!! The deck walking area around deck 7 we used on quite a few occasions and was generally fairly quiet. As on previous ships, there are steps at both aft/stern to up then down onto higher levels - so its not a "level" walk all the way around (for those that don`t know). The ships library was OK, not fantastic, but we both chose a few books during the cruise to read when relaxing on sea days - choice was OK, not fantastic - just OK. We used the Internet cafe on a couple of occasions, but it was both in our minds expensive and slow, but then we are at sea and using the internet was very low down on our list of things to do - just checked e-mail a few times for banking and the like. On the occasions we did try it, it was not too busy - though I guess the cost puts many off now!! We did not have cause to use the Passengers Services (Pursers desk!) on many occasions, but did note that this was usually VERY busy with long lines and not generally enough staff - would suggest to avoid unless really necessary. As far as currency exchange goes, we did bring most with us, but there are 2 exchange machines nearby the passenger services desk to change dollars into the currency of the next port of call (small charge of a few dollars to do this), otherwise its the busy desk above!! Overall we loved Diamond Princess, preferring it to Coral/Golden as it seemed to have more character than the Coral Princess, and while similar to the Golden Princess, both the service and the food seemed better. The anytime dining restaurants were better than the Golden Princess, splitting one very large restaurant into 4 smaller restaurants with themes. Each restaurant had a speciality dish related to the theme. PORTS OF CALL.............................. SHANGHAI(CHINA) - As you will most likely be aware, nearly all the ports on this itinerary are industrial container type ports,(or a tender in the case of Vietnam) so expect this. We took a full day princess excursion and had a City tour that included The historical museum at the oriental pearl tower - museum was OK, lots of wax figures and historical scenes of how Shanghai has developed. The tower itself was quite stunning/unusual and just seeing that was for me better than the museum itself. no time to go up the tower though. We visited the waterfront to view the "bund" over the other side, and then another Chinese style buffet lunch (about the 5th after Beijing!!!) These buffet meals vary in quality and how hot the actual food arrives at the table - then its help yourself form the "Lazy susan" revolving "table". Usual Chinese fare Pork/Fish/Chicken/Noodles/Rice/Soup.... in various guises Sweet/Sour, Spicy etc.....Like all Princess excursions they are on the pricey side, but we both like listening to the commentaries about the culture/history of the places, and you know you will get back to the ship on time, or if not, Princess will sort things out (hopefully). After lunch we visited the old Chinatown part of Shanghai, which to me was the highlight. The atmosphere was fantastic, with all the old style buildings merging with the modern and the shops/street sellers, this was what I was expecting of China. Found it a little rushed though, and if doing this independently could have spent more time. Ended with tour of Yu Gardens, with all the pagodas, ponds and statues. Good end to a good day and back to the ship. OKINAWA(JAPAN) - Short stay here - we visited the Castle and the market. The castle was OK, but nothing special to us. The indoor market was enjoyable, just browsing and people (and produce) watching. not the best port of call, but OK. KEELUNG (TAIWAN) - We did a Princess tour visiting the Democracy Hall, Taipie 101 (Photo Stop), Temple. Good interesting tour, quite surprised at the scale of the architecture, was better than expected (not sure what we expected!) - surprise. Taipei 101 - despite been the tallest building in the world (not for much longer) was not really that dramatic from a design/interest point of view. More of a tick the box to say you have seen it! HONG KONG - To me this was going to be one/the highlight, and having two days here and an overnight was a bonus (Nagasaki was cancelled due to immigration hassles). We took Princess tours to visit the Po-Lin monastery and the "Big-Buddha". This was good and a contrast to the city skyscrapers and hustle/bustle we would experience the following day. We visited a fishing village and it was good to just wander around looking at the produce and the way of life - excellent experience. Lunch was a surprisingly good vegetarian meal at the monastery. There was also some time to visits shops near the "Big Buddha" and opportunities to take loads of photos both at and near the largest seated bronze Buddha in the World. The evening was spent on another excursion that included dinner (another chines buffet, but with that speciality Peking Duck - they all say that theirs is the best!!). The highlight was standing on the Hong Kong waterfront, watching the evening lightshow, and then Diamond Princess to sail through the harbor during the light show (it relocated another berth). The light show itself was for me a little disappointing, though the lit up skyline light show or not was impressive. We then visited the famous Temple street Night Market - hundreds of stalls selling everything (and nothing!!), crowded, atmospheric, interesting!! Our 2nd day in Hong Kong was spent in/around the city, with a harbor cruise, a visit to victoria Peak and the fantastic view looking down upon the Hong Kong Skyline. it was then on to yet another Chinese banquet on "Jumbo", the largest floating chinese restaurant in the World, and a trip on a Sampan around the older harbor. Fantastic, if busy 2 days. Was everything expected and more. VIETNAM: Both ports of call were everything we expected really and both VERY enjoyable. Hoi Chi min city was manic with all the scooters and traffic. The architecture interesting. The famous water puppet show to us was a big disappointment though as a few had said this was a highlight - whilst enjoyable (and short), I definitely would not describe it as a highlight. Visiting HCM city itself and seeing the buildings/way of life was the highlight - we had time to wander around for a few hours browsing shops/stalls and general people watch - very interesting. Of course its quite a long bus ride from the port (3 hours ish), but in our mind was well worth the trek to experience this interesting place. Just the sights on the journey were interesting - how many people on one scooter!!.. you can`t carry that on a scooter - oh I see you are - watch out wide load!! Our guide was the "Famous" Jason Superstar of Jason Superstar Services., and he gave very good commentaries (though was a bit full of himself and promoting his web site and travel services business) FANTASTIC buffet meal at hotel in HCM city!! (not Chinese but mix of western with vietnamese influence) The countryside tour the day previous to HCM around Vung Tau area (spelling!?!) was very interesting. We were supposed to have a river cruise but due to flooding a few days previous this could not operate. In its place I think they gave us a much longer tour visiting a Kindergarten, countryside, temple.... very scenic, and saw rice paddies, oxen ploughing, workers..... just as you may expect from documentaries regards rural life. Overall Vietnam WAS the experience we wanted it to be. Tip: Watch for the "1-dollar" crowd selling anything form postcards to hats, they "bother" you everywhere in Vietnam. The same group even followed to coach on scooters to the next stop, so you would see the same people, trying to sell you the same stuff you did not want everytime you got off the coach. Learn to laugh about it and just politely say "no" if there is nothing you wish to buy. A dollar buys a lot here though!! SINGAPORE - Here we visited the Yung Bird Park - The highlight there was the Lori Loft which was a very large walk though aviary with very colorful Australian Lori birds. We were given a cup of syrup, and the birds sat on your hand drinking the syrup. A city tour followed, though this centered more upon the Orchid Gardens which was very pretty, but it would have been nice to seem more of the city. We did catch a glimpse of the famous raffles hotel from the bus, but did not have chance to have that "Singapore Sling" BANGKOK - Again we were met by tour reps (From Tour East) when we disembarked the ship early morning. After finding the suitcases, there was a bit of a wait over an hour or more till everyone in our group was together and the buses left for Bangkok. This was about 3 hours away form the port. We stayed at the Pahumwan Princess hotel in the center of the city. Again an excellent high quality hotel with excellent facilities. We acquainted ourselves with the HUGE MBK shopping center (8 floors) connected to the hotel. The following morning we were up early and off at 07:30 with included excursion to visit The Bridge over the river Kwai. This included stops at the museum and war graves, then onto the bridge itself. There was good opportunity and plenty of time to walk across the bridge, though we did have to wait for a train to cross before we could make our way back. We then had opportunity to ride on a train along the route of the "death railway" and adjacent to the river Kwait. As an extra excursion for £10 each we chose to visit the elephants. This included a full half hour ride on an elephant, which at one point entered the River Kwai for a photo to be taken. Excellent. The 2nd full day in Bangkok was a visit to The Grand Palace and a short city tour (just over half-day). We then entertained ourselves visiting nearby shopping and restaurants - found the Hard Rock Cafe!! We were due to fly home the evening of the following day, but a note under the door at 5am told us otherwise. The PAD protestors had taken over the airport and we could not fly home. The next few days were strange to say the least - not knowing when we could leave the Country. We were advised to stay with the tour group and not to stray too far form the hotel.(keep away form government house area). This advise given by the British consulate we heeded, but we did use the Skytrain monorail to visit nearby shopping and restaurants. I will not go no about the days here as they were simple spent in/around the hotel area, and we were eventually glad to leave. thats not to say Bangkok is not a wonderful place ,it is, but the circumstances for us were not the best from the 3rd day onwards. We have visited Canada/Alaska and South America/Antarctica on previous Princess cruises. These were fantastic experiences, but for the number of different interesting ports of call and "highlights", I have to say this Asian cruise/Land tour experience was as good or better than the two previous travel experiences, for many reasons. One thing to note is that during our month away, I actually lost count of the number of Chinese buffets we ate, and consequently I may not want a Chinese Take-Away back in the UK for some time to come! Hope this is helpful - enjoy your own travels. Graham & Susan Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2009
We were looking forward to our first cruise in the East. We had a wonderful itinerary Beijing to Bangkok. We spent 3 nights in Beijing first then we were due to board the Diamond but the fog in Beijing stopped all the traffic and we were ... Read More
We were looking forward to our first cruise in the East. We had a wonderful itinerary Beijing to Bangkok. We spent 3 nights in Beijing first then we were due to board the Diamond but the fog in Beijing stopped all the traffic and we were stuck in Beijing until they opened the roads - we got to the ship about 4pm and the sailing was delayed for all the other late arrivals. Our embarkation was the quickest we have ever had. It must have been 15 mins in total - very organised and flowed well. We have an inside cabin - it was really good - very roomy. We like the walk in wardrobe/dressing room style. We had booked set dining - second sitting - the first night is a free for all and we had a wonderful waiter and we all had a good laugh. Unfortunately from then on we had our own table - in the cold air of the air conditioning - the slowest head waiter we had ever had. He had 3 tables - and often waited for everyone before putting any orders into the kitchen - by this time we had often been waiting for 15 mins or more - we were always there on time - some people only strolled into the dining room 15 - 20 mins later. Because of this we often ate at the buffet - so we could eat and catch a show. We found the food very good - although maybe not as good as our food on the Star. We left Beijing in thick fog and this continued for about 4 days. We were looking forward to some of the ports - Shanghai - but the fog spoiled this - delayed our arrival. Because we were in such a large ship it had to dock at a container port and meant a 1 and a half hour trip to the town. The fog spoiled any views and then the rain came - so we almost got the return coach back. Okinawa was a lovely day - not much to do there and we only ha half a day. Taiwain was raining but seemed nice - we had children dancing for us on the dock. Hong Kong was wonderful. But again we were in the container port and it was about 30 mins to town on the coach. You had to be back on board by 6pm if you wanted to be aboard for its repositioning - it went through the harbour during the light show and anchors in Junk Bay - there is then a 1 hour tender. Then onto Vietnam - Nha Trang - was a tender - it was really lovely. Then the following day we docked in Phu My - the container port for Ho Chi Minh city - it was about 2 hour drive to HCM - we did a trip down the coast. Singapore next - Another container port - an hours drive to Singapore and then only half a day - so a drink in Raffles and back to the port. Bangkok was also a good hour from the port. It was good to see these places - we could have done with better weather - but that is in the lap of the gods. The down side of the whole cruise was the container ports - due to the size of the ship. If I were to do this cruise again I would choose a smaller ship. We enjoyed the ship. The evening were very quite - the most popular was the piano man. The staff at all the bars were very helpful and friendly. We especially spent a lot of time in the bar next to the piano man. Due to the weather we did not have a single sailaway party. There was a party on the pool deck on warm evening - that was very popular. Also the balloon drop was a popular night but mostly the nights were very quiet and only us at the bars or nightclub. The entertainment team were around during the day but come the evening they did their show and disappeared. The evening entertainment was not too good - the local show was good and the staff show was good - the rest only just ok. The disco was empty every night. We had the same captain that we had had for the Antartic cruise on the Star - he was as unfriendly this time as he was last!! He just about managed to say his speech at the captains party but left as soon as he could. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
My wife and I decided in November 2009 that we wanted to take a cruise of Asia. Being that we are Elite (18+cruises) with Princess, it seemed logical to take this cruise line. We elected to take the Pre-Cruise package which gave us 4 days ... Read More
My wife and I decided in November 2009 that we wanted to take a cruise of Asia. Being that we are Elite (18+cruises) with Princess, it seemed logical to take this cruise line. We elected to take the Pre-Cruise package which gave us 4 days and three nights in Beijing since we had never been to Asia. We decided to use our own air miles to go to and return from this cruise. Our problems began with our arrival in China. At the airport, we had expected to see someone from Princess to meet us, as has always been done, since we had paid for the Pre-Cruise at $650.00 per person which included pickup from the airport, a 3 night stay at the Ramada Inn in Beijing, tours, some meals, and, transport of ourselves and luggage to the ship on sailing day, from the Hotel. When we arrived, no one from Princess was there to meet us. We strolled around the airport and after approx. 1/2 hour, found a gentleman who was holding a Princess Cruises sign facing his chest and not looking for us, but, for other people on another plane. I happened to get a glimpse of the sign and since we have been with Princess many times, recognized it immediately. I stopped the gentlemen and told him that we were looking for him and he was completely shocked. He did not have our name on the list of people to meet nor did he have our flight information. There were several other passengers that we found in the same situation. After a long flight to Beijing, not having anyone meet us, we then had to produce Princess documents to prove that we had paid for the pre-cruise trip and transfer, then, wait an additional 4 hours at the airport, while the gentlemen found others that he had a listing of to meet, before we got a bus for a 2 hour ride to the Ramada Hotel in Beijing. No, not finished. We arrived at the hotel and went to the hospitality room only to find out that we were not shown on the tour and that there was not hotel room reserved for us. After an additional hour and much checking by the tour group in charge (with Princess signs) we were given a room and we collapsed thinking that this nightmare was over. No, not over yet. We went on the tours for the three days (one day totally lost at the airport and hotel - 7 hours) and did enjoy these tours. The evening before the third day, we were instructed to have all of our luggage out in the hallway of the hotel by 11 p.m. so that it could be picked up during the night for transfer to the ship. Now, guess what. We had our luggage out over 1 hour before the expected time and when we walked out of the room in the morning our luggage was still sitting in the hall, not picked up. Since the buses were loading to go on the short tour, Peking Duck luncheon and the two hour drive to the port, we had to go down to the lobby, find a representative, and tell them the problem (we really wanted our luggage on the cruise). They did not have our name or room number on the pickup list, so we again showed our Princess documents and someone came to the hallway to pickup the luggage and put it on the bus with us for transfer to the port. At least I knew that our luggage was going to arrive at the port. No, the nightmare continues. At the port, all of us were taken off the bus for embarkation onto the ship. Well, most of us anyway. Our luggage had to be taken off the bus, and since there was about 500 people in the parking lot to board with more arriving all the time, our luggage was placed on the ground out in the parking area. No one was available to help with the luggage which we had dealt with the aid of luggage carts, and no luggage carts to be seen. Gee, I wounder if they expected us to arrive without all of our luggage. Our tour guide lead all the people to the boarding area and after about 1/2 hour, returned to the bus area to find us trying to get help with the luggage (4 pieces + carryon's)in getting it to the ship. He neither offered his help or advice until by wife became involved and asked him to help or get someone to help us. Again, over 1 1/2 hour delay at the pier just in getting on the ship as we now had to go to the back of a line that consisted of all the passengers that arrived after we did. Our group had already boarded and were probably having a cool drink in the lounge. On-board, we finally got to our room only to find out that the delays meant that we had just a few minutes to go to dinner, without changing clothes. We knew that we were booked on first seating, had been confirmed, and had requested a large table of 8-10. We grabbed our cruise card only to see that we did not have a preference dining and no table number. After a discussion with the head waiter, we were placed at a table for 6 and figured the torment was finally over. We walked to the table only to find that it was currently occupied by others. OK, back to the head waiter for clarification ? He determined that the other party was not supposed to be at that table and he escorted them to another table. Anyway, we finished with a table of 4, ourselves and another couple who had also requested a large table. As it turned out, we were extremely happy with the other couple and we had a great time with a table for 4. Over you say? Lets not be hasty. During the 16 day cruise, I ordered a couple of bottle of red wine as did our table mates for the 4 of us to share. About 8 days into the cruise my wife happened to be at the Purser's Office to get some foreign money and asked for a bill of charges so far on the cruise. She got the bill and we noticed a charge of $59.00 for two bottles of white wine on dates when neither of us, our table mates or ourselves, ordered wine. My wife asked for the original bill, which the Purser's office obtained, and found our name on the bill, but, signed by someone else (unknown - at that time). They told us that they would check it out and get back to us (that's wishful thinking). At dinner that night, we mentioned this to the waiter who notified the head waiter who came directly to our table and assured us that "he would personally take care of this, and that our bill would be corrected tonight". Felt good and decided that everything was taken care of (wrong again). After three days, we pulled another copy of our bill to assure ourselves that everything was OK, only to find that the original charge was not corrected, but, guess what? Two more bottles of white wine for additional dates were now listed in addition. We had now been charged over $130.00 for wine that I had not even ordered, drank or enjoyed. Again, the head waiter was contacted and his first remark was "Did you see that I had taken care of the 2 bottles of wine on your account?". He was told "NO" and was then showed the additional charges for wine not ordered. To make a long story short, I went to the Purser direct and explained the situation. He tried, and was not successful, to locate the additional two charges, and I was told that he would "be back to me by tomorrow". Guess what, no call, no nothing, just silence. Again pulled my statement on the 13th, and everything was shown corrected. Seems the party that sat in my seat on the second sitting ordered the wine and he was finally charged. I think what irritated me more than anything was absolutely NO COMMUNICATION FROM EITHER THE PRINCESS MEMBERSHIP DESK (ON THE PROBLEMS ON THE PRE-CRUISE) TO NO COMMUNICATION FROM THE PURSER'S OFFICE OR ANYONE ON THE PROBLEMS WITH MY BILL. After all of this, it should be noted that the high lite of the cruise was the individuals that we met on Cruise Critic, the tours that we put together and the promptness of the tour operators that we contracted with. I would highly recommend the following for anyone taking a trip to Asia: In Singapore, MR. WILLIAM SOH AT "wsoh19@yahoo.com (Right on time, wonderful tour, great english and highly recommended); In Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) MS. THI at Thi_travel@yahoo.com part of Smile Tours Service Int. Co., Ltd. (Right on time, great tour, good english and highly recommended); In Nha Trang, Vietnam, MR. DUNG at "GlobalTravel.com" (on time, great tour, good english and highly recommended); In Shanghai, MR. NELSON ZHU at "nelsonzi@hotmail.com" (on time, great tour, highly changeable to our wants, great english and very highly recommended; In Taiwan, MR. MICHAEL YAU at "yau1230@yahoo.com.tw" ( On time, Great tour, good english, very flexible and highly recommended). We organized our own tours, outside of the ship tours, and found them to be less than half the costs of tours offered by the cruise line. Believe it or not, I did totally enjoy the itinerary of the ship. I think the pre-cruise deal is not a deal in that you donot get 4 days in Beijing (unless you count a day at the airport a day), really only 2 1/2 days since the 4th (?) day consisted of a trip to a Princess Factory tour, a Peking Duck lunch and a long 2 hour ride to the ship. This should be billed as a 2 day tour not a 4 day 3 night pre-cruise tour. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
Thursday evening March 28th. We left home about 8: 30pm. Our daughter Allyson drove us to Sydney airport, where we stayed overnight in the Formula One Hotel. A truly very basic hotel but our room was spotlessly clean and the bed was very ... Read More
Thursday evening March 28th. We left home about 8: 30pm. Our daughter Allyson drove us to Sydney airport, where we stayed overnight in the Formula One Hotel. A truly very basic hotel but our room was spotlessly clean and the bed was very comfortable. We both slept well until 5am, and then boarded the 5:30am shuttle for the short drive to the airport. Check-in was quick and easy, (we'd used the internet check-in, so we already had our boarding passes. Our Singapore Airlines flight left on time and our eight hour fight to Singapore was very comfortable. The three hour lay-over in Singapore passed quickly and our Singapore flight to Beijing also left on time, arriving in Beijing just over five hours later. We found Customs and Immigration extremely efficient and our bags were already on the carousel waiting collection. After a very long day, it was really nice to see the familiar face of our tour guide Bevis waiting for us at the gate. The journey from the airport to the Novotel Peace Hotel was very quick as it was past midnight and there was not a lot of traffic. Our room was very much to our satisfaction located on the 17th floor (Premier level) and we both enjoyed a very good sleep that night. Sat. March 27th. While eating our breakfast, Jeff and Colleen, our friends from Canada who were on a cruise with us almost twelve months ago joined us. It was very exciting seeing them again. As arranged, at 8:30am we all left the hotel with our guide Bevis for a tour of the Heavenly Palace and Llama Temple. We then returned to the Hotel, where Russell and Louise, (two friends from Melbourne), whom we also met on a cruise last year, were waiting. Bevis then took us all to the Pearl & Silk Market. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel in need of some R & R and Bevis escorted Jeff, Colleen, Russell and Louise to a Dinner and Show. We decided to take advantage of our Premier Status, complimentary drinks and snacks in the 19th floor lounge! Actually the snacks, as we've discovered before, more than satisfy our appetite for a dinner. While we were there a group of Australians invited us to join their party and we had a great time sharing experiences in China with them. Sunday March 28th. The six of us met in the lobby with another four members of our C.C. Roll Call group, Brenda and Harry from Vancouver and Ann and Ryan from Canberra, at 9:00am we left the hotel with Bevis for a tour of:- Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. Changling Tombs. Lunch in a Chinese Restaurant. Badaling Great Wall. Photo stop at the Birds Nest and Water Cube. After what was considered a very satisfying day, we returned to the hotel. We repeated the events of the previous evening and ate dinner in the Premier Lounge. Monday March 29th. I had asked Bevis to arrange our transfer from the hotel to the ship, together with twelve other members of our Cruise Critic Roll Call. The journey lasted three hours, but after arriving at the Cruise Terminal we found the boarding procedures to be very much improved since our last cruise from Beijing and we were in our cabin in a very short time. Our cabin was very well located in a very quiet area, Aft on the Starboard side. Our first two days were "sea days" providing us the opportunity for rest and relaxation. On the second day we attended our Cruise Critic Roll Call members Meet and Greet, organized by our friend Russell. It was very well attended and everyone enjoyed getting acquainted. We also had the first of our Formal Nights on the second day. We chose to dine with Russell, Louise, Jeff and Colleen in the Savoy Dining Room at Noel and Boom's table; they gave us excellent service when we were cruising on the Diamond Princess last Oct/Nov. and later in January 2010. Thursday April 1st. The weather was very foggy when we arrived at the Shanghai Harbour Pilot station and we were told that the Port was closed. We remained adrift until midday when, after boarding the Pilot, we continued on our way to the dockside in Shanghai, arriving about 4pm. The ship docked almost an hour drive from the city centre, same place as in 2006. Due to the delay the Captain decided to extend our stay in Shanghai overnight and leave at 7pm. the next day. This necessitated a change to our itinerary with only one day in Hong Kong, instead of two. Many of the passengers decided to take a ride into Shanghai as soon as they were allowed to go ashore, but we waited until the next day. Nevertheless, our day in Shanghai was really enjoyable. We took advantage of the complimentary shuttle service, which took us to the Silk Market where we spent some time, when we visited Shanghai four years ago. This time, we took a leisurely walk through the Peoples Park, down the Pedestrian Mall to The Bund where we saw the preparations for the 2010 World Fair in May. Like everything the Chinese government does, it looked that it would be an outstanding event. Unlike last time, which coincided with a special holiday, the Mall was absolutely packed with people. This time, the area was quite comfortable to navigate. The Chinese people were extremely friendly, many stopping to chat with us. They spoke good English and appeared to have a good understanding of Australia. April 3rd. Easter Saturday This was a "sea day" so we had more time to enjoy the onboard activities including a game of Trivia, (which our team won) and catch up on some sleep. April 4th. Easter Sunday We arrived in Okinawa, Japan at 7am. Unfortunately, although it was much warmer than the previous week, it was raining. Again we made use of the complimentary shuttle service, but after walking around for only a short time, we returned to the ship in time for lunch. After lunch, we went to the movies to see The Boys Are Back. It was very good. After boarding the ship we were also glad to discover there was a Catholic Priest on board to help us celebrate Easter and the cruise staff created a wonderful display of Easter decorations in the Atrium, to keep us fully aware of the special time of year. April 5th. Easter Monday We arrived in Keelung Harbour, Taiwan, where downtown is only five minutes' walk away. Most of the cruise passengers went to see all the tourist attractions in Taipei, a thirty-five minute coach ride from the ship. Many set out for the 101 building which until recently, was the tallest building in the world. We were in Taipei (the capital city of Taiwan), four years ago, so we decided to explore the many tourist attractions in and around Keelung. This didn't happen because we wanted to buy a mouse for the netbook computer first; the touch pad had been causing us both too much frustration. We disembarked at about 10:00am and discovered the main shops didn't open until 11:00am! After walking around for about two hours, exploring the very narrow streets of downtown Keelung and coping with the unpredictable uneven footpaths, (worried that one of us would trip and end up injured), we returned to the comfort of the beautiful Diamond Princess, mouse in hand. After a delicious lunch in The International Dining Room, we saw the movie, "An Education" starring Emma Thompson. Wednesday April 7th. Our day in Hong Kong was very interesting. Although it was raining, unlike most passengers we did not find it too cold. Again, we made use of the free shuttle to Hong Kong's largest shopping mall, Harbour City. Once there, we got the feeling that we could be shopping in a mall in the USA or most international cities in the world, so we walked a very short distance to Nathan Street. We had spent some time shopping in Nathan Street when we visited Hong Kong with the family in 1978 but things have changed since then! We found a jewellery shop that was prepared to swap old jewellery for new, so I've now got a lovely gold bangle. Don't worry; I only swapped a broken bangle and some gold ear rings I bought a long time ago. Friday April 9th. This was our first visit to Nha Trang in Vietnam. I'd arranged a "4 Island Boat Trip" which cost $US10.00 PP and included lunch! Too good to be true? That's what we thought and we were right. The boat was filled with mostly non English speaking passengers and the 'English speaking guide" was unintelligible. We had invited our room steward's wife and three children to join us for the day. They boarded the ship in Hongkong. It was the first time they had been on a cruise ship and were very much looking forward to snorkelling on one of the Islands. This did not happen, the first Island was of little interest and we all felt uneasy. We were told we would be back by 3:30pm but many of the other passengers were told the tour finished at 4:30pm. Worried we'd not get back to the port on time for the last Tender at 4:30pm, our group made arrangements to return to the mainland. When we arrived, we took the free shuttle to town where there were lots of new high rise buildings, International Hotels and a long narrow white sand beach. We thought that this place was a Surfers Paradise in the making. Saturday April 10th We docked in Phu My, a container dock two hour's drive from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It was very hot, 36 degrees on the centigrade scale and very humid. We had been to Saigon last Nov, so we decided to take the complimentary shuttle and take a short stroll around the local market, the bus drive to the market lasted about forty minutes. We passed lots of very poor looking homes and an occasional decent looking two story home, increasing our awareness of the poverty in Vietnam. As soon as we got off the bus at the market, I was immediately surrounded by vendors desperate to sell their souvenirs. Although there wasn't anything I really needed, I bought a few items to make them smile and then we returned to the air conditioned comfort of the coach and ship. Sunday April 11th. Another lovely "Sea Day" to enjoy the activities on the Diamond Princess, followed by our third "Formal Night". Monday April 12th. We had a lovely day in Singapore. The complimentary shuttle took us to the main shopping area, Orchard Rd. We then walked a short distance to the "Underground Railway" where we caught a train to Chinatown. Approx ninety minutes later, we decided to return to Orchard Rd where we enjoyed more retail therapy in Marks and Spencer's, one of my favourite stores. Tuesday April 13th. Another "Sea day"; also the last day of our cruise. We packed our bags in the morning and joined about forty of our C C Roll Call members for lunch in the International Dining Room. We all agreed the cruise was truly fantastic and we heard absolutely no complaints whatsoever. The atmosphere around the ship was very relaxed and friendly, the food delicious and the entertainment really good. Our cabin was also very well located in a very quiet area, Aft on the Starboard side. The bands played music we like, and we enjoyed a dance or two before dinner. Most evenings we enjoyed dinner with Russell, Louise, Colleen and Jeff in the Savoy Dining Room. Noel and Boom were our favourite table stewards. Our table in the Savoy Dining Room seated ten, allowing us to share dinner with other members of the Roll Call, which often included Brian and Allan from the UK and Susan, Ray and Adam from the USA. Wednesday April 13th. Disembarkation was very easy and our bags were ready for collection at the Cruise Terminal. Nickie and Paul C C Roll Call Members had arranged a Minivan for our transfer to Bangkok for $25US per couple. Judy and Fritz joined us for the transfer to our hotel, the Grand Millenium. I'd booked the hotel on Wotif at the bargain price of about $Aus 87.00 then upgraded to the Premier floor for an extra $Aus 50.00. Excellent value, considering it's a five star hotel and only three years old. The upgrade gave us upgraded rooms on the 24th.to 28th. floors, full Buffet breakfast, Beverages and Snacks in the lounge from 10:00am to 8:00pm and Cocktails and Hors d'oeuvres from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. (with free wine!). Our stay in Bangkok. We had booked three nights in Bangkok but the "Red Shirt" protests which were active in Bangkok for several weeks before our arrival had us a little concerned, fortunately the ship kept us advised of the situation and we felt we were in good hands. As it happened, we were not a bit inconvenienced by their protests. We used Taxis for transport because the drivers knew the hot spots and avoided them. Taxi fares are very cheap in Thailand, the normal journey cost us about $US3.00 including the tip. It was the Thai New Year and a public holiday for the whole three days we were in Bangkok so the traffic was lighter than usual, by using taxis we avoided the trouble spots and saved our energy for shopping! We thoroughly enjoyed the three days we had in Bangkok and were sad to leave but I think it was a good time to leave when we did. Saturday April 17th. I was not feeling good when I got up, suspecting the chicken dish I'd eaten the evening before may have given me food poisoning. We got a taxi to the airport and was still not feeling the best when it was time to board our flight to Singapore, it was some consolation when our overweight bags were accepted when we checked in. The bags weighed exactly 40kg when we booked in at Sydney Airport, so we didn't buy any bulky items, except for a new keyboard, and we managed to fit that into our hand luggage. I decided to only have fluids on the flights and stuck to water and ginger ale. Fortunately, one of the three seats in our row was vacant so I was able to lay down for most of the flight. I felt quite miserable for the remainder of our journey home. The flight from Singapore to Sydney was in an A380 Airbus carrying over five hundred passengers, it was full, so I didn't get to lie down and found great relief when we finally landed in Sydney. Robert our son-in-law met us at the terminal, it was Sunday, and we were home in less than forty-five minutes Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
Our first cruise ever it was on the Diamond Princess for our 16 day Asia trip, Before the cruised we stayed 4 nights in China at the Novotel Peace Hotel which was very central and easy to get around. We were not sure when we made the ... Read More
Our first cruise ever it was on the Diamond Princess for our 16 day Asia trip, Before the cruised we stayed 4 nights in China at the Novotel Peace Hotel which was very central and easy to get around. We were not sure when we made the booking if the 16 days would be too many for our first cruise but it turned out that we could have done with more days. The trip to ship took about 2 and a half hours we had a personal driver who was very good and took us to the port and helped with our luggage. The wait to board the ship was only about 1 hour and went very smoothly Princess also had food and drink for all of us while we waited to embark which was nice as I think most of us were hungry and thirsty we did not expect this it was a nice touch, we arrived to our state room the luggage was already there which was great all we had to do was unpack and then explore this beautiful ship, we did leave port later than expected as some people were arriving late but it was nice just to sit on our balcony and take it all in . The ports that we called to were great and we loved them, the weather proved to be a problem with us not staying over night in Hong Kong but we were not worried by this as it was some thing that was beyond any one's control.all the entertainment was really good,especially the shows in princess theatre. We had a good time also doing a lot of the trivia days. There was always something to do with all the on board activities. The staff on the ship were really great and could not do enough for us and all the other passengers nothing was too much trouble for them the bar stewards were amazing 1 in particular (Elleute)each time he saw us he would come strait over and would know what we both drank and this was only on the second meeting with him he had remembered from the first time we had got a drink from him ( not that we are big drinkers)there was not a thing i could find fault with the staff or the cruise itself, The diamond Princess is a beautiful ship, Large in size but never crowed with people,even though our particular cruise was full not a spare cabin to be had 2600 people. We will cruise again with Princess for sure they know how to treat people .Also the food was the best we have come across in a long time of traveling ,the ship was beautifully maintained and constantly being maintained,painted,cleaned. Our room was better than we expected.The disembark was as smooth as when we embarked, there was also a 2 hour drive by bus which we arranged with princess to our hotel in Thailand we stayed at the Siam @Siam hotel in Thailand which was nice. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
Midday on Thursday the 25th March found us landing at Beijing Airport after two Emirates flights from the UK totalling over 17 hours. The flight from Dubai was quite an occurrence as we were seated amongst a group of itinerate Chinese ... Read More
Midday on Thursday the 25th March found us landing at Beijing Airport after two Emirates flights from the UK totalling over 17 hours. The flight from Dubai was quite an occurrence as we were seated amongst a group of itinerate Chinese workers returning home, and the whole experience could be likened to a Sunday School outing of excited children who wanted to talk with everyone and would just not sit down. The highlight of the flight being the spectacular views we had flying over the Himalayas. Arriving at our Hotel in Bangkok, the superbly located Novatel Peace, we were warmly and efficiently greeted and checked in. Waking early the following morning we were met with clear blue sky, none of the smog for which Beijing is renowned. After a super 'western' breakfast (which was replicated for the duration of our stay) we set out on our first tour, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Far better descriptions of these than I could possibly give can be found elsewhere. Sufficient to say it was a marvellous experience. What was a little surprising and somewhat unnerving at first was the number of Chinese who approached Maureen and I requesting to have their photos taking with us. We now know how Posh & Becks must feel. Another early breakfast and we were boarding our coach to the Great Wall at Badaling, Nothing can prepare you for the wonderful sight of the wall stretching up and away into the distance; and the bragging rights that I climbed on the Great Wall of China will be with me forever. We then sped off back towards Beijing to visit the Summer Palace, returning knackered to our hotel mid evening. Sunday was a rest day; however a friend, a Secretary at the Embassy took us out to see the Olympic Stadium, visit a Hutong where we were transported around on a rickshaw, sampled the fantastic metro system, and dined in a local's restaurant. A cold cloudy Monday morning saw us leaving Beijing for our 3 hour journey to join the Diamond Princess at Xingang. Despite our driver getting lost and having to enlist the help of a local taxi we arrived at the Port early but with just a half hour wait before boarding. Leaving Xingang that evening we set off towards the Yellow Sea for our two day sail to Shanghai. Unfortunately the weather did not improve, but became increasingly foggy. We now had found our way around the Diamond, met our dining companions, Kevin & Sue from Yorkshire and Jim & Gloria from Florida. Nestor our Cabin Steward was a friendly and efficient guy who just got on with things without any fuss. The trio, Phoenix Rising played our sort of music in the Wheelhouse Bar; IMHO a much superior venue than it cousin Ramblas on Ventura. Once gain we found the cosmopolitan feel and can do attitude of Princess much to ourliking. Early Thursday morning we found ourselves adrift at the Pilot boarding ground some 40 miles from Shanghai. Having been informed that the Port had been closed because of the fog, It was not until late in the afternoon that we eventually berthed. By this time Princess with its customary efficiency had arranged night time tours and a shuttle bus (40 minutes) into town. BIG mistake! We decided to stay on board and missed out on Shanghai at night. The following day we took a tour into this fascinating and very modern city, visiting amongst other things the Jin Mao Tower. Having spent an extra day in Shanghai, there was much speculation as to what would happen with the rest of our itinerary. The hope amongst the Brits was that we would not call into Okinawa. However Princess decided that we would only now be calling into Hong Kong for one day only. This on reflection was the correct decision as there were many war vets onboard to whom the Okinawa call was important. Saying this Okinawa proved disappointing with a high street resembling Blackpool and given we was to leave around 2.00 pm, not enough time to chance doing your own thing. Monday we arrived in Keelung, Taiwan a tatty port town. By this time the weather was improving a little and we set out for Taipei. The first surprise on leaving Keelung was the rich tropical vegetation and the pretty undulating countryside. Taipei is a wonderful modern city with wide boulevards and fine squares where we watched the changing of the guard at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The one place we really wanted to visit on this cruise was Hong Kong as our sons had built up our expectations. Unfortunately it rained for most of the day and the cloud level was only a few hundred feet. Despite this we took the shuttle bus from the container port where we were berthed to the Ocean Terminal. Then, flashing our pension books got a free ride on the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island with the intention of taking the open top bus tour and a cable car up to the top of Victoria Heights. At this point a friendly local we got chatting to said that we would be wasting our time and money as the bad weather was set for the day. Returning to Kowloon we went shopping in Nathan Road and replenished my Gin stock. Again the weather spoilt things as the Captain informed us that the pilot would not take the Diamond out through the channel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and we would therefore miss the spectacular light show. It was now Thursday of the second week and we were tendering to Nha Trang in Vietnam, the place where the American soldiers enjoyed their R&R. Hurrah! today was hot and sunny at last so we decided on a 'Caribbean' beach day. We found a quiet spot where a delightful lady said we could rent two loungers and a umbrella for only $4. Now what I hate is being pestered by beach vendors, but these lovely people managed to relieve us of $40 for a load of the usual junk, but it didn't seem to matter, we shared such a delightful day. Returning to the tender station I managed to purchase a 'genuine' Omega Seamaster watch for only $15 before returning to our ship. Another early start, unfortunately after a late night, saw us leaving the port of Phu My for our tour of Saigon. A two hour drive over dusty bumpy roads with a hangover. I don't know what I expected of Saigon but I didn't expect the French boulevard , the number of 5 star hotels, the head post office which looked as though it had been designed as a railway station, Notre Dame Church where the local wedding groups came to be photographed, irrespective of whether or not they were being married there. We lunched in an excellent restaurant, very cosmopolitan which could have been in London or New York other than the price was two thirds lower. This is probably an opportune moment to consider in a little more detail the Diamond Princess. She is very similar in size and construction to Ventura, which we last sailed on in November. However with one big difference; she has one deck less off passenger cabins so consequently carries 500 less passengers, but with the same public spaces dining areas etc. It was most noticeable when using the buffet restaurant, finding a table never presented us with a problem, likewise finding a sun bed was never something to concern us. The menus this time had quite an Oriental slant, not surprising considering our destinations, and the number of folk of Asian descent on board. Again it was noticeable that the food budget appeared higher than that of P&O. Unfortunately the ubiquitous Norovirus hit the ship, but the outbreak was well handled and quickly brought under control. As for the Entertainment, the shows are very similar to P&O so for the most part we gave them a miss. The bands that played in the lounges were a league above those found on P&O with the exception of Natural High and Caravan. The guest entertainers? well it's all down to personal taste, however, we did enjoy Linda Genteel "The Piano Princess" Liberace was quoted in 1986 as saying: "Linda plays as beautifully as she looks!" For us the thing for us that's sets Princess apart the positive attitude and friendly approach of the staff. Like P&O, Princess also host a lunch with the captain and senior officers, but only for the 40 most travelled passengers, this is still a silver service affair. It was now Monday 12th April and our last port of call, Singapore. Once again we docked in a container terminal, a massive pristine facility where one could imagine that a dirty container would be refused and put back on the ship. This terminal is so large that a system of traffic lights is in place to control the traffic. It was in Singapore where the heat and humidity really started to get to us, we aborted our walk to Raffells and ended up with Maureen buying clothes in M&S. Our last night on board was a really enjoyable affair with our table companions and other friends all getting today to round off what had been a super cruise. Embarkation in Laem Chabang Thailand was a painless event and after identifying our luggage and we were soon setting off on our 3 hour coach journey into Bangkok. Our first and only(at that time) full day in Bangkok entailed our River Kwai tour, again a very early start and a two hour drive to the JEATH museum inside Wat Chai Chumpho, this has been constructed largely in the form of an Allied Prisoner of War camp which is managed by a Thai monk. The thatched detention hut with cramped, elevated bamboo bunks contains photographic, pictorial and physical memorabilia dating from the Second World War. We then visited the immaculately maintained Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is located opposite Kanchanaburi's Railway Station where we caught a train taking us over the River Kwai Bridge and North to for lunch and a ride on the elephants. It was on arriving back at our hotel and checking the BBC World Service that we realised the ASH CLOUD had struck and we were not going home the next day. What followed were many days of uncertainty, as our first estimate of a return date was the 7th May. However our tour company Spectrum Cruises and there local Agents Tour East worked tirelessly in our interests. Initially to confirm that our hotel costs would be covered and then to get us home ASAP. Not wishing to sit on our hands for the next week or so the group went about organising its own excursions, and we had the delight of visiting many of the cultural, historical and nature-based sites. The most impressive being the Bang Pa In, summer palace of the kings of Thailand. By that time the riots were starting to kick off again, the Consulate was visiting us at the hotel , and some of our group had a lucky escape when one of the rocket fired grenades hit just yard from where they were imbibing. It was on the Friday morning, nine days after we had checked in, that we were informed that Emirates was running an extra flight the following morning to London Gatwick and we were booked on. We departed Suvarnabhume Airport about midday landing Gatwick late evening where Spectrum again stepped up to the plate and had representatives and a coach waiting to transport us back to Manchester England. All said a holiday in a lifetime which we would recommend to anyone. Ray & Maureen Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2010
Ship size and operating efficiencies are forsemost in the cruise companies minds - but the question is what do we - the cruise passenger - get out of their determination to migrate to bigger and bigger ships? The cruise lines claim our ... Read More
Ship size and operating efficiencies are forsemost in the cruise companies minds - but the question is what do we - the cruise passenger - get out of their determination to migrate to bigger and bigger ships? The cruise lines claim our ultimate benefit is economy. That may be, (and I doubt if it is true anyway) - but if it is - it is false economy - certainly on am itinerary such as the far east Beijing to Singapore. The ship was unable to dock at the cruise terminals close to the ports of call. Too bog!. This necessitated docking at remote container ports, all with the charm of perpetual motion and noise - and necessitated hour long drives to and from the destination. These destinations included Busan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, and Singapore. The biggest problem of the one hour to, and one hour from shuttles is the necessity to add wait times to get a shuttle. So the reader can easily see that a 9-5 port time would effectively become 11-3, an absolute sin in places like Hong Kong! Where the ship tendered the deal for passengers was almost as bad, with long tendering delays. Even Princess acknowledge up to 3 hours to clear the ship, and as with the shuttles, time has to be added to line up for the tenders. So for those hoping to plan a decent day in some wonderful and exotic ports, - think again. And to compound the problems the ships punctuality was very poor - almost always late to arrive - and always on time to leave. Very problematic for those who prefer self-organized tours over the vastly overpriced Princess tours, and thus don't have the guarantee that the ship will wait. The ship was sailing into a refurbishing at Singapore - but didn't think it was in bad shape at all. Nothing looked too tired or shabby. The crew, especially the wait staff, were eager and energetic, if very very green. They seem to be relying heavily an Thai staff these days. Didn't have too much of a problem with this except for the inevitable delays and lateness in the dining room. Food was OK - perhaps a little below Princesses' average - and I attributed this probably to the new cook staff. The only huge problem with the sailing was the internet cafe - and this may have been due to an incredibly rude and ineffective staffer. Photographers seemed to be less of a pest than usual - but keep your eyes open for Princess' new ways to reach into your wallet. Automatic gratuity deductions of up to $11.50 per person per day (easily remedied of course) - but a new wrinkle. Order a drink - and you will be presented with a tab which includes 15% tip, and now includes a new line for you to ADD another gratuity! Same with room service! And careful how you answer when asked (in the dining room) whether you want water! As to the ports. Busan was interesting, but in an industrial sense. Tour guides here are not professional and ours didn't communicate well, and was maybe a bit embarrased by her own ineptitude. Nagasaki was wonderful. Easy to do on your own. An all day tram pass is the key to the city - and the locals went all out to help us with directions. The Atomic Bomb areas were must see - and the trip up, and the view from, Mount Thing were unmissable. Hong Kong, as usual, was a delight - and should have warranted an overnight. Shanghai was smoggy - what else is new - and the Hop on Hop Off bus is the way to go. Take a taxi to the Bund from the shuttle stop (a silk factory) to get to the action. Viet Nam (Nha Trang and Saigon) were for us the stars of the show. Very third world, but very honest and pleasing. probably the best place for shopping. Bangkok and Ko Samui in Thailand were both excellent ports of call - but the long bus rid to Bangkok from the container port was a bit wilting! Singapore is a very interesting city - but very very hot - and very very expensive. But mayve the heat justifies $11 for a cold beer - who knows. Highly recommend the itinerary - but not on the Diamond. Look for this itinerary on the Ocean. A much better time will be had I'm sure! Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
I was looking for Mediterranean cruise in April 2011. This cruise popped up and the price was irresistible, booked the cruise 10 days advance only. We had an ocean view cabin 244 on Plaza deck, or 5th floor. Check in at Xin ... Read More
I was looking for Mediterranean cruise in April 2011. This cruise popped up and the price was irresistible, booked the cruise 10 days advance only. We had an ocean view cabin 244 on Plaza deck, or 5th floor. Check in at Xin Gang (Tian Jin) was smooth, nice and new passenger cruise port terminal. No shop, nothing to buy or shop, just coffee and tea counter provided by the ship. The new terminal is a bit far off, we took the High speed train from Beijing at around 13.30 pm. Got there in slightly over an hour. Beware, buy the train ticket in advance, or you may not have a seat. From the train station, we took a cab, they over charged us slightly, but no big deal, understandable because the port is middle of no where. Taxi fee was 100 Yuan. One bad point is no direction to port or terminal at Princess website, nor provided to us by Princess agent in Thailand. A bit difficult to find the port info from Google. The ship departed 2 hours late due to heavy fog and highway accident that clogged the traffic. Passengers were arriving late. The lounge is nice, 3 storey of shiny brasses, glasses and chandelier. The cabin is ok, slightly old. But for foul smell at the fridge. Cabin layout is ok , we liked it. Sheet, mattresses, blankets are ok. Bed cover a bit old. No bed bug. Our cabin attendent is Ronald, a Philippino, he provided good service throughout the cruise. Toilet and toiletries are ok. The toilet flush broke down once , but was repair in a jiffy after a phone call. Food in the buffet is not that good,choices are vary enough, but quality is barely passing. The morning eggs are terrible. Buffet is available 24/7, good point. Coffee is just barely passing, tea bags choices are great. Available 24 hours at the buffet cafe. Dining rooms are nicely decorated, food quality, food choices, service are great. Most dishes are good, but for few. Wine choices and price are OK with us. But fellow passengers complained about the wine price. I love the morning and afternoon waffle, afternoon burger, and soft ice cream. Shows are great, both the stage and performance. Gym and workout facility is OK. Spa is good. Port visits are well organized, courtesy buses at most ports. Except for very bare and dull Phumy port in Vietnam, otherwise all ports are good. We visited Pusan, Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Thang Long, Phumy, Koh Samui, Laem Chabang, Singapore. We are independent travelers,so we didn't buy any port excursion. I would say if you are experienced travelers, been to Asia, you don't need to buy any for these ports of call, but may be Phumy if you wished to visit Ho Chi Min. Or Laem Chabang if you wish to visit Bangkok. It is a bit far off. If you are not familiar with China, cannot communicate in Mandarin, I suggest shore excursion for Shanghai as well. Beware of Shanghai Taxi, very bad indeed. Disembarkation in Singapore is very slow, but not ship fault. Probably due to two ships calling at the same time, and the terminal is very crowded and congested. Taxi queuing line is long. Plenty of taxi though. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2011
First let me give you the positive aspects of this cruise. The itinerary is fantastic, an equal amount of time at sea and exposure to different cultures within Southeast Asia. And if you are a shopper, you could definitely shop until you ... Read More
First let me give you the positive aspects of this cruise. The itinerary is fantastic, an equal amount of time at sea and exposure to different cultures within Southeast Asia. And if you are a shopper, you could definitely shop until you drop. For a cruise of this length we booked a mini-suite, giving us that all important extra bit of space which we both appreciated while on the ship for over 16 days. Our room steward was great, quickly catching on to our patterns and always willing to do the room around our schedule, not his. As in previous cruises with Princess, we bought coffee cards, entitling us do specialty coffees at the Plaza coffee bar and the young woman working in that area was more than willing to experiment for me, making me a London Fog (not on the menu). The comedians on board were fair to great (the ventriloquist was great). The negatives unfortunately were numerous. We knew that this was a large ship that would have to dock at container terminals at most destinations thanks to other postings on Cruise Critic. What didn't come through the postings was just how inconvenient this made getting to anywhere, using up much of the precious shore time. Whether people were booked with an organized excursion or independently going ashore didn't seem to make much difference in the time delay. We did both and found the excuses and lack of communication from staff very frustrating. In Shanghai, we actually spent well over 90 minutes waiting to disembark to get to our tour, cutting the tour short by over one hour. And that was with an extension of time provided by the Chinese officials for us to leave port. If you had decided to stay on board to relax, the environs were not really conducive to that as the ports were working container terminals (i.e read noisy and smelly). Princess still has not made the casinos smoke free despite the fact that even in Vegas the casinos are smoke free. Probably our biggest disappointment was in the food service. The buffet was poorly organized. The only truly 'hot' food I found was the soups. Generally I would grade the buffet a 2 out of 5 and the dining rooms a 3 out of 5. After being on other Princess ships, the food was definitely disappointing. As well the buffet seemed poorly set up, causing a lot of problems with congestion in the food service areas. There was no 'occupied' marking system as we have had on other Princess cruise ships. We didn't find out until 2 days before the end of the cruise that the omelette station was at the Trident Grill (the other end of the Lido Deck from the rest of the morning breakfast buffet). Disembarkation at the end of this trip was a nightmare for anyone traveling independently. We were late getting off the ship and when we arrived (by bus) at the pick up spot for our suitcases, they were not there and took over another hour to arrive. Many people were experiencing the same frustration with one member of the party standing in a very long taxi line while other members of the party searched fruitlessly for suitcases that had not yet arrived. All in all, for this type of itinerary, Princess should consider using one of the smaller vessels that can access the cruise ship terminals. As well, food services need to be reviewed as does the public smoking policies of Princess. At the end of this journey, we have decided to explore other cruise lines. This Diamond did not shine for us. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2011
First the good (and there was a lot of good): The hospitality staff treated us very well (apart from a couple of situations to be described below). The quality of the cabins was normal standard, with a good layout, very comfortable bed, as ... Read More
First the good (and there was a lot of good): The hospitality staff treated us very well (apart from a couple of situations to be described below). The quality of the cabins was normal standard, with a good layout, very comfortable bed, as much room as we expected in the circumstances, and everything worked (though the a/c struggled to keep the temperature low enough, and there was an annoying handle in the middle of the shower back that took 422 off the depth). We heard no noise from adjacent cabins, and the cabin steward was remarkable, achieving the correct balance that made us feel very welcome, without being in any way pushy. The food was excellent, with sensible quantities in the dining rooms, and as much as you wanted in the buffet - my word, can't Americans eat! We chose "Anytime Dining" which meant we turned up at a dining room pretty much when we felt like it and asked either for a table for two, or to join a group. Joining a table for four or six is a great way to meet interesting people, and this was almost always our choice. However the tables for two were so close together, they may as well have been joined. Companions of ours chose set dining, and after an excursion made them 15 minutes late for their table, they were refused entry, and had to go to the buffet! The procedures for joining the ship, immigration for excursions, and leaving the ship at the end all worked well, though the timings for the last gradually slipped because the ship was docked in a container port around 14 miles away from the luggage hall, through quite heavy traffic.There was a typical mixture of entertainment - dance and song shows, acts such as a juggler, a ventriloquist, string quartet, pianist, local entertainers from port cities, quizzes, craft activities, a good selection of films, a reasonably stocked library, blah blah blah. There was absolutely no excuse to be bored! One innovation was "Movies under the Stars", where a huge screen on an upper open deck screened films, pop videos or live recordings, or just rolling scenery to accompany music tracks. This worked well apart from for the films - there were always people talking in loud voices scattered around the deck. We left "True Grit" after 20 minutes, as it was impossible to follow. Headphones should be available. Diamond Princess is a very large ship. We had an altered itinerary due to the political situation in South Korea. Our first stop out of Beijing should have been Busan, South Korea, followed by Nagasaki, with a full day in each. Instead we sailed directly to Nagasaki, arriving shortly before noon of the first cruise day and leaving early evening. This was simply not enough time, and many people were unable to complete the tours they had paid for. Subsequently all stops were a day early, with a full day and night in Singapore at the end to take up the slack. For every port visit apart from Nagasaki we tied up in container ports. I estimated the following distances to areas of tourist interest: Shanghai 15 miles, Hong Kong 7 miles, Ho Chi Minh City 40 miles, Bangkok 70 miles), Singapore 12 miles (my first view of Singapore being an oil refinery). Quite apart from the time and distance, it meant we could not stroll off the ship and into town at will, because of standard port security; instead a mandatory coach shuttle was needed. Bangkok involved 5 hours of travel, the Mekong Delta tunnels four hours, Singapore about two hours. I don't know if this was because of the size of the ship, because the itinerary had changed, or because of the cost of tying up in a cruise terminal, but it was completely unacceptable. As for the Nagasaki debacle, we should have had an extra day at sea to replace of Busan, and then had the full day in Japan. (This was before the awful earthquake, by the way.) Unlike P&O, there is a strong and relentless desire to sell to the passengers - alcoholic drinks, coffees, expensive waters, discount cards. Even after a (very brief and largely pointless) trip through a galley, we exited via a lounge full of sale merchandise. As each main course dish was placed in front of us, someone would dive in with a massive pepper grinder, and the cry "Would you some like pepper". This was before we had time to smell, let alone taste the food. I wanted a baseball cap with the words "Just Leave Me Alone" on the peak - but amongst all the other items, this was not available. I could, however, have bought an insulated mug for $20, and I think that well illustrates the inflated prices of most things. We were appalled to learn that the corkage price for our own wine would be $15, while Princess would charge over $20 for an $8 bottle of their own.When my wife suffered a tooth abscess, the service desk were very off-hand, though the doctor, once contacted, was very efficient (apart from initially only giving half the medication charged for and not marking the required dose on the packaging).There seemed nowhere on the ship free of background music. Even the library had an ever-open door, so the clamour and musak from the atrium couldn't be escaped there.Apart from the constant selling, the pepper grinder (and the service desk), the hotel staff treated us very well. In the face of a lot of rudeness from a few passengers, they kept their dignity and politeness in a way that I could never do. When there was a whiff of norovirus, a presumably well-rehearsed plan went into action, and there was no spread - despite some passengers objecting to the simple routine hygiene measures.There were a few significant delays caused by tardy passengers, and the captain and tour manager were far too forgiving. I was delayed leaving on one trip for 45 minutes due to late passengers, that weren't even allocated to my coach. This will not do.Sadly, for me the negatives outweighed the positives, and though overall I had a good time, I will not be sailing with Princess again unless they can convince me that attitudes have changed in significant areas. I will certainly avoid a ship this large. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2011
We started with a couple of days in a freezing cold but sunny Beijing to see the Great Wall and all the other Great Sights, including the excellent Silk Road Market,all brilliant!! We had a 2.5 hour car ride to the container port at ... Read More
We started with a couple of days in a freezing cold but sunny Beijing to see the Great Wall and all the other Great Sights, including the excellent Silk Road Market,all brilliant!! We had a 2.5 hour car ride to the container port at Tianjin, but found the embarkation process quick and easy compared to our last experience in Miami.Our cabin was about what we expected, but the bonus was a super comfortable bed. We were on the top deck (Baha deck 12)and had been warned that we should expect some noise from the pool/buffet deck above early in the morning when chairs got moved around, but we had no disturbance at all. Only draw back was being charged for waterWe thought the organised excursions were overpriced, but the daily port lectures by the excellent Elizabeth Moran meant you could "do your own thing" with confidence, and far cheaper.We couldn't go to Busan, S. Korea as advertised because of local issues with the North, but the extra day in Singapore more than made up for it. Nagasaki and it's people were lovely. Shanghai - unbelievably good. Ditto Hong Kong, although we were the 3 years ago, still plenty to do. You needed to be a bit street wise in Nha Trang. Saigon excellent. Didn't do Bangkok having been before, went to a very tacky Pattaya instead. Kho Samui OK. Singapore; top of the order.On Board we had formal dining almost every night sharing our table with a great family from Canada with whom we had great fun throughout the cruise.Food was excellent at all times, and the Crew and Staff dealt with a Norovirus outbreak very efficiently. Plenty to do on sea days, if you want to. Drink prices seemed reasonable and the "cocktail of the day" was judged a bargain!Watching a movie at night out on deck under blankets - tip top. Great party night. In fact from the Skipper right down to our steward, you could not find fault with anyone.Everyone was so helpful and made the trip fun. The earthquake in Japan happened 4 days after we had been there, and some guests were concerned about a tsunami, but the Captain kept us informed at all times and so "no worries"Others have made comments about the size of the ship means docking in really boring, miles from anywhere, container ports. As a result you have to be bussed or tendered in to anywhere decent, which can impact on your time ashore. It is certainly a pain, but did not spoil our overall enjoyment of the cruise.Finally, disembarkation at Singapore was reasonably smooth, a slight delay of 20 minutes from schedule.We could do it all again tomorrow!! Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
Beijing 3 day Pre-tour, staying at Marriott City Wall. This was excellent. We did the pre-arranged day tours, as well as the optional evening tours. Whilst tiring, all the tours were worth it. Just a warning - the hotel is very ... Read More
Beijing 3 day Pre-tour, staying at Marriott City Wall. This was excellent. We did the pre-arranged day tours, as well as the optional evening tours. Whilst tiring, all the tours were worth it. Just a warning - the hotel is very expensive for drinks and food. However, the evening optional tours included an evening meal, making them good value for money. Our guide was excellent and we visited many places, including the Olympic Stadium, Tiannamen Square, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, the night market (with all the strange food stalls), as well as an amazing Chinese acrobatic show. Also included was a visit to a local house and a rickshaw ride. The transfer from the airport to the hotel was quick and efficient, as was the transfer to the ship, which was a 2.5 hour drive from Beijing. One word of warning, though, I did have some of my medication stolen from the hotel room (in bedside drawer) ... so best lock yours away if necessary. The hotel was very comfortable and Princess had representatives in the hotel for most of the day. There were several hundred passengers staying at the hotel. We did have the same guide and group for the pre-arranged tours, which was really good, as we got to know quite a few people before embarkation. When we arrived at the ship, our passports were taken for the duration of the voyage. We thought this a bit odd, but they were delivered back to our rooms by the steward when required. Immigration officials were on the boat to deal with all the various stops, so there were no delays getting off for the tours.There was a diverse mix of nationalities on the ship .... from US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, as well as South America, New Zealand and even Russia. There were plenty of activities on both port and sea days and the CD (Dan from Australia) was very good (he was better than some of the professional comedians!!). Ships tours: these were very well organised with few delays. At the tender ports, extra local tenders were put on to get passengers off quickly. It worked well. Also, there were free shuttle buses arranged for all ports, for those who were making their own arrangements.Diamond Princess is an excellent ship. Our room was clean and we had an excellent steward (Danny) who was always smiling and happy to help. We didn't feel that the ship was ever crowded. We did ask for a replacement duvet, as the original one was lumpy - no problem, it was replaced immediately, as were the pillows. Lots of places to get away and relax. Even on sea days there were plenty of sunbeds/loungers available. The Deck Stewards appeared to make sure that loungers were not "saved" and we saw them removing towels from unoccupied loungers on several occasions. All the crew seemed happy - our only complaint would be the lack of information at times from Passenger Services. The internet was very slow and we ended up not using up all our minutes, as a couple of times the internet was down for a couple of days.Dining. We were "Anytime" dining - we never had to wait for more than a few minutes for a table and didn't book at all. The Head Waiter did check the room numbers each time and anyone from Traditional Dining wanting to use the Anytime Dining Rooms were asked to wait until after 08.30, which seemed fair to us. Even the food in Horizon Court was good, although it was sometimes crowded at breakfast time on port days where tours were starting early. The food was good and always hot. We didn't go to many shows - just looked in on some but didn't stay. Formal nights - I don't think we will bother with these in future, especially with the luggage restrictions. Nothing special, apart from the usual champagne waterfall on the first one and a Captain's cocktail party on another. These just seem to be another opportunity to sell formal photographs. On one formal night we went to the Sterling Steakhouse and had an excellent meal. However, despite the dress code being "Smart Casual", DH was asked to change into a long-sleeved shirt (again lack of information), although a tie and/or jacket was not required (strange, as he was wearing a tailored, short-sleeved shirt and smart trousers).Dalian - was dusty and not worth the tour or the stop. If we were doing it again, we would just use the shuttle bus, or even just not get off the ship.Busan, Korea - again, not worth the tour. We didn't get to see Shanghai, as the port was closed (for 2 days as we later found out) because of thick fog, so our double-entry visa was wasted! However, we did have an extra afternoon/evening in Hong Kong which was really good. We got to see the evening light show and have yet another Chinese Dinner.All the other tours were very good. Ho Chi Ming City was a long drive ... about 2.5 hours on bumpy, slow roads. Traffic was horrendous, but it was interesting to see all the motorcycles, scooters, etc. We opted out of going to Bangkok (again a long drive) as by this time we were getting just a bit tired of long bus journeys. Disembarkation in Singapore was quick and efficient. We had a day tour of Singapore, visiting China Town, Raffles Hotel, Orchid Gardens, etc. and lunch (instead of the advertised "Hospitality Room for UK passengers"). Princess needs to be more forthcoming with information about disembarkation to avoid upset passengers. We arrived at the airport at about 18.45 for our flight home, where our luggage was waiting for us (that was a bit of a scrum). Check in was fast and efficient, but be prepared to go through several security checks.MUTS is noisy and not worth it. Not many people watching the evening film.All in all, an excellent cruise. We love the Diamond Princess and would cruise on her again. We did hear from a bar steward that at the next dry dock she would get an International Cafe and Wine Bar, but I don't know how accurate that it (although he did say that it would be situated where the library is at present). Gym - equipment outdated and old fashioned, so didn't bother to use it. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
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 ... Read More
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!The ToursDalian: 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!Overall impressionsThe 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. Read Less
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