Singapore to Beijing - a varied Asian experience: Diamond Princess Cruise Review by honolulu traveler

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honolulu traveler
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Singapore to Beijing - a varied Asian experience

Sail Date: March 2012
Destination: Asia
Embarkation: Singapore
Having taken 3 European cruises, we looked forward to visiting Asia, where we last traveled 30 years ago. Singapore was a great introduction, hot and humid but clean and modern. We spent 2 nights enjoying the city on our own before having to meet at the cruise center to be bussed to the ship. Embarkation wasted half a day but once onboard, we were fine. First 2 days were at sea, a great way to unwind, enjoy the sun, and make ourselves at home on the ship. Nearly every port stop was followed by a sea day, and we'd learned from previous cruises that port excursions can be exhausting, so the sea days were welcome, resting, reading, exercising, gambling, eating.
We're not much into shipboard activities (except that I did enjoy Zumba on sea days while my husband played video poker in the casino, we participated in both of the wine tastings, I ran the On Deck for the Cure in 50 degree windy weather, and we enjoyed the chef's demonstration and galley tour). We'd prearranged thru More the cruise critic member board to attend the Meet and Greet and to participate in a slot pull--they were great ways to meet other passengers who we would later see on shore excursions and around the ship.
We'd utilized Cruise Critic to join shore excursions in various ports, only using the ship's tour in Nagasaki, where we enjoyed a trip to a feudal castle and samurai village. (Nagasaki was so welcoming to us since Diamond Princess was built there and we were the 1000th ship to visit there.) Small tours (20 or fewer participants) were the most enjoyable, and although the full bus-load in Nagasaki worked out fine because we weren't ever in crowded locations, our visit to Bangkok on a private excursion with nearly 40 passengers was chaotic. As we'd found in the past, the ports that we visited with only a few other passengers were the most pleasant. Highlights included the Nha Trang River Cruise, a private tour (just the 2 of us) in Shanghai with Shanghai Pathways, and 2 days in Beijing with 2 other couples, visiting the Great Wall and other must-see tourist attractions.
The one major drawback of the Diamond Princess is her size, not because of the number of passengers (except during the embarkation process, they did a great job of dealing with all 2000 of us, and we never felt too crowded) but because she is too big to dock at many passenger ports so we had to dock in container ports and be shuttled to the cities. We can't imagine what it must be like on the new mega-ships. It's one thing to need a shuttle in one port on a cruise, but only in Nagasaki could we disembark and walk anywhere--everywhere else we couldn't come and go at whim because of the need to use a shuttle. We cruised previously twice on the Grand Princess but didn't have this same problem on her in the Mediterranean.
We do Anytime Dining, eating nearly every dinner in the Pacific Moon Dining Room with Luis as our waiter; he made the experience fun and was always very accommodating. We're not big drinkers so appreciated being able to store our wine bottle with the restaurant from one night to the next. We also ate one night at Sabatini's, a nice quiet change. My recommendation for this specialty restaurant is that you find out early in the cruise what the specials will be each day so you can be sure to get reservations on a day that has what you like most. We also did one sit-down lunch (I think in the Savoy Dining Room), where we connected with the couples we were going to travel with in Beijing. This was a nice change since 16 days of buffet breakfasts and sea-day lunches in the Horizon Court, though plentiful and good, did begin to become too much of a good thing.
The cabin layout on the Diamond Princess matches that of the Grand. We've done balcony staterooms and mini-suites, being fine with both, but because we spend a lot of time relaxing in the cabin, the mini-suite was perfect for us for this 16 day cruise. And since we tend to not lounge much by the pool, having a relatively comfortable sitting area in the room and on the balcony was a nice escape, especially as we sailed North and the weather got cold.
Packing for a trip like this was a challenge since we started with temperatures over 90 degrees F and ended in the 40's. Layering was the way to go, and the ship's self-service laundromat was very helpful to have.
Our favorite stops were Singapore, Nha Trang, Shanghai, and Beijing. After the Diamond returns from dry-dock (where I believe she's scheduled to go in the Fall 2013), we hope to return on her on the Anchorage to Beijing cruise. Less

Published 05/08/12
1 Helpful Vote

Cabin review: ABD421

Comfortable mini-suite. Great location right near the main lifts. (Noise was not a problem.) Cabin looks worn, which hopefully will be addressed when the ship goes in for refurbishing in 2013. Advantageous on this particular cruise to be Starboard since there was not much to see port-side in the container shipyards but the activity in the ports was fun to watch. In Busan and Nagasaki the starboard side was actually port-side so great for watching the dancing and entertainment from the balcony. There was some problem with the air-conditioning when we were in the hot southern locations, and once the weather cooled down, we were more comfortable sleeping with the balcony door open at night.

Port and Shore Excursions

Grand Palace

It's such a long drive to Bangkok from port that I'd not do it again. It was so hot and so crowded that it was hard to enjoy. The places we visited were amazing and worth seeing but once was enough.

River Cruise

Too long. Our guide wanted to be clear about the devastation of the flooding earlier in the year, which was interesting but we would have appreciated seeing less river and more historical sites.

Wat Po (Reclining Buddha Temple)

Amazing to see the size of this buddha.

We disembarked in Beijing, prearranging for a tour company to pick us up along with 2 other couples. It's a 2 hour drive into the City, which we traveled through on our way to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. It wasn't very crowded at this location on the wall. We took the cable car to the top of the wall and walked as far as allowed (about one hour). Our guide was very informative. The next day the same tour company picked us up at our hotel for a trip to the Summer Palace (well worth seeing), the Temple of Heaven, and Tiananmen Square. We were supposed to also go into the Forbidden City but ran out of time so just walked along outside, poor planning by our guide who should have skipped the obligatory stop at the Silk Factory and hurried us through Tiananmen Square more quickly. We stayed in the Hutongs in old Beijing and enjoyed wandering the alleyways at night, shopping and eating in less touristy locations.
Read 78 Beijing Reviews

We didn't much care for Hong Kong when we were there 30 years ago and still didn't. After being shuttled into Hong Kong from the container port, we'd planned to follow two of the Trip Advisor's walking tours, but immediately got lost. Once we found our way thru the underground (with the help of a kind young stranger), we found a starting point and wandered thru various shopping areas (worse than going to our local swap meet). The city must have a lot to offer but we didn't find it and ended up taking the shuttle back to the ship in the early evening. We were in port until nearly midnight and might have gone out again after dark, but needing to travel first by shuttle made that very impractical.

City Tour

Visited Shimabara Castle and the nearby Samurai Village. The trip was about 90 minutes from port but it was a welcome and quiet excursion. The feudal castle hosted a museum of the city's history, and the Samurai village included a visit to 3 restored houses, a pleasant introduction to a very different way of life. We also had an excellent lunch with a nice variety of Japanese food.

Singapore was worth visiting; we'd like to return. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which is a beautiful and very comfortable hotel with a fabulous buffet breakfast. Although there 2 nights, we had only 1 full day, and we opted for the Hop On Hop Off Bus. That was a less than stellar experience since it wasn't always easy to find the bus stops, and we were very uncomfortable in the heat and rain. We included the river cruise in the HOHO package, and it allowed us to see a lot in relative comfort. We also walked in the evening to the Sands Casino, a very different experience from casinos in the US because it is nearly all machine-based and very impersonal. The light show at night outside the casino complex was wonderful to watch.

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honolulu traveler
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