I did the 10 night Hokkaido Cruise with Nebuta Festival on the Diamond Princess. Initially booked a standard balcony cabin but was offered an upgrade to a full suite pre-departure for a small fee so I accepted.
Embarkation: I turned up at 1pm as directed to on my card and went straight to the front of the elite and suite area and boarded immediately. I had my own carry on luggage in hand being a 60 litre travel bag and back pack which contained all I needed for my cruise including formal attire.
Safety Drill: I mention this because on this sailing it became a inconvenience where I noticed many passengers tuning out and becoming rather impatient with the long and mundane announcements at this safety muster. Any safety information critical to be passed on would have been lost as passengers lost interest due to the length an ridiculous and needless information being sprouted at this drill. The announcement was in both Japanese and English and myself being able to speak Japanese recognised that the Japanese announcements were more direct and to the point and had much less waffle and hot air and irrelevant garbage passed on in the English announcement. I am also elite with Princess and have been to many of their muster drills and feel that they expanded on it far too much that passengers lost interest. The safety issue was that no one was paying attention by the end.
Ship: The ship was in excellent condition with the rooms well looked after. I did not notice any damage, cosmetic or wear and tear and nothing significantly wrong with the ship caught my eye. In fact it would be hard to believe the ship is at least 11 years old.
Dining: Due to 1,300 passengers being Japanese and a mix of European and around 400 British, 400 Americans and 300 Australians the entire dining was traditional with a set table. This worked fine and was much like the standard dining Princess offered. On the first night I had a complimentary pass to the steak house which was located in a rear portion of the Horizon Court. In my personal opinion I feel that any time dining could have been offered on this ship given the mix of nationalities. I can speak Japanese and many of them could speak some English. It would have been nice to allow passengers who agree to anytime dining to sit with each other who could speak the language and interact over dinner.
Entertainment and Activities: We had three production shows this cruise due to late nights in some ports we had some local performers come on board to present shows as well. The entertainment was the same great standard Princess offered. On the port visit to Aomori they had the summer Nebuta Festival running which was the theme of the cruise. This festival was easy to get to on the free shuttle and it was easy to find street side free seating along the parade route. Many passengers opted for the high priced excursion here but that was totally unnecessary as it was in walking distance from the ship also.
Service: This cruise there were very few drink waiters walking around on the upper decks by the pool so I had to approach the bar if I wanted a drink. Below decks there was adequate staff who would come. Service was outstanding and very friendly. I had opted for the pre-payment of gratuities and there was no pressure for more money and there still was a service charge to all drinks but still it was very reasonable prices. The bar staff got to know me by name and would have any previously bought bottles ready for me on arrival. They had good suggestions about drinks as well.
Ports and Excursions: Being a cruise around Japan there had to be an international port being Korsakov in Russia. It was basically essential for us to take an excursion in this port if we did not have a visa. I found this port rather boring with nothing impressive to see and merely a convenience port for getting "international" status of the cruise. In all other Japanese ports I did my own thing and managed to explore more attractions than what the ships shore excursions offered at less than a quarter of the cost. I am able speak enough Japanese to get by and was able to use their trains and buses without incident and was able to effectively cover all interest points listed in the Princess shore excursion brochure plus more points not listed. As Japan has a very reliable public transportation system and a little to no crime rate I felt very safe and comfortable doing my own thing and would happily do it like this again.
Overall I really enjoyed the cruise and it definitely had the Princess feel to it. I enjoyed travelling around Japan and would love to do more of this type of cruise again next year and am so glad they have a ship like the Diamond Princess doing this.
Before and after the cruise I was able to do my own self exploration of nearby Tokyo, Yokohama and Yokosuka.
Cabin: I had C400 A suite located on the port side. The suite was spacious and clean with lounge and sitting area, mini bar setup with sink and refrigerator and ice bucket. The bathroom had a large bathtub with the label "Jacuzzi" and bathing salt was provided in a nearby tin. There was a larger shower cubicle than the standard cabins with glass door opposed to curtain and tiled floor. The bathroom appeared to be tiled and marble. A separate door was between the vanity area and toilet. The cabin also had a Japanese style toilet seat with the spray nozzle for self cleaning. For a man with a 32 inch waste I found the seat of this toilet far too small to sit on. To put it clearly and politely the seat diameter was far too small and I had to place paper around the seat particularly at the back to prevent dirty marks being left on the seat. To sit any further forward on the seat would have meant injuring other parts of the male anatomy.
The cruise really leaves from Yokohama which is a considerable distance from Tokyo and an entirely different city, ward and prefecture. There is excellent public transport in this city to get you to and from the ship and surrounding areas with little hassle. There is no crime and the trains and buses are entirely safe.