TOO MANY PEOPLE. Beautiful is the word that most readily comes to mind when looking at this ship. It really is beautiful. The décor is stylish, even luxurious, and as yet not in the least worn. But with 3 300 or so passengers, it is also too big for our liking. Not that there were lengthy queues: it’s just that we got fed up with LIVING IN A CROWD. Diamond Princess does have what they call The Sanctuary, which is what the name suggests, and is like The Dome on Pacific Dawn (but much smaller) and you have to pay to use it. No doubt, this is to limit the demand but, to my mind, this is an admission of failure – too big a ship = many people craving sanctuary! Of course, there is another viewpoint which might possibly influence a global American company: big ship = economies of scale = tasty profits.
Too many people also mean a greater chance of illness unless special precautions are taken. So we were surprised mightily to find that Princess has actually reduced the number of hand-cleanser stations around the ship. They are outside the restaurants and other food serveries, but not in lift bays or at the top of stairs. They do have a hand-washing station at entrances to the buffet (using soap and water, a good idea), and a staff member stands there to encourage people to use the facility, but many people by-pass them. Also, unlike on HAL ships, the Captain never mentions the importance of hand-washing at every opportunity (such as his midday announcements which, surprisingly, are largely given over to tourist information about the next port). These things should not be de-emphasised, as my cabin-mate, who was confined to his cabin for three days with a horrible virus, could tell you. (This was despite our using portable bottles of hand cleaner and antiseptic wipes in the cabin). It seems strange that the line which owns the notorious Sun Princess should be the one giving least emphasis to these matters. I also contracted a virus, this time a flu virus and, a week after disembarkation, am only just beginning to recover. So much for ‘Come back new”.
And while the ship may be physically beautiful, many of its passengers were not. Not surprising, of course, that disgusting greed (often combined with obesity) should be on display on a cruise ship. All the same, people are often what you make them, and we met a lot of friendly, interesting people on this ship.
FOOD. The food is good in the buffet, where we ate most of the time, though not quite as good as on HAL ships. Seafood is plentiful, and there is none of the Vietnamese basa common on P&O. The prawns are plentiful, but one does tend to get sick of farmed Chinese prawns, which taste of nothing in particular. They outdo themselves with their desserts, which are of Holland America standard and a total contrast to the ghastly muck served on Legend of the Seas and Pacific Aria on recent cruises. We did not sample the specialty restaurants mainly because we can no longer handle large servings of food, though we had every intention of visiting Kai Sushi (the Japanese restaurant), until we found that (contrary to the menu currently online) it now serves nothing but sushi and sashimi. We went to the Pacific Moon dining room four times, but were very disappointed as on only one occasion could the food be described as good. At one session, my ‘rib filet’ had the light colour and texture of veal, and was very well done (not medium rare as requested). On another, there was a quite ghastly pasta dish (pasta mixed with a tiny amount of alleged oxtail ragout).
IRRITANTS. Some things about Princess’s product and service are just irritating because user-unfriendly at best. Examples? First, for 22 days, we had no Australian news except the tiny amount available on Sky News (which is mainly gabbing) and the BBC. We knew nothing of the Queensland election or of the same sex marriage plebiscite. Of course, we could always have paid to get such news through the ship’s internet etc., which says a lot about Princess’s attitude and service. Some cruise lines go the extent of providing a daily news sheet for passengers, but the least one could expect is that a couple of the self-serving ads in ‘Princess Patter’ be omitted to make way for significant news.
Second, though the ‘movies under the stars’ experience on Princess is just great, (they even provide padding for the deck chairs in the evening), it was irritating that the daily guide in Princess Patter provided only the movie title with not the barest synopsis.
Third, supplies of vegemite in the buffet ran out by Singapore. Personally I missed my breakfast fix mightily and, on a ship with 80% Australian passengers, its absence certainly indicates sloppy management, and perhaps, just perhaps, a small touch of cultural arrogance (after all, a craving for vegemite is not an American trait, so surely cannot be taken seriously. And, in any case, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which (amazingly) appear on the room service menu, are a reasonable substitute, aren’t they?). Australians are famous for their love of good coffee, and most will not tolerate the kind of appalling muck served on Princess and dignified by them with the holy name ‘coffee’. Another example of cultural blockheadedness. We bought a bottle of Nescafe in Singapore – it was 10 times better than the ship’s coffee.
ENTERTAINMENT. We generally made our own entertainment, supplemented by the musical groups on offer, which were generally good. We did not sample the shows in the Princess Theatre. These tend to be earsplittingly loud on cruise ships, and on this cruise the presence of an entertainer (presumably a comedian) called Chuck Curry was enough to ensure that we stayed away.
SHORE EXCURSIONS. We do not usually take any of the ship’s excursions, because they are usually over-priced, and we do not have loads of money. We did do one on this cruise – Highlights of Hongkong – and very much regretted it. It took us up the funicular to Mt Victoria (which was OK), then on a five minute sampan ride among the boats in the Aberdeen fishing village (so-called) (which was almost totally uninteresting), then down to the Stanley Markets (which disappointed everyone, mainly because it is quite small) and finally to a jewellery factory (so-called)(which was no more than a jewellery ‘department store’). This excursion began at about 10am and we got back to the ship at 4 pm, and there was no provision for a lunch stop, or any kind of food stop!!