We booked a 16 day cruise around Japan and including Busan and Taipei for two reasons, firstly, we love Japan and its people and secondly, we had missed several ports on a previous cruise due to bad weather.
We had chosen a balcony stateroom on a guaranteed basis and were pleasantly surprised to find that we had been upgraded to a mini suite. The extra space was very welcome but the only criticism was that some of the grouting in the shower was rather discoloured. The less mobile might also have found it difficult stepping into and out of the shower as it doubled as a bathtub.
The food in the MDR was generally okay, without being anything special, and there are more signs of cost cutting eg. no lobster on the last formal night. The menu for the first 8 day sector repeated on the second 8 days. The food in the Horizon Court was varied and plentiful and we had no complaints at all. The international cafe now serves only hot drinks and not snacks which was disappointing. We also wonder if Princess makes any money on the sushi restaurant as it always seemed empty....surely the space could be better used.
We weren't too bothered about the entertainment...but the couple of shows that we did see with the Princess singers and dancers, we enjoyed.
Far too much time, space and paper is used on promoting artwork and jewellery but we assume it must be cost effective. Similarly the health seminars. Who attends any of these things?
As always, the staff were knowledgeable, welcoming, helpful and friendly. We find this one of the best features of a Princess cruise.
On to the ports. Embarkation at Yokohama was delayed because of a medical emergency and while some found this frustrating, it wasn't Princess' fault. We made the most of the situation and spent a few hours in the air conditioned malls of Yokohama before returning later on for check in. It wasn't a problem with a little creative thinking.
All the ports on the cruise itself were interesting in their own way. However we do find it galling that, when the itinerary states Hiroshima (for example), we expect to be taken to the city itself and not have to pay for a shuttlebus to the port railway station and then have to pay for a train or taxi or tram for another 20 minute ride to downtown. We are not sure what other cruise lines do now, but presumably all/most charge for shuttlebuses at ports....it's a sign of the times.
It's also galling that an excursion guided in Japanese costs up to $50 less than the same excursion guided in English. Given that most excursions are a ripoff we just (reluctantly) paid for the shuttlebus and explored on our own. With a little research beforehand, it is easy to plan a day out. On the one excursion that we did take in Ishigaki island, our English speaking Japanese guide told us that when her tour duties were over she had to fly to Okinawa and then on to Nagasaki and then take a train home. She wouldn't be home until after midnight, so this probably explains why the English guided tours are that much more expensive.
Our favourite port of call was Sakata as the townsfolk went out of their way to make us feel welcome. The local high school students were making tea and explaining how to write our names in Japanese characters, as a way of raising funds for victims of the recent floods and landslides. They were also out and about in the town helping tourists find their way around whilst practicing their English. Indeed, all the ports had things of interest if you made the effort to explore and try new things.
Unfortunately an approaching typhoon meant that we had to miss our stop in Naha, Okinawa, but again, this was not Princess' fault and we received monetary compensation. Seeing how the swell can affect docking and/or tender operations, safety is paramount.
Overall it was an enjoyable cruise and we met some lovely people and had some memorable experiences. As far as Princess cruises go, they are good, without being exceptional and we notice that the "value added" things are being eroded every time we cruise. As we say, presumably Princess are not the only cruise line doing this. As far as Japan goes, our advice is to be open minded, do some research before leaving home, avoid the excursions, don't be afraid to use local transport which runs like clockwork and embrace the wonderfully polite Japanese people who are only too pleased to help you in any way possible.