We were previously booked to cruise on Diamond in May 2017 and at the last moment, accepted a move over offer from Princess which enabled (or forced us - being not able to cancel air travel or post cruise accommodation) to travel Japan on our own using JR Rail Pass and fell in love with Japan and it's people. Big shout out to JTB Australia for organising a last minute itinerary and accommodation. The Princess moveover offer gave us a free cruise (up to 20 days + free upgrade and our original fare in refundable onboard credit) yes, we took it !
When it came to selecting our 'replacement cruise' from Princess Japan was our pick. Due to previous reviews, we were a bit concerned about the condition of the Diamond Princess but have absolutely nothing to complain about. We have previously cruised out of Singapore on Sapphire Princess so were familiar with the layout.
Due to our moveover offer, we were fortunate to be upgraded and our mini suite D626 which was fabulous with heaps of room. Luckily the weather was good as there isn't any cover over the balcony on Dolphin deck which may or may not be an issue. Our stateroom steward Aldwin was adorable - super cheery, always there if you needed anything but politely in the backround. He celebrated 15 years with Princess during our cruise and obviously loves his job and takes great pride in his work. The bed was great, super comgy and bathroom huge although couldn't be used as a bath as the plug was threaded and couldn't be used as a bath. Not Aldwins' fault, never bothered to let him know.
Embarkation and Disembarkation where amazing. We rocked up at 11.30am, dropped off our luggage and were given a ticke to embark. We thought it would be quite a while so wandered around the pier, chatted to passengers on the cruise ship next door and took our time. When we got back to the pier and presented our boarding tickets, we were on !
Disembarkation is just as easy with shuttle buses provided to the local train station Sakuragichō which allows easy rail travel between Narita and Haneda airports and Tokyo (if you have time to spare) Princess transfers not required.
As mentioned on previous Diamond cruises, there had been a problem with sewerage smells on the Starboard side but they were corrected and passengers were given a 'goodwill' gesture of $100 USD pp which was greatly appreciated. The cruise was sold out and yet didn't feel crowded unless you were in the Atrium during major events where there was never enough room.
Formal nights were amazing, lots of Kimonos and the best ever Leather Tuxedo we've ever seen. Be prepared to 'elbows out' for the champagne tower as there will be a vast amount of people.
We had opted for late dining at 7.45pm and had a designated table for 2 which was great. Food was very good - hot, tasty and plentiful. Too plentiful in fact, The staff were lovely if not rushed and seemed to have too many tables to attend to. The wine selection seemed to be lacking as a lot were not available although we could always find something that was available. Prices start at about $36USD +15% so it's a good idea to take onboard the allowable 1 bottle per person on boarding. We travelled from Australia and didn't want to carry wine in our luggage but buying Australian wines in Yokohama wasn't a problem. We spent 6 days pre cruise in Yokohama and can highly recommend it.
After a week or so, we decided to skip the dining room and eat at Horizon Court where we could have more control over our how much we were eating. Make your own Ramen, lots of sushi and plentiful fruit and veg. Had planned to eat at the speciality restaurants but found no need to.
Coffee, as usual was crap. You could however, pay a little extra ($2USD) and order decent coffee which was available just about anywhere - Crooners Bar, Horizon Court included. We ended up buying Coffee bags in both Japan and Vietnam which we took with us each morning.
Entertainment was hit and miss and was typical of cruising ie trivia, bingo, art auctions etc. Could not fault the entertainment staff, Lynn the cruise director was like an energizer bunny and any thoughts I had on Zumba were completely thrown out of the window. Lee the DJ had moves that I wish I had and dance moves Madonna would be proud of. Abba nights were great (if you could get a spot) and I loved the build you're own ship at the pool deck.
If you're looking for late night entertainment, this is not the cruise for you. Walking around the ship after 10pm you were pretty much on your own. Bar staff Ann and Mike were favourites. Crooners Bar was exactly that after 8pm - sleepy. Movies under the stars were fun with blankets and popcorn provided.
Gym space was limited due to the 'zumi Japanese Spa. As we'd previously spent time in Japan visiting various Onsens , we were keen to sign up for this but were glad we didn't. Refer port ports. The gym is smaller than most (due to zumi spa) and super hot like a sauna. Weights and equipment were fine bit I wouldn't recommend doing much cardio.
Shore excursions were good if you choose to use them, we generally are happy to travel on our own. We booked 2 excursions and the only issue we had was at Halong Bay where the Junk boats had problems lining up with the ship for boarding. After waiting over an hour after our boarding time, we were offered a refund and took it. Tenders were were quick to Halong Bay where a shuttle was provided into Halong town.
Princess advises that visas are required for China which cost about $130AUD pp for a 6 hour visit, you cannot board without visas. Onboard we spoke to a few people that had no idea and didn't have visas for China. They were fortunate and OK as long as they didn't depart the ship. As reported in the news recently, this is not the case for all cruise lines so make sure you're visa is up to date. It's not worth the risk.
Shore excursions were (as usual) overpriced but necessary if in port for short periods of time. Would highly recommend a Princess excursion in Busan as DIY is surprisingly difficult due to lack of English spoken.
Overall, would I travel Princess again ? Not sure
Amazing amount of room. Appreciated the bath (although couldn't be used due to threaded plug) I'm sure that would've been fixed if we'd bothered to complain. Heaps of hangers. Balcony uncovered and exposed to the weather. Would be hard to go back to a balcony cabin
Shared a taxi with another couple to the Kamakazi Museum. 16,000 yen covered driver plus 2 hours wait. Extremely moving museum and much cheaper than shore excursion.
We had visitited and were out by the time the shore excursions and school groups arrived. Highly recommended