We booked the nine day version of this cruise as a complement to a land tour of Japan. In most respects, it met our expectations, but there were definitely some aspects that were disappointing.
This circumnavigation of Japan was an excellent, well-balanced itinerary out of Yokohama. What impressed us the most was the number of ports (three in total) visited on the Sea of Japan coast. This is an area of the country that does not seem to see many cruise ships, so it was an appealing aspect of the itinerary. We also appreciated the opportunity to visit South Korea through the port of Busan. For future cruises, it would be nice if Princess could add a port on the island of Kyushu.
We booked shore excursions through Princess for each port. Generally, these were well-organized and efficiently run. There was a good variety of offerings, with something for everyone. The process of getting off and back onto the ship was relatively painless, although we were a bit in the dark about the process of retrieving goods that were taken and held by security until the end of the cruise. More information on this procedure would have been welcome.
In terms of the running of the ship and service onboard, there were positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, the Princess waiters were excellent, with outstanding service in the Savoy dining room, although the cuisine could be a bit hit-or-miss. The food was generally very good, although two evening meals were substandard due to under or over-cooking. With half of the passengers being Japanese, there were many more Asian dish choices than what one would normally see. The service in the Horizon Court buffet was equally good. We had one evening meal at the Italian premium restaurant, Sabatini’s. Again, the service was excellent, but the food was a little disappointing. For example, the lobster served in the Savoy dining room was superior to what we had in the premium restaurant. Finally, we were regulars at the afternoon tea service in the International Dining Room and really enjoyed the white glove table service and tasty goodies that one usually finds at high tea.
The cabin housekeeping service was also a bit unpredictable. Our first cabin steward was sub-par, to the point that we were about to complain. However, after two days, we got a new cabin steward who was so dedicated and attentive that he made up for the first one.
The entertainment was good. There were three production shows, of which two were very good. We also enjoyed the other acts, especially the rock violinist, Katei. We really appreciated the demonstration of traditional Japanese comic storytelling, rakugo. We were disappointed that Princess did not take the opportunity of being in Japan to showcase more Japanese talent, such as a J-Pop group or a Kabuki theatre performance.
On the negative side, the ship appears tired, with several evident maintenance issues and some areas of the ship being downright filthy. One of the ladies' toilets near the atrium was constantly malfunctioning, and ceiling fans in the dining section of the Lido were covered with so much encrusted dirt that it would have failed a health inspection. We saw at least one instance where a wall had to be torn out to fix the plumbing, and many parts of the passageways showed damage from years of wear and tear. Some of this should certainly have been addressed by the crew, while other issues will require the resources of a full refit.
Other parts of the cruise also misfired. On both occasions that we chose to catch a movie on the pool deck on the big screen, the sound system malfunctioned. We also had a total screw-up with room service delivering the wrong items to our cabin.
Additionally, we were also taken aback by the way that Princess seems to be nickle-and-diming more aspects of the cruise. For example, the Japanese baths which are unique to this ship were advertised as an appealing feature, until we discovered that you had to pay for each visit, more or less like spa experiences.
On the whole, we enjoyed our cruise on Diamond Princess. The itinerary was great, and the crew for the most part was excellent. Nevertheless, the ship needs a lot of work, and we were disappointed by other aspects of the cruise. As a result, only an average score was earned, with lots of room for Princess to improve this unique Japanese experience.