The theater (Decks 6 and 7) is a straight-forward venue with theater-style seating only. There are no tables, nor is there a bar -- although the seats have a pull-up mini-table, much like you might find in a university lecture hall. The theater, decorated in shades of mauve and gold, has three different tiers of seats. Shows, usually held twice a night (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), include guest performers (on our cruise, a famous Filipina cabaret singer, a comedic juggler, a pair of acrobatic comedians and a shadow-puppet performer), production shows by the resident cast and a dance performance by the resident ballroom dance champions. In two ports, the cruise director brought local performers onboard for a single evening folkloric show, which added a nice cultural dimension. Passengers raved about the excellent production show, "Bravo," which featured songs from well-known operas, musical theater, Elvis and James Bond movies (trust us, it worked!). The quality of the singing and production was better than we've experienced on other, similar-sized ships. The retro-rock production show, "Born to Be Wild," also got a thumbs-up from our fellow passengers. The ballroom couple's show seemed to have escaped from the 1980s, although they were clearly very talented. In the afternoons, movies are shown in the theater.
If you tried to do only a fraction of all the activities on offer aboard Diamond Princess, you'd end the day exhausted. Trivia buffs have several opportunities per day to compete. There are various other competitions (carpet bowls, beanbag toss, Ping-Pong, egg drop challenge, bingo, golf chipping, basketball free-throw) to keep you busy. If enrichment is more your thing, you can attend excellent port lectures by the destination expert, or a variety of Japanese cultural classes, including origami, package-wrapping, calligraphy, dance, language, trying on a yukata (summer kimono) and more.
On our cruise, we also had ukulele, hula, ballroom dance and Bollywood dance lessons; a demonstration by the executive chef; and more. And, of course, there were the ubiquitous art auctions, spa seminars and shop staff lectures, all aimed to tempt you to increase your onboard bill. Movies and concerts alternate on the outdoor "Movies Under the Stars" screen, and various unhosted get-togethers are listed in the daily bulletin (LGBT, bible study, veterans and military). Wander around the ship, you're likely to find live music in at least one venue -- whether it's a piano player in the lobby or one of its surrounding bars, a duo of electric violin players or a guitarist.
Once per cruise, there is a "Festivals of the World" performance in the Piazza, where passengers who have taken various dance lessons and ukulele lessons are invited to perform.
Although we wouldn't call it a party ship, Diamond Princess is a great place for live music and dancing, with tunes of all types -- from ballroom to country. The atrium is usually lively after dinner, and various venues host events like karaoke, trivia, Japanese storytelling, retro quiz contests and theme dances. One popular event in the atrium on each cruise is the "Champagne tower," where bubbly is poured over a mountain of Champagne coupes.
Diamond Princess' casino (Deck 6) houses more than 100 slot and gaming machines; as well as blackjack, baccarat, roulette and craps tables, along with a variety of poker game tables. There's a PokerPro video poker table with 10 places, a Cash Cube game, a Casino Vault game and a Flippa Winna game, plus lotto. An ATM is located here that dispenses dollars -- but you can also play using your ship card. The casino wasn't particularly active during our cruise, but there was the occasional scheduled tournament.
Overall, things tend to quiet down fairly early -- winding down at 10 p.m. and quiet by 11 p.m. -- especially on days prior to a port -- so if you're a late-night party animal, this may not be your ship.
Lobby Bar (Deck 5): Located on the ground floor of the atrium, this open bar and lounge area is popular with folks who want to keep an eye on activities or music in the atrium and also do a little people-watching. It also has an espresso machine and a menu of espresso drinks, including frozen options (to-go cups available).
Churchill Lounge (Deck 6): This cozy little hideaway is a whiskey and smoking bar. It's paneled in dark wood, with tufted leather furniture in shades of burgundy and forest green. The walls are studded with several TVs to complete the pub atmosphere. While the lounge is accessible all day, its bar doesn't open until late afternoon.
Casino Bar (Deck 6): This bar serves casino patrons and is open during casino hours. You probably don't want to hang out here, unless you enjoy watching other people lose money.
Wheelhouse Bar (Deck 7): The Wheelhouse is another clubby bar -- though much larger and more central than Churchill's, with dark wood paneling, wingback leather chairs and granite-topped accent tables. The low-key lighting is from table lamps and brass sconces. During its opening hours, from 4 p.m. onward, various entertainers rotate through, from the house band to solo musicians. And, there's a good-sized dance floor if you're so inclined. During the daytime, the lounge is used for various classes and events, like language lessons and trivia contests.
Crooners (Deck 7): A small bar with limited seating that's open to the atrium, Crooners gets going in the evening with lively -- and often sing-along -- piano music. Open from 9 a.m., it's popular with readers and people-watchers during the daytime.
Explorers Lounge (Deck 7): This lounge with a dance floor is a multipurpose venue, hosting art auctions, trivia, small performances such as Japanese storytelling, karaoke and ballroom dancing. The bar is open when something's going on at the venue. In terms of decor, the two different levels of table seating are divided by lacy wrought-iron railings and pillars, while the wall murals and relief columns depict Egyptian motifs.
Club Fusion (Deck 7): During our cruise, this was the ship's most popular dance venue, hosting "cult classic" specialty nights, including country line-dancing, ABBA and 70s night. (Even if you're not a country fan, it's a hoot to join a bunch of line-dancing Japanese passengers.) During the day, there's a mixture of trivia, dance classes and other events held here. The decor includes old-timey, black-and-white bar photos and some western murals, with semicircular mauve banquets and rows of high counters with barstools, perfect for watching the action on the dance floor. The large bar is almost a complete circle, with lots of stools.
Calypso Bar (Deck 14): This bar is located by the indoor Calypso swimming pool, and is open for early risers at 5:30 a.m., closing at 11:30 p.m. It has a semicircle bar with stools and serves best as a spot to catch a little sunshine on blustery days through the protected conservatory glass.
Mermaid's Tail Bar (Deck 14): This busy bar is situated next to the main outdoor pool. Opening at 10:30 a.m., it stays busy until 10:30 p.m.
Outriggers Margarita Bar (Deck 14): Located at the very back of the ship, with great views of the ship's wake, this bar serves sun-seekers around various outdoor decks and a smaller pool, located one deck below. It opens at 10:30 a.m., but is subject to wind and weather closures.
Tradewinds Bar (Deck 15, forward): A deck above the Mermaid's Tail Bar, this open-air venue helps keep sun-worshippers happy and hydrated on nice days. There's a counter with stools that face the Neptune pool below, with good views of the giant movie screen, too.
Skywalkers Nightclub (Deck 17/18): Skywalkers is a large, glitzy DJ lounge. It usually doesn't open until 10 p.m. -- and by that time many passengers are already tucked in bed, we suspect. On nights we checked it out, there was very little going on. That's a shame, because it's prime real estate on the ship. Overlooking the wake, with floor-to-ceiling windows, it would be the perfect spot for a sail-away or sunset drink. You must be 18 years old to enter and show an ID. (During the day, it's a great secret hideaway if you want to enjoy the sea in peace and quiet.)
Diamond Princess has four regular pools and eight hot tubs -- not including those in the Japanese Izumi Bath. One pool and two hot tubs are indoors, while the others are located outside.
The main outdoor splasher is the Neptune pool, located on Deck 14. It's a good size, even large enough for some short laps. Towering over it is the "Movies Under the Stars" screen, which also shows movies under the sun. The pool has two adjacent hot tubs and a shower, as well as a large mosaic tile surround with very shallow water. It's surrounded by a partial deck above, so you can choose a lounger in the sun or shade. There are also tables and chairs serving nearby Prego Pizzeria and Trident Grill. At night, moviegoers grab some popcorn and tuck plaid blankets around them as they watch movies from the loungers.
Calypso, the indoor pool, and its two hot tubs, are located on Deck 14, with a two-deck high greenhouse roof supported by huge columns covered with mosaics of fish. The partial deck surrounding it one level up is known as the Conservatory. Both levels have cushioned loungers, and the Conservatory level also hosts Ping-Pong tables and a jigsaw puzzle table. You'll notice a chlorine aroma inside the structure, but on a cold or rainy day, it's the best place to go for a swim or to catch a few rays of sun.
The smaller aft pool on Deck 12 tends to be quieter and frequented more by adults. There are loungers around the pool and on areas overlooking it on Decks 15 and 16. As part of the aft sun deck complex, you'll find the two Oasis hot tubs on Deck 16.
Inside the Lotus Spa (Deck 15), the small Lotus pool is for adults only. It has loungers around it and more sunning space on a tiered seating area at one end. There are also two hot tubs here. Upstairs from the pool, The Sanctuary has cushy loungers, potted trees and great views of the water. It's shaded by canvas awnings.
A unique bathing option (found only onboard Diamond Princess) is the Izumi Japanese Bath (Deck 15), which carries a $15 charge for 90 minutes and requires a reservation. Styled after traditional Japanese public baths, Izumi features two indoor areas (segregated by sex) and one outdoor hydrotherapy pool, where men and women mingle. Each indoor area has four heated whirlpools -- two completely inside and two open-air; all have lovely views out over the wake. One of the indoor areas also has a regular sauna and waterfalls, called utaseyu; sit below them and the falling water massages your neck and back. The other indoor section has a mist-sauna infused with eucalyptus. Because of this, the areas switch from day to day between male-only and female-only, so everyone gets to try the different facilities.
In keeping with traditional Japanese baths, to use either of these indoor areas, you must remove all clothing. No bathing suits of any kind are permitted. According to Japanese bathing practices, you should scrub thoroughly with soap and water before entering the bath; traditional washing cubicles are provided for this. Use the handheld shower to rinse off, or try filling the basin and pouring it over you -- you may be surprised at how good it feels. When you enter the baths, make sure to keep your hair up out of the water; some Japanese put a small towel over their heads. In the unisex outdoor section, bathing suits are required. You need to exit back out to the Izumi lobby to access the unisex pool. You'll also find bed loungers here, including some doubles.
On shorter cruises, bath slots tend to sell out quickly -- particularly for women -- so reserve early. If you're an Izumi Bath fan, you can save by buying a $60 card for five sessions.
Diamond Princess has a small sports area on Deck 18 with a half-sized basketball court; a volleyball net can be strung up there, as well. You'll find a popular nine-hole golf putting course on Deck 16 (the single stairway up to it isn't easy to find; look for a small sign), and there's shuffleboard on Deck 15. A giant chess set is located next to the hot tubs on Deck 16, and Ping-Pong tables are inside the Conservatory on Deck 15.
Sun decks surround all of the pools, and loungers can also be found on the open decks above every pool. For quieter, more secluded sunbathing, head aft, to Decks 14, 15 and 16, where you'll find small groups of loungers. Quiet can also be found around the adults-only spa pool and the fee-required Izumi Bath outdoor lounge area. There always seemed to be enough loungers to go around at every -- perhaps because there are so many other activities occupying a fair number of passengers at any given time. Inside the spa complex, upstairs from the adults-only pool, The Sanctuary (also adults-only) has cushy loungers, potted trees and great views of the water. It's shaded by canvas awnings.
A small library with books and board games is located on Deck 5, off the atrium; it also has daily sheets with crossword puzzles, sudokus and a mysterious game all in Japanese. And, because it's a practice in Japan to stamp a book when visiting various sites, you can also get a nifty (and large) stamp of the ship here. Four computer stations are located in the library.
Next door to the library and open to the lobby, you'll find the internet cafe. It's open 24 hours, with 11 computer stations and one printer, plus an additional printer at the attendant's desk. Internet or Wi-Fi time can be purchased by the minute ($0.79 per minute) or one of four plans: 100 minutes for $69; 200 minutes for $99; 400 minutes for $159; or 600 minutes for $199. On the last full day of the cruise, you also can purchase a special 15-minute plan for $8.99. We found that the ship's satellite Wi-Fi varied in quality depending on our location -- so if you have a bad signal, try moving until it improves.
Diamond Princess has an art sales gallery on Deck 5; a photo and video gallery on Deck 7; and four shops spread out over Decks 6 and 7. While the shops stock items like logo apparel, toiletries, jewelry (costume and gemstone), watches, liquor and perfumes, they also feature high-end fashion items from brands like Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Burberry, Coach and others, to appeal to Japanese shoppers.
You can book shore excursions at the shore excursions desk on Deck 5; a special services desk for Captain's Circle cruisers is located here, too. Those who want to book their next cruise can visit the future cruise sales desk, also on Deck 5. There's an ATM here, as well, that spits out U.S. dollars.
Guest Services is located on Deck 6. There always seemed to be a line. Fortunately, if you just want to check your bill status, there are two machines where you can get a printout by swiping your ship card. There's also a currency exchange machine that will convert a number of currencies into U.S. dollars or Japanese yen.
Self-service laundry facilities are located on all decks with passenger cabins. Machines are operated with $3 in tokens (available for purchase in the laundry rooms), and laundry products (detergent, bleach and fabric softener) are available for purchase using $1.50 in tokens. Passengers can also use the iron and ironing board, and a deep sink in each spot for free. Laundry and dry-cleaning services are also available. Items turned-in to your steward by 9 a.m. are returned by 6 p.m. the following day -- or you can pay 50 percent more for same-day service.
Diamond Princess offers a simple, nondenominational chapel, called Hearts and Minds (Deck 6), for weddings or vow renewals that can be performed by the captain (fee charged).
The ship's Lotus Spa (Deck 15) is operated by Steiner, and primarily uses Elemis products. The spa is decorated in Asian themes, with paintings, shoji- screen-inspired doors and carpeting with twined lotus flowers. It's open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and offers massages, facials and body treatments, as well as mani/pedis and a full range of salon services for both men and women. Special services include Phyto treatments, keratin blow-outs, a DIY couples mud room, acupuncture, Biotec light therapy, and medi-spa Thermage CPT cosmetic facial treatments. We tried out one of the spa therapists' favorite treatment -- the "Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow with Massage" (50 minutes, $143; 90 minutes, $176) and were left thoroughly blissful.
As the cruise goes on, the spa sends out special deals for shore days or makes other offers for multiple services, so keep an eye out.
For an extra fee (which varies depending on voyage length) you can access the thermal spa, with heated ceramic loungers and scented steam rooms. The thermal area felt like a bit of an afterthought; it was lacking the sea views that we enjoy in other ships' thermal spas.
The fitness complex (Deck 15) is accessed past the Lotus Spa front desk and salon, with hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It's outfitted with Precor equipment, including 16 treadmills with video screens, seven elliptical machines, two exercise bikes, two recumbent exercise bikes, one rowing machine, Precor circuit machines and sets of free weights. The treadmills, bikes and elliptical are set up to face floor-to-ceiling windows, with great sea views.
A separate room for classes holds class bikes, exercise balls and other gear. Pilates, yoga and Tour de Cycle classes are $13 each, or three for $30. Personal training is also available for a fee. Free exercise classes include Zumba and stretching.
There's no jogging track, but 2.5 times around the Promenade Deck (Deck 7, with stairs up to a section of Deck 8 and down again to complete a full oval) equals 1 mile.
With many cabins housing extra berths, plus a number of connecting cabins and family suites, Diamond Princess is definitely family friendly. Its kids' and teens' clubs make it even more so. A special newsletter goes out to families with the activities schedule for each group. Clubs for kids, tweens and teens are open on sea days from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 5 p.m. and from 6 to 10 p.m. On port days, club hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., group "kidsitting" is available for $5 per hour, per child (ages 3 to 12; advance booking required).
When there are lots of families onboard, Diamond Princess holds a Family Fun Fair carnival in the Piazza (Deck 5), featuring mascots, face painting, balloon animals, magicians and entertainers -- usually on the last sea day.
Kids' meals are an option in the main dining rooms, and baby food is available by advance arrangement prior to sailing.
The Camp Discovery Tree House (Deck 15) is the club for kids ages 3 to 7. The bright, lively space has stations for coloring, watching videos, games, and crafts. When we took a tour, kids were about to start coloring in their own T-shirts. Activities include ice cream parties, puppet shows, origami and pirate night. Kids must be registered and signed in or out by an adult with a government-issued ID.
The Camp Discovery Lodge (Deck 15) is designated for 8- to 12-year-olds. They have map and science activities, puzzles, video games, crafts, movies and many other activities. Kids might make rockets, learn about animals, do coloring, have a pizza party, attend a disco dance, play with Wii, make a keychain or take part in a "Survivor"-style game competition. Parents can decide whether kids are able to sign themselves in and out or not.
The Beach House (Deck 15) is the spacious onboard hangout for teens, ages 13 to 17. Here, in a lounge-style atmosphere, they can play air hockey, foosball or Xbox, take part in a scavenger hunt, play dodgeball, try their hand at crafts (making a tile picture frame, for example), watch a movie, or sing karaoke. Teens can come and go on their own, without being sign in or out by a parent.