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Bill A. Belt

Age: 70

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 9

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Diamond Princess

Sailing Date: September 24th, 2005

Itinerary: Seattle, Alaska, Russia, Japan, Korea


DISCLAIMER: This review is the sole perception and review of this writer. It is clearly recognized that each passenger on board this same ship may have experienced a different level of service and may have drawn a different conclusion then this writer. This writer has no connection whatsoever with the Diamond Princess or it owners.

You may have a travel agent that has been on dozens of cruises or you may have been on dozens of cruise so this review may provide little that you don’t already know about cruising and the Princess Diamond. I would doubt though that many travel agents would be willing to provide you the “rest of the story” as I will try to do. Hopefully after reading this review you should have some additional information that will assist you along the way. Thanks for reading.

THE SHIP:

The Diamond Princess is one large beautiful ship. If you are looking for an intimate ship with a few passengers then the Diamond Princess may not be for you. The ship began sailing in March 2004. This is our first cruise aboard the Diamond. The ship’s public areas are immaculate. According to the sign on the Purser’s desk the ship was full. That would mean there were approximately 2670 passengers on board. To give one a sense of the magnitude of this ship there are four swimming pools, 7 or 8 hot tubs and 15 lounges/bars.

EMBARCATION:

After reading several reviews on the Diamond and the sister ship, Sapphire, we were a little apprehensive on what to expect for the boarding process on such a large ship. The taxi driver at our hotel (we stayed in Seattle the night before the cruise departure) advised us that activity-taking place at the ballpark close to the cruise terminal would result in several street closings in the area. We heeded his advice and left at 10:45AM and arrived at the Princess Terminal around 11:15AM. We immediately went to a check in counter with no waiting. Neither our travel agent nor Princess had provided baggage tags so we were delayed a moment while we obtained bagged tags, completed them and attached them to our two bags. We travel lightly after many years of experience. Then we learned from the check in person that she could not locate our passport and personal data. This information had transmitted by internet three months prior to this date. I showed her a copy and she advised we should just complete another copy. This only took a few minutes however others passed us up as we were completing the forms. Also at this located you leave an imprint of your credit card and receive you cabin cards.

Passengers are then asked to go inside the terminal building. There we were sent to a waiting area. After waiting about 45 minutes they advised us we had been cleared to enter the terminal building. There we went thought security very quickly and proceeded to the gangplank. The trip up the gangplank, which is quite long, was also quick. At the top of the gang plank some passengers fumbled to find their cabin numbers and thus the line begin to slow. Seems like every 4th or 5th person had no ideal where they were going. Once passed this point on the ship you could head straight to your cabin. The crew had blocked off elevators for boarding passengers.. Within minutes we were in our cabin (A746).

I know we were early, however the process was as good as we have encountered on previous cruises. Keeping in mind there was going to be more than 2500 passengers, the process was actually excellent. We wished either the travel agent or Princess had made available baggage tags prior to the cruises and someone had kept track of our personal/passport information so we didn’t have to duplicate that process. Some of this was our fault, as we should have contacted the responsible parties and insisted on the baggage tags. Next time we will!!

Now while I have praised the process for us, we heard numerous complaints from passengers some of whom had handicaps. They complained there were no special lines or accommodations to help them and they had to traverse the extremely long gang plank for the shore to the upper levers of the ship. It was long walk, and if one was handicapped or out of condition, the walk may have seemed like an eternity. Princess should definitely review this to see if this was an isolated or single port problem.

OUR CABIN:

The cruise ship boast they have 748 staterooms with private balconies. We had a cabin on the Aloha Deck at the aft end. The room was very nice and best of all immaculate. The twin beds had been moved together before we arrived. There is ample closet space and lost of drawers and shelves for clothing storage. The bath has shower only. Since this is an almost new ship, everything in the room was working as it should. We had a 19inch TV with more channels that we have ever had on a cruise ship. Live news most of the time was a pleasant surprise. Our room and balcony had approximately 225 sq feet. Some have more and others in the same category have less. The color coordination in the room was pleasant and top notch. We chose a room on the end. We suggest that on a long cruise of this type obtain a cabin closer to the middle of the ship. With rough seas both the aft and forward cabins tend to “rock and roll” more.

DINING ON THE DIAMOND:

Boy !! Did we miss a little typed note on the reservation confirmation sent us by the travel agency? We asked for the early dining and noted our cabin card reflected “Anytime Dining”. We checked our reservations and it showed we “requested” early dining and that we were “wait listed #174”. We made this reservation over three months ago. We went to the Matier Die” upon boarding and guess what, we now have 376 waited listed ahead of us. We decided to forget the request and make the most of what we had.

“Anytime Dining”, for those who have not had this experience, there are six anytime dining rooms. In addition you can dine at the International Dining Room or the Horizon Court. Anytime dining gives one the flexibility of time for dining. The International Dinning Room is available only for early and late seating and that will be listed on your ship boarding card. The first seating is 5:45PM and the second or late seating IS 8:00pm. The Horizon Court Dining is available 24 hours a day, with the kind of food available corresponding to the time of the day. After lunch hours have been completed one side of the Horizon Court was closed as that side becomes the Sterling Steakhouse Restaurant for the evening.

Seating is almost always a problem in the Horizon Court area as there obviously are not 2670 seats available and some passengers once they found a table stayed for very long periods of time. Some after eating would continue to sit at their table while reading books. A sign on each table ask the guest to leave after eating but many seem to ignore that request. If the weather had been good one could have found seating on one of the outer decks however our cruise was during the late fall days when the temperature hovered around 50 degrees on the outside. In addition the wind was very brisk on this cruise prohibiting outside dining.

I am of the opinion the weather contributed significantly to some of the conditions on the ship. For example, there are many decks and activities that had the weather been good and the temperature higher, many guest would have no doubt chose an outside area. On one deck having chairs, tables and loungers, that would accommodate approximately 120 guest their was only one person using that area. This ship is must better suited for a warm climate where one could use outside facilities for dining.

With “Anytime Dining” you have your choice of six restaurants that you can visit. The first evening we opted for the Sterling Steak House. We were a little surprised when we were advised there was a $15 per person service charge for dining in the Sterling Streak House. Nevertheless we decided to honor the reservation. Fresh steaks were brought to your table and you have a choice ranging from a fillet mignon to a 22 oz T-bone. My wife opted for a 10 oz fillet and I opted for a 12 oz New York Strip. Both were excellent and well worth the $15 service charge. The service was outstanding.

The Pacific Moon Dining , the Sante Fe Dining Room, the Vivalia Dining Room, the Savoy Dining room and the International Dining Room all offer the same identical dining room menus.. Here is the major difference. The International Dining Room is reserved for those holding early or late dining. Since the number of seats available is rather limited there is virtually no chance you will get to eat in this dining room unless you have confirmed seating prior to the ship setting sail. We were wait listed for early seating three months before sailing. We were number 174. Upon arrival at the ship we asked for early seating and was advised we were now 376 wait listed. It was obvious that we were never going to get early seating at the International Dining Room.

The “anytime dining” restaurants are really very nice. The décor in each is distinctive and make dining a pleasure. Forget about seaside window dining. That probably won’t happen as these restaurants are more like your large city restaurants. We found the service to be very good. One thing that we learned after the first night was about ordering wine. If you order wine, fail to discuss the disposition of an unfinished bottle of wine, expect that remainder to show up in the cabin. If you don’t finish the bottle that you ordered, just ask the waiter to hold the wine in that dining room for the next evening. If you decided to dine in another dining room the next evening, just advise the wine steward that you left a partial bottle of wine in another restaurant the previous evening and he will retrieve your bottle. The wine steward in the steakhouse didn’t exactly explain the process our first night, thus we ended up with half bottle delivered to our cabin. When we requested the event we learned that the “service charge” restaurants don’t always coordinate with the “anytime dining” restaurants.

If you like to dine as a couple you will be seated along one of the back walls. You will have three or four other couples also sitting along the “bench” area. We found holding conversations with the table next to us to be difficult, therefore we changed to a table for four after the fourth night.

We dined at all of the “anytime dining” restaurants and found the level of service, food and atmosphere all equally good. The food is certainly not that of a three or four star restaurant; however several of the entrees were very good. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a less than acceptable meal now and then. The staff is making meals for over 3500 people each meal. That’s a lot of people and one is bound to get an occasional meal that is unacceptable. Throughout a long cruise you may not have service from the same waiter twice.

The Horizon Court is the dining area one will find open 24 hours a day. Not all lines will be open, but who cares at 300AM. There can’t be that many people cruising the decks. You can get pasties and beverages from 4 to 6AM, with breakfast following for the next 5 ½ hours. Lunch was 11:30 to 4:30PM with dinner following at 5:30PM and lasting until 11:00PM. That is followed by a late night buffet. There are more than a dozen “food islands” in each of the two serving sides. Even those there were 2600 passengers on board we never found a long wait time. You can go from “island to island” thus skipping long lines. The breakfast food was really very good as it matched food found in better upscale restaurants. Seating though is a major problem if you arrive at the wrong time. There simply isn’t enough seating for all 2600 passengers. There is a small sign at each table that ask guest to leave the table for others after they have finished dining. Day after day we saw people “hogging” the tables as they decided to read their books at the table after breakfast. We also saw several that would tell others the table was occupied, when in fact no one else every joined the couple.

We sometimes found it was necessary to eat outside on one of the pool decks where we found many others dining in that area. It was windy and cold so we didn’t tarry long.

One always ask about food other than entrees. The desserts were not outstanding however they are acceptable. For the first few days the salad bar was great.

There is a hamburger grill and pizza bar on one of the pool decks. The pizza was acceptable, however the bread used for the hamburgers was apparently frozen as each time we ate there the bread was stale and tended to crumble in your hands.

We did not eat at the Sabatina’s Trattoria as we didn’t want to pay the $40.00 service charge per couple. We must have dined with twenty-five different people and not one of them ate at any of the restaurants that had service charges.

TRIDENT GRILL & PREGO PIZZA

On deck 14 one will find the above outdoor grills. Our particular sailing had very cool weather not to mention the winds, thus dining in these areas was more than uncomfortable. Nevertheless one can still enjoy the food by getting the food and going to the Horizon Dining Room or your cabin. We did both over the 17 day cruise. Pizza was good, however the bread for the hamburgers appeared to have been frozen.

SUNDAES ICE CREAM—Lido Deck 14

Why would we put a paragraph in a review about an ice cream bar? First we just don’t like being “dollared” to death when we go on a cruise. This is one of those “dollar the passengers” deal. On Lido Deck 14 one will find the Sundaes Ice Cream bar. Be prepared to pay high prices if you decide to indulge in ice cream tasting. We saw very few passengers making purchases. We just couldn’t convince ourselves to pay $3.75 for an ice cream sundae. Ice cream and toppings are available in the Horizon Dining room in the afternoon for a short time and there is no charge. Ice cream in the dining rooms was always available and FREE, however they use one of the smallest dippers on earth. The times we had ice cream the dips were about 1 ½ inch in diameter.

INTERNET CAFÉ Promenade Deck 7

On the Promenade Deck one will find one of the nicest Internet cafes we have seen on any ship. Great work space and new computers. However, before we give an “A” to this operation we need to discuss some issues. The upload and download spends are very slow. I thought I was back to a dial up 14.4 modem. I was told it was because of the location of our ship as it relates to the satellite and that the service would improve once we reached Asia in about 7 or 8 days.

Unless you are a Platinum or Elite Member of the Princess Captain’s Circle, you will be charged a per minute rate of 35 cents. If you brought your own PC there were places on the ship you could hook up by wireless however they did not always work. To use your own PC you must purchase a 30 minute card costing $10.50. That which you don’t use, you lose. The first day I was able to get two short e-mails out in 15 minutes. You do the math. Unless you have your own PC don’t expect to send home some pictures, as the upload time would take forever and I found no way to do that using the ship’s internet equipment. You can do that on your own laptop.

We were on a cruise that started in Seattle with stops in Ketchikan and Juneau. We found a great shore internet service called Seaport Cyber which sold a one hour card for $5. We used the service at both Ketchikan and Juneau and the service was great. Their bandwidth may not be large enough to accommodate a great number of customers, however I found the service very good and the price great. They also have locations in Skagway, Sitka and Seattle and one card works at all locations.

On day six we saw the Internet Café filled to capacity. I quickly went to the cabin and picked up my laptop and headed for the Internet Café. I tried to send an e-mail but after 18 minutes I gave up. There was just no way to get an upload. The crew member on duty advised it would be best if I waited another day or two. I noticed that the ones sitting behind the computers were those that had free internet service, thus time was no a concern for them. The crew member advised there may be too many people using the service for the service to be good.

LATE UPDATE------On day eight, no doubt after hearing from dozens and dozens of passengers, Princess agreed they had a problem with the internet service. They advised they would credit all account for any internet charges and effective the following day would reduce the per minute rate to 12 cents. We found the users in the Internet Café to be very pleased with the action, however the service remains extremely slow. The good thing though is that you night get an e-mal out now for three or four dollars as opposed to ten dollars. GOOD MOVE ON THE PART OF PRINCESS as this certainly was going to be a subject shared when the travelers returned home.

Princess Theater

Here you will enjoy some very good entertainment in an approximately 750 seat theater. The seating is very good. No cocktail tables that you usually find on a cruise ship and no
pole or column obstructions. These are all very comfortable theater type seat with a tray that folds into the arm like on the airplanes. Entertainment by the ships entertainment staff is mostly good. Some of the best we have encountered on any cruise ship. One evening there was a violin performance by Julienna Okah. She was outstanding and the audience gave her a standing ovation. There were some entertainers that had one night stands and one might have been better off watching a movie in the cabin that evening.

You are asked not to save seats for other passengers. Apparently a lot of people need hearing aids, as they consistently ignored those pleas.

Don’t expect a whole lot and you won’t be disappointed. Movies are shown in both the Princess Theater and the Explorers Lounge. We suggest you pass on the Explorers Lounge as this is lounge seating and viewing a film is not really too good.

There will be some lecturers in the Princess Theater. While some were entertaining and informative, I personally find it boring to listen to a lecturer who simply reads from his prepared script. Some “talks” were actually read from a prepared script with the person delivering the presentation seldom even look up from the prepared script.

A tip----arrive at the Princess Theater early. The 8:00PM shows starting filling at 7:30PM and by 7:40 finding a seat was a challenge. There usually was no seats available by 7:45PM with those arriving at that time and later being turned away.

SWIMMING POOLS & HOTTUBS

Swimming pools and hot tubs are everywhere on the top decks. They are very nice, however very few people used these facilities on the Alaska, Russia, Japan Korea cruise. The temperature was such that swimming pools were always void of passengers, however the hot tubs in some areas were frequently used.

OUTDOOR BARS

Sorry, we just don’t go on cruises to pay high prices for a drink and especially one at a bar on the outside in cold weather. Maybe that’s your thing, if so you have many outside bars from which to choose. They are all nice.

INDOOR BARS & LOUNGES

Unless we missed one, there are 15, that’s right 15 bars and lounges where one can get a drink. They are the Lobby Bar, Churchill’s Lounge, Wake View Bar, Grand Casino, Internet Café, Crooner’s Lounge, Explorer’s, Wheelhouse, Club Fusion, Calypso, Outrigger, Mermaid’s tail, Tradewinds, Oasis and Skywalkers. Regular visit to these locations will surely made your on board account grow. Prices are really no different than what one might find on land at a upscale bar. The staff was always friendly and talkative. There is entertainment and dancing in several of the locations. Many of the sit down areas are very nice with dark woods and comfortable seating. We also found the seating to be well spaced thus comfortable for conversation. Most lounges as was the theater are no smoking areas. There are exception. For example you can smoke cigars in Churchill’s Breathing maybe another issue. The hours of operation varied with the bar, but generally you can one or more bars open from 6:00AM to 1:00AM.

LAUNDRY SERVICE

Self service laundry is available throughout the ship. On our deck there were two facilities and we found at least six decks with self service laundries. The equipment was new and worked well. There is even an iron and ironing board in each laundry. We never found them full. Cost was $1 for soap, $1 for washing and $1 for drying.

In addition the ship has in house laundry and dry cleaning available. The prices are not all that bad and we learned many years ago, it was better to travel light and have clothes laundered or dry cleaned aboard ship. We found the one day turned around service reasonably priced and the service acceptable.

ROOM SERVICE

This topic was not included with the dining as we wanted to separate and add some comments. There were several kinds of room service and we found all equally good. A continental breakfast is available for early morning delivery. On the cruise inside Glacier Bay, there was a breakfast that included a half bottle of champagne at an additional cost of $25special. Room service is available 24 hours a day and there is no charge, however a tip is expected. In fact when you sign for delivery of your food there is a line for “gratuity”.

Bar selections are available for room service, but as in the dining room expect to pay ship prices for whatever you order. We are partial to a particular wine that sells for $4 a bottle at Sam’s Club or $9 a bottle at the local package store. The price on the ship is $22 per bottle. We have learned to live with the pricing.

ACTIVITIES


There are so many activities on a ship this size it would be impractical to list all, therefore we have listed a limited number. A golf simulator is available on deck 16, however they is a hefty fee of $20 per one half hour. There is also a putting green on deck 16. Throughout the day you will find the usual bingo. There are ping pong tournaments, ceramics painting, lectures, dancing classes, gold chipping, treasure quest, bridge, chess and even computer classes.

Some of those listed above will have fees attached to them. For example , it’s $25 per class to attend a limited one hour computer class on a very limited computer subject. Fees are attached to the ceramics class.

We soon learned where the fee activities were located and while we don’t consider ourselves “cheap” we have a strong distaste for being charged every time we turn around.

You should have absolutely no trouble in finding an activity to keep you entertained and busy. We also found very congenial and helpful staff associated with each of the activities.

CASINO

Writing about the casinos is not one of my favorite items. While we did find some courteous staff at the casino there are those at the tables that really should look for other employment or at least take a few classes on how to interact with people. One evening we decided to watch three players at the roulette wheel. The girl running the wheel asked us repeatedly if wouldn’t like to play. We declined and then she remarked, “play or move on”. On that evening there was almost no one playing in the casino and I would assume they would have been appreciative of anyone coming into the area.

I was offended and insulted by the remark made to me and my wife. We have visited and played at casinos on many cruise ships as well as land casino throughout the world. I can’t recall; a single instance where we have been asked to “move on”.

While we usually cut through the casino on our way to the theater (same deck), we never again stopped and never played one time any of the games. What we did notice was an absence of players each time we passed through. We’ll wait until we get stateside.

TELEVISION

Our cabin had a nice 19 inch TV set that had several channels, some of which were sometimes live and other times containing taped programs or movies. We found this to be acceptable.

PASSPORTS & VISAS

Why would we include a separate paragraph about passports. This is just “one of our things” and we want to share our thoughts, since not a day passes that one not see news or a commercial about identify theft. About a week before we were to dock in Russia we were required to turn our passports in. What concerned us most was the process. Our passports had to be turned into the cabin steward. Since we were at sea it was highly unlikely that a cabin steward could have used the passport information on shore. Or could he? Nothing to keep a steward from copying the passport, or even transmitting the information to a confidant in a foreign country. After the ship’s entire Internet is available and we saw people running around with satellite telephone on the ship.

We are always told that since you don’t have a Russian Visa, the authorities require that we confiscate your passport. Some hotels used to tell me that kin foreign countries and in those cases I just move on to a more reputable hotel. Can’t do that aboard ship, so we surrender our passport to a cabin boy from Poland, Czech Republic, or wherever.

Some reading this will think our concerns are really about “nothing”. That’s OK---we are paranoid at times.

THE PHOTO SHOP


This ship has an elaborate photo department and obviously it is a moneymaker for the cruise line. All one has to do is look at the space and personnel allotted to the activity. There is overnight photo developing and printing and even a self-service machine for those that have digital cards. Andrew from Canada walked us through the self-service process. A very knowledgeable and helpful young man. Look for him if you cruise on the Diamond. The overnight prices are really no more than one usually pays at the local one hour processors, you just don’t get your prints back in one hour. The self service printer provides only 4 by 6 prints for 46 cents a print and it get the print in less than 2 minutes.

We have noticed that on this ship you don’t have the “pushy” photographers that insist you pose with an elephant one day and a crawfish the next days. If you approach them, they will offer their service but they don’t try to trip you as you embark on the gangplank at a port. This is really refreshing and we have encountered some that apparently thought they were a member of the “paparazzi” and I was the million dollar subject.

If you believe a snapshot of you entering the ship is worthy of a $19.99 contribution to the photo gallery, then by all means obtain that snapshot. Just remember you can get a lot of snapshots on the ship from even a throw away camera that will not doubt cost you a lot less for a lot more snapshots.

This ship offers very large 16 by 20 and even larger, “custom digital portraits”. These run from a high two figure to a three figure cost and actually the quality is not all that bad, at least from the samples being displayed on board. If you haven’t had a portrait made in several years and want to take back a large digital portrait, then this ship may be the place. You will probably pay more in your home town, plus all of us have had pressure salespeople trying to sell us a “package” of prints for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. All in all the ship prices are not that bad for these “digital portraits”.

SHIP’S STAFF

Every reviewer should give the staff a grade for their congeniality, their service, their knowledge about the ship, their helpfulness and thoughtfulness. Working on a large cruise ship is not an easy task. Their hours are long, the work is not always pleasant and unless you are in the upper echelons, your pay is not all that great.

To the crew on The Princess Diamond, you have earned an “A”. THANKS

TIPPING

Tipping as many reviewers will acknowledge is not an universally accepted practice in every country on earth. This ship had a very diverse passenger cargo. Therefore I must frame the comments with in the framework of my country, the United States.

The policy on board the Princess Diamond is that $10 per day per passenger gratuity charge will be added to your ship board account. The problem with this is that if your received poor service from an employee, forget it, he/she is supposed to share equally in the tip pool. We think the very best employees should receive the largest amount of the tips and if you don’t give very good service, then you don’t receive a lot of tips. We decided to give an extra tip to our waiter and bus boy on the final evening. Now that’s just our thoughts.

CHILDREN’S AREA

According to the cruise director there were approximately 30 children on board. We never saw over ten as the group would sometime be seen on the decks. There are three kid’s areas on the ship, each controlled by the age of the child. The areas are first class and we always saw two Princess staff members with the kids while they were on deck. While we don’t know exactly what the activities were the children always appeared to having a great times. The ages listed in the brochures were 3-7, 8-12 and 13-17.

LIBRARY & READING ROOM

We listed these two areas together as they are contiguous on the ship. The writing room also severs as an addition area for wireless computers. There is very ,limited seating, 8 chairs in the area. They were always taken. While this is a “writing room” be prepared to bring your own paper and pen as there is none available in the area. The area does offer window seating for the limited number of seats.

Now about the library. Bring your own reading materials. We found no pocket books on day 3 and most of the hardbacks were checked out. This is one of the smallest library and least stocked libraries we have seen on any cruise ship.

One other note about this area. Part of the space has been taken over by the future cruise sales staff. You can pick up brochures on cruises being offered this year and next year.

LIFE JACKET & EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

We have all experienced the rush to the outside deck where the life boast are stationed. The “slow poke” trying to negotiate the stairways while the life vest belts dangle behind. Well, Princess has found a new way and I must quickly add, a much better method. Our deck assembled in one of the lounges on deck 76. There were given an outline of what to do in the event of an emergency and ask not to put on the life jacket until told to do so. There was staff scattered throughout the lounge. Once the instructions were completed the group was asked to put on the life jacket. This life jacket was really must easier to put on than jackets we have encountered before. A crew member then went around checking to see that all jackets had been properly put on. All were then asked to remove the jackets, secure the straps and return to the cabin. A very precise and orderly process and our “hats off” to Princess for keeping something simple.

COMPUTER AT SEA CLASSES

These classes are probably worthwhile if you know absolutely nothing about computers. There was a $25 charge per person per class (one hour) and we found the classes generally not worth the small amount of information that one would get. If you are really wanting to learn about particular computer software programs, take a short course at the local community college before going on a cruise. The cost is usually minimal and you will actually learn how to use Word or Power Point.

Charging for these “On The Seas Computer Classes” is just a money making activity for the cruise line.

FORMAL WEAR

Don’t you just hate all the fancy dress when you are actually “roughing it” at sea. Nevertheless if you are going to be part of the in crowd, you will need formal wear for the two or three nights on a 20 day cruise. I opted to rent my tux this time and leave the space in the suitcase for something that I would wear more often. I may a very good choice. My tux was delivered to my room in immaculate condition. I was given two shirts, a cumberbun, cuff links and buttons. Everything but shoes and socks. Would you believe everything fit and I was extremely well pleased. While the pants had been worn the jacket was new. The cost was only $89 for the entire 17 day cruise.

WHAT IF YOU NEED A DOCTOR?

Lets’ hope and pray that you trip will not be interrupted by a visit to the ship’s doctor. We were lucky, however we dined with a couple form Canada that had to have a small emergency surgery on her eye. They told us that the staff was most professional, that the area was spotless and they were treated with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. While the cost for a few stitches was quite high they were well pleased.

I WANT TO SHOP

Did you come to shop or to take a cruise? On the Diamond you will find a limited number of “shops” in which to run up your charge card. However, we did find some fairly good deals. Try the shop stocked with perfume. Prices are very good, compared with retail stores in the United Sates, plus there is no sales tax. In addition with a large purchase we receive an addition 15% off the total. Great deal!! Shops with the traditional souvenir items such as t-shirts, cheap jewelry and cheap watches match those found on most all the cruise ships. We just didn’t have room in our luggage to participate in the activity of buying.

This ship had a few up to date paperbacks which by they way they will ask you to donate to the library after you are finished. Small sundry items are very limited in the shop. Liquor is available, however prices back home are much better when they have sales.

ART AUCTION

Sorry but there is an art auction and some people attended every auction. I wouldn’t know a print from a painting and doubt that I would learn from any experience bidding on the ship board auction. We passed!!

SHORE TRIPS

Why is this always an item of contention with so many. On this cruise we made reservations for shore trips months before the cruise dates. Some passengers waited until the very last time and upon boarding the ship found certain shore trips sold out. Our advice, especially on these large ships, is to book and pay for the trips you desire before cruising. Some of the shore trips are outrageously priced and those we try to avoid. Nevertheless if you just have to take a helicopter ride in Alaska, be prepared to shell out a lot of cash for the experience. If you are willing to risk it, some of the same type shore excursions can be purchased on shore from locals for around half the cruise ship prices. There are exceptions to this so don’t use this is an absolute rule of thumb.

Shore trips in some countries such as Russia demand that you go with a group as a visa is required and generally supplied by the cruise line or shore trip operator. If you decide to go on your own in such a country you should have your visa in order long before the cruise date and be prepared to part with a lot of cash for the solo experience.

Even though we held confirmations for shore trip almost four months prior to the cruise , we were among a small group that found that both of our shore trips for Petropavlovsk, Russia had been cancelled two days before we arrived in port.

That was just the beginning of a day of confusion. We arrived several hours late in port. Russian Immigration and bank representatives boarded the ship prior to noon with the bank personnel exchanging Rubles for other currency. The process went smoothly. We were told as soon as immigration officials stamped our passports those passports would be delivered to the cabin after which we could obtain a tender pass and go ashore individually on our own. After lunch we noticed that additional immigration officials boarded the ship. A short time later, we were now at 1330hours, the Captain made an announcement that he felt the seas and winds were too high and he was canceling the stop.

The bank personnel then went through the process of exchanging currency and they and immigration left the ship in mid afternoon. It was around 1600 hours that the ship finally started to move toward resumption of the cruise. wind was at 16 ½ knots per hour and the ocean had 1 ½ to4 four crest.

We will probably never know what actually happened at the port, however we know that we have boarded tenders in wheather that was comparable to what we were witnessing. We also are aware that Russia sometimes has a cumbersome clearance process. Passengers were kept in the dark for far too long on the events of the day and we saw many unhappy cruisers.

ON BOARD NEWS

The Princess staff at the customer service desk, if you ask, will tell you that you can get your daily news via the CNN channel on your TV set in your cabin. That’s not always the case. At the customer service desk you may notice copies on British News and copies of The New York Times internet news. These will be printed on 8 by 11 copy paper. There is no charge however they are not freely given out to passengers. You have to ask for a copy and even then they may not offer one very quickly. Just persist, at least until all printed copies have been disbursed.

Our cabin had no controllable speaker in the room where messages could be heard. You had to open the cabin door and go into the hallway to hear such announcements. Also there was a channel on the TV which carried some of the announcements. If the Captain was making an announcement, it would come in on either the TV or in room speaker.


I NEED TO OBTAIN LOCAL CURRENCY FOR A SHORE TRIP

Russian currency we were advised could no be sold by the Princess crew and would be sold by on shore banking authorities. This did occur and the process went smoothly. The exchange rate was fair, though a little below the official rate. However, the bank also exchanged Rubles for US Dollar at the same rate, thus this seems very fair. Japanese Yen was available aboard the ship from Princess. There was a $100 US limit, however the exchange rate was very good and no service charge was imposed. We were well pleased.

PRINCESS CAPTAIN’S CIRCLE

As with most cruise lines and airlines, it sometime pay to belong to the inner circle. It appears from Princess’s brochures that you need to have at least 6 cruises for there to be any serious benefits.

DO I NEED CRUISE INSURANCE ?

We think is a personal decision that you need to make without being pressured by either the cruise line or your travel agent. If one’s health is such that long range planning is always an uncertainly then you may be a prime candidate for certain insurance. Do the airlines always lose your baggage. That’s another good reason for thinking about additional insurance. Are you traveling to high risk areas like Iraq or the Middle East. Then you are probably a candidate fro additional insurance. After all it’s not fair to the family back home to have to pay what are sometimes ridiculous coast for certain overseas services.

Do I buy from the cruise line or purchase elsewhere? I suggest you compare polices, coverage and prices, plus the reputations or BEST rating of the company issuing the coverage. You can locate all f this on the internet. Don’t expect such comparisons from your local travel agent. They are in business to push a particular product, that sometimes provides them the best commission.

Should you need to claim benefits, you should have easy access, such as telephone numbers, forms, internet addresses or local travel staff. Thus the cheapest policy may not always be the best policy if you have difficulty claiming benefits.

DEBARKATION

Contrary to several reviews we had read, we found the debarkation to be rather orderly and quickly. Now that’s by our standards. We were assigned debarkation colors according to the passengers itinerary for that day. Since we were departing from the ship and staying in Osaka there naturally would be less priority than a passenger who had an 11:00AM flight back to the United States. We were off the ship by 9:00AM, quickly located our baggage and hailed a cab within minutes. I trust everyone had as good an experience as we did. We received our ship board statement the evening before and found the charges to be 100% accurate. There was opportunity to review one’s ship board statement a couple of days prior to disembarkation and a great number of the passengers went to the purser’s desk to get a copy for review. Others waited until the very last minute and found long lines. Folks, you just have to plan ahead on some of these things in order to minimize the frustration that can be present.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

This is really a great ship. Like any cruise or vacation, we experienced some events that were not to our acceptance. We prefer the smaller ships rather than the hugh 3000 passenger ships the cruise lines seem to think customers prefer. We will be taking one or more cruises in 2006 however we think it will be on smaller ships.
 

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