Philip M. Haggerty
Occupation:Retired City Attorney
Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Diamond Princess
Sailing Date: November 13th, 2004
Itinerary: Mexican Riviera
My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. This would be our fourteenth cruise and third on a Princess ship. We have sailed the Caribbean on Galaxy; on the defunct Commodore Lines’ Enchanted Isle; and on Norwegian Sun and HAL’s ms Veendam. We cruised on Regal Princess to the Baltic and Sun Princess to Alaska. We took Carnival’s Elation to the Mexican Riviera and Celebrity’s Infinity both through the Panama Canal and to Hawaii. In 2003 we did the Mediterranean on Infinity’s sister ship Millennium. Our most adventuresome trip was around Cape Horn from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity’s Mercury. This past May we did a Transatlantic repositioning cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome. All of these cruises except the first two, Carnival’s Elation cruise and the Enchanted Isle trip; can be found on reviews on this site.
Why This Cruise?
In December 2003 we sailed to and around Hawaii on Celebrity’s Infinity. We had enjoyed the islands so much we planned on doing this again and booked on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Aloha. This ship had been placed under American registry so that it could, without violating the Jones Act, sail to all American ports around the Islands without a Fanning Island, Republic of Kiribati, side trip. However the reviews of this ship’s cruises were so bad that we canceled. We were feeling cruise deprived (although we are nonetheless doing a Hawaii trip by air next week) so when we got a Princess ad with this trip, we thought, why not? We had done this Mexican Riviera trip for our very first cruise, on Carnival’s Elation, in 1999, and since Diamond Princess was virtually a brand new ship, having first sailed this past March, and the pricing was reasonable, we signed up.
This was the traditional, middle length, seven day Mexican Riviera cruise to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. There are now short cruises of four days, stopping at Ensenada, about 60 miles south of San Diego, and longer trips that take in Acapulco, Ixtapa and similar ports. We started from Los Angeles with two sea days, then three port days and then one final sea day, leaving and returning on Saturday.
Review Format - What Is Covered and What Is Not
I suppose there are people who call their travel agents, tell them to book a cruise, and do nothing until the day before embarkation when they pack and take off. We like to plan a lot, and feel that this is part of the fun of cruising. So we divide the review into pre-embarkation planning, getting to the ship; the cruise proper, port visits, and debarkation, followed by an overall picture of how we liked it, and the reasons for our feelings. Since we do not gamble, we will not review the Casino. We do not use the spa facilities, although Edith did attend stretch classes. We can’t rate the service or comfort of the poolside deck lounge area either. We do not play trivia games or newlywed games. If I tried Karaoke with my singing voice, the Captain would signal for another lifeboat drill, or perhaps just abandon ship.
Pre-planning Any Cruise
If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2004” Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the “Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition”; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and “Stern‘s Guide to Cruise Vacations 2004“; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. I know the Berlitz 2005 edition is listed for release. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines’ websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships’ layouts and cabin locations. In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. (Small lines with few ships are an exception.) The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of “specials” and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options.
Preparation was fairly minimal for this cruise. Not only had we done it before, but we had spent a week at a time share in Puerto Vallarta the year following our cruise. We also had stopped in Cabo San Lucas on our Infinity voyage though the Canal. where we actually had a full day instead of being limited by the 2:00 P.M. departure on both the Carnival and this cruise. We had done a high country tour on our last Mazatlan cruise, so this time we noted a bird watching estuary tour in the Princess excursion brochure and purchased this prior to departure. We planned to take our favorite Puerto Vallarta transportation, the local bus and bum around town. We also planned to go to San Jose del Cabo by bus.
Shipboard Accommodation Planning
Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to “standard” cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature “verandah” cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled “suites”; some of which, like Celebrity’s “sky suites” are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a verandah, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better “at sea” experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don’t spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships’ architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. For a week we certainly did not need a suite.
This of course leads to the topic of what to pack. The cruise lines will offer their suggestions, as will the books cited above. However the season, destination, length of cruise and type of ship control this. Some lines such as Holland America, Celebrity and Princess tend to more formality than Carnival or Disney Lines. A new, somewhat upscale line, Oceania, has no formal nights and neither does the very expensive Seabourn Line. But no line actually requires formal wear, although they may not admit passengers to the main dining rooms for dinner in bathing wear, cut-offs or shorts.
Aside from that, the weather and the destinations basically control what to bring in the way of clothes. Some ships, including all Princess, but no Celebrity ships, have self-service laundries, and the Berlitz guide will tell you which these will be; although if you closely peruse the ships’ layouts in the brochures, you may discover the laundry rooms on your own. We have managed to cut down on our clothing a lot since our initial cruises, but we still found that we had brought some items which were never worn.
Getting to the Ship and Back Home
The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean and Mexican Riviera cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use “open jaw” flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safety’s sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay.
Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However, your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you don’t have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to your travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind.
Having said all that, it probably does not apply with as much force for Alaska and Hawaii cruises, since you are in the United States and both Medicare and your own health insurance will be available.
Off to Mexico
We did the same thing this year that we had done on our initial Mexican cruise. Several hotels in San Pedro, the port city for Los Angeles, offer “cruise packages” in which you pay one night’s hotel stay (at the “rack rate) and get to leave you vehicle in covered parking for the duration of the cruise. San Pedro offers parking near the pier, but it runs $11.00 per day, and they would charge you for both Saturdays or 8 days on this cruise. If you add that to air fare and airport to pier transfer charges; our drive from Phoenix to San Pedro and return becomes a bargain as well as an avoidance of airport hassles. We also found an excellent restaurant, The Bistro on 6th Street, to have dinner. It was a little walk from the Holiday Inn where we stayed, but right behind the Sheraton. The hotels offer shuttle service to the pier.
The pier-side drop-off point for vans was crowded and confused even at 12:00 noon. The documents said that 1:00 was the embarkation time with a 5:00 sail-away. We did find a porter with a cart to take the luggage from our van group, and I provided him with a tip to inspire actual transportation of our bags. On entering the Terminal Building we were given a card with a letter and number and directed to keep it. Our ticket document envelope was marked “Express Check-In”, and in fact we were directed to a line in which we were immediately and efficiently checked in and given our cruise cards. We were then told to wait until our number was called. The waiting area was quite large, but the number of seats were very limited, and only sufficient for fewer than half the people waiting. Edith sat on the floor, but after a while a couple with seats left, and we grabbed them. By 1:00 the room was very crowded and people were still arriving to get into long check-in lines. The boarding commenced like airlines, children and people needing assistance first. Platinum and Elite card holders, those with 6 or more or 15 or more Princess cruises respectively, were allowed to enter as soon as they checked in, but we noted that at all times their check-in line was somewhat lengthy. We were called shortly before 2:00, went through security, posed for the boarding picture, and got to our cabin a little after 2:00. We immediately headed for the buffet for lunch, and joined a goodly number of people for a respectable meal.
Our Cabin number was B 416 on the Baja or 11th Deck. It was a standard verandah cabin. In size it was very close to the standard cabins on Celebrity and Carnival, about 180 square feet in the room plus about 35 on the verandah. This was not nearly as large as our standard verandah cabin on Zaandam. In addition to the bed there was a reasonably sized desk with chair, and one side chair with arms. The television was mounted above a small refrigerator which contained only a water pitcher. There was one painting opposite the bed. The verandah furniture consisted of two plastic side chairs and a small table. The bathroom was adequate, but barely. It was a manufactured unit, meaning it was formed out of molded vinyl plastic of some sort, not nearly as attractive as the all tile bathrooms on both HAL and Celebrity. The shower was very small. Edith and I are not overweight at all, but we envisaged that not a few of our fellow passengers would have a great deal of difficulty even fitting in much less maneuvering in these cubicles. The toilet was the noisiest we have ever encountered, a lour roar followed by a loud bang. The closet as usual facing opposite the bathroom door, was open, that is, not fitted with doors of any kind. Given the narrow space between bathroom door and closet, this was not a bad idea. There also was a cabinet at the end of the closet space with the safe and shelf space. The door to this cabinet was a full length mirror. Lighting was good, with swing arm lamps by each side of the bed. I have never had a problem with a cruise ship bed and this one was fine also. All in all it was a decent, but not very inspiring cabin.
The Ship Layout
This is a very large vessel, actually 28% larger than Millennium, the largest Celebrity ship, and until this trip, the largest we had ever sailed on. Diamond P is almost twice the size of Zaandam, the vessel of our most recent trip; and this heightened the contrast. There are 11 decks for passenger use, not counting the tender exit deck, plus one small deck constituting level 17, at the aft end of the ship and containing a small lounge called the Sky Lounge. The Sports Deck 16 is in three sections, the center section contains a small open lounge area with shuffleboard and two jacuzzis; the center section a putting green and the forward section a sports court and jogging track.
The Sun Deck 15 has the Spa, gymnasium and a lap pool forward, the Conservatory, which is a small area above the covered Calypso Pool on Deck 14, and the Fun Zone for children aft, with a small “Paddling Pool”. The Lido Deck 14 has cabins forward, the open Neptune Pool, the covered Calypso Pool and the Horizon Court with its buffet and both indoor and outdoor tables. There is no Deck 13. Decks 12, 11, 10, 9 and 8; Aloha, Baja, Caribe, Dolphin and Emerald are all passenger cabin decks except for a small adults only pool aft on Aloha Deck 12. The far forward portion of Deck 8 contains a continuation of the promenade starting on Deck 7, and actually forms the furthest forward portion of the ship, so that when you look out from that point, there is only ocean below. Deck 7, Promenade Deck has the theatre forward. This is the main theater entrance and the seats slope downward with two divisions, but only a slight separation of seating. Aft of the theater (and the forward elevators/stairwells) is the Wheelhouse Lounge, a very attractive room with comfortable leather seats and sofas, dark wood tables and walls, brass lamps, and a generally relaxing atmosphere. To one side of the lounge is a small room named the Hearts and Minds Wedding Chapel, which actually functioned as a meeting room for a variety of activities. Aft of this was the top level of the center atrium, which held two stores on the port side and a small “Crooner’s Bar”, with piano, on the starboard side. Then comes the center elevator banks with stairwells. Aft of this is the Explorer’s Lounge which can be set up for art auctions and limited shows with a large movie screen. Aft of this is an area containing the photo displays, a large internet cafe and Sabatini’s, the specialty restaurant. Then still going aft (does this give the picture of a big ship) is the Fusion Night Club, which also has show capabilities. As this description would indicate, Deck 7 was the center of most shipboard activities. Its outside promenade went completely around the ship with the factoring in of the stair going up to Deck 8 to complete the forward portion of the circuit. Deck 6 had the lower portion of the theater forward. Proceeding aft past the first elevator/stairwell foyer is found the casino, which was out of the normal traffic flow. Aft of this is the second and principal level of the atrium, with the Guest Relations desk and other stores. To the rear of this and the center elevator/stairwell foyer were two of the “anytime dining” restaurants, the Pacific Moon and Santa Fe. Immediately aft of these restaurants was the main galley, allowing no passenger access. At the aft end of this deck was the fixed, traditional seating International Dining Room. This venue could only be reached by elevators or stairs descending from Deck 7 (or higher). The aft elevators and stairs do not go below Deck 6. Deck 5 forward contains passenger cabins up to the bottom level of the atrium which has the excursion desk, library, future cruise office, a “Writing Room” with laptop connections, a piano in the center of the atrium, and a small bar. Past the elevators and stairwells are the other two anytime dining spots, the Sterling American dining room and the Vivaldi restaurant.
All the stairwells had two side by side banks of stairs; which allowed not only an easy traffic flow, but provided double wells for art displays. These were the main sites for ship’s art, and there were many very attractive paintings in a wide variety of styles. The center elevator banks had 6 elevators, while the fore and aft banks had four each. These easily accommodated traffic almost all the time with the usual exception of tender unloading situations. The center atrium, while not high or wide, was very attractive with attractive curving staircases, lots of white marble, brass trim and a generally light and pleasant atmosphere. Entertainment by pianists, and a gentleman who played violin, guitar and piano, was provided at the lower level, but the seating for the audience was very limited. The library was somewhat limited in size for a ship with this many passengers, over 3000.
We noticed that there was only one meeting room, the “Wedding Chapel“; and no true motion picture theater. Diamond Princess is unique among all the ships we have taken in that there is no forward looking lounge like the “Crow’s Nest” on HAL‘s ships, and similar venues on Celebrity and others. Perhaps to compensate there are two rear facing lounges, one at the very top, and another small lounge looking backwards from Deck 6, behind the International Dining Room and reachable only by a circular staircase leading down from a corner of the Fusion Lounge. I would wager very few of the passengers knew that the “Wake View” bar even existed. I should note at this point that I never rely on the small ship’s guides provided on board. I cut out one of the large colored deck plans from the cruise line brochure featuring the ship we are sailing on and use that to locate everything and find my way around.
Typically, the ship was spotless, and we were aware of continual corridor and public area cleaning crews maintaining this status. The carpeting was somewhat varied in color, and the walls neutral, with little decoration. The wood paneling in the stairwells and along public corridors was medium mahogany in color, but probably stained pine.
Princess is reasonably generous in providing public restrooms, usually close to the elevators. One cannot say that this is a poorly fitted out vessel; but compared to many others it is certainly not outstanding or especially appealing. The design effort seems to have been put in getting as many passengers on board, and getting them to revenue generating lounges; rather than in creating a comfortable environment with conveniences such as meeting rooms, a movie theater or places to just sit and enjoy the ocean.
The Dining Experience
This was the area of our greatest disappointment. We had asked for traditional early seating. The ship’s card showed “Anytime Dining”. We went to the Maitre'd as soon as we boarded in an attempt to change this, and were told that we were number 75 in a waiting list of 595 for early fixed seating in the International Dining Room. This alone should tell Princess something. The International Dining Room may be a little larger than each of the anytime dining rooms, but not by much. We did enjoy two lunches there, so we at least got to see it. This left us with the task of making reservations for each night. Initially we could only reserve for the first two nights, but then were free to make reservations for the rest of the cruise. The menus worked this way. Each anytime venue had its own area of specialty, with a fixed menu for this specialty which was unchanged throughout the week. However all dining rooms shared the International Dining room general menu, which was the same as one found in any “normal” main dining room. The problem for us was that under this system we did not have a regular table with the same table companions and the same waiter and assistant. For us this is one of the main pleasures of cruising. In addition, although we requested to be seated with others at the anytime venues, this request was never able to be honored. We could carry on some conversation with a table near us on occasion, but this was not nearly as satisfactory as regular seating. On the one evening when we went to Sabatini’s, the specialty restaurant, we were fortunate enough to be able to carry on a regular conversation with the delightful couple next to us, helped by the fact that we all were seated at the same time and the very amusing waiter could and did treat us as a single table for orders and service. I imagine that if people are traveling in a group, and are able to make table reservations for the group, this is not an issue, but for us it diminished our normal cruising pleasure to a marked degree. We did not enjoy the “Freestyle” dining on NCL’s Norwegian Sun either.
The Horizon Court Buffet set up was good when there was no crowding. The arrangement had the usual two buffet areas, one on the port, the other on the starboard side. Each area had stations along the back wall, and island station, and stations towards the seating area. This allowed the service of a wide variety of foods,
but with people wandering loosely rather than remaining in one line; things could get confused if there were a number of people trying to eat. In addition, Princess does not use trays in the buffet, but hands you a single large plastic plate with utensils wrapped in a napkin. Smaller plates and bowls are provided at some stations, but the balancing act can be tricky if you try to get a whole meal in one trip. If you do not, and have to return for items, you had better have your table companion stand guard lest you lose either your seat or your utensils or both. That being said, the breakfast buffet offerings were as extensive as we had ever seen, and the food was usually hot, or at least warm. The lunch buffets also had a good variety of food, which, if not exactly gourmet, was fairly decent. The servers and attendants in the buffet area were quite pleasant.
We had mixed feelings concerning the dinner meals. The Sabatini Restaurant experience was well worth the extra $20.00; both food and service being outstanding, the venue very pleasant with live music, and the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable.
We went to the Pacific Moon Dining Room 3 times, despite the fact that the Chinese duck which I had in our first visit was not very good. We managed to have the same waiter, Robert from Hungary, all three times. The first night I asked him if he was from Budapest. He said “No”. The next time I asked him what he had against Budapest, we had been there, and thought it was a nice town. This got him to laugh. The third night, when another waiter led us to our table and Robert was there, I told the other waiter. “We know Robert. He’s a nice guy, except that he got thrown out of Buda first and then thrown out of Pest”. This really amused him. This relationship with Robert, although not the same as it would have been if he had been our regular waiter for the entire cruise, made up a little bit for our loss of assigned seats. We enjoyed the sushi at the Pacific Moon, and the rest of the meals after the first. Our final meal at the Sterling was a disappointment for me. This is supposed to be an American experience, and I thought that I might get a filet mignon. No such luck. Only roast beef, a t-bone steak or pork chops were offered. I opted for the roast beef and it came in the form of a very large hunk, fairly tough, and with little flavor. The other meals were very good, without being outstanding. The dessert selection is somewhat limited, and we missed the waiter bringing us the tray of desserts to look at before we had to choose as they do in many fine restaurants and on Celebrity ships. We noticed also that the wait staff was spread a little thin, with Robert having to handle 20 people at 4 tables for two and two tables with six each. This made service a little rushed. There was a complete lack of any personal touch to the service at the other three anytime restaurants.
Edith dines off the vegetarian menu, and was thought the selections and preparation were quite good and much better than on Holland American.
Princess does not do “midnight buffets” or special buffets. The Horizon Court is open 24 hours a day with food, and there were three “themed” buffets, Mexican, Italian and Oriental.
We did order room service once; a breakfast on the Puerto Vallarta day because we had no need to leave the ship for a planned tour. We did however ask for the earliest
serving time which was 7:30. The selection was made via a card left in the room every day, and while it was somewhat limited, provided the basics. It arrived on time and was reasonably warm. We ate on the balcony overlooking the city, and it was quite pleasant.
Princess is unique in a few ways. Their revue shows are owned and staged by them, not set up by independent companies. Royal Caribbean is the only other line to do that. Additionally, Princess repeats the revue shows during the cruise, which makes the passenger’s scheduling a lot easier. The Explorer’s Lounge was used for one review show and one classical guitar concert, which was no bad, but a little short. The Cruise Director, Chris Nichol, actually sang at one main theater show. We preferred his singing to his rah-rah approach to everything else. The singers and dancers presented two shows, one of which, Piano Man, was very good, and the other, Under Cover, not bad at all. In Puerto Vallarta they flew on Tony Tillman for one show. He is a singer comedian, and really was extremely entertaining. Even Edith liked him and she does not enjoy comedians. There also was a magician-comedian, Lorenzo Clark, who was enjoyable. As usual, the music was loud, but when we went back to see Piano Man the second time, we sat further back in the theater, and it was better. When I went, as I always do, on the backstage tour, the lead dancer said he had done Piano Man at least 120 times, so it is not surprising that it was very well done. The theater is as up to date in technology as can be imagined, and a very nice venue. There is not too much drink hustling before the shows, and the theater style seating does not allow for waiters moving down the rows too easily. All in all we would have to rate the entertainment as among the better offerings we have enjoyed.
We like sea days. Princess’ activities were better than on either HAL cruise, but not as good as Celebrity. We think the Princess Patter, the daily activity sheet, is very poorly done and has gaps in its information. For example, we very much liked the musicians appearing in the atrium, but neither their names or show times were provided. There was no world news sheet provided as on Celebrity. Although we were normally within range of CNN satellite news, this is not really convenient because of the lack of information concerning the timing and contents of their broadcasts. There are an abundance of lounge chairs, some with good padding, all around the ship, and the promenade on Decks 7 and 8 is a delight, although the decking is not real teak. As I noted in the description of the ship, there are a number of pools and jacuzzis, although the somewhat low air temperatures on our sea days meant it was only the jacuzzis that got much use.
Princess’ internet policy should be followed by every cruise line. It is a simple $0.35
per minute charge with no “package” purchase required. I used it twice, and when I had a connection problem the second time and had to switch machines, I had no difficulty in getting a refund from Guest Relations.
Edith reported that the cooking demonstration involved a complete kitchen setup on the main theater stage, and that it was well done. She skipped the galley tour and since the theater, which holds 750 people, was full for this demonstration and they all trooped back through the ship to see the galley, she did not miss much. If you have seen one ship’s galley, you pretty much have seen them all.
Our Land Tours
We have spent time in Puerto Vallarta before. We love to take the city buses, which are old, have no padding on the seats, require you to grab hold of something as soon as you get on because they take off with a quick jump and never slow down, and come by every two minutes it seems. They now cost 4 pesos, when they were 3 pesos four years ago. But the peso on this trip was at 11.l0 posted, and 11.23 through my ATM purchase; so a bus ride costs $0.36 which is worth it in entertainment alone, never mind the truly rapid transit. All the many Americans who make PV their home ride the local buses, at least up to 10:00 P.M. when they stop. We rode downtown and strolled around for a while. We stopped in at Galleria Uno, which is partly owned by a lady who is my former boss’s (we are now both retired) cousin. We missed her this trip, but the art is certainly first class and worth seeing. The Malecon (boardwalk along the Banderas Bay) was as beautiful as ever. We had coffee at a restaurant looking out over it and the bay. We then went down to the island in the river separating the more tourist, (northern) part of the city from the old city. There a two or three good places to eat here and we had lunch at the River Restaurant where the hostess was from Connecticut. It was a delightful lunch under a covered patio by the river, and quite reasonable. Edith had earlier acquired a piece of costume jewelry, a ring, which had zircon insets. A few of the zircons were missing, and she wanted to replace them. We went to Diamonds International to inquire, knowing that they probably would not want to admit that zircons even exist, much less carry them. One of the salesman however, when asked if anyone had them, told us of a place which could do the work, and located it on our ships shopping tour map. It was in the old town, and we could not find it immediately. I went into a fairly large store and asked in my best high school Spanish: “Conoce usted una tendia llamada Diamante Azul?”, and showed him the map. He said ;“Yes, and do want me to give you directions in Spanish or English?” He then also said it was a fine place that had done his wedding ring. When we got there the young man behind the counter spoke no English, but Edith was able to get her message across. At first he said to come back the next day, but when we told him we were leaving “este dia”; he said “Veinte minutos”. We agreed to come back in 20 minutes and walked around town for a while. We saw a sign reading “The Book Store” and went in to find an American and his stock of English language books. He had been coming down to Puerto Vallarta for many years and had moved down and opened his store about two years ago. We returned to Diamante Azul, picked up the ring and went on our way. Our visit to Puerto Vallarta was a delight and a success.
The next day we arrived in Mazatlan. We had signed up for the estuary bird watching expedition. The pier had a number of people in bright green jackets working for the various tour companies. One of them told us to follow him through the pier side bazaar and to a waiting area. There we waited again for the rest of our group, When they showed up it turned out that eight of them were Russians from the Stockton area in California and six were from southern California; but none were from our ship. They all were passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas which was docked immediately behind Diamond Princess. In any event we shortly boarded a small boat which had a roof, but was otherwise open. We traveled up the estuary, or perhaps down, since it was in a southerly direction observing the local birds. There were pelicans everywhere and the beautiful frigate bird. After we left the port area we sailed along the mangrove groves which formed the shoreline, and saw many wading birds.
The guide was a little difficult to understand when he used the boat’s PA system, but close to shore he spoke without it to avoid alarming the birds, and was more intelligible.
We landed on the island which forms the western, or Pacific side of the estuary. It is called Stone Island (Isla Pierda) and is owned as a cooperative by the families living there. They raise coconuts, maintaining extensive coconut palm orchards everywhere.
After about a half hour trip in a bus back towards the port, we stopped at a seaside restaurant and were fed. There were a number of other tours there, and if I had thought, I would have worn my bathing suit and gone swimming in the ocean. Horses were also available for rental. At about 3:00 we took a short trip back to the port area where our boat awaited us, and we made a quick trip across the harbor to our ship. We would have had time for a quick trip to the Old City which is virtually adjacent to the pier, but were a little weary. All in all it was an enjoyable 6 hour adventure for the fairly reasonable price of $79.00 per person.
Our next stop was Cabo San Lucas. This is a tender port, although we were told that a pier will be constructed for cruise ships since so many stop there. Our time there was limited, and Edith awoke not feeling too well. However she perked up and we followed our original plan to go to San Jose del Cabo, a town about 20 miles east of Cabo San Lucas across the base of the Baja peninsula. Again we took a local bus, which was a pretty good normal city bus, although crowded. We could not get a seat together until the ride was half over. By the Edith had engaged an American couple in conversation. They spend a week each year in “Los Cabos“, a generic nickname for the whole southern end of the peninsula. En route we passed a number of high end resorts, and more are under construction. We goy off the bus in San Jose del Cabo, with directions on how to get to the center of town. It was about a mile walk through an area which was not a tourist area. The stores clearly were for the locals. It is a clean and pleasant town. The center, when we reached it, had some more tourist type stores, and an office for condo sales manned by at least one American, a salesman form New Jersey who has lived there ten years. There are some very high priced properties, but also a selection of places which are quite affordable by the standards of most Americans. Los Cabos is more expensive than most of Mexico, but nowhere nearly as costly as Maui, for example, or Grand Cayman, or California. We caught the bus back easily and were back on board about 1:00 for a 2:00 P.M. sailing.
After one more sea day we arrived in San Pedro. Debarkation was very slow. We waited, first in our room, and then in the atrium, until almost 10:00 before our number and baggage bag tag color was called. The line through immigration was also slow, but faster for US citizens than non-citizens. The immigration inspector asked what I did for a living and for my birth date. He then asked Edith why she had been born in Germany. This was the first time we had ever been questioned on re-entry into the US.
We finally made it to the outside curb about 11:00 and waited about 20 minutes for our shuttle. The drive home was uneventful.
Since we had no regular seating, we had no table photographs taken. The one formal shot was on entering the Captain’s reception, and it was not bad; but the boarding photo was so good we purchased that one.
Our room steward introduced himself the first day, and was very efficient. We had to ask for bathrobes as they are not provided except on request. The front desk staff was very pleasant. When we went to the library on embarkation it was staffed by one of the Cruise Director’s staff, and she was very pleasant. But thereafter no one was in attendance, and Princess simply trusts you to return the books; there is no check out.
Tipping is automatic at the rate of $10.00 per person per day added to your shipboard account. They had started this policy by the time we made our first cruise with them to Alaska in May, 2002; so it came as no surprise. You can make adjustments at guest relations if you wish. But with anytime dining, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reward special dining service.
Security was not very evident except at ports. The crew members you would see in the hallways usually nodded and smiled hello. We are pretty well organized on our travels by now, and don’t require much in the way of special service, so we really do not have a great deal of information on this aspect of the cruise.
Well, as Edith just said when I told her where I was in this review; “It was all right”. If this is damning with faint praise; perhaps we were a trifle unjust. Diamond Princess is a nice new ship. It is clean and well taken care of. The crew is very pleasant and the food mostly very good. The itinerary is not the most exiting, but I believe most people, like us, look on this as a cruise for relaxation, not adventure, and it does provide relaxation with three sea days. Our main problem was in not securing traditional fixed seating. We will not sail on a cruise without fixed seating unless there is no choice. We have to do this for our next cruise on Oceania’s Insignia. But this is an adventure cruise, starting in Manaus, Brazil and proceeding down the Amazon, out the Atlantic to Devil’s Island, the Venezuela coast and Tobago, and then debarking in Barbados. Insignia has only 650 passengers, so we expect to find a few people to dine with on a more or less regular basis. But on any large cruise ship, we want to have the sociability of the same group of dinner companions to share the doings of the day and the plans for the next day.
The entertainment was good, both as to the main theater venue and the shows provided. The provision of news both as to shipboard and world events was poor, and there were too many bingo announcements. The one ship’s tour we took was quite good, and reasonable; but I suppose you have to be interested in wildlife and birds to appreciate it. We thought that our cabin was fairly nice, but I would have liked another chair for reading. The bathroom was okay, but the shower very small as we noted. We did not believe that the ship’s layout was the best since so much of the activity was centered on Deck 7. We were usually pretty smart at timing our buffet visits so we were able to serve ourselves and sit down, but there were a couple of times that we were wandering around with plates full of rapidly cooling food before we found seats. This is simply a factor of having 3000 people on board, and we prefer small ships for this reason.
Would we do this cruise again? Well, it was our second Mexican Riviera cruise, so the answer is - probably not. There are a number of other cruises we have either scheduled or are considering, and if we want to see this part of the world again, it is pretty easy to do by a simple flight down the coast to any number of good places to stay at fairly reasonable prices. Would we recommend Diamond Princess? We think there may be better choices, although the price was very reasonable - less than $1,000.000 per person for a verandah cabin. If you are traveling with a group and thus able to make full table dinner arrangements at all of the anytime dining venues, then this would eliminate our major disappointment with this cruise. Or, you can be sure that you get traditional seating by booking very early. If you can book a larger verandah suite it might be better, although the Caribe and Dolphin Deck verandahs extend out to get their larger size, and thus are open to be seen from our Baja Deck verandahs.
In any event, if you go, book one dinner in the Sabatini Restuarant, even if you have traditional seating.
And, of course, you can follow the example of the lady in Cabo San Lucas. When asked by another passenger on the return tender if she had had a good day; she replied, “Well, it was fine until I hit a wave wrong and fell off my jet ski. They had to come rescue me”. The other passenger replied; “Oh, and pardon me madam, but how old are you”? She answered; “84”.