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Tom Carlson

Age: 28

Occupation:Restaurant Owner/Operator

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Diamond Princess

Sailing Date: December 11th, 2004

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

I am attempting to give a review of our particular cruise. I am not attempting to create decisions for others. I hope this review will give a hint of what is to come however I will leave the decision making up to you. I will tell you that this review will blend into a subjective viewpoint but that is generally what all reviews are anyway right? I have separated this into categories to make it easier for people to follow. Our cruise was the Mexican Riviera (December 11-18) on the Diamond Princess.

Arriving in L.A.

My fiancé and I elected not to select the princess transfer option primarily because she is from Los Angeles and we wanted to travel about when and wherever we wanted. I have heard that the transfer is often crowded and sometimes encounters problems. I have not tried it so I wouldn’t know. This being our fourth cruise we have realized that we like to have control over as many things as possible. We flew into LAX from Denver on Friday night and rented a car. We stayed at the Sheraton (port of San Pedro) which was less than a half a mile to the Diamond Princess. On Saturday morning I returned the car to the Long Beach airport and paid the $25 for a cab back to the hotel. We left the hotel around 10:30am (via complimentary hotel transfer) and were at the port by 10:34am.

Embarkation

Due to the fact we were at the port rather early there was little traffic and no crowds. By the time we had jumped out of the van a baggage handler had already loaded our bags onto a baggage cart and was giving us directional information. We tipped him and approached the terminal. Make sure you tip at least 2-3 dollars per bag. If you don’t who knows where your bags will end up. We were asked to fill out a small questionnaire before entering the terminal building. This took less than 5 minutes and we were soon on our way up the escalator. The check in counters are separated by decks so be sure to check your boarding passes before you reach the check in counter. We used the online profile before we arrived in L.A. so our check in was VERY fast. We asked for an upgrade yet Princess claimed to have reached capacity so upgrades were not an option. To this point the staff (baggage handlers to the check in hostess) were WONDERFUL, the best we had encountered on any cruise. By 10:50 we were checked in and held a boarding pass number of 78. Unless you hold a suite or a platinum (or higher) status Princess boards by number. First come, first served. Because we were there so early a Princess employee allowed us to board with the platinum members. Boarding was delayed two hours as there were problems with the previous trip. U.S. customs held up the debarkation which delayed our embarkation. Some people were upset however by 1:15 we were on board and ready to tour the ship. There are people that preach waiting until 2:00 or 3:00 to arrive at the pier in order to avoid the crowds however I never preach that. If you like spa treatments and the ability to tour the ship with little crowds, get there early. Most of the spa appointments are taken by 4:00 in the afternoon and the ship becomes VERY crowded with people hitting the buffet and touring the ship. You also get your bags MUCH earlier if you get on early.

Setting Sail

Despite the boarding delay we managed to set sail on time. Before we set sail my fiancé and I had lunch (at 1:30pm) in the Horizon court buffet and then took a tour of the ship. We made our spa appointments and then headed back to the room to rest. To our surprise our bags had arrived so before dinner we were able to stow away our clothing and luggage. After an uneventful muster drill we walked up to the pool area and ordered some drinks for our sail away. Following the sail away we changed clothes and went to dinner.

Sea Days

The hard part about this Mexican Riviera cruise are the two up front sea days followed by a back end sea day. Another day at sea and I would have gone nuts. Give Princess credit though, there is MUCH to do during those two days. For one there is the spa. One little negative experience: I was jogging (had signed up for a time) on the treadmill during the first day at sea. I was kind and had let the person before me go over there time. During my jog a trainer approached my treadmill and told me I had to get off because my time was up (I actually had ten minutes left). I informed him that there were other treadmills available and I had let the previous person go over their time allotment. He didn’t care and proceeded to turn off my machine while I was running at 8.5 miles per hour. I WAS FURIOUS. I have written Princess about this but I have yet to hear back from them. This trainers name was Ian. If you see him watch out, he might shut you down!

My fiancé laid by the pool most of the day, I joined her for a few hours. There were pottery classes available however we never attended. I did test out one of the two golf simulators onboard. These were very impressive (along with the 9hole miniature golf course) and I would recommend this for golf lovers. Prices are as reasonable as any simulator in the states. There are pool games, wooden horse racing, bingo, and plenty of things to do during the sea days.

Puerto Vallarta

My fiancé is Mexican (YES, that is the right way to say it. She is not Hispanic, Latino, South American, Chilango, or Latin American. She is a Mexican and that is the politically correct way to say it) so we had an advantage over other passengers. In the past we had never used Princess tours however I wanted my fiancé to swim with the dolphins and Princess had purchased all spots for that tour. We had tried to go through Vallarta adventures but they told us the cruise ship had purchased all the reservations. This tour is great and I recommend it to EVERYONE. It’s not every day one gets a chance to swim with dolphins.

After the dolphin tour we caught a cab and went into the downtown area. We were VERY disappointed. I had been to Puerto Vallarta in the past and have been to Mexico over ten times. This was the worst city I had been to. Besides your typically American tourist shops the city was dirty, hot, and not much to see. We heard from other passengers that the tequila factory tour as well as the canopy jungle tour are the things to do in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe next time we will try one of those tours.

Mazatlan

We had a better experience here. The city was cleaner and more authentic. You had your poor parts but you were also able to experience authentic Mexican eateries and shops. We took a cab downtown and rented a kayak to paddle across the bay to deer island. We laid on the beach for three hours and then paddled back to Mazatlan. To give you an idea of cost savings: there was a Royal Caribbean tour that paid $75 per person to do the same thing we did. We paid $10 for the cab ride (each way) and $15 for the kayak TOTAL. If you can learn the language or at least know how to get around, you will save yourself some money. One little story here: I purchased some Tequila in a local store and had set my $900 digital camera/video recorder on top of the counter where the register was. When we got back to the ship I realized I had left it there. My fiancé and I quickly got of the ship (the ship was leaving in 30 minutes) and took a cab back to the shop where the kind shop keeper had put in a drawer waiting for me to return. I think the fact that both of us spoke Spanish had something to do with it!

Cabo San Lucas

This was our favorite port by far. On all of our cruises we usually like to rent a scooter (in at least one port) and head far back into the town to see the “real” Mexico. We were sidetracked along the way and ended up stopping at this brand new BEAUTIFUL shopping mall that had just opened. It was as good as any high end shopping center/mall here in the states. It was a HUGE entertainment complex which included a 24 plex movie theatre, night clubs, restaurants (American and Mexican), and many specialty shops. The weather in Cabo was much clearer and drier which made for a GREAT day.

Dining

We elected personal choice (as we always do) and were not disappointed. There were 5 restaurants to choose from on board the ship. The Sterling steak house, Pacific Moon dining, Santa Fe dining room, Italian dining room (I forgot the name), and the International dining room. There is the Horizon court Buffet but I don’t consider that a restaurant. Princess had a new concierge service where you call in every morning to make reservations for the evening. We did this only one day as we quickly found out we were able to be seated immediately, even without reservations. All of the restaurants (except the International) serve a specialty congruent with their name yet they also ALL serve the daily menu as presented in the International dining room. The specialty menus are small and there is not much selection. We did not prefer the Sterling Steakhouse nor the Italian restaurant. We really enjoyed the Pacific Moon and the Santa Fe dining room. NONE of these restaurants have excellent quality specialty foods. In fact, all of the food on Princess is OK. In my opinion mass produced foods taste like mass produced foods. I own three restaurants in Denver so I have a slight bias when it comes to food. Most of the passengers felt the food was good, not excellent, good. Princess does have a nice variety and we were happy with our dining experiences.

I was disappointed in the Horizon court buffet. I had read numerous reviews about how impressed people were with this buffet. It was ALWAYS leftovers and was never themed (even though they claimed it was). I would prefer the old day when midnight buffets were worth staying up for. It’s nice to have the 24 hour buffet but it is not very high quality. Hometown Buffet or something similar is MUCH better.

Room service was great as we chose to have breakfast in our room each morning.

Room (service)

Our room was the typical ocean view stateroom. Roughly 180 square feet with two double beds pushed together for a queen bed. Our cabin steward (Dodo) was WONDERFUL. We always take post-it notes with us (I recommend this as you will be able to lave instructions for your cabin steward) and this time was no exception. He granted all of our requests. We asked for honey roasted peanuts every day and they were always there by mid-morning. You can ask for a soft cover that will go over your mattress (we didn’t this time but know people that did) and they will accommodate if available. The robes are like hospital robes but I guess they were OK. The room was always clean and the turndown service was great. Don’t forget to fill out your daily fruit card. Each room does come with a mini-fridge, in room safe, SMALL bathroom, LARGE closet, plenty of shelves, a hairdryer, and space to store luggage under the bed.

Our room position on the boat was great. We were on the Lido deck midship, directly one floor above the four dining rooms and grand atrium. We couldn’t have asked for better placement.

Entertainment

The entertainment was great as always. Princess has high quality entertainers. The house bands located throughout the ship were TERRIBLE but the professional comedians/showman were very good. Song and dance man Tony Tillman was very good. Our cruise director was not very exciting. He lacked flair and we missed Tim Donovan from the Grand Princess. The Princess created/directed shows were good. The Piano man and the Spy show were very well done. The dancers are OK. Remember, they are not Vegas quality, otherwise they would be in Vegas! There are lots of other games and such put on my Princess that are worth attending (Princess Idol, Jeopardy, etc.).

The Ship

This ship was VERY clean (less than one year old) and the décor was nice. Princess made a mistake by putting a bar (wakeview bar which is only accessible by a spiral staircase which is in the middle of the dance floor of Club Fusion) right beneath Club Fusion. We went there twice and were the only people there both times. The theatre, art gallery, bars, clubs, etc. are all nice. Skywalkers night club never got going and the house bands were not that good. The elevators were never crowded and there was always a lounge chair available. There are plenty of pools to please everyone and the ship is big enough that you don’t feel crowds. There is a very nice Internet café on board that has the speed of a 56K connection. It’s actually pretty good considering you are out in the middle of the ocean.

Drinks

If you like to drink your best option is a martini. Princess is VERY reasonably priced in this arena. I also liked the 5 Dos Equis for only $18. You can store them in your refrigerator for later consumption.

Debarkation

This was VERY fast, the fastest we had every encountered. We wanted to meet my sister at Disneyland on the Saturday we returned so we were anxious to get off the boat. We asked the purser for an early debarkation and they granted it. We were off the boat by 8:35 and at the gates of Disneyland (this includes taking a cab to long beach to rent a car) by 9:30am.

Summary

We are very happy with Princess. Remember that no cruise is perfect. There are over 1,400 humans working on the Diamond Princess, they WILL make mistakes and many of them will be rude. You have to look at the mission/value/service statements of Princess. Overall they will do anything and everything they can to please you and you will find this true throughout the ship. Try to look past that one person ruining your cruise. Relax and enjoy yourself. These people work hard. Would we do Princess again? We are booked already for our Honeymoon

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