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Princess Cruises: Diamond Princess

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating

By Mike_CR

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Jul 9, 2012

Alaska

The Diamond princess was our first cruise with the princess cruise line. We were very happy with all the aspects of the cruise. Over all we had a fantastic experience with Princess. If you are thinking about Alaska, the Diamond Princess is a great way to go. We had the anytime dinning feature and enjoyed the opportunity to try the four different dining rooms. The menu in each was the same, except for the fact that a daily special was

offered. This special was not on the menu and was given to you by your waiter. We enjoyed the service in the Santa Fe and Savoy the best. The food was good and well seasoned. As like any cruise you could order as many appetizers, entrees, and desserts as you wish. We had six people in our group, so dinner was always an hour and a half to two hour event. We did breakfast in the Horizon court (buffet). They had a wide selection of food from cold cereal to egg omelets to order. They offered many different fresh fruits and pastries and breads. The staff was constantly changing out the food to keep fresh items available. Each day during the lunch hours they provided a theme buffet. We found this food to be very good and fresh as well. Our only complaint was in the specialty restaurant Sterling Steak house. This cost $20 person and is noted as one of the best places to eat on the ship. I need to be very specific, the food (steak) was outstanding. The service on the other had was about as bad as I have every had at any restaurant. We were ignored for the first 25 to 30 minutes, then we almost had to beg to get our water refilled. Just a poor experience from start to finish. We had a balcony room which was so nice. They did a good job of giving each side of the ship the same equal time while viewing the glaciers. So nice to sit on your balcony and watch large chunks of ice 100's of years old fall into the sea. My wife got coffee delivered to the room each morning, always at the time she requested. Good size room and bathroom considering you are on a ship. The shows were all good, but none were outstanding. The last night members of the crew staff performed and they were very entertaining. The cruise director (Kelvin) and assistant (Dan) were tremendous. The games and shows they emceed were do not miss events. The under the stars movies are not to be missed. They give you blankets to keep warm. They serve warm cookies and popcorn. The Zip line in Juneau The Diamond princess was our first cruise with the princess cruise line. We were very happy with all the aspects of the cruise. We arrived in Whittier after riding the train from Denali. While the line was long, it moved well and we were on the ship in a short period of time. I used the spa service every day. The steam room was always hot and the showers in the spa were well stocked and larger than the showers in the room. We found the staff to be friendly and helpful for the most part. A few crew members did not seem to know where some places where on the ship, however, for the most part they were courteous. The drink prices were very fair, much better than RC (Royal Caribbean). Princess lets each person bring on board one bottle of alcohol. Over all we had a fantastic experience with Princess. If you are thinking about Alaska, the Diamond Princess is a great way to go.

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By Mike_CR

  • New

Jul 9, 2012

Alaska

The Diamond princess was our first cruise with the princess cruise line. We were very happy with all the aspects of the cruise. Over all we had a fantastic experience with Princess. If you are thinking about Alaska, the Diamond Princess is a great way to go. We had the anytime dinning feature and enjoyed the opportunity to try the four different dining rooms. The menu in each was the same, except for the fact that a daily special was

offered. This special was not on the menu and was given to you by your waiter. We enjoyed the service in the Santa Fe and Savoy the best. The food was good and well seasoned. As like any cruise you could order as many appetizers, entrees, and desserts as you wish. We had six people in our group, so dinner was always an hour and a half to two hour event. We did breakfast in the Horizon court (buffet). They had a wide selection of food from cold cereal to egg omelets to order. They offered many different fresh fruits and pastries and breads. The staff was constantly changing out the food to keep fresh items available. Each day during the lunch hours they provided a theme buffet. We found this food to be very good and fresh as well. Our only complaint was in the specialty restaurant Sterling Steak house. This cost $20 person and is noted as one of the best places to eat on the ship. I need to be very specific, the food (steak) was outstanding. The service on the other had was about as bad as I have every had at any restaurant. We were ignored for the first 25 to 30 minutes, then we almost had to beg to get our water refilled. Just a poor experience from start to finish. We had a balcony room which was so nice. They did a good job of giving each side of the ship the same equal time while viewing the glaciers. So nice to sit on your balcony and watch large chunks of ice 100's of years old fall into the sea. My wife got coffee delivered to the room each morning, always at the time she requested. Good size room and bathroom considering you are on a ship. The shows were all good, but none were outstanding. The last night members of the crew staff performed and they were very entertaining. The cruise director (Kelvin) and assistant (Dan) were tremendous. The games and shows they emceed were do not miss events. The under the stars movies are not to be missed. They give you blankets to keep warm. They serve warm cookies and popcorn. The Zip line in Juneau The Diamond princess was our first cruise with the princess cruise line. We were very happy with all the aspects of the cruise. We arrived in Whittier after riding the train from Denali. While the line was long, it moved well and we were on the ship in a short period of time. I used the spa service every day. The steam room was always hot and the showers in the spa were well stocked and larger than the showers in the room. We found the staff to be friendly and helpful for the most part. A few crew members did not seem to know where some places where on the ship, however, for the most part they were courteous. The drink prices were very fair, much better than RC (Royal Caribbean). Princess lets each person bring on board one bottle of alcohol. Over all we had a fantastic experience with Princess. If you are thinking about Alaska, the Diamond Princess is a great way to go.

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Jun 19, 2010

Diamond Princess

The Diamond Princess is beautiful ship. Princess is the only way to go. We did the 7 day cruise from Vancouver to Whitier Alaska and then we boarded the train into Denali for a 9 hour ride. The train was a little long but nice. We did 5 days on land. Two night at Denali lodge and one night at Mt. Mckinley and the on to Anchorage where we spent one night at the Captain Cook and then we flew from Anchorage to Vancouver and spent the night at The Fairmont

at the airport and then flew home to Tennessee the next day. The overall trip was absolutely amazing all the wildlife we saw, the seaplane ride in Ketichan, if you want to do this book with SEAWIND AVIATIONS-- STEVE KHAMM, you won't be sorry, he is the best pilot. We had so much fun. In Juneua we did whale watching we say humback and orcas. The whole trip was a dream come too. Princess took care of all our luggage and suttles and buses for the whole trip we had no worries. Princess you are the best!!!!!!!!!! This was my 7th cruise and I will book with Princess again and again!!! em tennessee The food was wondeful, everything we ate, in the buffet or in the main dinning room it was great. Our stateroom was spacious, we had the best stateroom attendant always there to help us. My husband and I was really interested in on board activies we where there for the Alasa scenery. These are things that are a must to do!! Seaplane ride in Ketchikan, Whale watching in Juneua, the white pass summit train ride in skagway. If you are thinking of taking a trip to Alaska and doing the cruise and land tour, donot hestate to book with Princess, espaecially the Diamond princess they take care of you all the way. No worries. This was our second trip to Alaska. We loved it the weather was good every day except one day it drizzed.

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Sep 9, 2009

Vancouver to Whittier Inside Passage

We had an amazing cruise! This being our first cruise. It was a great experience. The ship was amazing. It was huge, clean and well maintained. We had a room pretty much in the center of the ship and except for a slight jerk, did not feel anything. All the public palces were very well maintained, nicely furnished etc. On the first day they try to sell you the soda stuff like crazy! I understood that it was the normal process though and they were gone

by the morning of the second day. We had amazing weather (thank god). There was absolutely no rain; it was clear and sunny. We saw all the glaciers. The captain was great in giving updates and the park rangers who got onboard were very good. The food was very, very good. We got special order Indian food on dinner for all days. We probably could have done that for lunch also, but because of the uncertain nature of our sleep times and other activities, we did not. We had lunch generally at the Lido deck on the horizon court. The food was always available and the presentation was awesome. They were refilling constantly and accommodated all our requests. We requested hot milk for our son three times a day and it was available in minutes. The service people were very friendly and helpful. For breakfast I went to the Trident grill for special omlets and fresh waffles and it was just awesome (wish we had that kind of service at home every day). Food is always available in one place or the other. I took the coffee card and it was okay, everything cappucino, latte, mocha etc tasted the same. I would avoid that on the next trip. We do not drink soda or alcohol...so we cannot comment on that. We had a few virgin drinks and they were very good. My son had pizza a few times and it was very very tasty. Same with the french fries that I packed for snaks in the afternoon. They provided free cone icecreams (vanilla and chocolte) and that was a pleasant surprise. The coffeee, iced tea, lemonade etc all were of good quality. A note for vegetarians, particularly Indians: if you want Indian food, make sure you register and put your request once you enter the ship. It does not matter what you do before you get on to the ship. What you do on the ship is what is taken care of. Once you tell them about your vegetarian needs, everything is taken care of. They provide so much food for two people! Sometime we felt bad we are wasting so much. We had a Balcony stateroom on the Baja deck. Our room attendant was Orlando. He was very very friendly and a really nice guy. Was very playful and friendly with our son. He took care of the rooms like they were his own and was always smiling. The balcony was very very nice and useful. We paid twice the amount for our room, compared to a inside stateroom. I felt that since being our first cruise and also having a 4 year old, we should not feel claustrophobic. I feel that the first impression is always the best impression. It was worth the money. Most of the glaciers were on our side (port side) and we had tremendous views of sunset. There were plenty of onboard activities but we did not take part in any due to lack of time. The daycare (Fun Zone) for kids was just awesome. Misty and gang there at funzone were great and took care of the kids very very well. Cannot comment on excursions since we did everything on our own. Everything was great about the trip! Our flights from Baltimore to Vancouver and return from Anchorage were all on time. The cruise was on time. It was a great feeling once we hit the port at Vancouver. We drop our suitcases to the cruise guys and that's it....immigration and customs was a breeze...there are so many people to help you. Once that was over, you get to the Princess counter and everything is ready for you. They give you the information cards, your onboard cards...it was great. Also the way they provide information every night on next day's activities was great and useful (too much literature at sometimes). Lot of paper could be saved. We got into the ship by noon on saturday. We were able to get a good lunch, look around the ship and take a nap, before it left port around 4.40p.m. One of our bags did not arrive till about 4p.m and I was worried...but turned out it was delivered to our adjacent room by mistake. The 7 days went by really fast! We saw 10-15 whales on Sunday on our way to Ketchikan. All the three stopovers: Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau were good. We did some shopping, the usual t-shirts, magnets etc. The best part of the trip was the glaciers. Mendanhall was a disappointment though. Margerie glacier in Glacier bay and the Harvard Glacier in Prince William sound were unbelievable. There are no words to describe. Piece of advice: if you are looking for cruise for first time, don't think twice. Book a inside stateroom as they are cheap. They're $500 per person for seven days. They are 3 star accomodations and 4 star food. What more do you want? Additionally you do not have to drive. It is definitely worth it.

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Aug 26, 2009

Alaska

This was my first cruise. You need to know that I brought by daughters (12 and 14) and had two adjoining balcony staterooms-port side, upper decks (Aloha). My family and I very much enjoyed the cruise. If you've never been crusing before, it is largely what you have heard. There are a lot of seniors and the general vibe on the boat leans that way. The entertainment is good-fun dance shows etc. - but again, it is the sort of thing you would expect

on a cruise ship. I'm not putting it down, its just that if you go onboard expecting it to be beyond your wildest dreams, like any other trip, it will let you down. I wouldn't recommend the casino as the slots are set at payoff levels that are really low. I liked the in house band. They did a lot of covers of rock songs that were sort of cheesy, but fun to listen to. The dance show we went to was good, but clearly aimed at an older crowd. It was a history of dance and ends it with the seventies and disco (my kids noticed that hip hop was missing and, to be fair, it is big omission). But, again, who really cares? If you are getting on a ship expecting to see the finals of So You Think You Can Dance - you are asking more than they can provide unless you want to double your passage. There is so much to do during the day for kids that if you have a family I think it is definitely worth taking them. The 10-12 group was especially good. They might think about doing a 13-15 and 15-17 group because the 13-17 group makes it difficult for the kids at both ends of that age group to relate (big developmental differences). Meaning, my 12 year old loved her group - my 14 year old not so much. I was blown away by the quality of service. We had any time dining but ended up in the Sante Fe room where the waiters new our names, remembered what we ordered the night before. I didn't care for the check in process of embarkation, but it wasn't the Princess end of it so much as it was American immigration in Vancouver (you have to go back through INS because you are heading to Alaska from Canada). That is more a problem with the nonsense of US law than a fault of Princess. If you have the cash, however, I would recommend spending the night in Vancouver before boarding. We muscled it out and flew from LA to Seatle to Vancouver and the journey started at 3:00 Am, we were a bit fried by the time we got on the boat. The food is good, often very good (they do a crab and lobster night); but you won't find a lot of serious spice or anything that really grabes the taste buds (I would imagine the general demographic would have a problem with a lot of spice). Like you've heard, there is a lot of it - almost to the point of being gross. In the buffet they serve it up on platters. We did the premium Italian one night (you pay an extra 20 per person), and it was very good as well. There were multiple courses and excellent service. We also did both wine tastings. They will try to sell you the wine and, frankly, the prices aren't bad for the high end stuff, but we just tasted. It was still fun and interesting. Like I said above, my perception was that they really could have a few dishes that have some serious kick to them (but I'm a spice head). If you are still active, there is a gym on board. I ran the deck, it was great because you get your work out in and still get to see all of the cool stuff. The rooms were great! They had comfortable beds (like a very good hotel - not high end, but very good). The bathrooms are not huge, but very adequate. There is great water pressure in the shower (I know that sounds trivial but if you travel a lot you know what I mean). Our room steward (hey Leno) was excellent. The bed was mysteriously turned down each night. He kept the rooms clean without lurking around. The balcony made the room for me. I had no problem with sea sickness, despite a couple of rocky nights (they pick up the speed at night to get to the next port and the ocean, while very calm in this area, was choppy enough to rock the boat a bit). I think being able to have an open balcony helps with that. A tip-I would reserve on Aloha or one below if I was going for the balcony again because the balcony is covered by the floor above. The lower deck balconies are exposed and it will rain in that area from time to time. BTW-the Port side actually seemed to be better for viewing. The captain will turn the ship for both sides to view glaciers, but they seemed to naturally come up on the Port side more on the Northern passage. I was concerned that Port wouldn't be as good. If you are really tight on funds, I wouldn't do a cruise. The cost will be too dear and you will, therefore, expect more than anything they can offer. The booze is extra, and there are some things to buy on board that will catch the eye. I think it is possible to just do the ship and not excursions. I know my parents who did this in their seventies didn't do excursions. I really enjoyed the shore excursions-particularly the Iditarod Dog camp in Juneau. Yes, everything is a bit pricey, but not unreasonably so in my view. If you have the funds (and this one was pretty cheap) to do the Rainforest tour in Ketchikan. You'll see bears, reindeer, eagles and you will get wet. Additoinally, you will be simply blown away by the glaciers and wild life that surround the boat. We had killer whales and hump backs right off of our rooms on many occasions. We did: Juneau Dog Sleds- We loved this, but you need to love dogs. These are real dogs, and they smell and howl and pull you and you get to see dogs the way the are supposed to be: active and real and slightly uncivilized. You get to hold the pupies at the end. Rainforest Expedition- We loved it despite being drenched. Whale Watching in Skagway with Salmon Feed (best meal of the trip-out door) - Saw many, many whales and the Salmon Feed was excellent. Eagle Santuary Jet Boat Adventure- This was very cool. You really get back into the woods and see eagles. Everything else was hiding. It was fun to talk to the guys who work there and hear about living in Alaska, one of the last free places. Overall: if you have the cash and aren't looking for perfection go for it. If you are looking to be annoyed, it won't matter where you are, you are there. It is an awesome experience. I think the crew generally goes out of their way to be helpful. There are lines at the purser's desk from time to time. It's good to be flexible. I would definitely cruise with Princess again. BTW, the Holland American ship left Vancouver with us and followed us around. By comparision, I felt sorry for the Holland American passengers. The Diamond was really the best looking ship out there and seemed to have priorty docking (front docking) at the ports we were in.

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Jul 21, 2009

Alaska

Princess treated us like royalty and we never once had to worry about a thing. From the time we landed in Vancouver to the day we took off from Fairbanks things ran absolutely smoothly. Their logistical planning is excellent and their staff, whether on the cruise, driving a bus at a shore excursion or at a lodge in the wilds of Alaska was uniformly positive, upbeat and helpful. The food was about what I expected. Good, more than ample portions

and options and well cooked. Not gourmet by any means but satisfying and tasty. The room was comfortable and the balcony was a decided asset. Plenty to do if you want, and plenty of opportunity NOT to do anything if that's what you want. Although the ship is huge and carries a large crew I never once felt boxed in or crowded. Land excursions really add a bonus to the cruise. We did eagle watching in Ketchikan, whale watching in Juneau, the train in Skagway and river rafting at both Copper River and Denali. Each was enjoyable in their own distinct way. The guides knew what they were doing and the support staff (drivers, greeters etc.)were always pleasant and friendly. My wife and I have talked about Alaska for twenty years and this year we did it, and did it RIGHT. We enjoyed Princess so much that we've already booked for next summer, this time to the Baltic and Scandinavia. Thanks for a wonderful time.

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Oct 5, 2008

Beijing - Bangkok

Beautiful ship - terrible Purser's Desk. They turned what could have been a very good experience into the cruise from hell. Despite several emails to Princess management before I got off of the ship to investigate failed systems aboard the ship, they ignored what was happening on the ship. Would I take another Princess cruise - yes, if the price was right. But next time I will video what goes on to make post on youtube. This ship is the Fawlty

Towers of Princess but it is not funny if it is happening to you. Above average. The bakery food (breads, cakes, etc) were well above average. Dining room was average. Clean, well maintained. Some soundproofing issues relative to other ships. Good cabin service. overall above average. The cruise director was a smart aleck. Many errors in bulletin. Overall less than average for Princess, but on a par compared to other cruise lines. Excursions are a rip off because of disembarkation issues and price. I have taken a cruise a year since 1974 (beginning with the old Costa Italia). We have never been ignored or disrespected on any previous cruise's until now. Let me give some examples... We arrived to the ship in Beijing. Boarding procedures and the speed of boarding was good. We had been traveling for some time before arriving on the ship, and we were carrying three currencies - but no USA dollars. We needed to do laundry and the machines on the ship take USA coins. There is an ATM machine aboard the vessel but it was not working at that time. We went to the Purser's Desk to get money for the laundry. They told me that they could not exchange the currencies I was holding (even though they were currencies of the stops the ship was making). Okay. I needed to do laundry. I asked the Purser what could he recommend so that I could do laundry. He told me to use the ATM. I said I would but the ATM was not working. He said to go to the casino and give them a credit card. I said the casino was closed, but would they really run a credit card for $3 ? I just needed to do one load of laundry. He said no, he thought the minimum was $100. I said I did not need $100, but in any event I wanted to do laundry now (the casino was closed). At this point he told me there was nothing he could do for me. I asked that he work with me for a solution. He repeated that there was nothing he could do for me. I asked him just to give me $3, and charge it to my room account. He said he could not because all the money on the ship needed to be accounted for. He told me to borrow the money from another passenger. I said let me talk to your supervisor. He said he was the supervisor (he was wearing a shoulder board with only one stripe so I really doubted that was true). I said I wanted him to put in writing what he was telling me. He refused. I told him I was not going to leave this desk without the $3 I needed to do laundry. At this point we had a pretty good crowd watching. He went away and five minutes later he returned with a $10 roll of quarters which he said he would charge to the room account. I thanked him and left. I went to the Purser's Office the next morning to tell them CNN was not working. They told me CNN was not available in this part of the world. I walked away. I knew the answer was a lie but it was obvious he did not care to deal with the problem, or maybe he knew what the problem was and just wanted to blow me off. [Note: CNN is worldwide, and in Asia is up-linked from Hong Kong]. I was thinking the ship did not pay its bill for the new overhead satellite provider, and the one they had been using was now too close to the horizon to be able to receive the signal properly. CNN came back after we left Shanghai (over two days later). We were having an internet problem on the ship. For me, I make a living trading stock and access to the internet is important. When we arrived on the ship, a notice was posted on the internet cafe saying service was currently down but would be restored shortly after leaving Beijing. One good thing about being a Platinum Captain's Circle Member on Princess is free internet (free means about 250 free minutes or about 15 minutes a day for this cruise). Yes, bad timing as the worldwide stock markets are crashing. Okay. I woke up the next morning to no internet. I went to the internet cafe. No ship staff there. Back to the Purser's Desk. Told internet would be restored by tonight. I said are you sure and could you check?? No he said, he did not have to. The Purser's office knows everything. I walked away and I was blown off again by the Purser's Office. I walked around the ship looking for anyone with shoulder boards to get the real answer. [I was on a bus drivers holiday. I actually own a small ship with similar high seas internet data facilities]. I began to realize that there were no officers in the public areas. I started asking other passengers who were on this ship from Alaska about the internet. They said it has been down almost the whole voyage. Each of them told me a very different story on what the problem was. I asked them who told them what was wrong with the internet and each time they said it was the Purser's Desk. It was now evening on the second day. I went to the Purser's Desk as I had been actively looking all day for a ship's officer to no avail (I am no genius but I am positive they were hiding) - when will the internet be ready. They said sometime tonight. What was the problem I asked? We are checking the systems out said the Purser's Office. I walked away. I knew how my ship's data systems operated and knew this was not true. I was thinking the only reason for this was that Princess did not pay the bill. Was Princess having a cash flow problem?? Now we docked in Shanghai - our first stop. I took the shuttle bus into the city to look for an internet cafe. Spent the day in Shanghai at the internet cafe - so much for a tour of the city. Got back to the Diamond Princess. New sign now at the ship's internet cafe - the service would be up as soon as we left Shanghai. Long story short, the internet was up at midnight and remained up for the rest of the voyage. It was now the morning of the third day aboard the ship. I was upset at the ship and the flippant behavior of the Purser's Desk. I own a ship, and have been on over 30 cruises to date - I know things cannot be and never are perfect. But this was the first time that I felt that I was being treated like a child, my requests disregarded - in short I was being made miserable. Further, I was still upset that the Nagasaki stop had been eliminated (this is another long story) - and for sure it was not because of things beyond the control of Princess. I thought to myself that even if things got perfect now, the first days aboard the ship were so bad that this could not be an enjoyable vacation. I requested in writing for my money back and to be put off of the ship in Okinawa (the destination for tomorrow). I handed this request to the Princess Captain's Circle Representative telling her I wanted to be put off of the ship. 48 hours later, and after we departed Okinawa, Maria, the Diamond Princess Customer Service Manager, called about the letter. I actually do not recall what she said because I realized after the first few words that Princess did not give their Customer Service Managers any authority. I did, however, ask for a response in writing as I wanted to document this situation. Never did receive a reply in writing. It was obvious that her job was to keep saying she was sorry, try to explain what she knew (I also realized that she was in the dark also about what was going on), and try to put on some show that Princess was responsive to my complaints. I further realized that my request to be put off of the ship did not leave the ship (or maybe even her office), and that they would take no action and simply ignore me. The theme of this open letter really relates only to the events of the first three days. I have left out a lot of information about the internet and its impact, other incidents in dining areas, the East European passengers, the deck attendants, as well as other Purser Desk incidents which happened later. It was apparent to me that the Purser's Desk operation was well below standards expected, and that the deck attendants were not supervised (they hid out around the ship). I contacted Princess and Carnival Management while on the ship to convey my concerns about what was happening. I asked that they come to the ship to validate (or disprove) my concerns. Again, due to their lack of response it appeared to me they dismissed me. Then I had my epiphany - I began to understand this behavior was the new wave in cruising on Princess. Princess Cruises has simply chosen to ignore the 10% of the passengers who have needs. Princess saves money by understaffing the Purser's Desk to the point it cannot be responsive, and creating a punching bag layer, namely Customer Service. Princess figures satisfying 90% of its customers is good enough because you can never satisfy everyone anyway.

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Sep 19, 2008

Alaska to Thailand

Overall it was a great cruise because of the ports we visited. The little people on the ship were great, i.e. the room steward, the waiters and assistant waiters, but the management was below par. Passenger services was an oxymoron. The front desk personnel were poorly trained and rearely could answer simple questions. The internet did not work for the first 3 and 1/2 weeks and they continually gave us lame excuses and out and out lies as to when

it would be available. Upon initial boarding of the ship, our greeter had to ask us if we had the ship's map so he could direct us to our room! I have sailed mostly on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean and felt that their services were superior to Princess, at least on this ship. I spoke to several passengers who were dissapoionted with the food, I however, found it to be very good and comparable or better than other cruises I have taken. Our stateroom was adequate and comparable to other ships I have been on. Again, they were adequate, but we generally do not partake of the shipboard activities. We usually do our own activities. The ships excursions were poorly organized and grossly over priced. We were told to assemple at a certain time, but if we got there at the specified time, we found that we were already way down the list of busses. Where I could, I scheduled private tours and they were far superior to the ships tours and less expensive. Instead of a bus loaded with 50 people, four of us were in an air conditioned van with a driver and english speaking tour guide. They were able to take us to places that the buses didn't go or to get us to places before the busses got there. Also, we were able to go to more places in the time allotted. Sometimes we were able to take in places that would have required two of the ships tours to take in. In the future, I will avoid the ships excursions if at all possible. We went from Alaska to Bangkok, Thailand in 31 days. The highlight of the trip had to be Beijing were we had a private tour to the Great Wall of China. It was a beautiful day, the guide was able to take us to a place on the wall that the tour busses don't go and the crowds were mostly Chinese and few at that. We also still had time to visit and walk around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Hong Kong was also a highlight, where we had a private tour with an uncle of a friend of mine. On our trip we visited, Kodiak, AK, Muroran, Japan, Vladivostok, Russia, Pusan, South Korea, Kagoshima, Japan, Dalian, China, Beijing, China, Shanghai, China, Okinawa, Japan, Taipei, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Nha Trang, Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Viet Nam, Singapore, Bangkok, Thailand

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Mar 16, 2007

Mexican Riviera

I was on the Diamond Princess for its February 3 week-long voyage to the Mexican Riviera. I hope you will find this report as comprehensive as you will find online and will be happy to answer any unanswered questions. I booked this trip about 6 weeks prior to the voyage and got a $2200 trip for $700, plus an upgrade to a mini-suite. Additionally, I was traveling solo, so clearly this was an amazing deal (as us TA’s tend to get!). My

e-mail is at the bottom if you wish to contact me. I arrived at the port on Saturday around 2:30pm (I live in Los Angeles so the trip to San Pedro Harbor was very easy) and walked right in, filled out my declaration, went through security, sat for 15 minutes for my number to be called, and walked right onto the ship, no issue. Also, please note I smuggled 2 cases of beer and 4 bottles of wine in a duffle bag through security without issue, other than the woman behind the X-ray machine giving me a funny look and asking if I really needed that much alcohol. I went to my suite, emptied the booze into the fridge/counter, and proceeded to walk around the ship. I feel I have pretty good taste, and I can tell you this ship was not tacky in the slightest. You now how sometimes you walk onto a ship and feel you entered a Las Vegas stage show? Not this ship. Brass and class everywhere! Music was playing in the atrium lobby, people were scurrying about, and it was clear after walking around the ship I was proud to call it home for a week. After exploring a little bit, we were notified that we would be participating in the muster drill very shortly after embarking. The muster drill was 20 minutes of standing in one place, inside the ship (surprisingly), so please ensure you wear comfortable shoes when you prepare for the muster drill. Additionally, the area we were in got a little stuffy due to the number of bodies, so keep that in mind. Soon after, we sailed. Clearly people on board were ready to have a good time because the drinks were flowing, the kids were giggling, and all those on board young and old were excited for the adventure. I received my bag and golf clubs without issue. No damage, not a long wait. Unpacking was a breeze. While I was unpacking I met my cabin steward, a delightful young man from Acapulco named Francisco. Oh, I should mention I was on the Emerald Deck. He was polite, always smiling, catered to anything I needed, and if he couldn’t get or do it, made positive suggestions. Very impressive. Upon finishing my unpacking, I got dressed and went to dinner. Traditional dining, late seating. The dining room is well laid-out, classy, meticulously maintained. Interestingly, each person walking in is expected to “scrub in” with the use of an antibacterial gel (this was prevalent throughout the ship, as well as re-embarking from ports). I guess it goes without saying why they insist upon this. If there was Norovirus or anything else on this ship, all preventative measures were being taken. I was at an 8-person table with a lovely couple from Des Moines, another lovely couple from San Francisco, and a mother and 2 daughters around my age from Maryland. Needless to say the daughters were my primary traveling companions throughout the cruise. Our food server, Susan, and assistant, Eddie, were terrific. Such great personalities, always smiled, never said no, catered to all of our wishes. I won’t go into too much detail about the food, but I will say that the non-seafood items far outshined the seafood ones, except for the crustaceans. Mahi Mahi, Salmon, and Turbot were overcooked or lacked flavor. The good thing is I was able to switch them out for other items without issue. The King Crab Legs were delicious, as was the prime rib. Caesar Salad and Shrimp Cocktail was definitely a favorite, and both soups I had were great (a chowder and the oxtail). Please do not take my review of the seafood as gospel, but please keep this in mind when ordering. After dinner, I went to explore more of this ship as well as visit the casino. Casino is nice, surprisingly not too smoky, and very friendly dealers and staff. Typical games such as Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, and the like. They also had one Texas Hold ‘em Table. I can’t say the casino got so crowded that I couldn’t find a table to play on throughout the trip. The fact that it wasn’t real smoky was a real nice treat as I am heavy allergic to smoke. Please note that I didn’t see any of the shows because they really didn’t strike my fancy. I’m not a fan of stand-up comedy and as I tried to sit through the comedians “R” rated show I lasted 10 minutes and left. Just not my thing. I visited Skywalkers and Club Fusion, which were both dead throughout the cruise. There weren’t really a lot of “young people” (I’ll define 25 and under as young) on this trip, so those you would expect to patronize these two places were not on board to do so. Essex (I believe that was the name/spelling), the Calipso band I found to be terrible. They also played on deck which I tried to avoid. The male singer was especially bad and sounded like an Asian tourist trying to sing American songs (he was black, by the way). The deejay at Skywalkers, DJ Eric, was also lousy, as he seemed to care less what was happening on (or not happening for that matter) on the dance floor. He would play a song then turnaround and watch Sports Center. I don’t exactly expect him to stand back there and do handstands, but come on… Plus his song selection was mediocre at best. Maybe this would have improved with more people, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Next day was a great day at sea. Breakfast was good, buffet was well stocked, had to scrub in again (with pleasure)… Only big issue was finding seating, as there were plenty of people with the same idea as me. Walked around a little bit and found a table, no problem, but it does take a small amount of effort. Weather was beautiful and the decks/pools were hopping with people sunning. If you wanted to lie in the sun and catch some rays, plenty of space was available; if you wanted to be poolside and avoid the sun’s rays, there’s a pool inside of a tinted glass enclosure so you could still be out at the pool and not worry about burning. There were also plenty of activities throughout the ship, or there were people just lounging about reading a book. You could do as much as you wanted or as little as you wanted, it didn’t matter. This was each individual’s vacation and everyone hopefully got out of it whatever they wanted. The sushi was nothing to get excited about. The line was long and the sushi was highly average. Formal night was elegant. Everyone dressed up appropriately, except for a couple people who didn’t and were turned away. I wore a dark suit and tie and felt extremely comfortable with everyone else. A tuxedo is nice but certainly not a necessity; I think the days of FORMAL cruising are coming to an end. First port was Puerto Vallarta which gave me my first golf opportunity. El Tigre golf course, beautiful, challenging, fun as hell. My only complaint is that the golf “pro”, Rob, is a jackass. He did absolutely nothing to make my golf experience any better (not any worse either, but that’s not the point). He “graced” us with his presence by playing a couple holes with us, smoke a cigar, and then went to play with another group. In all honesty, a chimp could have done his job. This was also the case at El Cid, the course I played in Mazatlan. Don’t be afraid to chop their gratuity; I sure had no problem doing it. I can tell you the people at my table throughout the trip enjoyed every excursion they did. Sounds like a pretty good sign to me! Getting off and on the ship from port to port was a breeze. Make sure you keep your ship ID card as well as your ID (passport, DL, whatever) on you when you disembark. As far as disembarking goes, it’s a bit of a free for all, but find a nice quiet corner, read a book or magazine, and just relax. You’ll get off the ship in good time and it’s a very easy process. Don’t get frustrated, just realize it’s not the most fun thing you’ll do that week. Also, do the auto-payment function for your shipboard account. You’ll still be able to review the bill and can make adjustments if necessary. Otherwise, the line to pay your bill is NOT fun. I did auto-pay and it was as easy as could be. I was even able to drop the golf pro’s tip without issue. I would also like to add that I had the privilege of attending a Cruise Critic gathering on the first “official” day, and let me say it was really nice to meet people on board so quickly. The group was friendly, from all over the globe, and I recommend checking out the roll call for your upcoming sailing. A couple of strange occurrences: The first night a 48 year old man dropped dead of a heart attack in his room. Thoughts and prayers to his family. During the Super Bowl, a fight broke out at one of the bars. Apparently a guy broke another guy’s nose defending the honor of his wife. Good for him, sounds like the guy deserved it. The guy who did the punching was not taken off the ship; the guy who got punched I never saw, perhaps he did. Some tips/suggestions: I didn’t eat at either Sterling or Sabattini’s. Neither made sense to me since a great meal awaited me in the dining room every night at no additional cost. Besides, how much better could the food be at either restaurant? I also heard from a couple who tried the food there that it was NOTHING to get excited about. If you can avoid it, don’t use the on board Internet Café. $.50 a minute adds up quick, and I wouldn’t exactly call it high speed. There’s plenty of Internet Café’s at each port and will cost you $1.50 to $2.00 for 30 minutes, plus packages for more minutes if needed. Bring your own booze. You’ll save a ton. Just be discrete. Additionally, don’t be afraid to crack a bottle of wine in your room and bring it to your table. They didn’t charge me any corkage. Just establish a relationship with them the first night by being polite and you’ll be fine. If you don’t like smoke, don’t worry, you’ll likely barely notice it. I came home and none of my clothes smelled like smoke. If you do smoke, there are areas designated for you. And don’t bring up that “smoker’s rights” line. It will fall on deaf ears. For the February 3 voyage the demo was heavy on the 40 and over crowd, couples, some honeymooners. Seemed to be a lot of non-US travelers. Not a lot of children. But there was definitely friends to be made by anyone on board, including yours truly. Princess makes it easy for people to meet others and in my book that’s a major positive aspect of cruising. From where I come from I didn’t find the drinks that expensive, but in LA drinks tend to run on the high side, so don’t be surprised if the drinks are more expensive than where you live. Also, the beer selection isn’t the greatest. But the specialty drink selection is vast as well as strong, so have fun! Go with the mindset that you will have a good time no matter what. There is nothing on this ship that you won’t be able to enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy one thing, I guarantee you’ll find another. I hope you will find this a comprehensive review of the Diamond Princess. I’ll be glad to answer any questions, as well as give you information on how to become a travel agent as well so you can take advantage of this and many other incredible money-saving vacations, rental cars, hotels, etc. around the world. I can be reached at scott@scott-porter.com. Happy sailing!  

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By Kim _CR

  • New

Mar 16, 2007

Mexican Riviera

The Diamond Princess Mexican Riviera cruise was my 3rd cruise and 1st time on Princess. I had only been on Carnival cruises and thought I’d upgrade. Well let me tell you, I did and didn’t. The ship was magnificent!!! Truly a jaw-dropping site at every turn. BUT, it was BORING!!!! I’m in my early 40s and like to laugh, giggle and literally roll on the floor laughing but I didn’t experience that on Princess. Most public areas were

lined with well-to-do vacationers which is another term for quasi snobbish people. Folks were more interested in dressing up than letting there hair down and having fun. I don’t drink alcohol, but I know how to shake a tail feather. The casino was like a mausoleum very quiet, very BORING. They didn’t open the crap table until 9pm every night. Then no one showed up. Many times I was the only one rolling the dice. They had 1 Texas Hold Em table and it didn’t open til 7 or 8 pm. Usually you hear happy people in a casino, but not on this particular ship. I love to gamble on cruises but found that I did more eating because of the uneventful casino. But anyway, I have to tell you that the food beats Carnival-hands down. We ate at the traditional dining room 2x and opted for the Horizon Court Buffet for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The food was FANTASTIC. Different choices every day and night. Plus it was opened 24x7. Oh and on certain days they have a Sweet Buffet-rows of indulgent sweets that’s worth the wait and weight. And whatever you do, please do not miss the Hypnosis Comedy-it was great!!!! The same blah blah faire for the room steward. He was great and all but I couldn’t help notice that he seemed terminally sad. He spoke and all but his eyes were as dead as a 3rd grade math teacher reciting the multiplication tables. I did ask the room steward on Carnival how much money they earned and he said that Carnival paid them $100 a MONTH!!! And the rest came from tips. Maybe that’s why they have to register the ships in other countries so they don’t have to abide by the US Labor Laws. The best port was Cabo. Oh was it gorgeous. It reminds me of Key West. Great breeze, beautiful sunshine and gorgeous scenery. Puerto Vallarta was just ok for me, but I don’t know why they have Mazatlan as a port. Probably some kind of contract with the Mexican Government. It was dumpy, crowded and smelly. We saw a skinned horse head in the meat section of the open market-EWWW. I can’t say anything about shore excursions because we didn’t take any, we just wandered around each port. But I’m not one who cruises for the ports. I cruise to cruise! I love the open sea, the ocean breeze and gambling. In short, I think I will wait til my 50s or 60s to take another Princess Cruise, maybe I will mature by then. Let’s hope not!  

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Feb 3, 2007

Mexican Riviera

I was on the Diamond Princess for its February 3 week-long voyage to the Mexican Riviera. I hope you will find this report as comprehensive as you will find online and will be happy to answer any unanswered questions. I booked this trip about 6 weeks prior to the voyage and got a $2200 trip for $700, plus an upgrade to a mini-suite. Additionally, I was traveling solo, so clearly this was an amazing deal (as us TA’s tend to get!). My

e-mail is at the bottom if you wish to contact me. I arrived at the port on Saturday around 2:30pm (I live in Los Angeles so the trip to San Pedro Harbor was very easy) and walked right in, filled out my declaration, went through security, sat for 15 minutes for my number to be called, and walked right onto the ship, no issue. Also, please note I smuggled 2 cases of beer and 4 bottles of wine in a duffle bag through security without issue, other than the woman behind the X-ray machine giving me a funny look and asking if I really needed that much alcohol. I went to my suite, emptied the booze into the fridge/counter, and proceeded to walk around the ship. I feel I have pretty good taste, and I can tell you this ship was not tacky in the slightest. You now how sometimes you walk onto a ship and feel you entered a Las Vegas stage show? Not this ship. Brass and class everywhere! Music was playing in the atrium lobby, people were scurrying about, and it was clear after walking around the ship I was proud to call it home for a week. After exploring a little bit, we were notified that we would be participating in the muster drill very shortly after embarking. The muster drill was 20 minutes of standing in one place, inside the ship (surprisingly), so please ensure you wear comfortable shoes when you prepare for the muster drill. Additionally, the area we were in got a little stuffy due to the number of bodies, so keep that in mind. Soon after, we sailed. Clearly people on board were ready to have a good time because the drinks were flowing, the kids were giggling, and all those on board young and old were excited for the adventure. I received my bag and golf clubs without issue. No damage, not a long wait. Unpacking was a breeze. While I was unpacking I met my cabin steward, a delightful young man from Acapulco named Francisco. Oh, I should mention I was on the Emerald Deck. He was polite, always smiling, catered to anything I needed, and if he couldn’t get or do it, made positive suggestions. Very impressive. Upon finishing my unpacking, I got dressed and went to dinner. Traditional dining, late seating. The dining room is well laid-out, classy, meticulously maintained. Interestingly, each person walking in is expected to “scrub in” with the use of an antibacterial gel (this was prevalent throughout the ship, as well as re-embarking from ports). I guess it goes without saying why they insist upon this. If there was Norovirus or anything else on this ship, all preventative measures were being taken. I was at an 8-person table with a lovely couple from Des Moines, another lovely couple from San Francisco, and a mother and 2 daughters around my age from Maryland. Needless to say the daughters were my primary traveling companions throughout the cruise. Our food server, Susan, and assistant, Eddie, were terrific. Such great personalities, always smiled, never said no, catered to all of our wishes. I won’t go into too much detail about the food, but I will say that the non-seafood items far outshined the seafood ones, except for the crustaceans. Mahi Mahi, Salmon, and Turbot were overcooked or lacked flavor. The good thing is I was able to switch them out for other items without issue. The King Crab Legs were delicious, as was the prime rib. Caesar Salad and Shrimp Cocktail was definitely a favorite, and both soups I had were great (a chowder and the oxtail). Please do not take my review of the seafood as gospel, but please keep this in mind when ordering. After dinner, I went to explore more of this ship as well as visit the casino. Casino is nice, surprisingly not too smoky, and very friendly dealers and staff. Typical games such as Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, and the like. They also had one Texas Hold ‘em Table. I can’t say the casino got so crowded that I couldn’t find a table to play on throughout the trip. The fact that it wasn’t real smoky was a real nice treat as I am heavy allergic to smoke. Please note that I didn’t see any of the shows because they really didn’t strike my fancy. I’m not a fan of stand-up comedy and as I tried to sit through the comedians “R” rated show I lasted 10 minutes and left. Just not my thing. I visited Skywalkers and Club Fusion, which were both dead throughout the cruise. There weren’t really a lot of “young people” (I’ll define 25 and under as young) on this trip, so those you would expect to patronize these two places were not on board to do so. Essex (I believe that was the name/spelling), the Calipso band I found to be terrible. They also played on deck which I tried to avoid. The male singer was especially bad and sounded like an Asian tourist trying to sing American songs (he was black, by the way). The deejay at Skywalkers, DJ Eric, was also lousy, as he seemed to care less what was happening on (or not happening for that matter) on the dance floor. He would play a song then turnaround and watch Sports Center. I don’t exactly expect him to stand back there and do handstands, but come on… Plus his song selection was mediocre at best. Maybe this would have improved with more people, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Next day was a great day at sea. Breakfast was good, buffet was well stocked, had to scrub in again (with pleasure)… Only big issue was finding seating, as there were plenty of people with the same idea as me. Walked around a little bit and found a table, no problem, but it does take a small amount of effort. Weather was beautiful and the decks/pools were hopping with people sunning. If you wanted to lie in the sun and catch some rays, plenty of space was available; if you wanted to be poolside and avoid the sun’s rays, there’s a pool inside of a tinted glass enclosure so you could still be out at the pool and not worry about burning. There were also plenty of activities throughout the ship, or there were people just lounging about reading a book. You could do as much as you wanted or as little as you wanted, it didn’t matter. This was each individual’s vacation and everyone hopefully got out of it whatever they wanted. The sushi was nothing to get excited about. The line was long and the sushi was highly average. Formal night was elegant. Everyone dressed up appropriately, except for a couple people who didn’t and were turned away. I wore a dark suit and tie and felt extremely comfortable with everyone else. A tuxedo is nice but certainly not a necessity; I think the days of FORMAL cruising are coming to an end. First port was Puerto Vallarta which gave me my first golf opportunity. El Tigre golf course, beautiful, challenging, fun as hell. My only complaint is that the golf “pro”, Rob, is a jackass. He did absolutely nothing to make my golf experience any better (not any worse either, but that’s not the point). He “graced” us with his presence by playing a couple holes with us, smoke a cigar, and then went to play with another group. In all honesty, a chimp could have done his job. This was also the case at El Cid, the course I played in Mazatlan. Don’t be afraid to chop their gratuity; I sure had no problem doing it. I can tell you the people at my table throughout the trip enjoyed every excursion they did. Sounds like a pretty good sign to me! Getting off and on the ship from port to port was a breeze. Make sure you keep your ship ID card as well as your ID (passport, DL, whatever) on you when you disembark. As far as disembarking goes, it’s a bit of a free for all, but find a nice quiet corner, read a book or magazine, and just relax. You’ll get off the ship in good time and it’s a very easy process. Don’t get frustrated, just realize it’s not the most fun thing you’ll do that week. Also, do the auto-payment function for your shipboard account. You’ll still be able to review the bill and can make adjustments if necessary. Otherwise, the line to pay your bill is NOT fun. I did auto-pay and it was as easy as could be. I was even able to drop the golf pro’s tip without issue. I would also like to add that I had the privilege of attending a Cruise Critic gathering on the first “official” day, and let me say it was really nice to meet people on board so quickly. The group was friendly, from all over the globe, and I recommend checking out the roll call for your upcoming sailing. A couple of strange occurrences: The first night a 48 year old man dropped dead of a heart attack in his room. Thoughts and prayers to his family. During the Super Bowl, a fight broke out at one of the bars. Apparently a guy broke another guy’s nose defending the honor of his wife. Good for him, sounds like the guy deserved it. The guy who did the punching was not taken off the ship; the guy who got punched I never saw, perhaps he did. Some tips/suggestions: I didn’t eat at either Sterling or Sabattini’s. Neither made sense to me since a great meal awaited me in the dining room every night at no additional cost. Besides, how much better could the food be at either restaurant? I also heard from a couple who tried the food there that it was NOTHING to get excited about. If you can avoid it, don’t use the on board Internet Café. $.50 a minute adds up quick, and I wouldn’t exactly call it high speed. There’s plenty of Internet Café’s at each port and will cost you $1.50 to $2.00 for 30 minutes, plus packages for more minutes if needed. Bring your own booze. You’ll save a ton. Just be discrete. Additionally, don’t be afraid to crack a bottle of wine in your room and bring it to your table. They didn’t charge me any corkage. Just establish a relationship with them the first night by being polite and you’ll be fine. If you don’t like smoke, don’t worry, you’ll likely barely notice it. I came home and none of my clothes smelled like smoke. If you do smoke, there are areas designated for you. And don’t bring up that “smoker’s rights” line. It will fall on deaf ears. For the February 3 voyage the demo was heavy on the 40 and over crowd, couples, some honeymooners. Seemed to be a lot of non-US travelers. Not a lot of children. But there was definitely friends to be made by anyone on board, including yours truly. Princess makes it easy for people to meet others and in my book that’s a major positive aspect of cruising. From where I come from I didn’t find the drinks that expensive, but in LA drinks tend to run on the high side, so don’t be surprised if the drinks are more expensive than where you live. Also, the beer selection isn’t the greatest. But the specialty drink selection is vast as well as strong, so have fun! Go with the mindset that you will have a good time no matter what. There is nothing on this ship that you won’t be able to enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy one thing, I guarantee you’ll find another. I hope you will find this a comprehensive review of the Diamond Princess. I’ll be glad to answer any questions, as well as give you information on how to become a travel agent as well so you can take advantage of this and many other incredible money-saving vacations, rental cars, hotels, etc. around the world. I can be reached at scott@scott-porter.com. Happy sailing!  

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Sep 29, 2006

Mexican Riviera

This was my first cruise and overall I was very impressed and will definitely be cruising again. I arrived under my own steam at the International Cruise Centre in LA. Check in was smooth and efficient. They loaded the passengers on by color groupings, great idea. My luggage took a little longer than anticipated to arrive in my cabin - about 3 hours. This was due to increased security check I was told. My cabin steward was wonderful and

nothing was too much trouble. I was so glad I booked a cabin with a balcony (even though it was small, it was worth it!), it's fantastic opening up the curtains in he morning and stepping outside to see what sort of day it is! The room was kept clean and everything worked fine. The air-conditioning was excellent - luckily as it was very hot once we hit Mexico. It was a full ship we were told, almost 2900 passengers, but I didn't notice the ship being crowded at all. There are so many places to visit and things to do, and it’s HUGE. The staff were excellent, all of them so friendly and hospitable. One of the best things about this cruise was the standard of dining. The food served in the restaurants (I tried them all because I was on 'anytime' dining) was fabulous. I would highly recommend anytime dining, it gives you so much choice and you get to try out all the restaurants. My favorite was the 'Savoy'. A very convenient service was being able to order wine by the bottle and they will store it for you until the next dinner and then retrieve it, and it didn't matter that you ate at a different restaurant each night, they would still retrieve your wine. The Internet cafe worked fine, despite reading some reviews to the contrary. I emailed home every 2nd day and had no problems at all. The Mexican Ports were good for shopping (especially silver jeweler) but the weather was extremely hot in September. I'd leave it until Nov or Dec to go to Mexico again. I heard from some other passengers that it's cheaper to book the shore excursions once you get to the port, rather than through Princess, however you run the risk of them not getting you back to the ship on time to leave! Overall, I had a wonderful holiday and lots of fun.  

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  • New

Sep 22, 2006

Mexican Riviera

This is my 3rd cruise with Princess. I wrote a review on the Sapphire in 2004, the Diamond Princess is a sister ship and was just as beautiful with I think am identical floor plan. In 2005, I was on a 21-day Panama Canal on the Coral Princess (review to be posted). We're celebrating a honeymoon and we embarked on a 7-day Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles. The greeters at the airport were great, easy to spot. We didn't wait very long

to find our bus transfers, the bus was nice, comfortable. The trip from the airport to the ship was about 20 minutes. The check-in process was efficient, check to cabin was less than 30 minutes. It was great. Our bags made it's way to our balcony room about an hour after we check in. Food at the Horizon Court (buffet) was ok. Similar to the Sapphire. I remember that my options at the Coral was much better (21d Panama Canal) I thought the buffet was crowded, long lines, people were not so friendly. We had anytime dining but still made reservations for each night. Food at the dining rooms were better. The service really depends on the dining room. Some of our waiters were really great, few were just so so. There were 2 specialty restaurants on the Diamond, Sabatini and the Sterling. Both charged a cover of $20 and $15 respectively. Sabatini is highly recommended and worth the money. I'm not so pleased with the Sterling Steakhouse. Service wasn't substandard, the filet wasn't really great either. I would skip this next time and go to Sabatini's instead. Entertainment on the Diamond was ok. They had choreographed numbers, juggler, comedians. I may be hard to please but the revues seem unchanged from 2004. We saw one show during the 7 days and all others from the calendar was a repeat so we skipped out. I wish princess would really examine their entertainment options. My new husband liked going to the gym. He even signed up for the metabolism test and ended up spending $300 in supplements to help his metabolism. It's his first cruise so I can't blame him. I can't believe that he would need help with this given that he's 29 years old! Same this happened to me 2 years ago buying eye cream for over $200 when they said I need to start using them. We didn't sign up for any massages or salon services this time. The spa seemed really crowded to me, I can't see how an R&R would be possible there (compared to the Coral). We had a balcony cabin and I did most of my reading and sun bathing there to get away from everyone. Our room steward by the way was just excellent. This is consistent with my 3 cruises with Princess. I think our room was well kept and bathroom was always clean. We visited 3 ports on this cruise, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. We didn't sign up for any tours since we've been to these ports many times before. If you want restaurant recommendations in any of them, please e-mail me. In Puerto Vallarta, make sure to get to Pipi's 3 blocks up from the Malecon. They make amazing, amazing guacamoles and fajitas. Their watermelon margaritas were also amazing. In Cabo if you love carnitas (pork) you have to find this restaurant outside of town called Las Michoacanas. They used to be a block from the mall but moved farther and it's not walking distance anymore. Overall, still a great cruise. I think I prefer longer cruises where people are friendlier. We seem hurried on this one. We'll be on the Golden Princess this April 2007.  

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By Pat _CR

  • New

Jul 7, 2006

Alaska

My husband and I just returned from our first Princess Alaska cruise. First Princess cruise, first Alaska cruise. Twelfth cruise in all. I’ve always taken Celebrity or Royal Caribbean and loved them, but decided that in Alaska, Princess was king. After reading reviews for months before we went, I was getting worried that we had made a mistake in booking Princess. But now I think maybe more disgruntled passengers write reviews than satisfied

ones. We flew into Seattle the evening before the cruise. Booked our own air and hotel. Spent the night near the airport and returned the next morning to hook up with our Princess transfers to Vancouver. It all went like clockwork. Princess had us on the bus in minutes, and on our way within a half hour. It was a nice, scenic 3 ½ hour ride with one 15 minute potty stop, where we could also buy food. They showed a movie on the bus. On arrival in Vancouver, our check in to the ship was fast and efficient. We were on in about 20 minutes. Our cabin was an outside cabin with obstructed view. The price was the same as an inside, so why not. There was a lifeboat outside our window, but it was about 10 feet from the window, so we had plenty of view. Rooms are small and efficient. Our cabin steward greeted us and I immediately asked for bathrobes and feather pillows. We had them both by evening. We had wanted early dining, but were on a waitlist and given “anytime dining:”. I had read horror stories of having to wait an hour for a table, etc. So I made dinner reservations for the first two nights immediately. Then when taking our first tour through the ship, we met the maitre de. He said he’d try to get us on 1st dining and let us know by next day, which he did. But we still were able to get into other restaurants with no wait, which we did on the nights when we were in port late. So if you’re on “anytime” don’t worry. Make reservations when you get on if you want, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t. We thought the Sterling Steakhouse was excellent and worth $15 if you like a good steak. Sabitini’s was a disappointment and not worth $20. Too much seafood and the foods not any better than the regular dining rooms. All in all, the food was excellent. The buffet food was better than any buffet food I’ve had on cruises. The entertainment was both excellent and horrible. Two performers, a singer and a ventriloquist were very disappointing. The singers and dancers were excellent as were the various comedians. We did some excellent excursions. I think if you go to Alaska, doing a good shore excursion will enhance your experience tremendously. This is not a time to get cheap. I’d rather save on the room category and spend it on the excursion. In Ketchikan, my girlfriend and I went snorkeling, while our husbands went sports fishing. The snorkeling was phenomenal. We never expected to see the colors and sea creatures that we saw. They put you in a full wetsuit so temperature's not a factor. The guys loved the fishing and we just received the frozen salmon fillets last week. They cleaned them and shipped via FedEx. Not cheap, but so worth it. In Juneau, we took the Helicopter Glacier Trek. They dressed us in waterproof outerwear and boots and we flew up to the Mendenhall Glacier. The helicopter ride alone was worth every penny. We had perfect weather and the view was indescribable. We landed on the glacier and were given crampons and an ice pick. The guides then took us hiking on the glacier and taught us the techniques of climbing up and down the ice. It was the experience of a lifetime. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be athletic. In Skagway we took the White Pass rail trip. Scenic but not too exciting. Not really worth $100 in my estimation. Later in the day, we did the Klondike bike trip. They drive you up the mountain and you bike down for about 70 minutes. Fun, but you have to stay with the group, which meant not stopping to enjoy the view when you wanted to. We loved the days at the glaciers. Didn’t see wildlife, but the glaciers were quite actively calving. Spent hours out on deck with binoculars and movie camera. Loved sitting in the hot tubs on deck 16 watching the sunset at 11pm. So different from a Caribbean cruise and I think we liked this better. The week went by and we realized we had only been in the casino for 30 minutes all week. Normally we’re there every night! We disembarked at our leisure because we were renting a car in Whittier for the day. Getting off about 9:00 was fast and easy. My husband walked over to Harleys rent-a-car and picked up our van. Our flight from Anchorage wasn’t until 10PM, so we took our time driving back there. We were able to stop at the visitors center near Whittier, which is like a mini museum. There we took a one mile hiking path to a glacier. Also stopped at the animal conservatory to see grizzlies, moose, etc. There were lots of scenic stops we made along the way and we were so glad we had our own car. Got to Anchorage around 4pm. Shopped, had dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse and headed for the airport. It was a great day, great week and a lifetime of memories. We’re already talking about the next Alaska cruise.  

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Jul 7, 2006

Alaska

My husband and I just returned from our first Princess and first Alaska cruise. This was our third cruise and by far the best for scenery and food. We had read some reviews before we went and was wondering if we would be disappointed but we were not and I feel more people complain then people sending in compliments. We flew into Seattle and hooked up with our Princess transfer to Vancouver. Princess had us on the bus in minutes and we

were on our way. It was a nice scenic ride. Checking into the ship was fast and efficient. We were on in about 20 minutes. Our cabin was an outside cabin with obstructed view. There was a lifeboat outside our window, which was level with the bottom of the window, so we had plenty of room to see the beautiful views. We had wanted early dining, but were on a waitlist and given “anytime dining:” so we had made dinner reservations for the first two nights immediately. We then talked to a maitre de who called us the next day to say we had the first dinner seating which we did on the nights when we were in port late. So if you’re on “anytime dining” don’t worry. The seafood at the regular dining rooms was fantastic and the buffet food was better than any buffet food I’ve had on any cruise or all inclusive resort. We saw two performers, a singer and a ventriloquist that were not that good, but the singers and dancers were good and the various comedians were excellent. In Ketchikan, my girlfriend and I went snorkeling, while our husbands went sports fishing. The snorkeling was phenomenal. We never expected to see the colors and sea creatures that we saw. They put you in a full wetsuit so temperature's not a factor. The guys loved the fishing. In Juneau, we took the whale watch and the Mendenhall Glacier trip. It was awesome! We had watched four killer whales in their dinner ceremony, saw plenty of seals and even a humpback whale. We were up close for the viewing while the boat followed them around all together for more than an hour. We heard from the people that took the same trip that afternoon, that they did not see anything at all. So we really lucked out in the morning. The guide even said what we saw that morning was very rare. With the small boat we were able to get very close to the glaciers.  Back on land we took a little bus trip to the Mendenhall Glacier and the info center. The viewing of that was great! In Skagway we took the White Pass rail trip, very scenic but not too exciting. We loved the days at the glaciers and the glaciers were actively calving. Spent hours out on deck with binoculars and the camera. Loved sitting in the hot tubs on deck 16 watching the sunset at 11pm. We disembarked at our leisure and getting off at 9:00 was fast and easy. We rented a car and drove to Anchorage, it was a very scenic drive. We made plenty of stops on the way, which was very interesting and took a small hiking trail to another glacier. Stopped at the animal conservatory to see grizzlies, moose, etc.  It was a great week and a lifetime of memories.  

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Jun 9, 2006

Alaska

Where do I begin. My husband and I choose to get married on our Princess cruise. At first we found everyone to be very helpful but then came the cruise. We had the same experience with boarding as the guy above (Preston I think). And they even call it "Express check-in". Your supposed to by-pass customs but really you went through customs 3 times instead of 1. No one could tell us who was picking up our luggage, no one could tell us what

time the ship would be on so that people back home could view the wedding online. The staff was for the most part ok. In the spa after any treatment they come in with their list of "recommended" products for you to use. The one girl told me I had to buy them from her and not later on because it was like giving me a prescription. I'm sorry, a prescription for massage oil and bubble bath?! Everything on the boat is a sales pitch and as the guy before said, the land tours without meals cost way more than the entire cruise. Then came check out. Although my husband and I had registered two separate credit cards at two different times (both online and prior to boarding) they charged his card with both of our expenses which pushed his credit card over the limit. The most help we got during all this was from the credit card company who raised his credit limit and didn't charge us a fee. We reported this to customer service but haven't heard anything. Now we are back home and they put the wrong ages on our marriage license so now our marriage is not legal! And guess who's fault it is? .... Ours!! And we get to pay $50 for their... I mean, our mistake. Our paper work had our correct ages but they wrote them down wrong on the license and now we get to pay. The only mistake we made was booking with Princess and we won't make that mistake twice.  

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May 26, 2006

New Zealand to Australia

We just finished a Cruise and Land Tour in Alaska on the Diamond Princess. While the itinerary was very good and it seems that only   Princess has this itinerary, I would highly recommend another Cruise Line. We attended a sales pitch seminar by Princess and everything we heard at that seminar was far from what we found on our trip. Each day our feelings toward Princess got worse.   Embarkation - Vancouver, BC. While the Port facilities

are very nice this is where the good ends. When you arrive in the underground parking area there were no signs designating a baggage check. We asked three different Princess employees where to check our bags and each sent us to another location. After 20 minutes we finally found someone loading baggage on a cart and he had us bring our bags to their storage area. We then were able to get in a joint line with Holland passengers for the security check. You are then funneled to another holding area where if you aren't paying attention to the small signs they have designating Holland or Princess you may wind up in the wrong area like many of our fellow passengers did. After another 20 minute wait we were all sent to another area where there were numerous booths with the Deck names on them and they did not designate any special lines to form it was chaos. It did not get any better when we finally got our turn at checking in - our teller and those around her had no clue what was happening. The room keys were all messed up so the teller had to go to all of the other tellers and see where your room key may be. The tellers obviously forgot what to do because there were numerous passengers who received notices during the cruise to come to the Purser's desk because they forgot to imprint the credit cards for your onboard purchases. Anytime Dining - pick the traditional dinner times if you have any plans of eating at a decent hour. The sales pitch said that you can either make reservations or just show up at any of the dining rooms when you want. We tried making reservations at 7 AM Sunday morning and the earliest we could get was at 8 PM any night. We tried one night to just stop in and get a table and were rudely told by the Maitre'd in the Santa Fe room that we needed reservations or come back closer to 10pm. We were only able to eat in the dining rooms 3 times, the rest of the time we had to go to the buffet in the Horizon Court. Food - comparing to past cruises we have taken on RCL the food on Princess is OK at best. The only thing they change on their breakfast buffet menu is what they mix with the eggs. The layout of the Horizon Court Buffet is ridiculous and it leads to mass chaos. There is no way to get in line and go from item to item it is all over and you wind up going in circles, when you finally get your food and go to a table it is cold and it doesn't matter whether which meal it is. We found that the grill and the pizzeria offered better lunches by getting a piece of pizza or a hamburger. In the sales pitch we were told that there was an ice cream bar that was open all day and you could get ice cream whenever you want - what they failed to mention is a cone is $1.50 or a sundae $3.95. There was no Grand Buffet any night like they have on RCL - instead they wasted numerous bottles of Champagne filling a pyramid of glasses. The ship itself - I guess we are spoiled with RCL we have sailed on the Voyager 2 times and have always been able to get from one end of the ship to another by staying on the same deck. Not possible on the Diamond you have to go up or down to get to the other side. It is very broken up deck plan and we found numerous other passengers besides ourselves that were still getting mixed up on how to get from one area to another after 7 days. Itinerary - as I said that was the one good thing we did get to see fantastic views. Again I refer to the sales pitch that we were told that Princess had priority docking throughout Alaska, if you take this cruise be prepared to walk as we found out that our ship usually was the farthest from the downtown areas and some of the distances are very long to walk. Entertainment - we only went to two shows one a Comedian in the lounge that wasn't too bad and the second was a ventriloquist that the majority of the people walked out on complaining, I do have to admit we stayed but wasted our time. Ship personnel - for the most part the on board personnel were very pleasant. Our Room Steward Paul was very polite and kept our room very well. The bartenders in the Lobby Bar were great as was Peeped in the lounge. The waiters in the Pacific Moon were very unfriendly and never even spoke on 2 different occasions. We did have a waitress Anna Maria in the Santa Fe that was very friendly and accommodating Shore Excursions - In Ketchikan we did the Totem Poles and Eagles tour - very good time especially if you like to see eagles. In Juneau we did the City highlights, waste of time. We went to a Salmon Hatchery where nothing was going on, a 1,000 ft walk on a path to see native plants, and the State Museum. Skagway we went to the Yukon - can't get any better than that one and our bus driver Carlee was fantastic. If you want to see wildlife, the Continental Divide, and some native heritage that is the trip to take. Disembarkation - again back to the sales pitch, we were never told that when you do the land tour in conjunction with your cruise you can only take one bag with you the rest you have to send on to your final destination - for us Fairbanks. We set our luggage out the night before and they picked it up right away. For anyone doing the land tour be very careful of what you put in your bags to be sent on. When we got to Fairbanks we found that every piece of luggage from our group of 8 that was sent on was opened and everything had been taken out replaced in a haphazard way and the bags were left partially open. When we questioned the Princess Rep she said that our bags would not have gone through a security check so someone was definitely checking for money or something. We caught our train to start our Land Tour in Whittier. Land tour - Be prepared to pull out your wallet. And be prepared to sit and waste time waiting for shuttles. The sales pitch did not tell us that once you start your land tour that you pay for all your meals from that point on and they are definitely expensive. Train to McKinley Lodge $2 for 6 oz glass of soda. You have the option of being dropped off in Talkeetna and a shuttle would pick up every hour on the 1/2 hour. We chose to walk around the Town and grab a bite to eat and take the 3:30 Coach to the Lodge. We got to the shuttle stop at 3:05 by 3:30 there were over 100 people waiting for a Coach that only carries 40. The driver filled his bus and told everyone that it would just be 15 minutes for another Coach. Then he said that we had to wait for 1 1/2 hours for 2 coaches to come from the Lodge 60 miles away. One of the group of probably 75 people took a picture of everyone standing in the Sun to send to Princess. The worst part was the driver said they knew how many people were in Town and didn't prepare ahead of time with Coaches to take them to the Lodge. When you arrive at the McKinley Lodge they give you your packet with your room key and a map you are on your own. No one tells you that there is a shuttle that will take you to your room that could be 1/2 mile from the main lodge. We had 4 rooms for our group we had reserved 2 with 2 beds and 2 with one, besides not getting that right they gave us keys that didn't work. It took 30 minutes for someone to show up to take care of the problem and then it was a pool girl. She was very friendly and tried to help but she was just running an errand. One of the rooms had a smoke detector beeping and it took 45 minutes for someone to change the battery. I tried to talk to Lan the Manager about a Hotel problem we were going to face when we got to Fairbanks but his answer was call corporate, He said it is nothing he could do. Meals at the 20320 Grill were ample portions but expensive. The only exception was one night I ordered Jumbo Buffalo Chicken Wings 7 for $9.00. I could not believe my eyes when they delivered them there wasn't a single one longer than 2 inches and wider than 3/4 inch. They honestly had to be Pigeon wings they were that small. Breakfasts were good and plentiful however. Denali Princess Lodge - again problems with keys - our packet didn't have any, again the rooms were screwed up. After dinner we went back to our rooms in building 11 to find no hot water we called about that. A few minutes later the hall filled with fumes and we called about that. No one ever had the courtesy to come to the room to inform us of what was happening. The next morning at 8 AM the housekeeper was knocking at our door saying he wanted to clean the room. I told him after 11 AM when we had to check out. We went to breakfast and came back to find him in our room at 9:30. You must get your luggage out of your room by 9 and check out by 11. You aren't scheduled to leave on the train until 3:45. So you either have to pay Princess for some more high priced meals or excursions. They do offer a secure baggage check so you don't have to carry your bags with you. Their definition of secure is a little shed like room with 2 overhead doors wide open. I needed something out of my bag so I went with the Concierge to the room, as we approached a construction worker that was doing landscaping came scurrying out of the so called secure area. We were told at the sales pitch that your tour could be customized in any way we liked. That was a total lie. We knew were were not going to be able to stay the last night in Fairbanks so prior to the cruise I called 1-800-run around. I was told by the Land Tour Rep. to talk to the Manager of the Lodge and they could make the changes. Remember I mentioned Lan at the McKinley Lodge - no help - went so far as to tell me no one else could do anything either. We arrived at the Fairbanks hotel at 9:15 PM and our flight was at 12:30 AM. Come to find out they hadn't even booked us in the Princess Lodge they made accommodations at another motel with cabins. Again they had forgotten the keys and when two reps got on the bus one started handing out the room packets by asking names and when our friend gave her name to the girl the second rep named Kathy called her a troublemaker for talking when she was talking and when I asked a Princess Rep what to do about getting a refund for the night she sent me to the desk to see if the Hotel would give me one. The Hotel sent me back to the Princess Rep who finally called her Manager and said to file under my trip insurance that Princess wouldn't give me one. This was the same time that we found our luggage had been ransacked so they took a report and told me to call it in. The Princess Rep Allison did try to make things right but her hands were tied. She ordered a coach to pick us up at 10:45 PM to take us to the Airport. At 10:50 I went to the desk and spoke to the ever friendly Kathy and she informed me that there was no coach or shuttle coming. A Hotel employee overheard the situation and even though she was getting off duty in 5 minutes offered to take us to the Airport on her time. Bottom line - Alaska is great but beware of what you are told by Princess. Once you start the Land Tour, by the way you pay more for 4 days on land than your 7 days cruise and meals aren't included and the majority of your time is being hassled out of one location to the next and generally in an area where you can't do anything other than spend more money with Princess. I'll take RCL anytime.  

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Feb 13, 2006

New Zealand to Australia

This is our 14th cruise and third with Princess. Getting there: We took the direct flight from L.A. to Auckland. We had never flown Qantas and before. The check in was a bit slow and they should use business and first class desk personnel to help with coach, especially when they are standing around waiting for people to show up. The flight was full and overall their service for coach was very good and we managed to get caught up on the

most recent movies that were up for academy awards. The crew was pleasant and the food is what you expect for a coach flight: OK but not great. However we did not go hungry. We also took Qantas from Sydney to Cairns and even their domestic 2:45 minute flight had a hot meal and ice cream dessert. Remember when US airlines did that? We are lucky that we do live in the L.A. area and have direct flights to NZ and AU. If you do live on the West Coast it takes about the same amount of time as going to Europe, or just slightly longer – not too bad really. Embarkation: We decided to get to the ship a couple of hours after the initial check in time. As some of you may have experienced, checking in 2650 passengers (the ship was full), is no easy task. Even at that time there was some waiting and a slight delay in getting on board. I wish they would STOP trying to take pictures upon boarding, especially since it slowed the line down. The Ship: This is our first time on a ship of this size. As you can probably guess, it does have its pros and cons. Pro: Since they can be much more efficient on such a large ship, it does reflect in the price and value for such an itinerary. We paid a great price for a mini-suite with a “walk-in” closet, full bath, two section rooms, and a comfortable larger balcony. The only complaints about the room were the drawer space. Most of the drawers are open face and below the TV in the bedroom section. The two TVs are a good touch. The bathroom does have a bathtub which is a bit high to step into. We had no problems with getting in and out of the shower, but I can see some elderly people or people with limited mobility having a problem; if not being a bit dangerous for them. There was frig and our cabin attendant did a good job keeping everything clean and the ice stocked. There was a safe and plenty of room to store you luggage. The public spaces are fine and the overall décor and feel is that of a good hotel. There are plenty of areas to go hang out throughout the ship, although some can be a bit crowded. The ship staff is very friendly and the service was great. No complaints about the food either. They managed to accommodate our party of 10 upon boarding the ship and the waiters, dining room management, and their assistants were very attentive to our needs. The food was good quality: great pastas, meats, fish OK, and the overall selection was very good. We had cold water lobsters four times during our trip. Our dining included one night at Sabatinis – one of their specialty restaurants. We do recommend that you try this restaurant at least once during a cruise. Sabatinis is an Italian theme as you may guess from the name. The food was absolutely great: the desserts excellent. the service fantastic, and overall it is well worth the small extra charge you pay. When traveling on such large ships you need to set you expectations accordingly and you will not be disappointed. We have been on Silversea cruises in the past, and you cannot compare a 350 passenger ship with an almost one to one ship/passenger ratio, to a mega-ship of 2650 and a 3:1 ratio. You will not get the quality and service that will on a larger ship in comparison to the smaller and much more expensive ships such as Silversea, Seabourn, or Radisson, for example. One thing that seems annoying at first, is the constant hand washing liquid you are forced to use before going into any dinning area. Once I thought about it, and having a microbiology background, I totally agree with this practice. It is at least one more safety precaution against unsanitary practices by passengers, especially since I noticed some people going to the public bathroom and not washing their hands before exiting. I think this is a very proactive practice and hope all ships are following this measure. The golf putting course is a waste of time and space. I am not sure why they have one. It would be best to use that space for something else. The activities on board are typical of big ships: mostly money making events for the cruise line. We have been a few cruises and the shows start to look pretty much alike at times, so we only went to see a couple of more unique ones. The first few shows of this trip were extremely crowed as well and it was hard to find a seat. The ship does have a fair number of layout areas and pools, which is fine for this trip since most of this crowd is not the laying out type. Besides, the air temperatures, even in the summer, for NZ are not too high. AU is a bit better, so more people did venture out. The average passenger age is a bit higher, as it is for all longer cruises and places like the Alaska. No problems there other than the lingering in the dining public areas that made it hard to find a seat. We do enjoy people of all nationalities and ages, that is what makes travel more fun anyway. Con: As we mentioned, the embarkation was a bit of a problem with that many passengers, especially slowing the line down for pictures. Dining in public areas (buffets) is a definite problem. The food is good and the choices are fine. The main complaint, especially the days at sea with so many people, is that people linger in the dining areas and it is hard to find a table. Often you will need to ask to share a table, or people will ask you if you are lucky enough to find one. We even had someone sit our table without asking at one point; a bit rude. We solved this issue by going to the sit down breakfast when were able to make it, and the sit down lunches. That way you are given a table and served. With a full ship you always had many people in most public areas and it does seem a bit crowded at times. The shopping on board is fine, but typical of most cruise ships. The prices are OK, but we found some better prices on-line when we got home on a Men’s watch that we were going to purchase at their shop. It helps to know your prices, but generally you can find better prices on the internet when you get home. Liquor prices are OK, but not worth the couple of bucks you save (sometimes) to lug all that stuff around on your flight back. Shopping in NZ and AU is not great. We can get better quality and better prices at home for most things. Tours: We visited the following ports: Auckland, Rotorura, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney. Since we have been on a few cruises and usually travel with a group, we tend to mix some ship tours and our own private tours – lately more private tours. We found that most ports have private tour operators that you can set-up prior to getting there. These are much better since you always pay less, do not have to be cattle carted onto buses and meetings in public areas prior to departure which cause you to loose time, but they are also more flexible than ship tours and often you have time to see more sights. Most operators will offer the same itineraries as the cruise ship if you want to follow the same routes. Don’t let the ship scare you into thinking that if anything happens during a self-booked tour you are responsible to get back to the ship on time and that they will not make exceptions for you. That is true, but you always have enough time to get back should you have any delays, private tour operators use very new vehicles, and we have never experienced any problems. Just do you homework on-line, read the reviews and recommendations on private tour operators from personal experiences, and you should be fine. Auckland: We did our own tour with Wine Trail Tours. Phone: 64-9-630-1540 or www.winetrailtours.co.nz or contact john@winetrailtours.co.nz It was a combined sight seeing tour and winery tour. We paid $150 NZ, or about $110 US for this tour. This was a great way to see the local sights and taste some good NZ wines. I recommend the NZ white wines. I think their climate is too cold for good reds. In Tauranga/Rotorura we also booked a private trip with EliteAdventures. Phone: 64-7-347-8282 or EliteAdventures@xtra.co.nz They were great. Kim and her husband run this operation. They are from Rotorua (Kim is from the US originally), and they pretty much followed the ship’s tour itinerary that we wanted to do. The best thing is that the avoided the bus loads of people from the cruise and we were able to see the sights at a much easier pace and see more than they do on the ship tours. This was probably the most interesting tour we did on this itinerary. The landscape and sights were wonderful and unique. Their vans are comfortable and an exceptional value for the party of 10 that had on this one. Even though you pay the entrance fees to the parks and your own lunch at local places, you end up having more choices and we paid much less than the ship tours, again, without the hassles of larger buses, and with more time to do things. In Hobart we did our own trip to the Bonorong Wildlife Park and a city tour. As you get off the ship there is a bus operation about three or four block walk, where you can book just about any tour the ship offers. We had a van take us to the park and back in plenty of time for a city tour. Again this saves you money and is more flexible. Dunedin we did take the ship’s Tairi Gorge Train ride. They fully book the train for the day, but it is worth it. The scenery is great and the train ride in the classic old rail cars is a good experience. They provide drinks, lunch, and snacks with the trip. In Christchurch three of us guys decided to do the Jet Boat Safari offered by the ship. These are the boats that travel at high speeds through on one of the larger scenic rivers (the name which escapes me at the moment) and only needs three inches of water to operate. The guide was great and this is a good experience with a bit of a thrill ride. That particular area is where some films have been made. A good experience all the way around. In Melbourne we also booked a private van tour to the Yarra Valley for wine tasting and a tour of the city on the way back. This was through Victoria Winery Tours. Phone: 54-28-8500 or www.winetours.com.au Two people in our group had pre-booked the ship’s tour to this area and they did not do a much as we did. We had a group of eight and had a great time in Yarra Valley tasting some good wines. The best place we went to was the Chandon winery. They make excellent sparkling and other wines. Our trip included a choice of lunches at one of the wineries and we only paid $100 AD each (about $75 US) for this trip. The ship’s trip did not include a choice of lunch, and they only visited one winery. We went to five wineries and also had a great city tour with a great guide. Sydney was our final destination and we had been there before. I suggest at least a couple of extra days there to enjoy this wonderful city if you have never visited this city before. We went on to Cairns to visit some friends. That is probably not the best time to be there: it is humid and hot, and can be very rainy. Otherwise, it is also a great place to see some great things. Disembarkation: This was a real problem. First, it took almost three hours to get us off the ship. We had four bags and two of that tags were lost. The lost bags did eventually show up at the waiting area, but not in good shape. When they have probably 5000-7000 bags to deal with, don’t expect care in dealing with your luggage. The process for us almost took four hours! To boot, they did not have enough private transportation for people to take into the city, so the lines were extremely long and people were getting very uptight and short-tempered waiting in the line. I guess if you only need to go to the airport do book the ship’s transfer. We were lucky to have gotten a big van, only because we sent someone out to make the arrangement before we got our bags and exited the port building. Overall, we think everyone should experience that part of the world at least once. The people are friendly and easy-going, and it is like no other place on earth. We will definitely go back at some point. We will probably opt for a smaller ship on our next cruise next year to the Orient.

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Sep 23, 2005

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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Dec 29, 2004

Mexican Riviera

My wife and I together with a group of friends have just returned from the New Year’s cruise aboard the Diamond Princess which left Los Angeles December 29, 2004 and returned January 8, 2005. We were a party of nine and had about 20 other friends on this cruise. Most of us had previously cruised aboard Princess as well as on other cruise lines. For

a New Years Eve 10-day cruise where we all paid a premium price most of us were sorely disappointed. I felt compelled to write you this letter with our comments of your ship and cruise. This was the worst experience cruising that we have ever had. In brief the following are some of the highlights A – The quality, presentation and variety of the food was terrible. The food served at dinner was cold (not one of the meals was served hot). The meat items were the lowest quality that we have ever seen on any cruise. The selection at the buffet was terrible as well. The bacon was piled into a serving tray and stuck together so all you received was a glob of bacon either dry, cold and overcooked or cold half cooked. The egg omelets were cooked hours earlier and served dry and cold. In short we would rate the food as just marginally above fast food. The ship ran out of things such as berries, bananas and sugar free ice cream. The food served in the Sabatines restaurant was well below par. As an example the crab cakes were the size of marbles and inedible. The veal chop was cold, tiny, tough and over seasoned. To charge a additional fee for poor quality food is ridiculous. We have used the Sabatinis restaurants on other Ships, (e.g., Grand Princess) and they were much better. When the head waiter of a dining room was told that we couldn’t get a reservation for dinner at any of the personal choice rooms and that the regular dinning room was full, we were told it was too bad and to go the buffet. After accepting a tip he suddenly found that he could get us in for dinner. Also the policy of allowing people to make reservations for a personal choice dining room for the entire week creates a situation where many people are left out in the cold with no chance of getting to eat at a time of their choosing – the object, apparently, of personal choice dining. B – The method of adding the gratuity to the bill results in your service personnel not providing service. When asked a question or a request we would be either ignored or greeted with a stare, or someone would pretend not to understand English. The room Steward was very good. A few of the waiters were good but on whole most were not. C – The entertainment for the cruise was also bad. The 2 production shows were good but that is about it. For a 10-day cruise this is pretty bad. One night the entire show was a banjo player. Another night a singer was the entire show. Another night a juggler was the show. New years eve there was music on the deck next to the pool. There were 3000 passengers on the cruise. There was no hope or attempt to accommodate the passengers. The other Lounge areas had no decorations, nor were anything done to them to even simulate New Years Eve. The ships entertainment director was terrible. D – when one of out shore tours was cancelled the night before arriving in port, we were not given any reason or adequate time to reschedule something else. When we arrived in Carbo San Lucas, which we had to tender into shore, the ship arrived in port 2 hours late. The ships newspaper stated that that all those not on a tour would be handled on a first come first served basis and to just come down to the embarkation deck. As it turned out what they failed to mention was that you had to get a numbered ticket, which would then be called. Some people got a ticket and then when to eat in the dining room. Others not knowing about the ticket system went to eat first and then went down to the lower deck only to find an hour or more wait. This then limited the time in town to between 2-3 hours maximum. When the ships tour officers were asked about this all they did was shrug. E – There was no card or game room facilities on this ship. The other ships in your fleet do have a card/game room. We had to go up to the buffet area in order to play cards while other passengers were trying to eat. The only accommodations made were for bridge players in one of the dining rooms. The rest of the passengers had to fend for them selves. F – When we were leaving the ship on the last day we had to wait 1½ hours on the dock standing on a concrete floor waiting for the luggage area to open. Treating people like cattle is no way to get repeat customers.

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Dec 11, 2004

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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Nov 20, 2004

Mexican Riviera

After months of anticipation and researching dozens of reviews, my wife and I finally experienced our first cruise with Princess on the 11/20 Diamond sailing to the Mexican Riviera. We have cruised other lines and also have extensive domestic and international travel experience. It is my turn to share our experience on the Diamond; I will forego comments

on the ports since that has been thoroughly covered many times. My only comment on this topic is that I thought I was going to lose it if 1 more person shoved a silver bracelet or necklace in my face with the “almost free amigo” sales pitch. You have to really work hard at finding much to complain about with this ship and its’ crew; sailing on the Diamond completely exceeded our expectations. Service: the crew is very professional, friendly and seemed to be totally committed to satisfying every need of the ship’s passengers, no matter how petty. While the cabin attendant is luck of the draw, ours was very thorough. The dining room head staff and waiters are very professional; with the exception of the Pacific Moon, most appear to be Italian and Portuguese. Service in the Pacific Moon was poor; it was slow and the waiters always seemed confused. As with most ships, the casino staff is friendly, appreciative of tips and tolerant with inexperienced gamblers. Some of the craps dealers appeared confused and if you play this table game you need to make certain of pay-offs and that your bets are properly placed. For a change, the purser’s staff is also very friendly, which must be hard considering that they have to listen to so many trivial complaints hour after hour, day after day. Food: the food was good to very, very good. We were a little disappointed with the Sterling after reading so many positive comments about the steaks that were served; the cuts were tough and tasteless. Desserts in all venues are imaginative, irresistible and nicely presented. For a buffet, the Horizon Court also was impressive; food is tasty, fresh and plentiful. As with so many other comments about the pizza, it is really terrific. Being an Italian from NY I know quality pizza and this is about the best. Sabatini’s is a wonderful dining experience and is well worth the $40 cover charge for a special dining experience. The seafood soup was the food highlight of the trip. Entertainment: the Piano Man is excellent and we were very impressed with the costumes, energetic performances and choreography. A very talented singer and a funny comedian also performed in the main theater; the alternate show, Undercover, was our least favorite. Passengers: all age groups were represented with about 700 under the age of 18. I had concerns about booking a holiday week but was surprised that most of the kids were polite and well behaved. Unfortunately, 3 dinners were difficult to enjoy because of screaming and crying children. This is the parent’s fault and it’s hard to understand why they subject people to this annoyance. The staff must struggle with how to manage this issue but their options must be limited. Parents, if your children can behave please don’t bring them to the dining rooms or shows; you may be used to their incessant crying and whining but others don’t appreciate it. On the other, some children were very well behaved and their parents are to be commended. Cabin: our balcony cabin was similar to other ships; perhaps the shower may be a little smaller. I will repeat a suggestion I read and it’s worth noting. The beds are hard a rock and may be uncomfortable for some. Upon arrival, your attendant will put a pad on your bed if you request it and it will make it much more comfortable. They go fast so ask early. PC Dining: this is the way to go in my opinion. The concierge staff was very accommodating and reservations were easy to make and always available. It was easy to meet people and you don’t need to be concerned about changing tables if you’re not pleased with your tablemates. Embarkation and Disembarkation: We arrived about 11:30 AM and didn’t board until 2 PM; the ship was 1 hour late getting in. Disembarkation started about 8 AM and we were in our cab by 9:45 AM. It is well worth the small investment to obtain a passport; it speeds up this entire process. The luggage color and number system make it easy to find your bags and is the best we have seen. We are sold on Princess after this wonderful experience. If you have any questions, feel free to E-mail me.

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Nov 13, 2004

Mexican Riviera

Booking: We had been on two Caribbean cruises before, one on the Sea Princess in 2000 and one on NCL Norwegian Sea out of Houston in December 2003. We thought it would be fun to try one of the big, new Megaships, and decided to do the Mexican Riviera so that we could drive from Utah and not pay the airfare. We didn’t book until the first of September,

and just took the cheapest inside cabin. We were traveling with another couple who was celebrating their 1 year anniversary. Embarkation/Ship: We drove right to the pier, following instructions from Princess and the website for the parking company. Arrived about 3:00 and pretty much went right aboard. A beautiful ship! Right away, we liked the subdued décor, with tasteful wood and tile throughout, but in pleasant shades of blues/greens/tans, and not so much the garish, bright colors you often see in cruise ships. We were really impressed with the multitude of handcrafted tile mosaics on the floors and walls of the common areas, not to mention the pool and conservatory areas. We really liked the multiple pools around the ship, four in all, as well as the eight hot tubs. Ah, the joys of the megaships – many choices in pools, hot tubs, sun decks, etc. There were always deckchairs to be had at virtually any time, with the exception of those right around the main pool, but we don’t like to hang out there anyway. We like the quieter corners of the ship, and we could always find multiple options. The area around the spa, at the front of the ship, was particularly quiet most times, and we loved the multilevel back deck area, and spent most of our time there. Our cabin was small, but was the most comfortable, tasteful, and well laid out of any of our three cruises. Lots of wood trim and mirrors made it feel warm and spacious. Good use of space – we even had empty drawers and shelves for most of the week, until we started shopping and bring back the loot. The bed was very comfortable, and the whole cabin was a pleasant place to be, for as little time as we actually spent there. Food: We really enjoyed the Personal Choice dining, with the main daily menu available in every one of the four main Personal Choice dining rooms, but we also liked the familiarity of the reduced menu in each dining room that helped us choose which dining room for which night. After the second night, we just made reservations for the rest of the week, at different restaurants. We ate twice each at the Sterling (American/Steaks), Vivaldi (Italian), and Pacific Moon (Oriental), but only once at the Santa Fe because of the slow service (but they had fantastic guacamole, which we were happy to find other days at the Horizon Court buffet.) Dinner each night was fantastic, but the service, while very good, seemed a little less personal than other cruises. Hard to complain too much though, and the food was excellent. We felt the food and the service were superior in the Sterling and Vivaldi. We never ate at Sabbatinis, with the additional surcharge. Give me a break! Why pay extra? Like the fantastic dinners in the other dining rooms aren’t enough? I think Sabbatinis is for the same people who drive a Mercedes Benz just because it’s more expensive. I guess we’re not those kind of people. Thank heavens! The Horizon Court was very good, and we were actually a little surprised at the quality. It easily surpassed the quality and changing selections of our previous two cruises. We had fun each night going up there for a late night snack and seeing what items from the main dining room menus were being served up there as well. Enjoy the Sea Scallops Medditeraneo that were served for dinner? Chances were you could get some more at 10:00 at the buffet. The pizza and grill items on deck were also nice for sea-day snacking, or a quick bite when boarding the ship. The only complaint is that they would have three choices of pizza, and they were never very loaded, like a meat lovers version or even a combination. But you could always get a piece of basic pepperoni and it was quite tasty. Must have been – I think I had about 8 of them. Shows/Entertainment: First of all, a disclaimer: We really don’t much care for Vegas-style shows, with the often disconnected succession of singing and dancing bits. We would much prefer Broadway style musicals with an actual story to tell, but that is tough with a 45-60 minute show. That said, we enjoyed the productions of The Piano Man and Undercover. The Piano Man was a montage of songs by Billy Joel, Liberace, Paul Anka, Bary Manilow, Elton John, etc. Pretty elaborate costumes, and the dancers were good. Singers were OK. Ironically, one of the male singers was also on our Sea Princess cruise in 2000. He’s lost a little hair. Haha! The Undercover show was a salute to spy movies, and actually had some pretty clever bits that made us laugh. The house band was impressive and polished. The comedians/”magicians”/jugglers were about what you expect: Some gut busting moments, some funny stuff, some that isn’t so funny, but all in all, a pleasant way to kill an hour with friends. No worse than PG-13. The theater was very comfortable, and lent itself very well to the productions. As always, there is the wide ranging selection of other things that you never quite find time to fully experience. The piano bar singer in Crooners lounge got on our nerves though. We just didn’t think he was very good, every time we walked by on our way somewhere else. Ports/Shore Excursions: Puerto Vallarta: We took the ship’s mountain biking excursion and enjoyed it. Nothing too serious, mostly biking around some farms and small cities. Made us sweat. Then a brief tour of a small tequila factory, but we wished we could have just headed back to town. When we got back, we got back on the ship for a quick shower, lunch at the buffet, then back off the ship where we arranged for a Suburban to take us sight-seeing for the afternoon. It was $40 for that, then we ended up having the guy take us to the better shopping areas downtown, and wait for us, then take us back to the ship, for an additional $12 that it would have cost us for a taxi anyway. We went south of town, into the beautiful hillside areas and down the coast all the way to the Mismaloya river. Very pretty. Had a good time. Would like to return and spend more time here. Mazatlan. We had a tough time picking an excursion here because we didn’t really like any of the choices. Ultimately, we chose a privately booked Stone Island Excursion. Pretty lame. Same as the one off the ship, but only $35, which included a boat ride out of the harbor, around some rocks & sea lions, then back to a 3-wood from the ship, across the channel, and on the beach. If you don’t have a better option, just take a water taxi across the channel, then bum a ride or even walk the couple of blocks south down the beach and hang out. That can probably be done for all of $10 each. Heist some fruit from the cruise ship or something. All in all, we don’t feel the need to return to Mazatlan, with one exception: When we were returning to the ship, we had arranged to take the scenic route back, with a more extensive tour of the city, and our guide took us to this awesome little shop called Sea Shell City. Northern end of the Golden Zone. We have been to Mexico about 10 times in the last 6 years, from Cozumel and Cancun to Tijuana/Rosarito Beach, and we have never found better prices on carved stone and wood animals, and shells, and other fun little trinkets as we found in this store. We already wish we had bought more things, just for inexpensive little gifts. Example: The little carved stone “families” of 7 little fish/elephants/sea horses/dolphins, etc, for just $5. Obsidian carved masks that are always $35-$40 elsewhere were only $15-$20. Huge selection as well. So if you like that kind of inexpensive stuff, don’t miss this store. Cabo San Lucas: This stop was the highlight of the trip, as far as ports. We booked a kayak/snorkel excursion through an outfit called Baja Wild. www.bajawild.com. It was great! They picked us up on the pier in a nice van, picked up a few other people at hotels on the way to a little beach where we loaded up the kayaks and went to Santa Maria bay. We snorkeled there for a while, then continued on to the Chilleno Bay/Chilleno Reef area where they had drinks, beach chairs, and snacks awaiting us. This was a more extended version of the cruise ship’s excursion, but a better structured version, with more time kayaking and snorkeling, and better service, at a price of $50, compared to the cruise ships $69 price. Some of the best snorkeling I have done, with tons of fish and surprisingly clear water. A great time. Had us back to the pier at 1:00, leaving just a little time for last minute shopping before catching the last tenders back around 1:30. Definitely could have used a full day here, and definitely need to return here some day. I thought Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo were bookends to endless beachfront development and we were pleasantly surprised to find that most of the beachfront between the two cities is pretty much empty. I would love to have time to just wander up the coast, north of San Jose del Cabo, in the sea of Cortez. Our guides say there is all kinds of empty shoreline up there. Disembarkation: We were surprised at how long it took to get off the ship. We didn’t cross the gangway until almost noon, and I don’t think the last people got off until probably 12:30. But while we waited, we were amused to watch all of the forklifts loading new supplies for the next voyage, and to watch some of the dockworkers stealing fruit by the bagful from the pallets being loaded. Absolute thieves! Summary: Given a choice, we would prefer the Caribbean just because of the greater selection of ocean-based shore excursions, and clearer, warmer ocean waters. But, a cruise is far more than that. We had a great time just being able to relax aboard a beautiful ship, with top notch dining and entertainment. Yes, there are always a few minor things that you can identify that could be improved upon, but it’s all relative. It’s as if people need something to complain about, and those people can always find something. We give this cruise very high marks, as far as the ship board experience. Handily the best experience we’ve had on a cruise ship. But when it comes right down to it, Mexican ports are just not that good for a quick, single day in port. I would love to spend a week in Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas, but it’s almost not worth the bother to just be there for 5 or 6 hours. One of the comedians was joking about how the cruise ship was really just going in circles off El Segundo, and every night, the crew would go ashore and change the name on the town from Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan to Cabo. You know, there is some small degree of truth to that. . . . . . We really like the idea of sailing on the Diamond Princess again, maybe to Alaska. We had a great time!

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Nov 13, 2004

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. The Itinerary 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. Tour Preparation 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. Clothes Planning 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. Trip Insurance 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. Embarkation 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 Stateroom 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. Entertainment 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. Sea Days 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. Debarkation 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. Miscellaneous Observations 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. The Crew 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. Overall Evaluation 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”. Bon Voyage!

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Nov 6, 2004

Mexican Riviera

Embarkation: First of all we received a phone call on Friday night stating that passenger embarkation would be delayed on Saturday until 2:00 p.m. That would really cut into the time I wanted to spend exploring the ship. But we arrived at 1:30 and were on the ship before 3:30. So it wasn’t that bad. Since we had our 2 daughters with us it meant a little

rushing to get them registered for the children/teen programs, but after the excitement of it all we all turned in shortly after sailaway with our new found CC friends from online and dinner. Cabin: We had cabin E301 on the Emerald deck. It is a handicap accessible cabin, which we did not specifically request, but were grateful for the 300 sq. ft. and very large bathroom. We had plenty of closet space (2 large ones). Our obstructed view was above the life boat, so we could see out the large window quite easily and could look down at the water rushing by next to the boat on days at sea. The decor was bright and cheerful. This is a quad room and the bunks are hidden in the ceiling until the cabin steward makes them up at night. There was a small refrigerator, desk and sitting chair. The bathroom was stocked with shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap twice daily. My only complaint about the room was the hair dryer. It took forever to get your hair dry. No big deal, next time I pack my own. We had a crying child in the cabin next to us, but the minute they shut the door to their cabin I could not hear the crying. The soundproofing of the rooms is amazing. Unlike hotels where you hear the shower and toilet of your neighboring hotel rooms. Dining: We chose Anytime Dining and enjoyed it, although the reservation system is pretty silly. We only made a reservation one night. Other times we walked in at 5:30 and were seated at some of the better tables. We dined with friends two nights with a table of six, two nights with just our family with a table of 4 and once just the two of us at a table of two. Here are my pros and cons. Pros: You can get the menu from the main dining room in addition to the specialty items from the individual restaurant. You are not locked into the 6:30 or 8:30 traditional seating times. The atmosphere is unique in each restaurant. Best foods: Pacific Moon - Sushi Appetizers; Vivaldi - Escargot; Sterling - Onion Rings (w/sauce); Santa Fe - Guacamole and Blue Crab Cocktail. I enjoyed the seafood and fish entrees in all the restaurants. Best dessert: Love Boat Dream. Cons: The service does not seem as personal in the theme restaurants as the main dining room, with the exception of head waiter Manuel in the Sterling. If you are not drinking wine with dinner, you will have a tough time getting your ice tea or other beverage refilled. I wish there had been more selection of salads and vegetarian items on the menu. We ate breakfast on the “at sea” days in the International Dining Room. The food and service were always impeccable. We ate at the Horizon Court for a few breakfast and lunches. My husband loved the selection of foods at the Horizon Court. I on the other hand found them less appetizing in appearance and taste. We did use it create appetizer trays to enjoy pool side a couple of times, which included roasted turkey, a variety of cheeses, cracks, rolls and fresh fruit. My husband enjoyed the hamburgers and fries at the pool and the pizza was pretty good. Pools, Activities & Entertainment: There seemed to be plenty of lounge chairs at the two main pools. The pools got crowded at times on the warmer days and the pool temperature went from warm to cold. That didn’t stop myself and my daughters from spending a lot of time in them. There were fun pool games and bar service was plentiful. If you have the ability to stay awake 24 hours a day, you would be able to find something to do almost every minute of the day. We didn’t participate in many activities, but they were plentiful. We really enjoyed the musical production of Piano Man in the Princess Theater on the first formal night. We heard from many that the new production of Undercover was not nearly as good. There was a good Comedian/Magician named Lorenzo Clark that we caught on the night we could not get into Undercover. Internet Café: Computers are hit and miss. It took me 10 minutes to find out that the first computer I was on wasn’t working. The next computer got me on in less than 2 minutes. Excursions: Puerto Vallarta: We went to Las Caletas Hideaway through Vallarta Aventures. The crew was energetic and fun. After a 30-40 minute boat ride from the ship to Las Caletas we were presented with a very organized list of activities. First there was trip to visit the Sea Lion (we missed this one), then a group snorkeling tour, a lengthy kayaking trip, paella cooking lesson, pottery class and nature walk. Las Caletas is a perfect location to enjoy the sun and warm water of Puerto Vallarta. Beverages were free flowing after the snorkeling tour and the buffet style lunch was delicious. On the way back to the ship drinks continued to be served and the crew put on a very entertaining show. We were very impressed with Vallarta Adventures. We did not book this excursion through Princess, but were on the same boat as the cruise passengers. If anyone would like to know the company we booked with, please e-mail me. Mazatlan: This is where booking outside of the cruise excursions proved to be a HUGE mistake! We booked a Stone Island Excursion with a not so reputable company. We were given an impromptu, unscheduled stop at a cathedral and the cliff divers then driven to a very scary dock where our boat was docked. The boat was old and dirty. We were given a boat ride to see the caves and sea lions and then brought to Stone Island, which is a short ride straight across from the ship. Stone Island is a long strand of beach with a row of restaurants and activities. There are ATV’s to rent, banana boat rides, horseback riding, kayaking and snorkeling. We did the banana boat ride, but passed on riding the malnourished horses owned by this particular company. Live and learn I say. Cabo San Lucas: We have been here before so we knew our way around. We walked from the tender pier to the beach via the harbor front shops past the very Americanized mall. We picked up a glass bottom water taxi to take us around Los Arcos from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean. We skipped Lover’s Beach (been there done that). The water taxi brought us back to the tender pier where we shopped a little before returning to the ship. There is definitely not enough time in Cabo. Kids Zone: Our 5 and 13 year old daughters LOVED the programs offered on the ship. There were many organized activities and crafts for the 3-7 year olds for the younger one and our teen LOVED being able to hang out in the Off Limits Teen Center until 1:00 a.m. The staff in the kids programs was awesome! Disembarkment: We were out of our cabin at 8:00 a.m. and then spent the next four hours waiting to get off the ship and then spent another 30 minutes in the immigration line. We were Green 1, which was toward the end of list of being called. Overall: The ship is beautiful! I wish I had a few more days to just spend exploring, because it took me all 7 days to find everything I was looking for. The overall service was good. We enjoyed the ports with the exception of Mazatlan, which was hugely based on our bad tour company. The food in the International Dining Room for breakfast and lunch was very good and service impeccable. We enjoyed the additional menu items offered in the theme restaurants along with the main menu. The reservation system for Anytime Dining needs some work or should be discontinued so that Anytime Dining is truly “anytime”. Our cabin was quite comfortable and our cabin steward (Dexter) kept it in top shape without ever being intrusive. Our daughters were treated like royalty by everyone that worked on the Diamond Princess. The entertainment was pretty good. It was a great cruise. So much so that it is hard to adjust to reality. ;-)

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Oct 22, 2004

Mexican Riviera

I am attempting to give a review and not a diary but sometimes it may appear to be a diary as it is necessary to help. I have separated it into categories for quick reference. I will try to avoid personal opinions because that is subjective. I don’t like the phrase “To die for”. There is nothing to die for. Although there are times that I am dying for

a beer. And I guess that it is something that I will die for because my drinking will eventually kill me. I have calculated that if I drink a six pack a day for the next 100 years chances are that I will die. There will be a lot of tips that may be helpful and maybe that information is straying away from a review. If you do not want to read the whole “review” here is a quick one. If you are the type that judges a ship by carpet stains and stuff being worn out this ship will make you happy. You will have the opportunity to make the first stain. The ship was still in new condition. You could still see some carpet fuzzies, and it is not due to lack of vacuuming. It was a diverse group of passengers and age ranged from young to old with the majority being over 40. The crew is friendly. So please treat them as human beings and not a whipping pole. I have found that you can get better results with a smile and a Smith and Wesson than with just a Smith and Wesson. If you do not enjoy this cruise than you have a problem and should start to lighten up and enjoy life. Basically it is a typical Princess cruise. Getting There We took the air package from Princess. Was disappointed because we did not get direct flights. Leaving out of Detroit there are plenty of flights that are direct. We were booked on Delta with a change in Cincinnati and on the way back Northwest with a stop in Minnesota. We left for the airport at 3:30 am. ET. Our flight was at 6:00. It made a long day. Needless to say we were dead tired around dinner time, 6:00 pm PT. Would recommend getting your own air package and getting there a day early. This gives you more control; a cheaper price and you will be more rested for the first day on board. L. A. We arrived at 10:00 am PT. Had to wait 45 minutes to get on the bus. Princess charges $25 pp one-way. The ride is about 30 minutes. I don’t know if there is a cheaper way to get from the airport. The process was very organized. There were reps that told us where to put our luggage and we never seen it again until it was delivered to our cabin. We did not have to deal with any of the baggage bandits that always have their hand out demanding a TIP. Terminal We got to the terminal before noon and were given a card with a number on it as we walked in. Ours was 546. This is used for order of boarding. We were able to check in at the Platinum counter. The process was very fast. Be sure to do your paper work on line. The way things are today I would recommend getting a passport. It will make traveling easier for you. We were told on the bus not to take any pictures inside due to security reasons? They try to make it like the place really secured; but for some reason people were coming and going thru non-secured exit only doors. Everything was organized until the boarding process. At 1:00 they called for anyone with Princess platinum or above membership, suite passengers and those with special needs to start boarding. It did not matter what number you had. We went to the boarding gate. What a cluster muster. Everyone was rushing to the gate. There was no line. We finally got to the front. They would let about 10 people in at a time because you had to go thru screening. There was a special line for passengers in a wheel chair. The gatekeeper will let those go thru first. This is ok but it gets abused. One passenger in a wheel chair was upset and caused a big delay because the group of twenty plus people with him could not cut in front of everyone else. The gatekeeper asked if anyone else had special needs. I said I did. I was thirsty alcoholic and needed to get to a bar fast. It did not work. After the initial rush I think that the crowd thins out. If you have a choice don’t get to the terminal until 2:00 and you will not have to wait in lines. On Board We finally got on. There are crewmembers that “direct” you towards your cabin. Pack a carry on with a change of cloths, swimsuit, shorts, etc because it may take a while to get your luggage and you will want to change out of your traveling clothes. The buffet, pools, and bars are open. Get a brochure or look on line before hand to become familiar with the ship’s layout before the cruise. First things first. Go to your room, dump your stuff, make dinner reservations for the first night, and then go to the buffet. The good times are now starting. In your cabin is a Princess book that has information about everything on the ship. Read it ASAP. The Cabin Our room was a mini suite on the starboard side (right side) on the Dolphin deck (deck 9). This was the side against the port and was in the sun. You can sit on your balcony and watch the people boarding. The cabin looks exactly as shown in the brochure. The beds are made up according to your request, either as twins or a queen. There was a bowl of fruit, 2 cookies, and a flower arrangement from our TA. The robes were in the room as requested. They are about one step above a hospital gown. It states a walk in closet but it is only 3 feet deep. There is a sofa bed, a chair, coffee table, and 2 TV’s. Plenty of room. The lamps are bolted to the tables. You cannot move them. I guess there were anticipating a thief problem. There is a refrigerator but it is not stocked as a mini bar so you can store stuff in it. It does not get very cold. If you want to keep something cold I would recommend taking a small soft-sided cooler and having the room steward keep it filled with ice. There is a safe about 1ft x 1 ft. You key in a 4-digit code every time you lock it. Use a number that you can remember. There must be a bypass on it because it you locked it the last day of the cruise how would the next person get it open? The safe is in a closet that is blocked from view by the opened bathroom door. We accidentally left the safe and closet door open when we went to dinner one night because of this. The room steward did not bother anything. There are two hair driers. One is electric and is over the desk/make up table. The other was on the balcony. Stick your head over the rail and let the wind dry it. This is how the Princess got the idea for their sea witch logo. The Bathroom My wife used the bathroom before I did. When she hung up the towel it covered the sign that said to close the cover before flushing. After using the toilet I could not see anything to flush the toilet. There was a chrome cylinder with a handle along side of it. I pushed and pulled and it came out. It was a brush. I finally asked my wife how to flush it. She said to push the button. I could not find it. She said I needed to put the seat cover down. Ok. I guess a woman must have designed these bathrooms and figured out a way to get the men to put the seat down when done. I fixed this problem. The button is square and behind the seat. I saw a spare box of facial tissue that looked about the right size to fit behind the cover and was at the right height to hit the button. I could now push the cover back and flush the toilet. Mistake. I was sitting on the pot and accidentally lean back on the cover. WHOA MA MA!!. Do not do this unless you are constipated. The room is supplied with soap bars, and squeeze packets of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. The bathtub is another experience. The mini suite has a bathtub shower combo. The bathroom floor is elevated about 4 inches and the tub is elevated another 4inches so there is about 6’-1’ clearance inside the tub. If you are taller you will be banging your head on the ceiling. There are also more levers and knobs than on a Japanese stereo. There are 2 faucets, a large and small (?), a diverter, and a temperature knob that has the degrees marked on it and a flow control knob. If you wear glasses and do not become familiar with the controls before hand you will not figure it out. Also be sure to open the little packs of shampoo and conditioner before your hands get wet. Scissors or a knife helps. My wife wanted to check out the spa while I took a shower. I did not become familiar with the tub layout and got in with out my glasses. What an experience. I turned the knobs and the water would get hot, get cold, came on and went off. It is not too complicated if you can see. I finally got it figured out and then the fun began. I seen a cord that I thought was to close the shower curtain. It did not close so I kept pulling on it. Suddenly the room steward appeared. I had almost had a heart attack. It was a good thing that I had that toilet experience. He wanted to know if I was all right? I said that was a dumb question since he just knocked a few years off of my life; but since he was here he needs to fix cord because the shower curtain will not close. He said that the cord was there to grab when I fell. I told him that if I fell I would grab onto one of those chrome handles that I keep banging my elbow on and not that flimsy cord. He said that the cord was to be pulled after I fell to call for assistance. I than asked the purpose of the chrome bell at the top of the tub. He said it was a cloths line to hang my wet clothes on. I said well they will be wet if I hang them in the bathtub and if it was ok with him I will use the closet. He said that it was for the bathing suits after swimming. We finally were getting on the same page when he asked why I had the toilet brush in the bathtub. Well that explains why the brush was on the other side of the toilet. DO NOT USE THE BRUSH FOR YOUR BACK AND DO NOT PULL THE CORD. I finally got everything figured out except for the magnets on the bottom of the shower curtain in a plastic tub. They did not keep the curtain from being sucked into the shower. The other is the 2 glass knick-knack shelves in the shower. Balconies The regular size balcony is approximately 4 ft x 8 ft. They have 2 plastic armchairs and a plastic table. The mini suites are 8 ft x 8 ft and have 2 plastic armchairs, and 2 plastic armchairs with cushions that recline. The suites are 16 ft x 8 ft and have 2 cushioned teak wood chairs, 2 cushioned teak wood chaise lounges, and teak wood tables. Some suites have larger balconies if at the bow or stern. The doors are sliding and I do not think they controlled the HVAC when left open. Aloha deck. All balconies 4 x 8 and are covered plus another 4 ft overhang from the deck above Baha deck. All balconies are 4 x 8 and are covered by the deck above. I think there are a few that may be a little longer. Caribe deck. All balconies are either suite or mini suite. They are ½ covered by the deck above and ½ is exposed. Dolphin deck. All balconies are mini suites and extend from the side of the ship. There is no cover over them. They are fully exposed. Emerald deck. The mini suites at the stern are fully covered by the deck above We had a mini suite on the Dolphin deck. I enjoyed not having a cover over the top. I could recline and get a good view of the stars. The balcony lights are not very bright so they do not cause much light pollution if another balcony has it on. One drawback was it did not provide any protection from rain. It rained a few nights and cut into our balcony time. Nothing romantic about sitting in the rain plus it dilutes the drinks. With no overhead cover the furniture and cushions get wet but they can be dried with towels. Privacy was not really a issue. I guess if it is you could take a 8 ft x 8 ft tarp with some rope and string it across the bulkheads. It did get rather cool at night and was very windy on the return. There was plenty of room to spread out breakfast and enjoy the sunrise or watch the world go by. Cruise and charge Card At check in you are given a plastic card about the size of a credit card. This is used as a room key, charge card while on board and as you ID to get on and off the ship. I wanted to exchange cards with my wife before getting back on board to see if they really noticed a difference but I forgot about it. At the end of the cruise you are given a statement with all of your charges on in. Each person gets their own statement. If you have any concerns you have to take it up with the purser before you leave. The daily TIPS are included at $10 per day per passenger and is broken down to room, $6.45 and meals, $3.45. If you agree and have express check out you don’t have to do anything. It is advised to get a copy before Friday and check it to avoid the long line on the last day. Keep all receipts in a envelop for reference. The Restaurants We had personal choice dining. There are 4 theme restaurants that you dine in if you are using personal choice. The restaurants take reservations up to 24 hours in advance or from 7:00 am the day before. I advise to make reservations. Use the phone in your room to do this. Each one has its own menu that never changes and the menu from the main dining room that changes daily. The choices of restaurants are Mexican, Italian, Oriental, and American (Steakhouse). . The theme does not really mean anything except for the setting and their standard theme menu. The theme menu is very limited. If you have traditional dining you will get the main menu, and a daily rotation of menus from the theme restaurants. You could eat in the same restaurant every evening and just pick from the main menu. There are also some standard entrees that are always available. The first night we ate in the Sterling Steak House (American). My wife had a steak. The knife that they served with it could have been used in the movie Gladiator. The knife was not an indication of the steak; it could be cut with the standard knife that had a serrated edge. We always reserved a table for two. The problem is these are always along the wall where one person is sitting on the bench and the other is in a chair facing a wall or mirror. I don’t think they really reserve a certain table they just give you one that is available. The first day at sea we ate lunch in the main dining room. Lots of luck finding it. The layout of the ship is not very user friendly. We were seated at a table with 3 older couples that were traveling together. Thru the whole lunch they complained. I finally said that I have had enough and I cannot take anymore. One lady said that I should complain to the waiter and I would get the lunch for free. She said that she complains about the food at every meal and has never been charged for her dinners when cruising. I did not want to get involved explaining it to her. Found out they were from Florida. No wonder they have voting problems there. That was the only time we had lunch there. The buffet was more convenient. The only beverages available for free at the self-serve stations are: coffee, water, and hot and cold tea. In the dining room you have to ask. The servers normally do not volunteer the free beverages. Milk and juice are provided but not at the self serve stations. Bottled water has a charge. Make sure you say regular water when in a restaurant unless you want to pay for bottled. The tap water is safe to drink. It is distilled seawater. Room Service It is available 24 hours. We only used it for breakfast. We would have room service for breakfast every day while sitting on the balcony. You are provided with a card the night before to fill out and hang it on the door before retiring if room service is requested. Delivery is really close to the time that you mark. Be aware of all the time changes while on board. We got surprised one morning. We would write in items and got them even though the items were not on the card. Coffee is served in a pot and juice comes in a 4 oz glass. If you ask for 2 coffees you get 2 pots. The server has a card that they want you to sign upon delivery. It has an area that they want the time of delivery, your signature and a line that says TIP. I think the TIP line is the one that they are really concerned about. They are happy with a buck or two. They advertise a Special Champagne Breakfast for Two @ $25. in your stateroom. You get a half bottle of champagne, smoked salmon and quiche. I don’t know who gets the other half of the bottle. For $25 you could get a bucket of beer and have regular room service with change to spare. Photographs There are many opportunities for having your picture taken. You do not pay to have your photo taken. Remember what time you came on the ship, dining room you were in or what the background was. This will make finding your photo easier. I am sure you will run across many people that are asking “How do we know what pictures are ours?” The photos are $21.95 each. I think they would sell more if the prices were cheaper. The majority ends up being tossed. Booze We took a bottle of Crown in our luggage. No problem. We then found that you can purchase booze for in room consumption by the bottle. It is not worth the hassle of taking your own. We paid $22.00 (liquor controlled by the state) for the Crown in Mi. A liter on board for room use was $25. Grey Goose is $29 for a liter and it costs $30 in Mi for a fifth. The prices are in the book in the room. They do not offer Kahlua so you may want to take your own or get it at Puerta Vallarta When in Puerta Vallarta I bought two 6 packs of beer and carried them in my arms thru the metal detector with no problem. We also bought a bottle of Kahlua for $9.70 and took that on board in our backpack. The ship sells duty free booze on board and claims to have the cheapest price. If you can prove it to be cheaper somewhere else they will match it. Kahlua was $11. plus on board and I showed them the receipt and got it for $9.70. If you are planning on buying on board do it early because they run out fast. I got the last bottle of Kahlua. Saved a whopping $10 compared to the prices at home. I was really counting on this great savings to help pay for the trip. I had this great plan of paying for the trip by doing this. I was calculating that if I bought 400 bottles and paid the duty the savings would be about $3800. Than I would have to buy another 400 for the savings to offset the cost of first 400. If I kept buying more to cover the cost of the booze the law of diminishing returns should take effect and the trip and booze would be free. Some how the math did not work out. In reality what you save on a bottle is not worth the hassle if you are traveling by air. Pools The pools and whirlpools are fresh water and are always open. There are pools for kids, adult, and combined. Never had a problem with getting a chair. If one pool is crowded go to another. The water was warm. You have to bring a pool towel from your room; none are provided at the pool area. There is no topless bathing area but the beaches in Mexico are. Lounges and Bars There are plenty of them. You never have to be concerned about getting a drink. I think the servers follow the photographers. It seems as if you are always being asked if you want a drink or have your picture taken. The Wake View Bar is anything but. You really have to look for the bar and the wake. The view is thru a couple of portholes when kneeling on the bench along the wall. If you want a quiet private place this is it. Usually there is no bar service and the place is deserted. Skywalkers bar is also dead during the daytime. Sports bar. This also serves as the cigar bar. Enough said. The place reeks of stale smoke. Martini bar: A great place to try different martinis at reasonable prices. All martinis are $5 unless you want a souvenir glass. Not bad considering some hot spots at home charge $10 plus. I bought deck of cards that consisted of 52 martini recipes for $6. Got home and seen a offer for a free disk that had 8400 martini recipes from Van Gogh Vodka. Explorer lounge: this serves as an alternate show room. It was also our muster station. I guess the cruise line does not want to miss out on any opportunity to sell you a drink- Hey everyone this is the last call before the ship sinks. They did not mention at the drill if you needed your cruise and charge card to get off the ship but I would make sure to have it just incase you wanted last call. There are a lot of other bars and lounges. Beers range from $3.25 to $3.50. You can also get a bucket of 5 for the price of 4. I asked the bartender if I could have the free 5th one after 4 were sold. He said it did not work that way. Cocktails and liquors range from $3.50 to $6.00. 15% gratuity is added to this. This is reasonable. The TIP amounts $.53 for a bottle of beer. Beats giving them a five spot and telling them to keep the change. Casino You have to go thru the casino to get from the restaurants to the theater. It is always smoky. Did not play there. Vegas is always a separate business trip that I take to visit my investments. The casino owners are using my investments wisely. Vegas is booming. There are also some machines in the Club Fusion. Internet Café It seemed to be closed most of the time for servicing. There is a Coffee bar in there that has the best cookies on board. They on under a glass cover on the counter and are free but the coffee is not. Smoking Policy Smoking is only allowed in certain places. The ship was for the most part smoke free if that is a concern to the non-smokers. Princess Patter This is the daily newsletter that Princess delivers to your room every night. It has the next day’s activities listed. I would like to see it a few days in advance so dinner reservations could be made accordingly. There was one left in our room from the prior week’s cruise. Everything was the same except for the date. Take some different color hi light markers to mark the activities you want to attend. You can also pick up an extra at the main desk. Shows and Entertainment The Princess Theater holds 700 people. The ship can accommodate 2800. Do your math. If you want to see a show be there at least 30 minutes early to guarantee a seat. There is no seat reserving and it is strictly enforced. I am listing the main things so you can make dinner reservations. The seats in the lower sections are on a slanted floor. This makes the seats and backs lean forward because the bases were made for a level floor. If you do not want to get a wedgey while in the theater sit in the areas with the level floor surface. It is not really necessary to sit that close anyways. Sitting back further gives you a nice overall view. Saturday 8:15 and 10:30 Welcome Aboard Show. Did not attend because we were dead tired. Sunday Formal night 5:30 and 7:45 Captains Cocktail Party. A chance to get free drinks. Martinis, manhattans, rum punch. All you can drink for 30 minutes. 8:15 and 10:30 Piano Man. A song and dance show consisting of words and music of Billy Joel, Sedaka, Manilow, Liberace, and Elton John. It is a good show if you relate to them. The younger crowd was not too impressed. There is an encore performance the next night. 8:30 and 10:45 comedy show in Explorer Lounge. Comedian Don Fiesen. Monday Movie night 6:00 and 10:30. The Terminal was shown in the Theater 8:15 and 10:30 Cabaret Showtime. Explorer Lounge. Jim McDonald. Comedian from Showtime and MTV 9:15 Piano Man encore Tuesday 8:15 and 10:30 Celebrity Showtime. Tony Tillman. Played at Caesar’s Palace for many years. Great high energy entertainer. 10:30 late night movie in Explorers lounge. Troy was shown Wednesday 8:15 and 10:30 Comedy and Magic Show. Lorenzo Clark. From Magic Castle. He told jokes and did some tricks. Put two hankies into a hat, one red and one yellow. He then made the red change into yellow and the yellow into red. He also got some cigarettes from a passenger. He made them go up into smoke. Amazing 10:30 late night movie in Explorers lounge. Manchurian Candidate 2004 was shown Thursday Formal Night Past guest Party 5:30 and 7:30. Another chance for free drinks 8:15 and 10:30 Undercover. Dance and song by the Princess Dancers. I fell asleep. 8:30 and 10:45 Comedy Showtime in the Explorer lounge. Another guest Comedian. Don Ware. Writer of the Cosby Show 11:30 Champagne Waterfall. Nice to see if it is your first cruise. You also get free Champagne but it is not worth the cost. Friday 6:30 Movie night. Princess theater. Stepford Wife’s 9:15 Undercover encore. 10:15 late night movie. Explorer Lounge. Spiderman 2 I know that the entertainers and Movies will not be the same but the times and representations should be. I have only listed the main things going on. There are always dance bands and other activities at night. None of the comics were vulgar or used foul language. The movies are also shown on the ship’s television network but the times and dates are hit and miss. Fun Stuff Pool parties, dance lessons, karaoke, Princess Idol competition, singles dance party, table tennis tournaments, trivia games, basketball shoot out, scrabble tournament, pool Olympics, weakest one contest, flip, flop, and fly contest, shuffle board tournament, water volleyball, golf tournament, pictionary, Mr. sexy legs contest, Princess Jeopardy. Bonus: winter Olympics started in 1924, and the largest lake is the Caspian Sea. Puerto Vallarta We were facing the bay and not the dock. It was funny to watch the tour boats come into the bay and circle the ship. Looked like hyenas waiting for the kill. Then it became like the piped piper. Each boat started playing their party music trying to entice people to come on board. It became the battle of the amps with each trying to be louder than the other. Most left fairly empty. We were docked 3 miles from town; but there were 2 large souvenir stores across the road from the dock. One was called Walmart and the other was Sam’s Club; good prices, but you had to have a membership card to get inside. We walked to town. It was about a 6 beer walk. You can buy a beer for under a dollar at any store and drink in public. I always take a foam can cover with me to help keep the beer cold. Use this on board also. We were planning on eating some good real authentic Mexican food but we could not find that famous place that is always advertised called Taco Bell, so we settled for a margarita in town. It was 2 for 1 and cost $3 including tip. If you want to drink and don’t like the ship’s prices do it here. Did not take any tours or buy anything else. Been there before. Mazatlan We were facing the port here. It is an industrial dock. It was not a warm feeling to see 2 guards with automatics standing by an empty cargo container near the gangplank. I don’t know what they were protecting but I have a feeling that the container was used for a jail. It is a $20 dollar cab ride to town. If you just want shop in town save your cab fare buy from the stores by the dock. You have to take a free tram to get out of the dock area. At the main entrance there is a little mall with shops, a couple of bars and restaurants. The dock area was full of new cars that were being loaded on transport trucks. I don’t know who was buying all the cars but the blanket business must be booming. This is confusing to me because I don’t understand why someone would buy a blanket from a person that lives in one of the hottest places on earth. If I wanted a blanket I think that I would buy it from a person that lived in a cold place like Alaska. Cabo San Lucas Not much time spent here. You tender to the dock. The tender process is very organized. When you are ready to leave you go to the Explorer Lounge. You are then put into a group and taken to the tender. It is about a 10 to 15 minute wait. Don’t be in a rush to get to town. Nothing opens until 9:00. We went to Sammy Haggar’s Cabo Wabo club and had a Margarita. Had to do this. Not worth the money, but can say that we did it. Going Home You are given numbered colored tags to put on your luggage on Friday night. Pack your bags and have them outside your room before midnight. Disembarkation started at 8:30. We had breakfast and then went back to our room to get our carry on bags. We stayed there until our color number was called. You can hear the PA in your room. Do not try to get off until your color and number is called. In the terminal there are rooms that are color coded according to the luggage in them. It was fast and organized. After getting our luggage we went thru customs and got on the bus to the airport. Got to the airport by 9:30 and was able to change to an earlier non-stop flight home. Overall The passengers were a diverse group that was mostly over 40. The majority was polite and not the pushy, inconsiderate, rude Condo Commandos that you usually encounter on cruises that leave out of Florida. All of the crewmembers were friendly and helpful. The ship is very smooth and most times you forget that you are on a ship. One night it was a little rough and there was some ship movement. The passengers in the cabin next to us must have been scared because we could hear them praying oh god, oh GOD, OH GOD. Would I take this cruise again? No, only because there are too many other ships and places that I have not been on or to. But yes I would recommend it. Feel free to Email if you have any questions

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Oct 15, 2004

Mexican Rivera

We have cruised 3 times on Celebrity, 4 times on Princess, once each on Crystal, Hal and RCCL in the last 2 1/2 years. We have been trying to select a cruise line where we could begin to take advantage of the frequent-cruiser perks that increase after the 5th cruise. This Diamond Princess cruise is our 4th Princess cruise in a row, and we are also one cruise away from “5th” cruise

status on Celebrity. We are trying to decide between Princess and Celebrity for our “home” cruise line. Cruising is becoming even more expensive. Crystal is our favorite so far, but at their prices we could do more premium style cruising on cruise lines that come close in quality but for less money. We are comparing certain kinds of cruise value and the quality of the food and the service. There are things that used to be complimentary. Cappucino and designer coffees are not free anymore in the dining rooms. They are charging for ‘softserve’, not just the Hagen Das bars that they have had for a while. Diamond Princess does have a one hour window in the mid afternoon at the Horizon buffet where ice cream is dispensed for free. They are offering a champagne breakfast in bed or on your balcony for $25.00 that includes a half bottle of champagne. You can order room service for free and bring your own bottle and save the $25.00. We have been wanting to travel on one of the newer, bigger, grander ships, and this Diamond Princess cruise fit our schedule perfectly. We saw the Diamond Princess in Alaska last summer docked next to the Coral Princess (which we were on), and we knew we’d love to cruise on this beautiful ship. GETTING THERE We flew Alaska Airlines from YVR to LAX. We were met by a friend who drove us the 40 minute drive to the cruise terminal in San Pedro. Excellent directions were provided by Princess; we got off the Harbor Freeway and followed the signs to the cruise terminal. There we were, riding through many stacks of cargo containers -- we turned a corner and there was the awesome sight of the Diamond Princess, stem to stern, alongside her berth. We followed the drive the length of the ship and it seemed to go on and on. We gave our luggage to a porter with a dollar a bag tip and headed for the boarding area with our carry ons. EMBARKATION It was almost 3PM when we arrived and not at all crowded even though the ship was sold out. It took us about a half hour to board the ship. We got in the Captain’s Circle line -- a much shorter line. The check-in is just a credit card swipe if you have done the pre-registration at princess.com. Princess does a good job with their very easy-to-use website. We received our cruise cards/cabin keys and headed for the boarding line. There is no way to avoid waiting in the photo line the way boarding the ship is routed so we just relaxed. We would prefer to be able to board without getting in the photo line. We like the idea of a boarding photo but since it has become a twenty-dollar boarding photo, we’ll pass. There was no welcome aboard Champagne or orange juice, as on Celebrity. SAIL AWAY We sailed out of the LA Harbor in the warm late afternoon sun. A perfect day. We walked the length of the ship topside as we sailed away and headed for Mexico. We carried our Diamond Princess pocket guide getting familiar with the ship as we marveled at its beauty and design. THE CABIN Our balcony cabin was located on the Aloha deck (#12), midships. It has that new and hardly used feeling. Harriette felt it was clean enough to put towels down on the floor and lie on them to exercise. There was plenty of closet space, but a paucity of hooks to hang stuff on. The only hook is a double on the back of the bathroom door, and once you hang up your robes there is very little room for anything else. Fortunately, we had brought 2 of our own plastic over-the-door hooks, which we hung on the outside of the closets. The drawer space is excellent, and there is a built-in desk with a plug that we used for our charging station. We travel with a laptop charger, battery charger and electric razor charger, and the desk surface and plug placement was excellent. There were built-in night stands on either side of the queen bed, and good lighting. The counters in the bathroom are almost nonexistent; there is just a narrow overhang with enough room to set a drinking glass on. The Diamond Princess is a brand new ship -- she should have had more thoughtful bathroom design. Celebrity’s newer M class ships’ bathrooms have decent counter space, so you can set things down while ‘getting decent’, and they also have many secure shelves for storing your bathroom stuff. We are not terribly happy with the fact that Princess doesn’t place a throwaway plastic liner in the bathroom trash can. This is a foolish economy is these days of the Norwalk virus and the compromised immune system some of us have. Princess provides separate packets of shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion in a bathroom basket, instead of wall mounted shampoo and conditioner dispensers in the shower as Celebrity does. These packages of bathroom products carry the imprint of the onboard Lotus Spa, and they are made out of a fancy glazed cardboard. They are good quality products, but all the packages are the same color and look exactly alike in the shower -- if you wear glasses, you can’t tell the packages apart. They are also impossible to open if your hands are wet, so it must be done before you enter the shower and before you take off your glasses. We are glad we brought our Swiss Army knife for opening them. We also miss the steel water carafe that is provided on Celebrity and kept filled by the cabin steward. Celebrity wins the cabin ergonomic design and convenience comparison. We met our cabin steward, Sam, from Thailand. We tipped him $20.00, and asked him for a couple of robes. We also asked him to get rid of the bedspread. We know the cruise lines don’t change them often and we feel more “comfortable” when we flop or sit on the bed with the spread gone. Dateline NBC programs and comedian Howie Mandel have ruined us forever about just flopping down on a hotel or cruise ship bedspread. Sam did a great job for us; he got to know our breakfast schedule and the cabin was always made up when we returned. He kept the cabin truly clean. Thank you, Sam! BALCONY Princess has found a way to get more affordable balcony cabins incorporated into this ship’s design. Hooray. We used to think balconies had to be totally private, but the ampitheatre type of balcony with the big sliding door really gives one a cruise-y feeling. We can’t imagine ever cruising again without one. It’s a very small balcony, just enough room for 2 chairs. Some of the balconies aft are even smaller; no matter their size, having a balcony gives you that door to the ocean outside. On the Aloha deck we had no balconies staring down from above us, and we overlooked all of the balconies below. DINING One of the reasons we chose the Diamond Princess was because they had four no-extra-charge dining rooms here on the Diamond Princess. The Santa Fe, featuring Mexican food; Pacific Moon, the Asian Venue; the Sterling Steak House; and the Vivaldi, featuring Italian food. All four of these dining rooms are included in the price of the cruise. Princess is starting to add a cover charge for the Sterling Steak House on other Princess ships, but for this Diamond Princess cruise the Sterling was included. The International dining room has the traditional 2 seatings (6:15PM and 8:30PM) with the same table, same wait staff, or the ‘anytime’ dining. We opted for personal choice dining where you need to make a reservation. The International dining room menu is available in all of the anytime dining venues, so you aren’t missing out on anything. If you drop in without a reservation you may have to wait depending on the time of the evening. On the Island Princess you were given a beeper so you could wander the ship until your table was ready. Diamond Princess didn’t have the beepers. There is one more dining room, Sabatini’s, which has a $20.00 per person cover charge. It is Italian with more courses and extra special service. We tried it one night and enjoyed it, but we prefer to use the no-extra-cost-anytime dining rooms. Maitre D’ Fabio Marcotti presides over the the best run dining rooms and most pleasant and knowledgeable waiter service we have ever seen on a cruise ship. There are 3078 passengers to be served on the Diamond Princess, and the service was superb. All of the headwaiters and the wait staff have a great “can do” attitude without being obsequieous. Fabio Marcotti seems to be everywhere. We saw him moving from dining room to dining room each evening quietly making sure all was well. We dined with many different waiters and enjoyed it. Our friend Mark and his wife Nin and daughter Marisa joined us most evenings. Nin is from Thailand, and we were able to reserve a table each evening where there was a Thai waiter. The headwaiters in each restaurant went out of their way to make sure we got a Thai-speaking waiter on the team that served us. We took the kitchen tour conducted by Fabio Marcotti, and we learned a lot. The kitchen is very modern, and it is contiguous to the dining rooms. There are many streamlined devices where waiters can automatically pick up salads, appetizers etc. without having to wait on each order. The next salad just pops into place like the old automats of years ago. The kitchen is very clean, even cleaner than the one we saw on the Crystal Harmony. There are small sinks everywhere -- next to stoves, cutting tables etc. There is always a place for kitchen workers to rewash their hands or to rerinse what they are prepping or cooking at their work stations. I toured the kitchen with Mark, who was a restauranteur some years ago, and he marveled at the kitchen. Fabio explained that every Thursday he receives a passenger list for the next Saturday’s sailing on the Diamond, and he and his staff assign 1200 seats in the traditional dining room based on requests, dining needs, groups etc., and then on Saturday they try to make any changes they can to accommodate late-running passenger requests. The headwaiters at the personal choice venues are taking reservations at each dining room as people board, and there is a central number that spells “dine” that you can use for reservations by telephone. We did a modified personal choice on the Coral Princess, but there was only one personal choice dining room, not four. We think this is the future of cruise dining, and the automatic tip added daily to your bill covers those who serve you well. Complain to a headwaiter if there is a problem, and reward those servers who really get it with a few singles at the end of the cruise. Personal choice dining requires much more management from the Maitre D’ and his head waiters than traditional dining does, and they do a great job of it. It’s a great addition to cruising, and Princess does it well. The biggest part of the cruise for us is the food, service and atmosphere. BUFFET The Horizon Court is open 24 hours a day. We noticed that the buffet offerings were a bit more interesting than on previous cruises, but we don’t like the poor layout. There are no trays at this Princess buffet, and the lack of trays makes gathering buffet items difficult. There is no lemonade available. People mill around unsure of which direction to go in. The buffet is poorly laid out for such a brand new ship. Also, we find generally find ourselves eating more than we really want on cruise buffets, so we never ate at the Horizon Court. PIZZA, BURGERS & HOT DOGS The poolside pizza was great -- thin crust, crisp, great selection and taste. The pizza guys really got it done right. They were open daily from late morning until dinner time. The Trident Grill near the pool served nicely grilled burgers and hot dogs with all of the toppings non-stop from late morning to dinnertime. FOOD QUALITY The quality of the food is good. It is high banquet level food with some specialized entrees in the personal choice rooms. They manage to serve near ten thousand passenger meals a day on the Diamond Princess. The appetizers, salads and desserts are excellent. Most of the entrees are good. Celebrity does a better job with the sauces and the baked goods, but their beef wasn’t very good. The Princess beef was much better on the Island and the Coral but not very good on the Diamond Princess. I guess it has something to do with the mad cow scare and the fact that the US is not importing tasty Canadian beef now. We noticed the lobster tail is shrinking on Princess. The ones they serve in the dining rooms on lobster night are near thumb sized, similar to what the Sizzler buffet chain has for lobster. The beef and lobster were better at Sabatini’s -- the extra charge ($20.00 per person) dining room. If you don’t like something, send it back and order something else. Sometimes when we couldn’t decide on an entree we would order it in appetizer size in order to sample it and have a main entree too. Yum. All in all the food quality is almost a tossup between Celebrity and Princess now. The waiter service and attitude is much better on Princess. ROOM SERVICE Available 24 hours a day. The menu is limited outside of regular meal hours. We like ordering morning coffee, rolls and juice before going to the dining room. The croissants are just crescent shaped dinner rolls. They have no buttery crunch. There is a card you hang on the cabin door knob with your breakfast order, and breakfast is delivered at the time you choose. Tip the room service waiter. They work extremely hard delivering food all over this huge ship, and a dollar or two means a lot. COFFEE Not very warm, not very good. We’ve had better catering truck coffee. Don’t order cappucino or lattes in the dining rooms. You will be charged, and it all comes out of a push button machine! It used to be free in the dining rooms. THE SHIP We love strolling off our meals on the wraparound promenade deck. It was never crowded, and there are plenty of deck chairs when you need a break. Celebrity doesn’t have them on their M class ships which compare to the Diamond Princess. The public areas of the ship are truly clean, not just picked up after. The public bathrooms are also kept very clean; on some ships they are neglected, especially the bathrooms near the dining rooms. The public rooms and sitting areas are very comfortable and well designed. Diamond Princess is about 900 feet long. It takes a couple of days to discover everything. Skywalker’s lounge is located aft, at the very top of the ship. It’s a great place during the day to sit and contemplate the views. There is a jogging track and cyber golf place on top of the ship above the gym. The gym has all of the usual equipment, along with too many TV’s. The problem with the television is that some thoughtless passengers play the volume very loudly. Often many different channels are on, each vying for attention, creating a babble of unwanted sound. We would prefer that the sound remain muted and people watch CNN, ESPN etc. with the captions on so those of us excercising while listening to our I Pods or CD players can enjoy our music. There are coin laundromats located throughout the ship too. Celebrity doesn’t have these, and they are helpful to those of us who like to pack minimally. SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENT We’ve spent our lives working in the motion picture and television production world. We’re not big fans of the broadway show type of entertainment unless it’s near broadway level. We like to see the comedians and listen to music in the smaller venues. It is impossible to get seats on this ship to the early shows because of the rampant seat saving unless you arrive a half hour early. The later shows have seats available. Some clueless cruisers wander in loudly, very late, trying to find seats in the darkened theater, making it particularly difficult for the comedians continue to hold their audience. Passengers more than 5 minutes late should not be allowed to enter, in our opinion. The Princess Theater is beautiful. There is also the Explorers’ Lounge, the Wheelhouse Bar, Crooners’ Lounge, Club Fusion and at the top of the ship Skywalker’s nightclub to explore. We miss having a jazz trio on this voyage. The Coral and the Island Princess have jazz trios, piano, bass and drums, sometimes with a vocalist. We enjoy sipping a drink or two and listening to the jazz. There are hardworking solo piano players at Crooners’ bar and in the Atrium. There is a nice movie theater with recent movie releases, but again latecomers trying to find a seat disrupt the flow of the movie. LIBRARY Honor system for checking out books, and very short hours. The reading chairs are facing in the ‘wrong’ direction, not taking advantage of the ocean views! Ships’ libraries need to be open later. Celebrity does a much better job in this area. TEA TIME Our afternoon favorite. Scones with quality whipped cream served with finger sandwiches and mini sweets in the British tradition. Yum yum! Princess does this better than Celebrity. POOLS AND HOT TUBS This is where you notice there are 3078 passengers aboard this big ship. There are way too many people trying to crowd into the hot tubs and pools. We sat in a hot tub with every seat on the built-in underwater bench taken and watched another row of people crowd the edge, sit on the steps etc. We don’t wish to sit in a hot tub and feel the arms, legs and ankles of other cruisers rubbing or squeezing us. Yick! THE CRUISE DIRECTOR is Billy Highgate. More like Billy Lowgate. His staff is loud and overbearing, and they yell into the microphones. Billy seems to be wishing he was somewhere else. We agreed. It was more a Carnival type of cruise staff than a Princess one. We also miss the morning TV show that exists on most ships mc’d by the cruise director -- it gives the day’s events, drink of the day, show times, etc. These shows also introduce a sailing crew member or performer in an interview setting. Brian Price, cruise director of the Coral Princess, had it down perfectly with his short, informative show, which ran all day on the Princess channels. You could always watch reruns of the show and find out what was up for the evening as you got ready for dinner. This is a must for passengers to have access to because in our opinion the Princess Patter newspaper is a disaster as far disseminating information clearly. PRINCESS PATTER is nothing more than an ad sheet. It is woefully incomplete. We like the one on boarding day to list more than which nights are the formal-dress occasions. We would like a list of theme dinner nights, the names of the crew and hotel staff department heads, and the hours of all of the food places, not just the big rooms but the pizza place, the burger place, etc. This is all contained a large notebook in your cabin, but it can’t be folded up in your back pocket. Who was the Executive Chef? We couldn’t tell. Crystal goes one step further; they list the dinner themes for the cruise as well as give advance notice of the special buffets, so you can plan your eating schedule ahead and make the appropriate reservations. This should be a must for Princess with the advent of personal choice dining. The Patter is also badly edited and organized, more like the Princess Splatter. It jumps around, so you might miss some event stashed among the ads. The worst. This would be so easy to fix. Celebrity wins this one, big time. I never once saw the name of the hotel manager in the Patter. He probably was at the captain’s welcoming party but we weren’t. Who was that masked man? LOUDSPEAKER ANNOUNCEMENTS They are always rattling the loudspeakers announcing something all day on the Diamond Princess. On the Coral and Island Princess and on Celebrity and Crystal the loudspeakers are hardly ever used. As it should be; this is a cruise, and we don’t want to hear any more about bingo, or the art auctions, etc. The worst. If Billy Highgate did the morning TV show this information would run all day for us to hear and see when we wished. Billy’s staff has very poor microphone technique, which makes these announcements even more difficult especially when one is napping or relaxing in their cabin. THE PORTS Puerto Vallarta was the first port we visited. We were up early having a light snack and watching the ship swing into its berth. We love this part of cruising. There are cabs and tour vehicles lining up in the traffic circle which will take you to town, but if you leave the ship and walk 150 yards, there is another cab stand with better prices. Five dollars takes you to town. There is a Wal-Mart across the highway with good souvenir prices. Mazatlan, our second stop, has a large shopping area in walking distance of the ship. If you catch a cab you can go into town for even better prices and more selection. Mazatlan has an industrial feeling somewhat like San Pedro, California. Cabo San Lucas, the third and final stop, is a tendering port. The ship sails at 2PM, so you can’t go far. If you leave the tender dock and walk to the main street in front of the hotels you are only a couple of blocks from a restaurant we love called The Crazy Lobster, located at the intersection of Miguel Hildago and Calle Zapata. A short walk to a great breakfast or lunch at locals’ prices, not tourist prices. Huevos rancheros for 2 with guacamole and cokes were just five dollars US compared with the same thing harborside for 15 -20 dollars US. The seafood specials are comparably priced. It isn’t just about the prices, the food at The Crazy Lobster is fresh and tasty. Remember -- walking a couple of blocks can save you money on a meal or on beautiful Mexican jewelry. It’s much higher retail in the shops near the tender dock. Cabo is the only place we had to tender, and it is a very scenic place. Get on one of the double-deck tenders, and take the stairway to the top deck. The view from there of other ships bobbing at anchor, the rock formations at land’s end and the people para sailing or jet skiing around is a very scenic tender ride. Very cruise-y. We wish the ship could stay later than 2PM -- but this schedule has to do with making it to LA on time to kick us off early Saturday morning. TIPPING We like to give something extra to these hard working crew members. We have fallen in line with the automatic tip added on a daily basis to our cruise bill, saving us the trouble of organizing tip envelopes (which is a near impossibility with personal choice dining because so many different serving people are involved). We like to reward those who provide thoughtful service. We carry a supply of dollar bills to tip various helpers on the ship who don’t fall into the automatic tipping pool -- the room service waiter, the pool attendant, the pizza guys, etc. STUFF Cruising experience has taught us that there are some things we have to bring when we cruise. We bring a power strip and an extension cord. We bring a laptop computer, a small photo printer for 4 x 6 pix, a battery powered air freshener, over the door plastic hooks, our I-pods with a set of speakers with a charging dock, and some DVD’s in a CD case. We like to watch movies that we like again on the laptop, sitting in a deck chair, cruising. We’re amazed at how many people, young and old, are carrying digital cameras. No wonder Kodak is struggling. SHAKING HANDS The Captain on our Crystal Harmony cruise had a policy of not shaking hands. Crystal was the first line we had seen provide hand wipes for boarding and reboarding the ship. We saw handwiping stations for the first time on Princess on the Diamond. Yay! Finally. Norwalk virus has been a problem. Fighting it begins with getting out of the habit of shaking hands with Captains, Maitre’d’s, waiters etc. It’s a social thing we are used to doing politely, but we need to stop when we are on a ship. Passengers need to help by washing their hands often. Every passenger needs to carry and use hand sanitizer, and wash their hands more often in order to foil the virus. TIRED CREW We feel badly at times for the non sailing crew of servers, bartenders, cabin attendants, etc. We know they are making good money compared to the salaries in their homes around the world, but we see their fatique at times. Their attitude on this ship and on Princess in general is great. We would gladly make our bed one day of a 7 day cruise and eat in the buffet if they wished to close the dining rooms for one day, but we sense that is not going to happen. We hope someday the cruise lines figure out a way to give these hardworking crew members at least one day off a month. The sailing crew doesn’t have this problem, by governmental regulation. DISEMBARKATION is a zoo. The worst we have ever seen on any cruise line. I guess having a little over three thousand passengers has something to do with it. We thought we would never get through the lines and our friends Mark and Nin took two hours more. Princess is going to have to figure out how to empty these mega ships quicker. SUMMING UP We have metaphorically drunk of the Princess kool aid. We are staying with Princess for our next cruise on the new Sapphire Princess on April 23. We are taking a 19 day ocean voyage from Osaka, Japan to Seattle, with stops in Japan, Korea, Russia and Alaska before ending up in Seattle. We can’t wait. We liked the mega ship except for the crowded hot tubs. We are however, crestfallen to discover that on a nineteen day cruise we will only get credit for one cruise in the Captain’s Circle frequent cruiser program. Celebrity gives a two-cruise credit if you cruise more than twelve days, and we think Princess should do the same. See you onboard. Happy Cruising! Copyright 2005 by Patrick & Harriette Regan

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Sep 10, 2004

Alaska

My wife and I returned to Alaska onboard the Diamond Princess recently, and found it to be a beautiful ship, equal to the Grand, Golden, & Star Princess. The food was excelent as always, however the Buffet was a bit dissapointing, only because the normal layout that Princess uses, has been spoiled by forcing everyone into LINES, instead of allowing everyone

to freely skip to the counter they wish to serve themselves from. The Entertainment, led by Cruise Director Billy Hygate (who is also a very good entertainer), was excellent, with the possible exception of a comic named Stu Moss, who was crass, and offensive. The production shows were fabulous, the pianist in the atrium - Bert Stratton was exceptionally entertaining, and the highlight of the entertainment was the comedy magician - Jeff Peterson, who was hilarious, and amazing at the same time. The service was top notch throughout the ship, and we look forward to sailing on the Diamond again.

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Sep 10, 2004

Alaska

We arrived in Seattle 3 days before the cruise and it turned out to be a very beautiful city with lots to do. On the first day we toured the city on the local buses, went to the needle and Seattle centre, took a duck ride by the needle and had a pleasant evening meal in the Queen Anne suburbs which is where our hotel (Homewood Suites by Hilton) was based. On

the second day we took an excursion to Mt. Rainier which was an excellent trip. The views were superb (being a clear day) and the guide provided us with a wealth of information about the area and also about life in Seattle. The following day we took a shuttle bus from the hotel to the pier at around 10.30. Embarkation was very efficient and by 11.30 we were in our cabins. We had a balcony cabin on the Baha deck (deck 11) towards the centre of the ship. It was a beautiful cabin almost similar in layout to the bacony cabin we had in Zuiderdam last year except that the bathroom was much smaller. There was only a shower and no bath. Apart from that, the room was clean, comfortable and well laid out. After unpacking, we left for lunch which was being served in the horizon court. It was OK (not as good as Zuiderdam) but sufficient. We then had a tour round the ship which was gigantic to say the least. Most of the bars and restaurants were located on the lower decks whereas the pools, health club, discotheque were on the upper decks. Very well furnished and everything looked immaculate. The casino had an african theme to it and looked very nice. The main dining room and the 4 other dining rooms were much smaller than many cruiselines but felt very cosy with tables well spaced out. Plenty of tables for 2s, 4s and 6s. There were 4 pools and lots of spas. The health club had a gym, sauna, steam rooms and other beauty therapy rooms. Gym and use of Sauna/Steam was complimentary. On the whole, the ship had a very rich look however in comparison to Zuiderdam this ship lacked its own individual character. Dining was a great experience. Personal choice dining is an excellent idea as you can dine with whom you want at the time of your choice. However if you want to dine at peak time (between 6 and 8), its best to make a reservation in advance. Food was quite good and had plenty of vegetarian choice but once again not as well presented or served as Zuiderdam. The ports of call were all very interesting. First stop was Juneau - a beautiful town and the ship docked right next to the cable car which took you up the mountain and gave you a fabulous view of the place. Unfortunately it rained most of the morning and hence we did some shopping. In the afternoon, when the weather started clearing up, we went up the cable car and got a beautiful view of the ship from above. The next stop was Skagway. We had brilliant weather. Mostly sunny all day and quite warm too, being September. In the morning we did a jeep safari excursion which was very interesting. We entered Canada and drove up to Yukon which was extremely beautiful. Words cannot simply describe the beauty of the place. You've got to be there to get the feel of the surroundings. We got back to the ship by lunchtime. Had lunch on-board and went into Skagway downtown thereafter. Once again a very pretty town surrounded by mountains. Quite small though, there are only 800 residents in town who live all year around. After our tour of the town we boarded the White Pass railway which took us at great heights and gave us fabulous views of the area. The following day was cruising through Tracy arm which was an experience in itself. We decided to have breakfast on our balcony and I'm glad we did that as whilst having our breakfast we managed to see a school of humpback whales right next to the ship. Everybody on board seemed to have come to this side of the ship to see the whales and were delighted with excitement. There was cheering and screaming from the decks but the whales seemed to love it and followed the ship for quite a long way. Many icebergs followed as we moved into the heart of tracy arm. Unfortunately it had been a very hot summer and hence some massive icebergs blocked our route to the glacier. Due to safety reasons, the captain decided to turn the ship around and hence we couldn't see the glacier. However the whales and the beauty of Tracy arm more than made up for the day. The next stop was in Ketchikan where we went to see the totem poles. Once again a very beautiful town- infact the best out of the 3 we had visited. Apparently it rains here on most days but we got a lovely sunny day. After our short tour of the town, we shopped most morning. The last stop was Victoria which was a wasted stop as we docked at 7 in the evening when everything got dark and hence couldn't see much. Personally I would have rather spent a full day at Ketchikan and avoided the Victoria stop. Debarkation was slightly delayed as some fisherman had laid nets around the docking area as part of some protest. However as soon as the nets were removed, we docked (around 9.30am) and debarkation occured very smoothly thereafter. Luckily our flight was in the evening and hence we were in no rush to get to the airport. Princess let us stay in our cabins right till the very end which was nice of them. On the whole, it was a wonderful cruise, one of the best holidays of my life. The surrounding of Alaska and a great ship made it all the better. However on comparison to Zuiderdam this ship lacked in service and entertainment but the beauty of Alaska more than made up for that. Would I travel on princess again? Yes I would, if I got a good deal but if I got a better deal on a HAL ship I'd go for that.

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Jul 30, 2004

Alaska

We (my husband, 9 year old son and I) just got back yesterday from a 7 day Inside Passage Cruise. I have become addicted to Cruise-Chat and other forums in the six months between booking and sailing, so I had plenty of help from all of you preparing for our first cruise. While on the cruise I often thought “I have to tell them about this!” so the first thing

I am doing is writing this review while I still remember it all. First, you should know a little about my family. We are from the Houston area, and chose the Alaskan itinerary for several reasons: 1. My husband is originally from the New England area and by August is fed up with the heat. 2. My son is really into wildlife and is a Cub Scout, so he was dying to see the Indians, bears, whales, etc. 3. I figured in Alaska I wouldn’t have to get in a bathing suit! Also, we are not gamblers at all, but love the theatre. We used to be competition swing dancers, and looked forward to taking ballroom classes. (Unfortunately, there were none. The teacher was on vacation.) All three of us are very social, and really enjoy meeting people. Seattle: We arrived the Friday noon the day before and took the Shuttle Express from the airport to the Ramada Inn Downtown. The Shuttle was pre-reserved for $22 for all 3 of us. Pre-reserving saved us maybe 20 minutes waiting in the airport parking structure. The van driver was dropping us and 2 other groups off in various locations in downtown. The driver was quite a talker and gave us a great tour of the city on the way to our hotel, including fun facts. My son kept asking questions, and he gladly answered them and provided more info than Grayline Tours! Our hotel was well placed, halfway between the Space Needle and Pioneer Square, but dated. We really only had the afternoon and evening to walk around, so we walked to the Space Needle, (did not go up) had some lunch and then did some souvenir shopping. The Sci-Fi Museum just opened in mid July (right next to Experience Music Project) and we were really disappointed that we couldn’t spend the 3 hours it takes to go through it. Instead we went to our prepaid reservations for the Ride the Duck tour. The WW2 amphibious tour through downtown Seattle and then around the bay was a unique experience and my son loved it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I weren’t so tired from traveling, and we had a more energetic driver. All we did the rest of the evening was go to a fabulous restaurant on 5th called Icon. Great food, great atmosphere, and fairly reasonable pricing for a downtown, nice restaurant. People from the LA or NYC areas will think it a bargain. No kid menu, however. Saturday morning, all we did was eat breakfast in the hotel, walked 3 blocks to Bartell's Pharmacy for a few things we forgot (great store near Nordstroms) and then headed for the port terminal. Based on other reviews, we decided to beat the rush from noon to 2 and arrived at 10:45 am. There were still a lot of passengers from the week before just getting taxis to the airport. We made our way inside and found that we were in a very short queue to check in. About 50 people were waiting who had already been processed. We were in our stateroom by 11:30am! Luggage arrived around 3. (To skip ahead briefly, when we arrived back in Seattle, we docked at 7 am and were off the ship by 9:30. We took the ship’s bus back to the airport for $18 each with a million other people, and I wished we had booked Shuttle Express for this as well. They have a tent between the buses and the terminal building. Very easy, and would have saved us $25!) The Ship: Once onboard, first we made dinner reservations, then we did set out to explore this beautiful, emaculate ship. In doing so, we took a tour of the spa. First class spa, exercise room and gym. My husband ended up booking 2 massages. I signed up for a free 20-minute hair evaluation that evening. At the evaluation, the hairdresser said all the right things and I booked an appointment for the next morning, even though I had had my hair cut only 2 days before! I wish I had saved my money in my hometown. The haircut (long hair) was $70 and the 3-color highlight for long hair was $99. She did a fabulous job and both my husband and I love my hair. My husband’s seaweed wrap/massage was 90 minutes at $158; the deep tissue was 60 minutes at $99. He got a lot out of the deep tissue massage by the sports masseur, but wished that he had listened and gotten the hot stone massage for his bad back instead of the seaweed wrap. Note: the spa and salon book quickly, so I would recommend visiting the spa right after you make dinner reservations once you get on board. Dining: Based on everyone’s advice, the first thing I did once onboard was to call the reservation desk for dinner reservations in the anytime dining rooms, especially Sterling Steak House. The reservations aren’t open until noon on the first day, and they have a new policy: you can only make reservations up to 48 hours in advance, so no making reservations for every night, as others have suggested. The new policy seems to work well and it gets the kinks out of the Anytime Dining situation. One note about Anytime Dining: Anytime Dining is just like eating at a restaurant at home: making dinner reservations a few hours to 48 hours in advance. You eat at a table with just your family. There is no intermingling of passengers. We chose Anytime Dining based on a recommendation of the travel agent. Frankly, there wasn’t that much variety in the food between the different restaurants. Certain items were available in all 4 restaurants every day, and the Chef’s choice for each night was also available in all (lobster was in all restaurants on the second formal night, for instance.) Each theme restaurant had maybe 2 appetizers, 2-3 entrees and 1 dessert that were special to it. We only went to 3 of the 4, since we knew the Santa Fe restaurant couldn’t compare to our hometown Mexican restaurants. Our favorite was Pacific Moon. My husband especially liked the sushi that could have been never-ending! We felt that we were missing something not having dinner companions that we could talk to and compare daily experiences with. The next time we sail, we will choose Traditional Dining. On Princess, if you have chosen Traditional Dining and want to eat in a different restaurant, all you have to do is make a reservation, but the International (traditional) Dining Room is always available. (We ate in the International Room once for breakfast and for lunch. The service is very good in this room.) The Food: The following is an evaluation of the quality of the food. First you should know, both my husband and I eat lunch out almost every day of the workweek, and as a family, we eat out at nice restaurants at least 3-4 times per week. Therefore, we are fairly particular about food. The week started out about average, then by Wednesday, the food got very good: The Trident Grill around the Pools: the grilled chicken sandwich was surprisingly good, and the pizza was respectable. We only ate there once since my family doesn’t really care for fast food. We heard other people swear the pizza was the best they had ever eaten. The breads on the ship (all made on board) are worthy of the best bakeries in any city and are fabulous. If you are on Atkins, I feel sorry for you. You are really missing out. (PS: the restaurant menus pointed out all the low-carb items to help you stay on plan.) The desserts varied. Some of the desserts were the best I have ever eaten, especially if they had fruit in them. The chocolate desserts were disappointing, except for the always available “Make your own Sundae”. After my son discovered this option, he had chocolate ice cream (Hagen Dazs), dark chocolate sauce, and whip cream for dessert every night. Caesar salad was available in every restaurant every night, and wasn’t the best I’ve eaten, but my son had it 5 nights in a row. He did comment that it needed more garlic, but he thinks if it won’t scare off a vampire, it doesn’t have enough garlic. Prime rib was available at least 2 nights, and was very good. On Wednesday there was all you can eat King Crab. Simply incredible. Thursday was lobster tail, as many as you wanted, with or without Beef Wellington on the side. Friday my husband had tiger shrimp and seared scallops and they were excellent. This dish was always available in the Pacific Moon. Beverages: I can’t comment on the alcoholic beverages because we really don’t drink much. But as for the other beverages on board, I was shocked to find that they didn’t serve lemonade. It wasn’t even on the ship! There was no point buying my son a soda card since he just started drinking soda, Dr. Pepper almost exclusively, and there is no Dr. P or Mr. Pibb on the ship. The service for getting sodas was ridiculously slow. This is really the only complaint that we had and we told them on the ship and plan to tell the corporate office as well. Theatre entertainment: There were 6 different performances in the main theatre on board and my husband and I saw 5. Each lasted about an hour and we saw the first performance of the night in each case. To do this, we had to get to the theatre at least 20-30 minutes before curtain to get a seat fairly close. The theatre holds 500, and with a ship of 2700 passengers, we were rightly concerned. We gave the Welcome Aboard performance, followed by a comedian/classical guitarist Duncan Tuck, a grade of B. (Actually, the crew performance was a C but Duncan Tuck easily got an A. He is incredibly talented. The show we missed was an hour just for him, and we were disappointed that we didn’t go, but it conflicted with an excursion and our energy levels.) The next show was Piano Man. It was a medley of Elton John, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Liberace, and Neil Sedaka. I would also give this one a B. My 9 year old said that it was okay. The next two performances were a Comedian/Juggler and a Comedian/Magician. Although he was a little rusty just coming off a month vacation, the Juggler was very entertaining and funny. My son missed it, but he would have loved it. I’m glad he was busy in the Kid's Room because he would be stuffing ping-pong balls in his mouth too! We dragged him to the Magician and he was mesmerized. The man was both talented and very funny. The last performance we saw was called Curtain Up and was outstanding. It deserved the thunderous applause it received. I also saw the cooking demonstration put on by the Head Chef and the Maitre d’Hotel. It was very entertaining and funny. It was followed by a tour of one of the 7 galleys on board, but there was a line of about 400 in front of me and there was so much other stuff to do. Juneau: We were very lucky and had beautiful weather in Juneau. We booked the combination Mendenhall Glacier and Whale watching excursion thru the ship. Even though we had plenty of time in Juneau and were not concerned with missing the ship, I decided on this one because no other tour operator combines these two excursions in one. We thoroughly enjoyed both parts and saw some amazing sights with 8 humpbacks bubble feeding! We went up Mt. Roberts Tram before the excursion but didn’t have enough time for anything up there before we had to leave. We thought we would return after the excursion, but other than a little shopping, we just didn’t have the energy for anything. Skagway: Unfortunately, the weather in Skagway was miserable. It started out overcast and got colder and wetter as the day went on. We went into town first to get our free charm from Diamonds International (see Shopping, below) and then headed for the excursion: fast ferry to Haines then Jet Boat thru the Eagle Preserve. I deliberated for 3 months on what to do in Skagway, and since this tiny town had 8000 people from cruise ships bearing down on it that day, decided to check out the Eagles across the fjord. The ferry across was pleasant. We saw 2 humpbacks in the distance. The ride to the river in a recycled elementary school bus was uncomfortable but short. The lunch provided was good for all ages. Then we put raincoats over our parkas, wrapped ourselves in rainproof blankets, and boarded an open-air jet boat that sat 32. Unfortunately, the weather had gotten so bad, even the animals were hiding. We saw maybe a dozen eagles, only 1 in flight, and a few big nests. We stayed fairly dry, but I could ring the water out of my gloves, and the rain beat down on your face. Even with this horrible weather (it was maybe 50 degrees, but the jet boat created quite a wind chill) the beauty of the preserve was breathtaking. The mist hovered halfway up the mountains, and the entire landscape looked like an antique black-and-white photograph. You were out in this reserve, miles away from camp and everything but the mountains, the peacefulness and beauty of the landscape was inspiring. I can just imagine how fabulous this trip would be if the weather and nature cooperated even a little. The jet boat excursion is only available through your ship. Slower rafting excursions that travel a much shorter portion of the river are available thru the ship and independents. Ketchikan: This is a very short port day (6 am to 11:30 am) so we booked the Saxman Native Village and Totem Poles thru the ship. The trip of the tiny native Tlingit Indians village included a very good 13 minute film, a visit to the carvers hut where they tell you how they carve totem poles, stories about the 22 antique poles they have in the park area, and a native dance exhibit in the clan lodge. This trip is also available independently but you can only see the dancing if you book it through your ship. This was mandatory for my cub scout. In fact, when they asked for volunteers to dance, he was appointed the chief! Great photos and memories. Victoria: This was our last night on board, and the Diamond is only in port for a few hours in the evening. We decided before we ever sailed that we would not get off in Victoria since we had visited there for several days 3 years ago and there was nothing we really wanted to do. However, if you have never been to Victoria, you must go to Butchart Gardens, at least twice in your life. I have a screen saver on my computer than scrolls through 40 slides of the gardens, so I see it every day. Otherwise, I would have been the first on that bus, for my third trip to the gardens. Finally, Shopping: There are several stores on the ship that offer specials each day. My husband (the shopper in the family) found several shirts that he had to have. The prices were okay and were very good quality, but I thought the selection was disappointing. He also got me a scrapbook with a 5x7 picture of the Diamond embedded in the cover (for $22). Since a 5x7 alone cost $10 in the photo shop, this wasn’t bad. They had some very nice jewelry on board, but we became uninterested once we hit port. The shopping consultant, Richie, gave a lecture on every port the day before we got there. It was later repeated on TV that night. I was impressed. Richie told you about all the stores, what you would find in them, where the best deals where, etc. Princess guarantees all the stores on his list for 30 days. Most had free gifts (with and without coupons Richie gave you.) We had no idea that jewelry had invaded Alaska. It seems that all the Caribbean stores have realized that Alaska has tons of cruisers too, and the entire dockside of Ketchikan is nothing but jewelry stores. Skagway, with only 400 people in the winter, has a dozen jewelry stores with rocks the size Wilma Flintstone would wear! Of course, they have everyday jewelry, and the prices are supposed to comparable to the Caribbean. Richie’s second lecture was about how to buy diamonds and other gemstones. Not only did he explain about the 4 C’s, but about other stones, where to find them, and how to bargain for them, what percentage discount to strive for, depending on the store. Richie’s lectures are not to be missed. I hate shopping, except on vacation. His lectures make the experience even more enjoyable. The stores in the ports open when the ship docks. Yes, that means that many are open at 6 am in Ketchikan, and everything is open by 7:15 or so. In Victoria they are supposed to be open late. Kids on Board: This is a whole subject in itself, and I will write a separate review for the Kids Program because this review is already out of hand. To summarize, however, Princess does a great job with kids, and even though there were 300 on board, they were always well behaved and well dressed, and you really never saw more than a few at any one time, unless you went to the Horizon Court during the kid’s dinner. I hope everyone has a chance to cruise to Alaska, and I am sure we will be returning again, on Princess, but probably on one of their Cruise-tours for 10+ days. Based on the comments from the storeowners in port, Princess is the best and most respected cruise line in Alaska, and we have no reason to argue with them!

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May 28, 2004

Alaska

This was our First Cruise and we had no idea of what to expect. The greatest help we got was from reading reviews for other travelers. EMBARKATION: Patience, Patience, Patience. Almost everyone wanted to be the first to get on the bus and head to port. We actually arrived in Seattle a day early and stayed at an airport hotel (use priceline.com).

This allows you to unwind and relax before dealing with the rush to board the ship and takes away the stress of whether your flight will arrive in time. You can actually sleep in that morning!! We had purchased Princess Transfers from the airport to the ship, as a result we took the hotel shuttle to and from the airport. We got to the airport about 10:15a and while it was a little confusing at first, everything went smooth and we were on the bus by 11:15am and on the ship by 12:15pm. There are many busses running and they board using a color system predicated on a First In First Out basis. The Princess transfer was very convenient as they took our luggage at the airport luggage claim area and we didn’t touch it again till it appeared in our cabin about 5pm. We also by-passed the long line of people waiting with luggage and went straight to check-in. From the time we got off the bus till we were in our cabin – 15 minutes. We had lunch at the buffet and then wandered around the ship for several hours. CABINS: We selected a mini-suite cabin since we really wanted the extra room and balcony. The room was very clean and moderate in size. It had plenty of closet, drawer and storage space and easily stored all of our belongings. The cabin was neatly decorated in earth tones. There was also a safe in the cabin closet for valuables. The bathroom was also large enough to easily accommodate all of our needs. We booked a guaranteed room (AF) and received an upgrade to an AB category on the Dolphin Deck toward the middle of the ship. The only drawback to the cabin was all of the cabins above us were able to see onto our balcony (No Privacy). This was probably the only thing I really dis-liked about it; however, several of us were able to talk while whale watching from our balconies. The beds in the cabin were pushed together and made up as one queen sized bed. From a comfort perspective, mattresses were ok; about what you would find in an upscale hotel room. Chocolates were placed on our pillows every night along with a form to order breakfast via room service. Upon request, Princess terrycloth robes are provided with room – there is even an option to purchase them. You can control the heat and air in the cabin but we did find that the rooms never got really cold. Hairdryers, a small fridge, two TVs, and safe were also provided in the room. Bottom line – we were glad we paid the extra for this type of cabin – especially on the inside passage. There was always something to see. FOOD/DRINK: We recommend purchasing the soft drink passes for $22.50 per person. With this you were able to get a soft drink from anywhere on the ship by showing your room key. It is well worth the money and aggravation ($1.50 per drink otherwise). From my perspective, the food was very good but not fantastic. The Horizon Court was open 24/7. We ate our breakfast and lunches there and they had a good variety. At peak hours however, tables were hard to come by unless you sat in the aft part of the dining area. There was also a hamburger/pizza bar that we weren’t overly impressed with. There was also an ice cream bar outside the Horizon – but it cost $$. We liked the idea of personal choices dining and had learned before we left that anytime dining did not mean anytime you show up – it means you make your reservation for when you want to eat and where!! We made reservations for our dining as soon as soon as we got in our cabin at 12:15p. Our favorite(s) were the Sterling and Santa-Fe. We did change our plans one night and tried to eat at another venue and was told there would be no availability for several hours. But after the Host saw the look of disappointment and we weren’t going to argue and complain, he quickly found us a table. The international dining room menu was also offered at each of the dining venues on the ship (except Horizon Court). We had reservations at Sabatinni’s, but cancelled after talking with other passengers whom had dined there. We decided it wasn’t worth the additional $20.00 per person. The Lobster was by far the best meal of the trip; in fact I ate 2-1/2 tails and my wife enjoyed 1-1/2. When I couldn’t make up my mind between 2 deserts, the server brought one of each!! Service was very prompt and the servers were very attentive and courteous to our needs in all of the areas we ate. *Side Note – my wife loved the food, especially lobster and crab. One of the greatest benefits/advantages of PC dining was just my wife and I sat a table. If you would like to have a romantic dinner with your spouse use this option of dining. The biggest disappointment was they did not enforce dress code for smart casual and formal dining. See http://www.princess.com/faq/ ACTIVITIES ON BOARD: There are a lot of choices and should be something to appeal to everyone. We enjoyed things from country line dancing lessons to a cooking lesson with a tour of the ship’s galley. There were games, informational meetings, seminars, golf simulation, workout room (aerobics and weights), walking track, putting green, basketball, spa, shops, casino, hot tubs, pools, movies, music, sightseeing, afternoon tea… and the list goes on. The problem wasn’t finding something to do; it was trying to do everything we wanted. My wife won at the one-arm bandits early on in the cruise but she eventually gave it all back – and had fun doing it. One of our favorite things to do was to sit up at the Skywalkers lounge area on the sky deck, relax and soak in the scenery. We walked around the track on the sports deck and made laps on the Promenade deck along with the weight room to help fulfill our exercise. Our regret – we did not bring swimsuits. This was supposed to be Alaska and cold, but the pools and hot tubs were usually crowded. Check the Patter the night before!! FYI – The Calypso and Reef pool on the Lido Deck is under a retractable glass dome – so you can comfortably swim in there. ENTERTAINMENT: Nightly entertainment included shows in the Princess Theatre and games such as the NotSo Newlywed Game, Weakest Link, Family Feud and Princess Idol… in which passengers are selected (volunteer) to compete with one another. All were pretty funny and add that personal touch that is one of the delightful aspects of cruises. We also enjoyed some of the piano music and other bands on board. We made every show at the Princess Theater and all were excellent. We had a great time and for a short period we may have forgotten we were even on a ship. A word to the wise, if you decide to see an 8:00pm show at the Princess Theater be sure to arrive at least 1/2hr early (if not before). ITINERARIES: We wanted to just get a taste of Alaska – and we did. Since this was our first time there we spent time walking around the towns and shopping areas. In Juneau we hiked almost to the top of Mt. Roberts and took some wonderful pictures of the City. We played in the snow as we neared the top and had had a great time. We had an afternoon snack in the Red Dog Saloon (recommended visit) and then wandered through the City. Others who took excursions really enjoyed themselves but they missed the ambiance of Juneau. Yea, yea, yea… we arrived into Juneau late – but no one seemed to mind and it did not disrupt any plans. In Skagway we rode the White Pass Train. It picks you up in front of the Ship and we took a 4hr roundtrip journey (same track coming and going). There were some great picture opportunities as we traveled the pass. We were allowed to take pictures from standing on the outside of the train. Hind sight though says we should have taken the train up and the bus back – better opportunities to stop and different scenery. We also stopped in town and made several purchases in the Christmas shop. The owner boxed our packages and shipped to us for $11 (to TN), we got the package within a week. Great place to visit. Once again we wandered around town. If you wonder what gifts to buy others – This is the place. Tracey Arm – We arrived at the glacier at around 7am. We had not read the Patter the night before and woke up too late to see the glacier. We were expecting a later arrival – remember to check the night before so you will know what time you will be cruising the arm. Personally – 7am was to early in the morning to be at the Glacier. In Ketchikan we wandered the town and soaked in the ambiance. It was sunny and 73 that day so everyone was happy. If you want to shop and haggle – try to know what prices are before you go, especially jewelry. There were some wonderful Mother of Pearl and Gemstone globes for sale in shops that we missed out on – next time we’ll know. In Vancouver BC we were least enamored with. If you plan on doing anything there – plan an excursion. It was about a 2-mile walk to town and the public bus only ran every 20minutes. There was another ship in port vying for the same bus and the line was long. BC seemed to be well manicured and shops are all the same tourist type shops… next time we’ll either stay on the Ship or take an excursion tour to the gardens. OTHER FEATURES/AMENITIES: There are a number of Laundromats provided with self-service washers, dryers, and ironing boards. Boutiques and stores on board have all sorts of items for sale such as clothing, jewellery, jackets, junk food, film and a good assortment of personal items. Prices are a little high for some things but it is convenient. There is a pianist, violin & cello musicians who play in the lobby daily. Nice and peaceful music made for a relaxed atmosphere. A library is available but only open during certain hours and they have a varied assortment of reading material. There is a Wedding Chapel on board but we did not see anyone actually get married on our cruise. It is nicely decorated and appeared to hold about 50-75 people comfortably. There was an art auction and it occurred in the Explorers Lounge during the day. Internet Services were available at the Internet Café for a nominal fee. The TV channels in your cabin have great recent movies that run around the clock and are repeated throughout the week. There was also someone there to take advance booking(s) which would save you $$ if you wanted to sail Princess again. (We did not do that this time but will on our next cruise) OTHER INFORMATION: Princess adds $10 per person per day to your onboard account for gratuities. They say that the $10 per day is divided between the dining staff waiter, assistant waiter, headwaiter, maitre’d and cabin steward. You can adjust this amount up or down by going to the pursers desk. The cruise staff are wonderful. They work very hard and are loads of fun. The Ship was always clean, including the public and they are constantly maintaining it to a level of excellence. They were even painting the outside of the Ship while in Port. The TV channels also have a morning show hosted by the cruise director who goes over that day’s event. They also have a channel that shows ship position and distance sailed – real time. Also, when they say to be on board by 8:00, they mean be on board by 8:00. With the exception of Princess purchased excursions running late, the Ship will leave without you. While departing Ketcikan we saw a Coast Guard Cutter chasing us down. We later learned it was a passenger that had missed the ship – I’ll bet it cost him $$$!! When they say the Ship leaves at 8pm sharp – they mean it. They (ship photographers) also takes a lot of pictures throughout the cruise and places them up for sale. The pictures were good but expensive. We did purchase one though. TAKE BINOCULARS – we almost forgot and we are glad we didn’t. Also take a backpack if you have one, it helps while walking around town. Also you may consider taking Dramamine along – on Sunday we were in 14-16 waves and many people got to feeling a little green. All of the shops sold out of all their motion sickness pills and gadgets. My wife took a couple Dramamine (brought from home) and lay down on the bed. I stood on the nearly vacated deck and enjoyed the ride. The rest of the trip – smooth sailing. DISEMBARKMENT: Patience – Patience – Patience. Everyone wants off the ship first, though I don’t know why? The process of disembarking the Ship was very organized and methodical. We had a 12:10pm flight and with the PRINCESS TRANSFERS we were in the airport, checked in and ready to go before 10:30am. They disembark by using a color-coded numbering system. There were people pacing, fretting, sighing… Patience. Enjoy a cup of coffee, breakfast – we had ample time. Our bags were set out the night before and after clearing customs we gathered our bags in the terminal (Sorted by color/number), boarded the bus and went straight to the airport. FINALLY: Would we travel on Princess again? Yes, We have already booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise for the Fall. Would we do the Alaskan itinerary again? We plan on doing the Princess tour package and start in Fairbanks the next time. Complaints about the Ship? We heard a select few complaining (whining) about the ship – but we had nothing to really complain about (except having to listen to their complaining). After listening to one couple complain, complain, complain about Princess… (we were on the same ship too) they finally concluded they will never sail on Princess again – in my humble opinion, they are doing Princess a favor. GREAT TRIP!!!! To all of the Diamond Princess Staff and Crew – Thank-you

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May 14, 2004

Alaska

I have been on cruise-chat.com for weeks regarding our harrowing experience aboard the Diamond Princess on our Alaskan cruise beginning May 15, 2004. It began in Seattle, WA on pier 30. We waited in the drizzle outside with our luggage in a line for over 3 hours before we were checked through customs to board the ship. It was a nightmare and only the

beginning of what proved to be a very inept organization for passengers. Once underway, we arrived late in Juneau and many of the passengers who had booked excursions, were forced to cancel, postpone, and cut short very expensive prepaid plans. The balcony room we purchased was much smaller than the one we had aboard the Royal Caribbean. We had ordered a tuxedo for the week of our cruise and that was supposed to include two shirts. We had to call the purser for the second shirt, a pair of shoes which were to be included, and the studs for the shirt. We hurried up to the buffet as we had not eaten since peanuts on the plane from Sacramento at 8:00 a.m. We had arisen at 4:00 a.m. in order to catch the plane. Our cruise up the inside passage to Skagway was enjoyable and uneventful. My brother in law became ill on Sunday with a gastrointestinal disorder, I came down with the same illness on Monday, and Tuesday my sister came down with the illness. She tried to obtain pepto bismol aboard the ship. No one at the shop told her to report to the doctor and that there was no charge for doing so when it pertained to gastrointestinal disorders because the ship took those disorders very seriously. By the time she visited the doctor, she was dehydrated and was put on an IV and quarantined for 24 hours. We learned later that there had been an outbreak of Norwalk virus on the ship. The two of us were ill for the remainder of the trip. On our return trip, we were supposed to stop in Victoria. We were at the early dining when there was a lot of disturbance of rumbling and noise. Passengers were all discussing what was going on when there was a collision of the ship into the pier. We were delayed at the dock for over 5 hours unable to visit Victoria and with no information as to what was happening. We learned later that the propeller was broken and that we were going to limp back to Seattle but would be arriving much later than scheduled. We tried to find out from the purser how we were going to be able to make our airplane reservations the next day and no one was able to give us information. We finally got to Seattle and after being told to have our baggage ready for disembarkation by 8:30 a.m., we were held on board until 4:00 p.m. We were bussed to a hotel where we had to pay for our own meals, porters, and had to pay for rescheduling our flights home. We also had extra parking fees at our home airport. When our travel agent tried to get a reimbursement for us from Princess, the only reimbursement they would do was for the airline flight change charge. We spent over another $100 on meals, porters, and parking that were not reimbursed. We were very disappointed in the way Princess treated their passengers. It was not only us; we saw and spoke with many passengers who were gravely mistreated with the events of this trip. There were 2,700 passengers waiting to board our ship when we arrived who had been kept waiting and then were bussed to the convention center in Seattle WA for hours with no complete explanation. Some of these passengers had just flown 15 hours from Australia. There were seasoned passengers who had taken more than a dozen cruises who had never experienced anything like this cruise from beginning to end. Let me conclude by saying that the Alaska cruise is truly beautiful and we would recommend it to anyone…just not on the Princess.

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May 3, 2004

Alaska

If you're anything like I am and you get really excited about vacationing and are anxious to know all the details before sailing, than this is the review for you. This was my first cruise, a 4 day Alaskan cruise on the brand new Diamond Princess. First there was the embarkation in Vancouver. This was all quite fast and there wasn't a lot of

waiting. practically just got our room cards and then walked on the boat. I had seen many different pictures of the ship before boarding, but it didnt prepare me at all. The boat was 2000 times more breathtaking in person. We had our picture taken as soon as we got onboard which literally only took one second, and then we were greeted by a man in an elevator. We found our room by ourselves...really simple, and Constantin of Romania, our room steward, greeted us shortly after. We had plenty of time between boarding and the muster stations to explore the boat. Our bags were outside of our door within 2 hours of embarkation. The food was nothing less than great. There was the horizon court, a buffet, open 24/7 which always had a wide selection of food. There was so much that I HAD to eat 7 meals a day. Other than that, there were 5 themed dining rooms: Sterling (steakhouse), Pacific Moon (chinese), International Dining Room, Santa Fe (mexican, and Sabatini's (an Italian dining room that cost 20$ per person for a traditional 3 hour seating - 18 course meal!!)I ate everywhere but pacific moon and sabatinis, but I heard nothing but great things about Sabatini's! I recommend getting "anytime dining," meaning, you may go to the dining rooms whenever you feel like eating (when they're open of course). BUT...if you really want to eat in one of the dining rooms,making reservations is practically a MUST! Each night of the cruise the dining rooms were booked full both seatings. The only reason my friends and I got in each night was because some people wouldnt show up. I recommend making reservations A.S.A.P for the entire cruise, even if you aren't sure that you are going to keep them. Service was very friendly and generally quite fast. I felt like I was stealing when I got up after we had finished and just walked out without paying a $100 bill. Finally, if you plan on buying soda, I suggest you buy one of thoe Coke stickers they put on your room card which go for about 12$ a piece and allow you an unlimited supply of soda. However, my friends and I only bought one and shared it between the 4 of us. All they do is look at the sticker anyways. Ahhh the entertainment! This was my only regret about going on the cruise. There was literally SO much going on at all times that I could never do everything I wanted. The boat had it all: horse races, "Passenger Feud" (Family Feud), Trivia games, even Jeopardy! Of course they had many classes one could go to, but what 17-year-old wants to go to school on his vacation. I was mroe than satisfied with allof the activities. You also got to win a lot of prizes, I won many myself. They had Newlywed Game, and even an American Idol knock-off, "Princess Idol," that took place each night of the cruise where the audience voted on contestants to advance. This was loads of fun just watching, and anyone above 18 may enter. Dancing was a blast. I am NOT one who dances..I mean, I can't! But eah night in Club Fusion they has a theme. Some included: Country night, 50's night, 60's night, and my personal favourite, 70's night. They would even teach everyone dances famous from that time period or genre. In addition, during these themed nights, they had many different little acitivites they would do inbetween a few songs of dancing. They could be really fun and unpredictable. Some included a Tina Turner dance-off during the 70's night, and Hoola Hoop contests - men and women, in the 50's night. These were all for prizes of course, and they wouldn't just tell you what was going to happen. They would trick you into doing these things which made it that much more fun. I loved all the passenger participation. There was also the Skywalker's Lounge which was a club that catered more to 18-23 year olds,and played more modern music. The dance floor was small, and I found that it was nowhere near as fun as Club Fusion. There was a lot of live entertainment playing all the time throughout the ship from singers, to bands, to comedians. I didn't see any shows at all; however, I heard the Piano Man was sensational. Virtual Golf was a lot of fun (it costs money as you must make resverations), the pools were always nice, particularily the jacuzzi's that were outdoors during the night time before bed. Nothing is more relaxing. There was also mini golf...I don't recommend it. It was really small and there was nothing dividing all the different holes, so people's balls would be rolling all over the place. Kids had a lot of fun playing it though, which is another reason not to go play if you aren't one, as it takes them like 30 minutes to move to the next hole when it would only take someone older, 3. There was a tennis/basketball court which was nice to play , and a track to walk around at the very top of the boat. Although, you aren't going to need the exercise. There is so much walking to do on this boat that I wish I had a wheelchair. There is also the gym which has everything you could possibly need. There were also the kid centers and the teen center. They alwaysd had a lot of various things going on, and my friend and I coccasionaly went to the teen center. Being with them, we got benefits such as free virtual golf. It was actually fun even though there weren't many teens on our cruise. The staff was always nice and quite helpful. On the last day of the cruise, the newspaper advertised "You made the difference" cards that you fill out about an employee that made the difference. It sounds cheesy, but I think that you should take the 2 minutes it takes to do it. I don't need to be telling you anyways, as you are going to want to fill out many! The rooms were nice. My friend and I had an inside stateroom, but the 2 chaperones, our teacher and the travel agent had an outside stateroom with a balcony. They were each the perfect size and quite comfortable. There was loads of room for storage and the bathroom was a decent size. If money isn't much of an issue, I do however, suggest getting an outside cabin, unless you bring an alarm clock, because in an inside cabin it was so dark when we woke up because we had no natural light. I woke up and figured it was 4am, so I went back to bed.Apparently it was noon. A tip to get a good wake up call is ordering room service for breakfast in the morning, because the person who brings you the food will knock on your door until you open it, they do not just leave. At night your room steward leaves you a card you put on the outside of your door that has a list of foods you may check off that you want the next morning. Wake up calls were useless, for me at least, but maybe that is because I am a deep sleeper. I didn't even hear the phone ring. I don't suggest wasting a lot of money on a fancy room, because you really spend no time in it other than sleeping or getting changed. As for the ports of call, we only stopped at Ketchikan. There isn't much I really have to say. Apparently it rains 300 days of the year and the rest of the days it is overcast, but we were luycky to have a clear, sunny day. I did not sign up for any excursions as none of them itnerested me. I only left the boat for about 2-3 hours. Ketchikan really wasn't that exciting. All the shops basically sold the same things. The boat was MUCH better. I really don't know what else there is to cover. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, I would give this cruise, or cruise ship at least, an 11. I just wish it was longer and days werre 30 hours long! After having been on this cruise, I am convinced that cruising is the only way to travel! Although, if you do want to make it a cruise, aim for somewhere like Mexico, especially if you're going with kids or you're a younger couple. I found that there were almost no other kids my age and not many young-young couples. Rather, people 30-50. Although, I was talking to a few staff members and they told me that Alaskan cruises are popular with 30-50 year olds and...Asians, which it seemed almost the majority of the cruise was.

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Apr 30, 2004

Coastal - with details of the Diamond/Sapphire Special Personal

Choice dining Who “we” are My husband and I are two 35-year old professionals. He is a Financial Analyst, and I am a travel agent.. but in a prior life I was a CPA. (I’m so cruise addicted/obsessed I had to become an agent.) I am commonly referred to as “Suzy Cruisy” as that is my online cruise chatting screen name, and the name I call myself

when contacting my cruise clients. My given name is Suzette, under which I have my other reviews listed, and when I refer to my husband, I will mention Charles. We have been together for over 7 years, but are still “newlyweds” as we only married in September 2003. Of course, we were married at Sea on the Star Princess by the Captain. So, if you want to learn anything about Princess weddings, you might wish to look up that review as well. The cruise There is absolutely nothing to write home about regarding this cruise. We sailed from LA (San Pedro) to Vancouver (Canada Place) for three nights, two days, no ports. The purpose of this little getaway was solely for relaxation, and to get to know the brand-new Diamond Princess real well. She is not only new, but a new class of ship for Princess. And I can say that she is definitely my favorite ship so far, and I’ve sailed a few :). The Dining I realize some folks think cruising is ALL about the food, but its not. I’d say maybe 80% ;) is a better guess. For those new to Princess, or cruising, I’ll explain Princess dining in general. Then I’ll elaborate in the Diamond Princess dining experience, how its different, and just THE BEST. On most cruise lines, the main dining choices are two “fixed” seatings. You are either assigned early or late traditional fixed seating. In this traditional dining experience, you would sit at the same table, with the same dining companions, with the same waiters, at exactly the same time every night of the cruise. Cruises were like this because of the large number of folks that needed to be fed, and it was the most efficient to feed them “en masse”. On Princess, you can choose “traditional” or “Anytime Dining” as part of their “Personal Choice Cruising” concept. With Anytime Dining, your dining is much more flexible, even though you will order off the same menu as those folks that are in the traditional dining room. (The menu changes every night, usually with a “theme”, so you don’t see the same stuff twice during your cruise unless it’s a real long one.) Basically, Anytime Dining is like walking up to a restaurant at home. You walk up when you want during the hours they are open (usually 5:30 – 9:00pm), tell them how many are in your party, and they seat you as space becomes available. If you go during the “peak” hour of 7-8pm, then you might have to wait for a table. If you go much earlier or later, you can usually get seated right away. Also, just like at home, you can make a reservation if you are sure in advance that you want to eat at a particular time, at a specific table, or with a specific waiter. How the Diamond (and its sister Sapphire) are different: The Anytime Dining experience on Diamond has been taken to ANOTHER level. There is not just one, or two, Anytime dining rooms that have that evening’s menu.. but FOUR uniquely-themed dining rooms. Now, its REALLY like a restaurant. The four themes are Southwestern, Asian, Italian and American Steakhouse. When you walk into one of these, you will have not only the nightly menu placed in front of you, but also a supplemental menu that has selections based upon the “theme” of the dining room you are sitting in. You can order off both, mix and match, etc! The only “catch” is that its more important now to choose to make reservations. Each of the four themed dining rooms are small, so they fit a very limited number of people at once. I found on my short cruise that the American Steakhouse dining room (Sterling) was so sold out it didn’t even take walk-ups. Also of note is that the four Anytime Dining rooms are laid out exactly the same and have only ONE large, 10-person table. There are quite a few 4 and 6 person tables, and LOTS of tables for two against the wall. Also, if you choose traditional dining on your Diamond or Sapphire Princess cruise, you won’t feel left out either. They rotate the special dining room menus in the traditional dining room as well, so the folks that enjoy the traditional experience can enjoy the specialty dishes. Other dining options: Princess has 24-hour room service, and buffet, if you don’t want to have dinner in the main dining rooms. They also have an Italian restaurant called “Sabatini’s” that you can choose to pay a service charge to have either lunch or dinner in. The courses keep coming in here, and the very best waiters and waitresses are in here. For an even more casual dining experience, they have a hamburger grill and pizza in the afternoon out by one of the pools. They also have “Scoops”, a premium ice cream bar that has an extra service fee (that I always refuse to partake in). Free ice cream is available in the buffet in the afternoons. Breakfast, lunch, and “high tea” are always available in one of the main dining rooms each day also. You will be given a “Continental Stateroom Breakfast” door hanger on your first day. You can make selections from here and hang it on your door at night and get your breakfast delivered in the morning. If you don’t get a door hanger the second day, ask. Also, you can order whatever you want on the door hanger, not just what is pre-printed. Just write what you want in the margin, but remember to write EVERYTHING you need. For example, if you order pancakes, remember to also order syrup. Entertainment Like most cruise lines, Princess has “Vegas Style” production shows in the Princess Theatre on some evenings. Other nights, the main entertainment is a magician, or a singer, or a Comedian. We saw a good new production show called “Curtain Up”, which we enjoyed a lot. In addition, as part of the “Personal Choice Cruising” concept, Princess will have lots of other evening entertainment choices in other venues. There might be a funny, audience-participation show, like “Princess Idol”, in one lounge while the main show is going on in the Theatre. Musicians playing various types of music will be playing in the different lounges throughout the ship. If you want disco, there will be something. If you want swing, there is usually one. If you want piano, there is usually one, etc. The greatest thing about “Personal Choice Cruising” is the variety and choice you have. By simply looking at your daily activities list in the Princess Patter newsletter, you can see what entertainment is happening that evening that you want to partake in, and schedule your dining times around it! If you want, you could catch two different shows most nights. Also, on a weekly cruise, the production shows usually repeat in case you miss it the first time. Seminar @ Sea If you want to learn something new while you are at sea, then you can participate in one of Princess’ new enrichment programs. On my cruise, only “pay extra” computer training classes were offered, but I know they do offer some complimentary classes on other topics on the longer cruises. Pottery is one of the more popular ones during this new concept’s first year - 2003. The Diamond There is something I can’t explain that makes me love Princess ships’ décor. They use lots of teal, earth tones, and medium oak – and everything is warm. The cabins have their beige and white “fabric looking” walls, rather than stark white panels found on some other lines. You don’t feel like you are on a ship, you feel like you are in a regularly-constructed room. On the Diamond, it was even better for me. I took lots of pictures of the carpeting. (Charles laughed at me.) I particularly loved the décor in the Casino, as it was a Safari theme and there was big murals painted on the walls, and the carpet had lions and tigers, etc. in it. Fabulous. For those new to Princess, the ship is 113,000 tons, holds 2,670 passengers, is 970 feet long, and has 750 cabins with balconies. She is one of Princess’ largest. However, she won’t feel that way when you are on her. One of Princess’ taglines is “Big ship choice, small ship feel”. What that means, is that its big so there are lots of different things to do and see to suit your tastes, but you will not feel like you are in a big place. Where other lines have massive dining rooms that seat 1000 people at once (big, grand, and LOUD), Princess has 5 smaller main dining rooms. (I’ll discuss dining it its own section.) For those used to Princess ships, the Diamond class has passenger sleeping decks nearly identical to the Grand-Class ships (Grand, Golden, Star).. but some differences in the public areas. Some of the features of the Diamond are: Basketball & tennis court Jogging Track BIG Spa, with a “swim against the current” pool (see below for details) Cyber golf (pay extra.. hit against a screen) Mini-golf 9 hole course Ping Pong tables Shuffleboard Extra-large chess board out on deck Neptune’s Reef large outdoor pool with two spas Calypso Reef large pool with retractable roof and two spas Paddling Pool (deepish pool in the back) Two more spas up on the deck slightly aft of Skywalkers Nightclub Terrace Pool for adults only at the extreme aft Children’s areas for different age group kids 3-17 Princess Theatre for large big shows Skywalkers Nightclub.. offering great views from its perch high above the ship between the aft and the center of the ship, and great disco dancing at night Wheelhouse bar for lounging and dancing Hearts & Minds wedding Chapel / computer training @ Sea Shopping Multiple smaller bars Internet Café and Coffee Bar Explorer’s Lounge (more dancing and shows) Art Gallery Club Fusion.. for lounging, dancing, “nightclub atmosphere”.. screens showing those dancing on the dance floor The “Wake Bar” for a quiet drink Churchill’s Lounge for sports and cigars (bad combo I think, but, whatever!) Many shops in the central Atrium area Casino with many types of table games + slots Library, with CD listening stations (cushy chairs you can plug headsets into) Writing Room where you can sit and write or read and enjoy the view For those who have been on Grand-class ships before, and are only thinking of the differences… I really like the moving of Skywalkers from the extreme aft to the new center/aft location. I personally always loved the Skywalkers old location, but sun lovers will REALLY like the tiered new look aft. Its beautiful seeing all those layers of wood, pools, and wonderful sun. The wake bar is absolutely nothing to write home about. If it had some better windows, it would be cool. Also, having to walk across the dance floor of Club Fusion really limits its use. I mean, when they are having some kind of activity there, like Bingo, you aren’t going to want to get up and walk right in front of everyone to go down there. Lastly, Club Fusion in the place of the Vista Lounge is probably good. It seemed that many folks never made it up to Skywalkers for their “disco” dancing time. Having this additional great dancing venue with the TV screens everywhere is a good change. I think it will take some the crowds out of the Explorer’s Lounge in the evening. I’m not sure if the few slots and video poker they put in there is going to work out, but those machines weren’t even functioning in my cruise. Cabins On this cruise, I sailed in a mini-suite for the first time. I’ve now tried all the different types, and think the mini is by far the best. Depending on your personal preferences, you can choose the cabin right for you. Insides (no windows) will always be the cheapest. Then oceanview, balcony, mini-suite, and full suite. I enjoy the balcony and above categories simply because you get the fresh sea air. I tend to think the insides and outsides are “stuffy”, but I can still handle sailing in them if the price is right. I think a “port intensive” cruise would be best suited for an inside. You’ll be so tired, you won’t be doing anything but sleeping in your cabin. On a cruise with a lot of sea days, you’ll be on the ship more and, therefore, might enjoy a more spacious cabin. Balcony cabins are nice, but there isn’t really much space for lounging in them. The balcony itself is the most spacious area of the cabin to “hang out” in. This is why Charles and I thought the mini-suite was the BEST. Along with a much larger bathroom with a bathtub/shower combo, we loved having the comfortable sitting area to lounge in. We had a full suite for our wedding, but don’t think its worth the cost as compared to the minimal benefits above the mini-suite. The minis are abundant enough to sometimes get great discounted prices on, and the full suites don’t generally offer any discounts. Diamond-class ships offer a nearly-identical cabin arrangement as compared to the Grand-class. This means the following as far as balcony and mini-suite cabins are concerned: Aloha and Baja balconies are smaller, and fully covered from above. They are not good for sun bathing, but are great for more privacy from above. Caribe balconies are the largest on the ship and are half open / half covered Dolphin balconies are fully open to above Emerald balconies are fully covered Remember that all Princess sailing passengers are entitled to a bathrobe to use while onboard. You don’t have to be in a particular category to get this perk. If you don’t have one waiting for you in your cabin, just ask your steward, or leave him/her a note. Lotus Spa The spa on the Diamond is big and fabulous. I’ve never seen a nicer one. There is lots of Asian-style décor, and more types of steam showers and saunas than I’ve ever seen! They also have some hot stone beds (in a curved recliner shape) that you can relax on before a treatment. I heard great things about them. The only drawback is that the spa is directly below “Center Court”, so you might hear a basketball bouncing the whole time you are doing your relaxing treatment. Very strange. I don’t recall having this problem on other Grand-class cruises, but maybe no one was playing at the time. They certainly had the spa and Center Court in the same place.??! The Menu of Services: Ionitherimie Algae Detox – the “lost inches” thing $119 LT Oxygen Lifting Facial – 50 min for $99 Aroma Pure (Seaweed Massage) – 1.5 hour $158 – on float bed $173 – with Spa mini facial $208 Aroma Stone Therapy – 75 min for $175 Asian Lotus Face & Body Experience – 1.75 hours for $215 (this is a reflexology massage, scalp massage, & 45 min facial) Frangipani Scalp Massage – 20 min for $29 Couples Massage – 50 min $247 Full body Massage – 50 min $99 Deep Tissue Massage – 50 min $104 Reflexology – 50 min $99 Aroma Flex – 50 min $99 Manicure – 45 min $40 Pedicure – 45 min $55 Rasul couples mud and steam treatment - $75 Various prices for hair cut, color, style in the salon. Updos are listed for $30, $35 & $45 Alpha Relaxation Capsule – 25 min $45, 45 min $60 Metabolism test & body fat Composition Analysis - $ 30 Various Cycling, Yoga and Pilates classes - $10 fee Other stretch and Aerobics classes are free Personal Training available for a fee I personally did the Oxygen Lifting Facial on this cruise, as when I am pressed for time or money that’s what I like best. On other ships I’ve raved about the Frangipani Scalp Massage, but didn’t try it on this ship. My friend did and said it was great. My husband and I have tried the “Rasul” couples thing on another ship, and I would say to save your money. There is no need to pay $75 for you to slap gook on each other, sit in a steam room, and shower it off. ;) Overall I always love Princess cruises. This ship is no exception and I would highly recommend it! Happy sailing! ~Suzy Cruisy

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

Princess Cruises Diamond Princess Cruise Review by Lisa Plotnick Mexican Riviera Cruise February 2005 Our cruise on Diamond Princess marked a number of firsts for us. Although we have been cruising for 15 years, this was our first time on Princess, our first visit to the Mexican Riviera, and our first cabin with a private balcony. It was also our first cruise on a ship that was less than one year old. So, we were looking forward to our

holiday with great anticipation. Overall, we rate our Mexican Riviera cruise on Diamond Princess among the best of any cruises we've taken. While not perfect, which would be an impossibility, this one excelled in all of the major categories -- service, entertainment, dining, comfort, activities, shore excursions, and the ship itself. To be fair, it is possible that the fact that we had traditional dining influenced this score to a great degree. Still, we came to relax and visit new places, and in those respects Diamond Princess was highly successful in exceeding our expectations. GETTING THERE Every leg of our trip went very smoothly. We booked air, pre-cruise hotel, and transfers independently, which I highly recommend for the flexibility and pricing. We flew America West non-stop from Boston to LAX, and our return flight nine days later included a one-hour layover in Phoenix. Thanks to several recommendations, we booked ExecuCar for our transfers to and from LAX. ExecuCar was most professional, and I liked the convenience of booking online and providing credit card information in advance. We stayed two nights at the glorious Queen Mary Hotel (which could have a review of its own) and took a metered taxi on Sunday morning for the short trip to the cruise terminal in San Pedro. CHECK-IN AND EMBARKATION This was about the smoothest we have ever had. We entered the cruise terminal at 12:55 and were onboard by 1:15. We had completed our embarkation paperwork online several weeks before leaving, so we were directed to an Express Check-In line, which may have facilitated the boarding process. Once onboard, we were escorted into the central elevators and up to the deck on which our cabin was located, a good thing as the size of the ship was somewhat overwhelming to me at first. One of our four bags was already waiting for us outside our cabin door when we arrived, and the other three were delivered by 1:45. Our first Princess cruise was off to a great start! SHIP PARTICULARS Diamond Princess was constructed in Nagasaki, Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., and debuted in March 2004. Her vital statistics, courtesy of Princess Cruises, are as follows: Tonnage - 116,000 Length - 952 feet Beam -- 123 feet (158 feet including bridge wing) Draft -- 28 feet Maximum Speed -- 22 knots Decks -- 18 Passenger Capacity -- 2,670 Passenger Cabins -- 1,337 Crew -- 1,100 PUBLIC AREAS Despite her size, Diamond Princess very rarely felt crowded, and the layout was not difficult to figure out after that first overwhelming impression. Passenger flow was smooth on nearly every deck (with the exception of Deck 7, on which the galley cut off access to the International Dining Room, aft). Even in the photo gallery, I did not have to contend with mobs of passengers. The Atrium appeared much taller than its three levels, perhaps due to the decorative elevators, curved staircases, and spacious sitting area on the ground level. The only time it felt crowded was during the Champagne Waterfall on the second formal night. The gym was a decent size and offered a good amount of equipment. I did my weight circuit on the machines and free weights, and also used the elliptical machines. Treadmills were always available when I went, although a sign-up sheet was posted for the busier times. My favorite hangouts were Skywalkers Disco and the Wheelhouse Bar. Skywalkers Disco was located way atop ship on Deck 18. While disco by night, this is a peaceful room by day, offering panoramic views of the ocean. The Wheelhouse Bar is a gorgeous paneled room with wingback chairs, leather sofas, and a nautical motif. We often came to this room in the evenings. The band was good, and we enjoyed watching people do the waltz and other dances I hope to master someday. I've often said that my favorite ship feature is an outdoor promenade, and Diamond Princess did not disappoint. Finding a lounger on this deck was easy, and I enjoyed bundling up and sitting here on the cooler sea days. I also used this deck for my daily "walk-a-mile." Two times around equals one-half mile (not knowing this, I did three laps my first time, and wondered why it seemed so long). One peculiarity of the promenade is that in order to complete a circuit, one must ascend a staircase to the deck above at the bow, walk the arc about the bow, and then descend to Promenade Deck by identical staircase on the other side. It just adds another dimension to the morning walk. CABIN We selected cabin C531, a category BA on Caribe Deck 10, amidships. The cabin was separated into four distinct areas -- living/sleeping area, dressing area, bath, and balcony. Space was well-utilized in the living/sleeping area. Two twin beds were positioned together under a mirrored headboard, flanked by two nightstands, each with an open shelf and two drawers. The bedside lamps had dimmer switches -- very nice touch. The desk/vanity provided additional storage via three drawers, and also featured another large mirror and wall-mounted hair dryer. A desk chair and armchair were adjacent. In the corner opposite the vanity was a wedge-shaped floor-to-ceiling cabinet housing a refrigerator, shelf, and on top, a television. An upper berth was kept out of sight inside a ceiling panel over the bed, yet we did not use this as our 11-year-old preferred to sleep on the floor in his sleeping bag -- and there was just enough room for him to do so. Although it made for a smaller living/sleeping area, the separate dressing area was a good use of space as well, in my opinion. It included a large closet that ran almost the entire width of the cabin, providing both ample hanging space and a barrier between bed and bath. Perpendicular to it was a narrow closet that contained several shelves and a programmable safe, with a full-length mirror covering the door. The bathroom was small, yet functional, and had sufficient storage with three shelves and enough space on the counter top for the essentials. The shower was tiny, perhaps just one square yard of standing room, but we managed. The balcony -- our first -- was huge (The balconies are larger on the category BA cabins than they are on the other B* cateogory cabins) and accommodated a small plastic dining table, three chairs, and two padded lounging chairs. As we were on Caribe Deck, our balcony was partially covered by the balconies of the Baja Deck cabins above. If we leaned over our railing, we could see the balconies of the Dolphin Deck mini-suites below. I wasn't bothered by this at all, and found that neighbors pretty much left everyone alone. I used the balcony quite a bit, most often for writing, enjoying a cup of tea, or letting my hair dry naturally outdoors. I've heard that once you have a balcony, it's hard to "go back to" a non-balcony cabin. We will find out this summer if this theory applies to us, as we have a standard outside cabin booked on another ship. I had a chance to check out a mini-suite that was occupied by friends who were traveling with us. Their cabin was enormous compared to ours, with an additional sitting area that contained a sofa bed, a second television, and more storage. While our standard cabin was fine for us -- and we would choose it again -- the roomier mini-suite would be a better choice in my opinion for a family with small children or a family with older kids, mainly due to the extra interior space. DINING Shipboard dining is fairly important to us, and we value good service and the variety, presentation, and quality of the food. Diamond Princess excelled in all of these areas. International Dining Room We requested, and received, traditional early seating, which started at 6:15 pm each evening in the International Dining Room. The one-level room was nicely decorated with paintings of various major world cities adorning the tan-colored walls. The food was superb. Generally, I ordered a fruit appetizer, consommé, fish or steak, and either a cheese platter or the sugar-free suggestion for dessert. Highlights included zander (a new variety of fish for me), mahi mahi, beef Wellington, prime rib, and escargot. We were also able to order from the Anytime Dining restaurants on a rotating basis, and my husband gave high marks to the sushi appetizer and duck entrée from the Pacific Moon menu. We also enjoyed several breakfasts and lunches in the International Dining Room, which were offered every day, including sea days. Horizon Court We visited Horizon Court on Lido Deck several times during the cruise, which was easy to do as it never closed. The buffet offered a wide variety of selections. Among the items I tried during breakfast hours were grits and mueseli, both of which were excellent. The lunch menu changed every day, and I enjoyed the Asian soups that were regularly offered. There wasn't a buffet line, so to speak, but groups of stations in a small area. I had read that this arrangement was confusing, yet I found it convenient to head over to the station I wanted rather to stand in a long line when all I wanted was one item. Anytime Dining While we opted for Traditional Dining, the specialty menus from the four Anytime Dining Rooms were available to us on a rotating basis. Similarly, the Anytime Dining Rooms offered the menu from the International Dining Room in addition to the menu specific to each locale. This was a nice feature, in my opinion, as it allowed all passengers the opportunity to sample from all of the no-fee dining rooms. We did not try Sabatini's, the extra-tarriff restaurant, yet the aroma was marvelous. SERVICE Service on Diamond Princess was near impeccable. This started with the quick embarkation and extended nearly flawlessly throughout the cruise. Although tipping is now done via automatic deductions from passenger accounts, I found no evidence that service levels are minimal or sub-par as a result. Our cabin steward, May, was a real gem. She quickly learned our schedule and was lightning fast with servicing the cabin while we were out. One evening, as I returned alone to the cabin, May was outside and asked for my key card so that she could open the cabin door for me. These little things may seem trivial, yet are nice touches that show one's pride in his or her work. Our assistant waitress, Zelda, exemplified the main reason we enjoy an assigned table in the dining room. After the first evening, she knew I enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey after the main course at dinner, and dessert would begin with Zelda stopping by with a pot of hot water and teabag and asking, "Would you care for your Earl Grey now, Mrs. Plotnick?" Our waiter was also very attentive. One of our tablemates, a charming 9-year-old lad, loved eating sliced tomatoes, and our waiter made sure to bring him a plate every evening. One night, when the young man asked politely for green olives in addition, the waiter at first stated that the kitchen had only black olives, but he then realized that the bars might have green olives on hand. Within minutes, he returned with a bowl filled with green olives, a ritual that continued nightly thereafter. Princess's top-notch service was also evident when we renewed our wedding vows onboard. Our ceremony was held in the chapel on the second formal night and Captain Tony Yeomans presided. Princess provided a lovely orchid bouquet and boutonniere, and the chapel was beautifully decorated with candles and more flowers. Everyone was wonderful and treated us like royalty. They even blocked off the hallway outside the chapel so that there could be no intruding by passersby. The only lapse in service was around the swimming pools, where those on duty were unable to stop the unruly and unaccompanied children who were disobeying the posted rules and making it a dangerous environment for themselves and others. We, however, did not let this mar our vacation. We simply found something else to do, and returned to the pools in the early morning hours, before these kids were turned loose by their "parents." It is my experience, however, that this situation is not unique to Princess. DAYTIME ACTIVITIES / SEA DAYS With three sea days, one of our objectives was to do nothing. And we spent a lot of time doing just that. My husband and son and I used the pools as much as we could. My men also played basketball and miniature golf while I read/wrote/napped in a lounge chair one deck above the covered pool. (This is a great place to sit -- always a choice of chairs available.) Princess offered many daytime activities, ranging from the sedate (wine historian lectures) to the zany (pool games). We did try out a few organized activities on an impromptu basis. I joined a ship tour at 2:30 pm on embarkation day -- informative for me as I had not been on this class of vessel previously. Although it included a stop outside the spa, there was no pressure to go inside and book treatments or entice us to book. It was exactly as advertised -- an orientation tour of the ship. Afternoon tea was held daily in one of the Anytime Dining Rooms (Pacific Moon), yet I went just once. Rather than an open seating, waiters gave each group its own table, making it hard for singles to meet new people. The scones were very good (cream and jam on the side), as was the variety of the sandwiches. I also enjoyed a "Meet the Captain" session held in Club Fusion on our last sea day. It began with a prepared Q&A by cruise director Billy Hygate, in which we learned how Captain Yeomans was inspired to work at sea, and how he eventually ended up with P&O as a crew member in the 1970s. One of the passengers had the gall to ask what a captain earns, and he quickly responded, "Not as much as you might think, and not as much as my wife thinks." EVENING ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT Evening entertainment was excellent, in our opinion. The two main production shows -- "Piano Man" and "Undercover" were highly entertaining, and each had an encore performance during the week for those who had missed it or (like us) wanted to see it again. There were also a variety of alternative activities run every evening. "Piano Man" featured the music of Billy Joel (not enough), Neil Sedaka (very well done), Liberace (beautiful -- black/white costumes represented piano keys in one number), Barry Manilow (very good), and Elton John (excellent mix). "Undercover" had an espionage theme. Highlights included a colorful depiction of "Green Hornet" which was done in neon-colored costumes against a black backdrop and a very long and comical sequence on "Austin Powers." Yet the true star was the set designer. I have never seen such elaborate sets change so frequently during a performance. Platforms emerged from the stage floor, Maxwell Smart appeared to walk through doorways of light before descending in the phone booth, and black and white panels formed a perfect backdrop for "Spy versus Spy." Comedian/juggler Dan Bennett was entertaining and I enjoyed the banter that preceded his juggling routines. I wasn't as impressed with the performer in the American Songbook as he constantly hyped his accomplishments, although several of the medleys (particularly the one of Harold Arlen-composed songs) were good. Unlike the last ship we were on, there were plenty of choices in entertainment if one did not wish to see the main show. We spent time listening to various styles of music in the variety of lounges onboard. We danced to hits of the 1960s, jazz, as well as ballads. There was also an excellent comedian in the Explorer's Lounge one evening. Explorer's Lounge We also enjoyed "Princess Idol," the Princess version of the popular U.S. television show in which passengers volunteered to be contestants. Some passengers were comically dreadful, while others showcased amazing talent. As the players change every week, I encourage passengers to see this show if they can. It was held in Club Fusion throughout the cruise, with the finals held on the last evening. The Captain's Welcome Aboard party was held in the atrium. This was quite nice and a welcomed alternative to the parties held in crowded show lounges. While we did not get to pose for photos with the captain, the roominess and brightness of the space more than compensated. Captain Yeomans addressed the gathering from one of the tiers overlooking the atrium. ITINERARY AND SHORE EXCURSIONS As this was our first visit to western Mexico, we opted for a Princess tour in each of our three ports. Each was organized and run very well, providing seamless transfers from ship to tour. We were also highly impressed by the handicrafts -- in all our cruises, this is probably the most number of items we've purchased, although we spent very little money. Additionally, one of the highlights of this itinerary was viewing the marine life off the Baja coast. One day, while I was doing my morning walk, I spotted a group of dolphins -- at least a dozen -- making their graceful dives through the ocean. My husband told me he saw a whale, and I heard similar stories of varied marine life from other passengers. Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco As a first-time visitor, we opted for the City and Coastal Drive tour. From our bus, we saw the location where "Night of the Iguana" was filmed, and much of the Malecon, a picturesque promenade by the ocean dotted with many statues. We stopped to take photographs of the most important statue -- a seahorse with a child on its back, which is the symbol of the village. We also stopped at la Iglesia de nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, a beautiful cathedral, and we then drove a bit outside town to a refreshment stop adjacent to a crafts market, where we bought three small colorful ceramic figurines. While at times the tour felt like a pitch for some of the hotels, I think that this is a good tour for a first-time visitor who wants to learn about the brief history and the culture of Puerto Vallarta. Next time we visit, I would like to see more of the town -- perhaps a more comprehensive excursion, or simply a walk along the Malecon to get a closer look at the interesting statues. Mazatlan, Sinaloa Our Colonial Villages Tour in Mazatlan was a major highlight of the trip. This five-hour tour took us to several towns in the Sierra Madres, followed by a return to Mazatlan for a performance of the Papantla Flyers. Viewing life in the Sierra Madres was a fascinating experience. Our first stop was a brick-making yard at the foot of the mountains, where the bricks are manufactured by hand. From there, we made the long drive to the village of Malpica, where we saw artisans create floor tiles ($2 each -- we bought five) and where we stopped by a bakery for wonderful treats made in their brick ovens. Then, it was on to Concordia, where we saw cedar furniture being made in a large hut. Adjacent was an artisans' market, where we spent another $10 on carved wood figurines -- both were incredibly detailed. Further into Concordia, we stopped for a beverage at a restaurant (which had a nice courtyard and colorful interior) and walked about the town square. Then it was back on the bus for the scenic 50-minute drive back to Mazatlan. Once in Mazatlan, we were treated to a performance by the Papantla Flyers, a group of five men who learned this ritual as children. We watched in awe as each of four men made 13 revolutions from a rope suspended from a pole (total of 52 represents the number of weeks in the year), while a fifth man kept a beat with a drum and flute. Watching these men spiral downward from a 75-foot pole was breathtaking. Papantla Flyers Cabo San Lucas, Baja Peninsula Sur As our time in this port was very limited, it was an early day for us. We awoke by 5:30 AM in order to make a 6:50 AM tour that combined a beach visit with a boat trip to the impressive Los Arcos rock formations. The tour was excellent. After tendering to shore with our tour group, we boarded a large catamaran -- Cabo Rey -- and had a 45-minute cruise around Los Arcos. During this tour there were a few seals in sight, some frolicking in the water, others basking in the sun. After returning to the mainland, we were driven to the Hotel Hacienda Beach Club, where we stayed from approximately 9:00 am to 11:00 am. Our son spent nearly all that time playing in the sea. Even in that short span -- and with 35 SPF sunscreen -- we got a lot of sun that day. Diamond Princess seen between two Los Arcos rock formations DISEMBARKATION Disembarkation from Diamond Princess seemed very organized, yet the process slowed once we left the ship. We waited in the nearly empty Princess Theatre for our group to be called. As we had an early flight, we were called rather quickly and were off the ship before 9:15 am. However, we had no inkling that we were in for a 45-minute wait outside the ship to pass through Immigration. Having a passport did not expedite the process. Thankfully, our driver from ExecuCar waited for us. We left the pier at 10:00 am, and arrived at LAX at 10:30 am. We were through security and waiting at our gate by 11:00 am, ample time for our 12:45 pm flight. Still, I will no longer gripe about the Immigration procedure that occurs aboard ship. At least in that case, one is not standing on concrete with all one's carry-on bags. Even so, this was not a major issue, and I mention it only so that future cruisers out of San Pedro on any cruise line will be prepared. FINAL THOUGHTS This small-ship fan was won over by the 18-deck, 116,000 GRT Diamond Princess. We would definitely return to this ship, or consider one of her sisters or near-sisters, for a future cruise. We also liked the people and culture of western Mexico and would love to return to all three ports someday. It would also be great to explore further on the coast by cruising south to Acapulco or up the Sea of Cortez. We were very impressed with our first Princess cruise, and vow to not let another 15 years elapse before boarding a Princess ship again.

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska

Arrived Thursday night and stayed at the Ramada Inn on International Blvd. Good overall experience with this hotel as they guided us through Seattle with some good insider information. Purchased a Town Car Limo ($35) to transport us to our downtown Seattle home, The Best Western Pioneer Square. I don’t know what people would think was wrong with this property or the Pioneer Square district. A very nice place to hang out and some great

food and shopping. We did all the Seattle tourist things and drank tons of coffee. I would suggest you arrive a day early and take in the sights and settle in before making the giant leap onto the Diamond Princess. Day #1 Embarkation This was a snap. Took a taxi from the hotel to Pier 30 around 10:00 am. Arrived at the pier around 10:45 am and proceeded to drop our bags and get in line. The line was short as not many people had arrived at this point and the previous cruise was still debarking. I can truly say the first glimpse of the Diamond sent chills down my entire body. It is an amazing ship. Arriving this early allowed my wife and me to get into line and get checked in long before the craziness would arrive. A large group (I’m with Max) was already checked in with there snow capped t-shirts. Seemed like a great group of people that had tons of fun on this cruise. Really you would have to try and not have a good time. Our check in host told us that we would probably be boarding at around 11:30 or so and she was just about right on. My wife and I were lucky to be so close to the entry ramp and were two of the first people to be allowed on the ship. Walking the gangway to get to this massive vessel made me feel like a kid on Christmas morning. We were on the ship and in our room about 11:45 am. Dropped our carry on luggage and proceeded to the Horizon Court for the buffet lunch. I will discuss the food later, but have to say that the buffet was much better than people have reported and the lines, even at peak times moved very quickly. After lunch, my wife and I took in the tour of the spa and all the amenities. Met a very nice girl Katherine from Canada. The spa has an Asian theme and is so peaceful. Spent tons of time in the steam, sauna, and the gym as it was very calming. I would advise everyone to shower as much as you can in the spa area. Huge showers compared to the rooms and all the Lotus Spa amenities. We also met our room steward Raymund and he was excellent. Did a fantastic job of taking care of all over needs. Always on top of things and always had our room in fantastic shape. My wife was tired so she slept most of the early afternoon. I spend my time on the balcony of our room (Lido 232) watching Puget Sound go by as we sailed away. Great visuals most of the way up the sound. When she woke up we went to the Horizon Court buffet for dinner. Good amount of selections and overall I would say the food was very good to excellent. Went to the Kick Off show that evening with the comedy of Eliot Max. He would do a longer show later in the week. He was very funny and a great way to kick off the cruise. I could sense from just the first few hours that this was going to be a tremendous cruise and I would not be wrong. Took in some coffee after the show and headed off to bed. Some had posted here about the awful taste of the Princess coffee. Just my personal opinion but I felt that the coffee was fairly decent. I was by no means Starbucks or Seattle’s Best. But good standard bulk coffee. Day #2 At Sea Woke up very early around 5:00 am as the time change was taking its effect. It turned out to be a gift really as I was able to see the ship arrive in all of our ports. Much cooler than when we left Seattle. The sea was a little choppy as well. Wife and I did our workout in the morning. 7:00 am was a great time to get it going. You need to sign up each day, but truly it was not really that crowded. After working out we headed to the breakfast buffet. Standard breakfast fare but different than our previous cruises with Carnival (Victory & Pride). The buffet changed each day. Different types of meats and different eggs every day added to the almost endless variety of foods being offered. I had Alaskan Deer Sausage that morning which was quite good. After breakfast I would usually do my steam and sauna and my wife would just relax and watch the ocean from our balcony. I would tell you to spend the extra money if you can on the balcony on this particular route. The views are really incredible. Would do the lunch buffet and in the afternoon watched many whales off in the distance. We personally did not get any close up shots of the whales. Saw some tales and some blow hole water bursts. Really neat to see just that. Definitely take your binoculars with you as the views overall are some of the best you will ever see. We again did dinner in the Horizon Court. My wife and I are just two regular people and we felt the food was very good. And at times we were just a little too lazy to get ourselves ready for the dining rooms. The really great thing about being on a cruise. Do as much or as little as you like. It was formal night #1 and many had some very nice outfits on. The show that night was Piano Man. A production show by the Princess staff. EXCELLENT is the one word to describe it. These performers put on a great show. Strolled around up on deck after the show and headed to bed. An early morning rise would be coming. Note that the time went back one hour during the night. As we went north the time spent in daylight increased. It was very different seeing 10:15 pm and the sun still going down. Day #3 Juneau Same type of morning for us. Up early to see the sun rise. Of on this day the clouds rise. Workout and breakfast. We would be arriving in Juneau at noon (right on time) and wanted to make sure we had everything in place to get our day started. Sat of the Starboard side as the boat docked in Juneau. Wife had a Hot Chocolate and we just relaxed and watched the city come into view. What was so great about Juneau is the true Alaska weather experience. It was about 55 and rainy when we arrived. Who could ask for anything more. Ate lunch at the Horizon Court and got off the ship for our tour after stopping at Juneau Harley Davidson. We chose the Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Hatchery Tour. Great trip through town and to the Hatchery. Be prepared to see some interesting things at the hatchery. After that we went to the Glacier. Massive is a good word to describe it. Beautiful, awesome, and spectacular would do just as well. Spent about and hour there taking pictures and interacting in the visitors center. The tour left there and headed for the Salmon Bake. Very good salmon (as well as ribs and chicken). If you get the chance go down the back path to the waterfall. Really neat photo opportunities await you. Left the salmon back and rode back into town. The other ships had arrived and the city was bustling with activity. Typical port city with a bunch of tourist trap shops. The Alaska T Shirt company is huge and has many varieties. Walked around Juneau for a while and headed back to the ship. It was within walking distance. Got back a little later than expected and had dinner in the Horizon again. Again very good. Missed the show tonight and just hung around the balcony and room. Another spectacular day spent on the Inside Passage. Day #4 Skagway Arrived about 5:30 am to port. Sleepy little town of about 800 people. Did our regular early morning rituals and then headed out to the town. Again mostly tourist traps and the like. It’s actually a very cool little town with some good shops. Walked around for most of the early morning and afternoon. Took in way to many shops. Looking back we should have done the train trip but planned some other things and did not get to do it. Took a ton of pictures in town and from the ship. The views were fantastic and the weather was great. I would say T Shirt and Jean weather. Probably about 70 and sunny. The town is a bit farther away from the ship than the other ports. Many taxis and other modes of transportation to get you to and from. In the city you have many opportunities for great photos of the ships and the scenery. Returned to the ship and had dinner once again in the Horizon Court. Again very good overall. To me it’s just about making the best of whatever is put in front of you. Don’t get me wrong. You will not and probably should not like everything. But I would say about 85% is good to great and the presentation is fantastic. The show was a British singer and he did a good job. Played songs from many different genres and seemed to have a good time doing it. After a stroll around deck we made it to our room for a much needed night of rest. Day #5 Tracy Arm Again awoke very early to the open water and like always just some fantastic scenery. Did our regular early morning routine in anticipation for our arrival in Tracy Arm. No matter what I tell you about Tracy Arm it will not do it any justice. But here goes a try. We arrived at the gates of Tracy Arm at around 9:00 am right on time (many had commented on the late arrivals by Princess and that did not seem to be a problem for this cruise). It takes about two and a half hours to cruise into the fjord and two and half hours to get back. During this entire time you are given the wonderful insight on this magnificent place by the on board naturalist Michael Modzelewski. He is on the bridge and commenting about the trip into the fjord. Michael Modzelewski is one of the most talented and charismatic speakers I have ever had the pleasure to listen to. He pointed out many of the interesting points of the fjord, as well as some of his kayaking adventures in the past on the trek to Sawyer Glacier. Very informative and quite entertaining. As you are cruising this passage nature is brought to absolute life as you see glacier ice that has broken off and is floating out to sea, waterfall after waterfall, the baby seal on the port side, amazing tree formations, hanging glaciers, and surprisingly enough the Sapphire Princess. She cruises the arm earlier in the morning and you pass them as you are floating to the glacier. Great photo opportunities. I must comment on the ability of our Captain. He took this massive vessel to the absolute edge and got us closer than anyone has been to Sawyer Glacier this year. We saw both the north and south glacier and everything that was in between. During the last part of the trip the captain steers the ship in a circle and allows all to view each part of the fjord. When they do this they also launch a tender boat to take pictures of the time spent in Tracy Arm. It was just absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever witnessed. Actually with that being said I was without question the most amazing scenery of all time. A land that is so vast, massive, and wonderful that really has not be tarnished by the hands of man. Truly something to see. I would call this one of the high lights of the entire trip. The incredible scenery, the outstanding commentary by Michael, and the pin point precision cruising by our captain made this just so memorable. It should also be noted that the weather was great. Sunny and a little on the cool side. The sun allowed for the real glacier ice to be seen. That deep blue color that many referred to as that Windex color. It has to be seen to know it. Our time spent in Tracy Arm was a mere 5 hours. It felt like it lasted 5 minutes. It went so very fast. I would add that you should get the coffee and the deck blankets they offer if you have the balcony. It got a little chilly with the wind and the close proximity to the mountains. No matter what you do make sure you take in the full context of Tracy Arm. When we left Tracy Arm had a little nibble. The Pizza and Trident Grill (burgers) was also pretty good. My wife enjoyed the Pizza each day. We floated around the ship the rest of the afternoon in anticipation of going to dinner for the first time in the dining rooms. We spent most of the afternoon at the Lotus spa pool and Jacuzzi. This was a great spot. Never crowded and actually very peaceful with all the Buddhist themes and music. We chose Personal Choice dining as it would allow us to freely move around and pick the times we wanted. We chose the Sante Fe this evening. Crab Legs were served and they were quite good. They actually cut each leg in half to help you get the full amount of meat from the leg itself. Our wait staff kept bringing more and more legs to us and our neighboring table. We did not even ask it was just done. Just another way Princess stood above the others to make sure your needs were taken care of. The food was excellent and the service very good as well. You should also take the time to fill out the server ratings card. They seems very interested in it and I’m sure it helps them moving up the chain of command in there respective divisions. All the great work, time and effort they put in to making your trip special deserves that little extra recognition. We went to the comedy show in the theater this evening. Had an unbelievable funny ventriloquist performing that used many different props and really got the audience involved. Actually bringing two passengers up on the stage and doing a hilarious bit with them. Two great sports as they had to be the brunt of many jokes from fellow passengers. I would rate this show very high. After the show we headed again to bed as we would be arriving early to Ketchikan. Day #6 Ketchikan Woke up at 5:00 am and watched the ship cruise into Ketchikan. This was a great little city. You are right up on the action in this town with many things to do and see. We did not have that much time to spend in Ketchikan so we made sure to get up early and start the day off right. After an early breakfast in the Horizon we had booked the Totem and Town Tour. You get a very informative look at the city of Ketchikan and then you are bused to Totem Bight State Park. Totem Bight State Park is about 10 miles outside of the city and it’s a pretty good drive, as you get to see many things around this island. The state park is actually very neat with many Totem Poles and a Clan House that is explained by your guide. You also get some great views of the inside passage. After spending our morning there you are brought back to town and dropped off. It was the worst weather of the trip so far and I was loving it. I would say about 50 and raining. The truest sense to me of what Alaska offered. My wife and I walked around the city for the rest of the morning. Many different tourist shops than in the other ports. I would say we looked in just about all of them. We made of way back to Creek Street. This is an interesting little neighborhood. Used to brothels and all but now a tourist area. Very quaint and fun to walk through. Different little specialty shops and such. You can get some great views of the ships from here as well. Because our time was short in Ketchikan we made our way back to the ship. Went and had some lunch and made our way up on deck to get some great photos of float planes taking off and landing right next to the ship. As you can probably tell I took to many pictures. At least my wife thought so. We ended up doing all our morning activities in the afternoon. The gym was not crowded at all. I would say we went around 1 or 2 and it was pretty much empty. Tonight is the second of the formal nights and we have decided to give it a go. We had to as this was Lobster night. We made reservations for the Pacific Moon for 8 pm (going crazy and staying up late tonight). Another great experience with great food. Both my wife and I got the lobster and it was very good. My wife also wanted to try the ravioli and said it was some of the best she had tried. Overall another great dining experience. We decided to that we would go to the 10:00 pm show called Undercover. A tribute to spy movies and TV shows. This was actually better than the Piano Man show. These performers stepped it up yet again. A great overall show. A late night for this family and we headed to bed after watching the champagne waterfall. Day #7 Victoria Slept in a little this morning. Starting to recover from this great week of vacation after staying up a little late for this family. Did all the morning activities. It was my goal later in the week to get a head start on our next Princess Cruise and I was searching out the cruise planner on board. When I finally put the times together and was able to speak with her she set us up on the brand new Crown Princess on July 2, 2006 out of New York City (hometown Go Yankees!). If you book with Princess on board you get the great savings of around $800 on the down payment and you also get ship board credit for the trip. The Crown will only be operating for its 3rd or 4th week at that time and they will be traveling to Bermuda and Grand Turk (a new port) on this itinerary. We have had such a great time with this trip and with Princess that it was so easy to book early for our next adventure. Worked out a little bit later than usual and lounged around at the Lotus Pool and Jacuzzi. Met a very nice family from Arizona (originally from Texas) and exchanged ideas for the time to be spent in Victoria. We arrived to Victoria with plenty of time to spare and could have probably go in early. However that was not to be as the winds were huge at this time. Blowing across the bow of the ship you could see the flags just getting pounded. Instead of trying to get us into a tricky situation they just anchored and waited. After so much time elapsed the captain came over the intercom and said we would not be able to get into port tonight. So it happens I guess. This is not way effected what has been an awesome trip. We ate dinner again in the Horizon and it was good. As the cruise wraps up the overall quality of presentation and such goes down a little. These workers have to prepare the ship for the next group arriving and its got to be MAGIC all over again so absolutely no harm done. The cruise director (Omar Lugo) put together a quick show for the night but we did not attend. Choosing to just relax in our room the rest of the night. Day #8 Debarkation Woke up early and watched us come into Seattle. It truly has a great sky line and seeing it as the sun comes up it awesome. Debarkation was a snap. Chose to carry our luggage off the ship and at 7:30 am the call came and we walked off the ship and waved good bye to the greatest vacation we have ever had. I would just like to thank Princess Cruise Lines for such an amazing vacation! Utilized the Princess transfers to the airport and rented a car. Stayed in Seattle the day and left late that night. Notes: • Michael Modzelewski – Awesome speaker (My wife bought me his book Inside Passage on the ship and I am reading it now. It talks of his adventures in the Inside Passage. A great read and signed by him. I would tell you to pick one up as BN and Amazon have it out of print) • Omar Lugo & Cruise Director Staff – Excellent • Dining Rooms – Very Good food and excellent service • Trident Grill & Pizza – Awesome • Horizon Court – Overall Very enjoyable (Very good selections especially breakfast) • Raymund – Lido 232 Room Steward was fantastic • Lotus Spa – Very relaxing and under used in my opinion • 10 rolls of film taken. I don’t know if I will be able to up load them or not. About the only thing I would change about this cruise would be the time you spend in Ketchikan. It is such a cool little city and you only get about 6 hours total time. With all the trouble you have getting into Victoria I would think you should just keep the ship in Ketchikan and cut off the Victoria part of it. That would give you another full day at sea and that would be fine. If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask them and I will do my best to answer. My wife and I are the kind of people that can make the best of any situation. In this case we did not have to. Princess Cruise and the Diamond was 100% top shelf and responsible for our greatest vacation ever. I was a little worried about going to Alaska at first. But in the end I found it to be one of the best places I have ever been. Truly it changed my life. I can see the ice A vision like no other Into my deep soul Moments in a life Faster than an eagle flies Precious as the sun

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  • New

Nov 30, -0001

Alaska

My wife and I sailed on the Diamond Princess on May 28th to Alaska. We had high expectations since all we’ve heard from our cruise agent was nothing but “high accolades”. Needless to say the cruise did not meet our expectations. We paid a premium price for this cruise and not only were we extremely disappointed but it was also the worse cruise we have ever sailed on. Below please find a list of our complaints: We arrived at the

Seattle port at 1:00pm. We were amazed to see at least 1000 people standing in line under the sun (85 degree weather) waiting for “Express Check-in”. We were finally checked in about 3:00pm. The embarkation process was unacceptable as we have sailed on several occasions in the past and have never experienced such delay. On Sunday, May 29th the captain made an announcement that due to a passenger’s “medical emergency” during the night, he had no other alternative but to turn the ship around and head back to the nearest port, Victoria. He stated that in doing so we had lost several hours in our sailing time to Juneau, and our arrival time would be impacted. Later, we found out the so called “emergency” was upset ulcers and the passenger had re-boarded the ship in Juneau. The original cruise itinerary had us arriving in Juneau on Monday May 30th at 12:30pm and departing at 10:00pm. At approximately 7:30pm the captain gave clearance for disembarking. It took us an hour to disembark due to the number of passengers trying to do so at the same time. We were told we needed to be back on board by 10:00pm, allowing us less than 2 hours to visit Juneau. We returned to the ship at the time instructed by the captain, only to be standing in line for another hour to embark. As you can imagine getting three thousand people back on board with so little time, called for less security. We boarded with bags that were not scanned as so were many others. This again is unacceptable and is a breach in all the passengers’ security. When we finally boarded and went for dinner, only one side of the 24-hour buffet at the Horizon Court was opened. It was chaotic to see over one thousand people trying to serve themselves and find a table to sit. When brought to the attention of one of the Horizon Court head attendants, his reply was “it is not my decision”. It was clear they did not prepare, nor anticipate almost 3000 passengers returning at the same time, nor did they attempt to accommodate the passengers. Again, unacceptable, simply all that was needed was for both sides of the Horizon Court to be opened. And speaking of the Horizon Court, the quality, variety and presentation of the food were terrible. The food was always cold; in most cases it was obvious that it was prepared hours before it was served or leftovers from the previous meal. The next day Tuesday, May 31st we arrived at Skagway. After un-boarding/boarding several times I confirmed that security was not being taken seriously. On the last day of the cruise and with anticipation of visiting Victoria, we arrived on time. However, the captain made an announcement that he was unable to dock due to 45 knot winds. I, being a seaman know that the winds were nowhere near 45 knots. He finally gave the clear to disembark at 10:20pm, instructing passengers to be back on board by 11:30pm. Needless to say we, as almost all passengers, chose not to disembark because not enough time was allowed to visit the town and still make it back on time. The disembarking process was very unorganized. Our “disembarking color” was assigned for 8:30am; however it was called over 1 hour later. We stood in line at the gangway for another hour until one of the employees shouted out that US citizens did not have to make the line. In other words, the entire disembarking process took over 3 hours. As for the entertainment it was also bad. The 2 production shows were good but that is about it. The cruise director was the dullest we have ever experienced in any of the cruises we’ve sailed on. Our entire itinerary was totally disrupted making us miss the highlights of the cruise; Juneau and Victoria. We did not receive the fair value of what we paid for. At no time was any compensation offered to us; i.e., more time on other ports, additional entertainment, drinks, etc. This is unacceptable. After having no alternative last year but to cancel our cruise due to a critical accident for which you showed neither mercy nor flexibility in allowing us to reschedule, we still chose to sail with Princess because we had heard nothing but good things. Even after losing our money on our previously scheduled cruise we still chose Princess. As passengers, we will not accept bad service and a poor itinerary which did not provide us with a fair value as previously mentioned. At this time, we are requesting that Princess Cruises compensate us appropriately since we did not get our moneys worth on this cruise. We are extremely disappointed and dissatisfied with Princess Cruises!!!!

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By Ray_CR

  • New

Nov 30, -0001

Alaska to Bangkok

The cruise and the ports were great. The people (wait staff, room stewards) were the best. Passenger services was an oxy-moron in that everything they did was for their convenience and not the passengers. We booked a full year before the cruise and requested traditional dining and early seating. Our request was honored, however, we were assigned to a dining room where we had to walk up two floors and down one to get there. This wasn't terrible,

but their was a traditional dining room with early seating on our floor. We had no Internet for the first three weeks and they constantly told us different stories about when it would be usable and even out and out lied to us. The staff at the pursers desk was grossly under trained and couldn't answer the simplest of questions and at times were down right rude. Upon arrival on the ship we were greeted by a staff person to guide us to our room, however, he had to ask us if we had our ship's map so that he could direct us! The shore excursions were poorly organized and grossly over priced. We had booked several private tours before hand and they were far more comfortable and less expensive. We are not gourmands, but we thought that the food was up to par for this class of ship. We have sailed mostly on Celebrity and I thought that the food on this ship was at least as good and in some cases better. We did hear several passengers complaining about the food, but in all honesty, we had no complaints. We found our stateroom adequate and on par with most of the cruises we have taken and our room steward, Rosa, was the best we have encountered. She was very personable and went out of the way to serve her guests. The onboard activities were about what you would expect on a ship of this class. Constant and incessant art auctions were a bit over done and the "sales" were the usual stuff. There were dance classes, bingo, casino contests, and the usual. The shore excursions on Princess, at least on this ship, were poorly organized and very over priced. They totally ignored the time that you were requested to arrive at the mustering point. We quickly learned that if you showed up at the time requested, you were assigned to bus #7 or 8. Meaning that about 300 people had already gotten there before the assigned time. Much of the time on these excursions is spent getting 50 people off and then back on the bus. I would suggest that if you have at least 4 people in your party, you can arrange private tours in advance that are far more enjoyable and less expensive. For instance, in Beijing, we had a private tour in a van for four of us that took us to a part of the Great Wall where the tour busses don't go and we had an uncrowded and pleasant time upon the Wall. We also had time to go to Tienenmen Square and the Forbidden City. The tours from the ship were able to only take in one of these sights at a time for more money than our tour cost us. Over all I enjoyed the trip immensely. Primarily because of the people we were with and the ports that we visited. The ship was comfortable and most of the staff accommodating. The management of the ship, however, was lacking and off-putting at times to the extent that I will not book on Princess again.

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