We joined Diamond Princess in Singapore on December 5, 2010 for her positioning cruise to Sydney for 19 nights before her Australia-New Zealand season. The ship had recently undergone drydock, receiving the Movie Under the Stars upgrade, and she did indeed ‘sparkle’, with new carpeting in many areas.
The embarkation process in Singapore was a logistical nightmare, with the ship berthed at a Jurong Port container terminal – and the F1 Pit Building in Marina Bay South nominated for passenger processing. The whole process was bizarre: baggage was dropped in a paddock across from the building, there was insufficient seating, no PA systems, and a guest I initially took to be staff began bellowing instructions about the transfer process, at one stage threatening to “head-butt” anyone jumping the queue.
It was an unfortunate start to the cruise for many, particularly those who’d proceeded in ignorance to Singapore Cruise Centre for processing, and resulted in Diamond Princess, which is too big for the Cruise Centre, departing two hours late. However, once on board, it was time to enjoy the excitement of joining a huge vessel.
The ship: Entered service in 2004; max. pax 3,100; 4 stars in Berlitz guide.
Cabins: We’d been allocated a BB Grade Balcony Cabin on Caribe Deck (deck 10) near the aft staircase. We were pleased to find it had a large balcony and walk-in wardrobe – often a welcome feature on Princess Cruises’ ships. Though our balcony had overhang from cabins above, it provided what was to become very welcome shade and shelter from the rain that is to be expected at that time of year. Our cabin was extremely comfortable with plenty of stowage space; the bathroom had enough shelf space and an adequate shower and toilet. Our stewardess was delightfully unobtrusive; the condition of our cabin impeccable throughout.
Food and drink: I agree with the Berlitz guide’s Douglas Ward that Diamond Princess’ profile has been improved by positioning Skywalkers [lounge/nightclub] adjacent to the funnel – unlike its location on earlier Grand class ships. It’s a fabulous vantage point, ideal for watching departure manoeuvres. An area of this lounge was available most evenings to Suite, Elite and Platinum passengers for special-priced cocktails and complimentary hors d’oeuvres.
Breakfast was spent at the popular Horizon Court, where we sat outside away from the hustle and bustle, with a view of the stern wake, or in the more relaxing International Dining Room on Deck 6. This was also the venue for assigned first and second dinner sittings; the Vivaldi Dining Room taking the overflow for first sitting. This became our choice for ‘Anytime Dining’ after trying the three other available non-surcharge venues – Savoy, Pacific Moon and Santa Fe – as it was no problem getting our preferred table for two.
The food varied from good to great in all areas; we often ordered a light lunch from room service to enjoy on our balcony. We particularly enjoyed the fish main courses: orange roughy, halibut and tilapia, plus lobster tails on formal nights. There were plenty of dining options and we did not feel obliged to try the alternative surcharge venues, Sabatini’s or Sterling Steakhouse.
Entertainment and activities: I feel unqualified to comment on the entertainment except to say that on such a large ship, there were plenty of options, most of which we did not join in, though [my partner] Dorothy did spend some time in the atrium shops. We tended to frequent the Wheelhouse Bar, always a favourite of mine on Princess Cruises ships. On Diamond Princess, it is quite large, attractively offset with dark woods, with a nautical theme and interesting paintings including portraits of the Oronsay and the old Arcadia. Club Fusion and the Explorers Lounge were pleasant show lounges to augment the Princess Theatre. After dinner and a stroll around Promenade Deck, we often made our way to Skywalkers, which doubles as a second dance venue and disco.
The Wake View Bar on Deck 6 was an interesting place with a nautical theme, dark woods and portholes; an attractive intimate room [that hosted] small gatherings, advertised in the daily Princess Patter.
Early in the cruise, we attended a wine-tasting hosted by onboard sommelier David Lightfoot, complimentary to Elite guests. We also attended a cocktail party for Captain’s Circle Members in Club Fusion, hosted by Captain Oliver and Dawn, the pleasant Captain’s Circle Hostess.
Health and fitness: A day at sea before our first port of call gave us ample time to explore and enjoy the largest ship we’ve cruised on to date, commencing with an early visit to the gym on Deck 15. It was well frequented throughout the cruise, especially before breakfast, with use of eight treadmills and exercise bikes (of which there were only three) at a premium. We played the occasional ‘grudge match’ on the putt-putt course on the Sports Deck and did plenty of strolling along the Promenade Deck (Deck 7), which has access upstairs to Deck 8 and the ship’s bow. There is a number of pools: I found the covered Conservatory best for lap swimming. The Lotus pool has a ‘swim against the current’ machine but it’s somewhat noisy and positioned close to the Sanctuary, another feature added at the recent drydock.
Ports of call: At our first port of call, Phu My in Vietnam, we took the opportunity to visit Vung Tau, as we’d previously experienced Ho Chi Minh City. There were complimentary shuttle buses to Baria, a local shopping area. From there, we negotiated a tour with two other passengers in a very clean taxi whose driver told me he often drove Australians to pay their respects at Long Tan, scene of the famous 1966 battle, 80-odd kilometres away. Next day, there was a tender ride to Nha Trang after a rough night heading into the north-easterly monsoon, and a visit to the local hot springs and mud-baths.
Three days at sea followed, with the monsoonal weather easing as we travelled south. Benoa, Bali was another ‘tender port’, and a local vessel had been chartered to augment the 25-minute transfer to the tiny wharf area. We appreciated our ‘priority tender embarkation’ entitlement as Dorothy had booked a local driver for the inevitable shopping expedition to Legian, Seminyak and Sanur.
We decided to forego a swim as a tropical storm beckoned, and joined the queue to re-board. This did not take long, as they used a numbered ticketing system similar to that used on board. Cold towels and water were available on the wharf. The ship was late departing for Darwin though I was not concerned: we sat on our balcony with a view of Nusa Dua with cold beverages in hand.
It was a pleasant two-day cruise across the Timor Sea to Darwin, averaging 16 to 18 knots. Our shaded balcony was our ‘sanctuary’ after the morning’s exertions. We cleared immigration formalities before arriving in Darwin, where a sunny day greeted us. Diamond Princess was ‘all fast alongside’ just after 7.30am and it was good to be able to disembark by gangway. The port area had been enhanced with new apartments and walkways since we boarded Orion here in 2007. More shopping beckoned and despite initial plans to see one of the area’s national parks, we walked into the attractive city past the Deckchair Cinema.
A hot day followed and there was a strong breeze as we crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria. I noticed quite an increase in vibration when the ship’s speed rose above 20 knots, as our cabin was near the stern. We appreciated our starboard balcony as we navigated the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with the aid of ship’s pilots, who made occasional announcements from the bridge to aid our enjoyment of this tricky passage.
Port Douglas was another tender port that had transfers ashore again augmented by a local operator’s vessels. More exercise, a swim in the [stinger-free] enclosure, and shopping were the order of the day – but I did find an appropriate watering hole or two before I was joined by a hot but contented shopper. Despite local assistance with tendering, a late weighing of the anchor and departure occurred, but a super sunset cruise was to eventuate as nearly 116,000 tons of white majesty glided through a hazy beam of setting sun, past Palm Cove, Cairns and various islands.
Airlie Beach was to be our last port of call before Sydney, but after dropping anchor in a strong north-westerly, Captain Oliver decided to abort the call due to unsafe tendering conditions. We were to have made our only ship-run shore excursion from here to Daydream Island – but all was not lost: the weather improved as we cruised past the Whitsundays.
During our last couple of days, the weather was perfect and we spent lots of time on our balcony as we sailed past Fraser Island, and the following day, Byron Bay and the NSW coast into a southerly swell at a leisurely 15 knots. It also gave me time for reflection on the pros and cons of travelling on a large resort ship.
The verdict: The last evening after packing, I wandered up to Lido Deck for a stroll. It was a beautiful evening with blue seas, a sun-blessed coastline and a Pavarotti concert playing on the huge screen. There by the pool was the same guest who’d threatened to head-butt wayward passengers back in Singapore. The goosebumps-inducing climax of Pavarotti singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ lifted my spirits as I sat at the Tradewinds Bar, sad that another cruise was nearly over.
Yes, Diamond Princess is now my favourite ship. The only negative is that her size prevents her being able to access many ports, and results in situations such as our chaotic embarkation in Singapore, and long tendering processes in smaller destinations.