Dimaond Princess Cruise Ship Review
Diamond Princess in Hong Kong Harbor - October 16, 2013 - Raye & Marty Trencher
Cruise Ship &Destination Review
Grand Asia Cruise Vacation
October 7-24, 2013
by Raye & Marty Trencher
Editors and Publishers
Cruise Traveler Magazine
October 28, 2013 -
As professional travel writers and planners, Raye & I have had the good fortune over 40 years to travel to nearly all the four corners of the world and just about everything in between. However, one destination had continued to allude us over the years; Asia.
So, we decided that now was the best time to visit this exotic, alluring destination, and fulfill this long time dream of ours.
For this cruise, we needed to arrange multi-entry visa's for China before sailing. If you live close to a Chinese Consulate or their Embassy in Washington D.C., you can visit them in person, or you can process the application online. Vietnam issues a visa, but that is handled by the ship, so you don't need to do that in advance. You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while traveling to Asia. Though not a requirement, you should consider vaccinations for Hepatitis, Typhoid as well as other health related protection. More information can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.
Our journey began in Boston on October 4th, as we flew some 8900 miles, multiple flight connections over 18 hours to get to Beijing, China. The time difference is 12 hours later than the east coast of the United States. Little did we pay attention at that time, but the trip home would be even longer and more challenging. More about that later. The transfer from the airport to the hotel was flawless, as was the transfer to the ship, which was a 2.5 hour drive from Beijing.
We chose a 2 night hotel package staying at the Marriott City Wall. Princess had representatives in the hotel, and gave us a briefing when we arrived. Needless to say, there were several hundred Diamond Princess passengers staying at the hotel. We were assigned a mini-suite room, to match our mini-suite aboard Diamond Princess. The room was spacious and luxurious.
This stunning landmark Beijing hotel is adjacent to the remaining ancient Ming Dynasty City Wall, a five-minute drive to Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and Silk Market, and a two-minute walk to the Jianguomen Subway Station. Dining options include The City Wall Bistro for an all day dining restaurant offering western cuisine. Or the Pearl, featuring cuisine from the Pearl River Delta Region of China.
We pre-arranged a private all day tour of Beijing, and the Great Wall with Viator ( http://tourguides.viator.com ).
Through Viator we contacted Ellen Lan, a licensed tour guide in Beijing certificated by the Beijing Tourism Administration.
Born in Inner Mongolia and now living in Beijing, Ellen graduated from Beijing International Studies University. We arranged to have her meet us at the hotel the morning of October 6th. If you want to have an in depth and personal experience, hire a private guide. The cost is not much more that the mass-movement bus tours, but the experience is much more rewarding. And, if you visit Beijing, be sure to ask for Ellen. Raye & I have traveled the world over and have never met a guide so knowledgeable and friendly as Ellen. She shared her love and knowledge of this magical, lively, and unique city with a great passion. By the end of the day we felt like we had been friends for years.
For the day, we included visits to Tiannamen Square, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Great Wall, as well as an amazing Chinese acrobatic show. The day was long, lots of walking and talking and the crowds were large due to China's National Holiday week long celebrations. If you want to get in all the must-see tourist attractions, you'll need more than a day, perhaps 3 or 4 days to see and do it all. Unfortunately we only had one day.
One of the most remarkable things happen to us. Not once, but twice we were approached by Chinese Nationals to pose for pictures with them at the Forbidden City. These were to total strangers, who had traveled far from Beijing to visit the city during their national holiday and may have never seen westerner's before. It was amazing how friendly and warm the people of China were to us.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Beijing, China
The capital of The People's Republic of China covers a staggering area of some 6,870 square miles
and boasts a population of over 11 million people.
• Forbidden City
This 720,000-square mile complex of intricate pavilions, gardens, buildings and courtyards is the largest imperial palace in China, and was home to 24 emperors between 1420 and 1923
• Great Wall
Dating back to 453 B.C., the largest wall in the world is really comprised of several walls made of varying materials and stretches from the Bo Hai Sea to the Gobi Desert.
• Tiananmen Square
This world's largest public square holds 300,000 people and is equal to 90 football fields. A 121-foot pillar called the Monument to the People's Heroes stands in the center of the square.
• Temple of Heaven
This round temple with black-tiled roof features a huge park built to promote bountiful harvests and favor with heaven. Opposite sections of the park symbolize Earth and heaven.
• Summer Palace
Stately gardens, walking paths and promenades surround pavilions and temples along a massive lake. Built from 1749 to 1764, the palace was twice destroyed in the next century, and made public in 1924.
On Monday, October 7th, we met Princess representatives in lobby of the hotel and were the transferred to the ship via motorcoach. Our bags were put outside our hotel room the night before and went on to the ship by truck. They appeared at our cabin moments after we got onboard. The ship docks in the port city of Tianjin, which was a 2.5 hour drive from Beijing. There is a rest stop break half way there. Along the way, we not only got a glimpse of the countryside, but were astonished at the number of new high-rise apartments and office buildings under construction in the suburbs. China is indeed on the move.
Check-in at the pier went smoothly, and it took only about 30 minutes to process the multitude of passengers arriving at the same time as us. Do note, that your passports will be taken from you for most of duration of the voyage. The passports are processed by immigration officials from the various countries you visit, prior to going ashore. Your passports will be delivered back to your cabin by the steward at the end of the cruise.
Once unpacked, we spent the afternoon becoming familiar with the ship, after enjoying a buffet lunch at Horizon Court on deck 14.
About Diamond Princess
If you have browsed the Internet, you are most likely to have read hundred's of ship reviews that basically tell you all about the venues and activities onboard. Some are just a rehash of what can be found at the cruise line's web site with little said about the ports-of-call you visit. Raye & I take a slightly different approach. We focus more on the destination. In this case, Asia. After all, it's the destinations ports-of-call you want to visit and learn all about. You will find however, our comments and critique about the ship scattered throughout this review as well as in the right hand column you can find detailed facts about the ship and links to the cruise line's web site for more information, video's and 360 degree virtual tours.
For 2014 Diamond Princess offers: Southeast Asia & China Cruise Vacations * Asia & Australia Cruise Vacations * Singapore-based Cruise Vacations to Southeast Asia
One of the great opportunities of cruising to exotic ports-of-call is meeting and interacting with a diverse mix of nationalities on the ship .... of some 2600 passengers, 650 came from the United States and Canada, followed by Australia and New Zealand, England, Germany, Italy as well as Brazil, and others.
As one of only two Princess Cruises cruise ships built in Japan, ( the other; Sapphire Princess ) this ship can often be found sailing to the most intriguing and exotic destinations abroad. A variety of dining options can be found throughout the ship. There are five dining rooms, all serving the same menu. The International Dining Room is the largest and offers traditional dining hours. First seating around 6:30, Second Seating around 8:15pm. The other dining rooms offer a combination of traditional dining with same table assignments throughout the cruise or an Anytime dining feature. Anytime Dining means you aren't limited to eating at a fixed time or place on the ship. Instead, the choice of when and where you want to eat is flexible. You can also have dinner at the Buffet at Horizon Court from 5:00 pm to 10:00pm. Dress is casual at Horizon Court and a good venue to dine when you return from a full day of sightseeing and don't feel like getting dressed up.
• International Dining Room
• Pacific Moon Dining Room
• Santa Fe Dining Room
• Savoy Dining Room
• Vivaldi Dining Room
Youll find Poolside, hand-tossed pizza served to you just out of the oven 24/7. And Trident Grill for burgers & hot dogs. During the day and early evening, visit Sundaes ice cream bar for soft-serve cones, cups or milk shakes.
If you have sailed on Diamond Princess before, note that both Movies Under the Stars and The Sanctuary, a tranquil haven exclusively for adults, have recently been added.
Our readers often ask, how could such a large ship offer so much, yet feel intimate and personal? Raye and I found plenty of room for ourselves, spacious decks to walk about, comfortably cozy public spaces just to sit and read a book or play a game of scrabble and we loved our balcony stateroom. Yet there were wonderful opportunities to socialize with a variety of sensational activities and entertainment to suit our needs.
The First 2 days were at sea, on our way to Busan, South Korea. This 2 day respite offered Raye and I a great way to unwind from the non stop touring of Beijing, enjoy the sea and the sun, and explore the ship. On this cruise just about every port stop was followed by 1 or 2 sea days, and having cruised nearly 40 times, we know that shore excursions are exhausting, starting as early as 7:00am, and ending late into the day. Sea days are for resting, reading, exercising, entertaining and of course, too much eating.
Local Culture and Enrichment
At each port-of-call our sail away experience included some great local flavor. In Busan, a spectacular fireworks display. In Nagasaki, we were entertained with a traditional Japanese Taiko Drumming performance pier-side and were given a farewell concert by the local high school band and dance routines by their cheerleaders and dancers.
In Shanghai, performers from the Shoukou Acrobatic Show came onboard with a display of acrobatics, music and dance. In Hong Kong, we were treated to the Hebei Acrobatic and Magic Show. In Bangkok ( Leam Chabang ) the Wonder Thai dance Show performed in the Princess Lounge. All in all, a great way to soak in the local culture and be entertained at the same time.
Busan, South Korea
Our first port of call; Busan, South Korea. The second largest city in South Korea, Busan is your gateway to a fascinating land whose culture is a unique amalgam of old and new. Modern high-rise towers dwarf ancient Buddhist temples. The city's bustling business district offers a stark contrast to the serene grounds of Yongdusan Park. In short, Busan is a microcosm of South Korea, a nation whose startling economic success often obscures one of Asia's most sophisticated and venerable cultures. Busan was the scene of bitter fighting during the Korean War. The United Nations Memorial Cemetery marks the final resting place for the troops from 16 nations who gave their lives during the conflict. Busan boasts the lively Ja-Gal-Ch'l Fish Market where you can photographic colorful displays of fresh fish. For a bit of local culture you can participate in a traditional Korean tea cermony or visit the historic city of Gyeong-ju, the old capital of the Silla Dynasty ( 668-936 AD )
About Shore Excursions
As we write about ships, destinations and review shore excursions, when we visit a destination for the very first time, we book the ship's tours, so you get an idea of what's on offer and how it works. Now, you don't have to do that. You can go off on your own, or book tours through private companies that you have found by recommendation of friends or relatives who have been there or researched on the Internet. One word of caution. Make sure you know the reputation and integrity of the shore tour operators you choose. Getting ripped off once can sour your entire cruise vacation. And remember, the ship sails away from port on time. If you are late, the ship will not wait. However, there is one exception. If you purchased the shore excursion from the cruise line, should you run late, the ship is notified and will wait for you. Don't think it matters. While we were in Shanghai, our bus ran into traffic jam after traffic jam and we showed up at the pier 30 minutes after the ship was scheduled to depart. Our tour guide had called the ship and told them of our delay. Needless to say, the ship did not sail away without us.
Be prepared to spend a lot of money, if shore excursions are what you want to do. They can cost over $100 each, per person and on a 17 day cruise, the out-of-pocket expenses can add up. Our bill for shore excursions exceeded $2000!
Because of the size of Diamond Princess she is too big to dock close-in at some Asain cities so we had to dock in container ports and be shuttled to the city center. The Phu My port in Vietnam is 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon ), likewise for Laem Chabang for Bangkok. Only in Nagasaki could you disembark and walk around. So, you couldn't come and go as you please. Princess did provide shuttle buses ( some free, some not ) back and forth on a regular basis for those who would go off on their own.
In Busan, we explored Gyeong-ju, Korea's beautiful ancient capital during the Silla Dynasty, and the royal tombs at Tumuli Park before touring the National Museum with its amazing collection of Korean cultural artifacts. After a traditional Korean buffet that was quite good, we ended the day at the serene 7th century Bulguksa Temple.
The Children of South Korea
Just about everywhere we went, we came across school groups on field trips to visit their national sites. And as we passed them by, they all said hi, waved and smiled.
Some even stopped, chatted with us and posed for pictures with Raye. The happiest kids you ever saw.
Our favorite site: Bulguksa Temple.
Perched on the slopes of Mt. Tohamsan, this quiet oasis offers a superb example of both Silla architecture and the culture's devotion to Buddhism.
We were enthralled with this amazing collection of wooden buildings, and although many of them have been rebuilt many times, the stone bridges, stairways and pagodas are all original.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Busan, South Korea
The second largest city in South Korea covers some 296 square miles and boasts a population of over 3.6 million people.
• Beomeosa Temple
Beomeosa Temple dates back to 678 A.D., and is one of ten HwaEom temples in Korea. HwaEom acceptance is to pursues life full of happiness and generosity. Beomeosa boasts a graceful 9th-century, three-stone pagoda, and a colorful main temple hall, which was built in 1614.
• Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
One of the most beautiful temples in Busan, it is unusually located along the coast. Tied to the legend of a great sea goddess, the grounds boast a dramatic rocky backdrop.
• Ja-Gal-Ch'i Fish Market
This bustling market was established by women peddlers during the Korean War, and has become known as 'Aunt's Market.' Traders sell amazing displays of seafood, shellfish and exotic seaweeds.
• UN Memorial Cemetery
The cemetery was established by the United Nations in 1951, and covers 35 quiet acres. Visitors can walk through rows of neat stone markers, and view the stone Monument of Dongnae, built in 1670.
• Gyeong-Ju:Bulguksa Temple & Tumuli Park
Korea's ancient capital holds the royal tombs of the Silla Dynasty in serene Tumuli Park, and is revered for Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Buddhist shrine built in the 7th century.
• Tongdosa Temple
Often called "the temple without a Buddha," the peaceful Tongdosa Temple stands just north of Busan. Built in the 7th century, this significant site holds many historical Buddhist relics from China.
• Cultural Experience
In Buddhism, making & drinking tea is another form of meditation. Calm down yourself while preparing tea, and look into yourself while drinking tea.
• Bokcheon Museum and Tombs
Bokcheon Museum has fascinating collection of the Three Kingdom period that spanned from the 1st century B.C. to the 6th century A.D. as well as tombs outside.
Nagasaki is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan.
For most travelers, Nagasaki is a symbol of the horror and the inhumanity of war. An estimated 75,000 people perished in 1945 when the city became the second target of a nuclear attack. Today, Nagasaki's Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum draw visitors from around the world.
But this beautiful city on Kyushu offers other sights. Often described as the San Francisco of Japan, the city occupies verdant hills surrounded by a deep-water bay. For three centuries, Nagasaki was Japan's sole window on the world. The city is also celebrated as the setting for Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly."
Raye & I experienced Nagasaki's history on this full-day tour. First we visited Peace Memorial Park, then toured the Atomic Bomb Museum dan viewed the black monolith marking Ground Zero. Then onto Dejima Museum, once Japan's sole window on the outside world.
Our favorite venue: Peace Memorial Park
Exploring historic Nagasaki on a narrated drive that included a visit to Peace Memorial Park.
On August 9, 1945, Nagasaki became the second city to suffer a nuclear attack. Peace Memorial Park is located near Ground Zero, the centre of the blast. It was created to represent the vow that such a tragedy would not happen again and offers hope for world peace. A Nagasaki native created the statue that is the focal point of the park. The 30-foot-high "Statue of Peace" is a symbol of world peace. The statue's right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace. The park also features the Fountain of Peace, which was built in remembrance of a little girl who wandered in search of water. Visitors can also view a row of monuments contributed by various nations that form the zone of symbols of world peace.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Nagasaki, Japan
As one of Japan's closest port cities to the Asian mainland, Nagasaki covers some 156 square miles and boasts a population of nearly 500,000 people.
• Peace Memorial Park
The massive "Peace Statue," erected in memory and a symbol of world peace, dominates this thoughtful park commemorating the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
• Atomic Bomb Museum
Above Peace Memorial Park stands the sobering Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Here you can view displays of photographs and artifacts and watch videos detailing this tragic event in world history.
• Glover Garden
This hilltop, open-air museum exhibits mansions from the Meiji era, belonging to former Western residents of Nagasaki. Enjoy panoramic views of Nagasaki harbor from the beautifully landscaped grounds.
• Oura Catholic Church
Constructed in 1864 during the Edo Period, the church was designed to appeal to the growing community of foreign merchants and is the only Western building designated as a national treasure.
• Shimabara Castle and Village
Visit this charming, well-preserved, 16th-century town featuring a samurai village and a superbly reconstructed feudal castle. Tour the elegant, five-story white structure, now a historical museum.
The birthplace of porcelain manufacturing in Japan, Arita is a quaint mountain town with 400 years of history producing ceramic treasures. Tour a working kiln and shop for pieces to take home.
Originally built for Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century, this fan-shaped island and National Historical Site became a Dutch trading center, introducing beer, coffee and chocolate to Japan.
• Mt. Inasa
Nearly 1,100 feet high, this hill to the west of Nagasaki is known for its "10 Million Dollar Night View" - also spectacular in daylight - which you can see if you ride to the summit by cable car.
This fabled port on the Huangpu River has played a pivotal role in the history of modern China. One of seven treaty ports inflicted by the West on Imperial China, the city was famed for the Bund, an elegant section of riverbank lined with European mercantile houses and elegant mansions. Shanghai was also the cradle of the Chinese Communist Party, and it is here that the People's Republic created its vast commercial and industrial bastion. Shanghai is also one of the most fascinating cities on the face of the earth. Its streets are packed with individuals, cars and bicycles, weaving an extraordinary tapestry of humanity. ( translation: very crowded ) Yet serenity and beauty are always present, be it a class practicing early morning tai chi or the serene repose of the city's jade Buddha.
Shanghai's attractions are legendary, from exquisite temples and superb museums to the Bund's elegant 19th-century European architecture. The city is also your gateway to the Grand Canal and the legendary city of Suzhou.
This guided tour lasted nearly 10-hours, but was well worth it. Don't forget your camera and by all means, wear comfortable shoes; lots of walking. Our adventure begins at 7:00am as we boarded our motor coach portside and headed towards Old Town, the first part of Shanghai to be settled in the 11th century. As we walked along the narrow alleys and cobblestone lanes of this ancient city, our guide, Mary ( they choose "Tourist" names, rather have you try to pronounce their given Chinese name ) lead us past many historic buildings as well as gardens, temples, businesses, and restaurants.
Our favorite tour:
Our tour of Old Town is internationally known for one of the most lavish and finest Chinese gardens in the region. Yu Gardens was first established in 1559 by Pan Yunduan as a private residence for his aging parents. Over the last 450 years, the gardens have been restored and modified to what we say today. Stretching out over five acres the Gardens contain six general areas featuring peaks, cliffs, winding caves, ponds, a lotus pool, stunning pavilions and grand pagodas.
We then continued on to a tour of the Shanghai Museum. Located in the center of the People's Square, the Shanghai Museum is designed in the shape of an ancient cooking vessel called a ding. The building's round top and square base symbolizes the ancient Chinese perception of the world as "round sky, square Earth." Inside, the vast display of ancient Chinese art includes ancient coins, bronzes, ceramics, jades, paintings, seals, sculptures, furniture and more.
At 88 stories, this stunning skyscraper reaches almost 1380 feet tall. Jin Mao, which means "Golden Prosperity Building" in Chinese is a splendid combination of traditional Chinese architecture and modern technology. WE rode a high-speed elevator top the top for some great panoramic views of Shanghai.
Next, we stopped at the Jin Jiang Hotel for a delicious, lunch of classic Shanghai cuisine.
Our next destination was the Waima Silk Museum. Now, this one of those "learn then shop" stops. We did get a short but insightful presentation on how the silk worm produces those fine threads. Then, it was off to the showroom to find hundred's of pure silk items from scarves, shirts, skirts and dresses. Many "learn and shop" are tourist traps. This one was not. If you want to bring back home some very nice silk fabric wear, this was the place to buy it.
Famed for its exquisite and priceless cultural relics, the Jade Buddha temple was built in 1918 to house two Buddhas. Both carved out of solid white jade, the Recumbent Buddha measures a little over three feet long; the Seated Buddha measures over six feet high and is adorned with semi-precious stones.
Our tour concluded with a drive along the Bund, a stretch of riverfront that features dozens of late 19th century European-inspired architecture.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Shanghai, China
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city by population in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities , with a total population of over 23 million. Located in the Yangtze River Delta in East China, Shanghai sits at the mouth of the Yangtze River in the middle portion of the Chinese coast
• Yu Gardens
One of the most lavish and finest Chinese gardens in Shanghai. Established in 1559, the gardens feature five acres of spellbinding cliffs, winding caves and gorges, ponds, and glorious pavilions and pagodas.
• The Bund
Formerly the financial center of colonial Shanghai, The Bund stretches one mile along the bank of the Huangpu River and is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols of Shanghai.
• Jin Mao Tower
At 88 stories, this stunning skyscraper reaches almost 1380 feet tall. Jin Mao, which means "Golden Prosperity Building" in Chinese is a splendid combination of traditional Chinese architecture and modern technology.
• Jade Buddha Temple
The temple houses two rare cultural relics. Carved out of solid white jade, the Sitting Buddha measures over 6 feet tall and is adorned with semi-precious stones, the Recumbent Buddha measures 3 feet high.
• Pearl TV Tower
Situated on a field of grass, the entire 1,500-foot structure gives the appearance of pearls shining on a jade plate. The top of the tower contains shops, restaurants and breathtaking views of Shanghai.
• Shanghai Museum
Located in the center of Shanghai in the People's Square, the museum's eleven galleries include 120,000 pieces of bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, furniture, jade, ancient coins, seals and more.
• Suzhou/The Humble Administrator's Garden
Often called the "Venice of the East," Suzhou is renowned for its waterways and elegant gardens, many of which are UNESCO-designated, including the Ming Dynasty Humble Administrator's Garden.
• Water Village
Glide aboard your boat through the interwoven canals of historic Zhujiajiao and take in the distinctive style of its bridges, including the dragon-adorned Fangsheng Bridge, built in 1571.
Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is a city in contrast. If you every saw that fabled picture of sailing junks and sampans in crowded Hong Kong harbor, they are now gone, given way to progress as much of the harbor has been reclaimed and is now a large collection of high-rise hotels, condo's and office buildings. However, a bit of old Hong Kong still exists. You can still take a ride on sampan and enjoy fine dining on a floating restaurant.
Skyscrapers form a glistening forest of steel and glass, junks and sampans ply the busy harbor waters, and the green, dragon-crested hills of Kowloon beckon. Welcome to Hong Kong, one of the world's great travel destinations. Now a semi-autonomous region of China, Hong Kong - literally "Fragrant Harbor" - has lost none of its charm, excitement or exoticism. Modern skyscrapers and luxury hotels climb the slopes of Hong Kong Island. Narrow streets are crammed with noodle vendors, fortunetellers and bonesetters. The endless array of shops offer the visitor everything from hand-tailored suits and ancient porcelain to the latest consumer electronics. And everywhere more than seven million people are moving at a breathtaking pace in one of the world's great monuments to capitalism, commerce and enterprise.
The former Crown Colony has enough attractions to last a lifetime. To take in the entire spectacle, head to Victoria Peak for panoramic views. Enjoy lunch on one of the city's floating restaurants. Walk down one of the crowded streets to take the city's rapid pulse. And whether you think you are in the mood or not - shop. After all, you are in the duty-free capital of the world.
Our favorite tour:
We choose a full-day, moderately active tour of Hong Kong's highlights.
First we traveled to Peak Tram Station for an 8-minute tram ride to the summit of Victoria Peak, 1,805 feet above sea level to take in panoramic views of the island, harbor and Kowloon Peninsula.
We then arrived at The Kowloon Public Pier where we boarded a cruiser for a relaxing and breathtaking cruise through the glistening waters of Victoria Harbor. Enjoy a complimentary soft drink as you experience the beauty of the Hong Kong skyline from the air-conditioned comfort of the lower deck. Or indulge in the refreshing sea breeze from the open-air upper deck. We cruised Hong Kong's Eastern Harbor, passing the Central, Wanchai, Causeway Bay and North Point waterfronts as the boat's guide talked about the island's history and sights.
We re-boarded our motor coach for a drive down Wongneichong Gap Road which offers views of Happy Valley Racecourse and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, founded in 1884 to promote horse racing.
We then went on to Aberdeen, a picturesque village that is home to thousands of "water people" who live aboard their junks and sampans (flat-bottomed boats). We took a sampan for a short tour of the calm waters of the Inner Harbor among the countless boats there. Then came aboard one of the famous floating restaurants in Aberdeen to partake of a sumptuous, complimentary Chinese Dim Sum lunch with tea. ( great atmosphere and good food )
We traveled to Stanley Market located on southeastern Hong Kong Island. One of the world's great bazaars, this fabled market features a dazzling array of stalls and shops that sell handcrafted souvenirs and jewelry, fashions, cameras and toys at reasonable prices. Enjoy free time to browse, shop or just sightsee prior to visiting a local jewelry factory where you can observe skilled artisans at work handcrafting fine jewelry. ( this was just a tourist trap, but you could not avoid it ). We did peruse the stunning array of jewelry available for sale, bought nothing then got back on the bus for the drive back to Diamond Princess. With the exception of the jewelry stop, the tour was exceptional.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is one of the two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China, the other being Macau. It is situated on China's south coast and, enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is known for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbor. With a land mass of 426 sq mi and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
• Victoria Peak & Tram
Accessed via one of the world's oldest funicular railways, this peak (located 1805 feet above sea level) offers panoramic views of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbor and the Kowloon Peninsula.
• Harbor Cruise
The beauty of Hong Kong reveals itself during this magnificent cruise through the glistening waters of Eastern Harbour to the Central, Wanchai, Causeway Bay and North Point waterfronts.
• Stanley Market
One of the world's great bazaars, this fabled market features a dazzling array of stalls and shops that sell handcrafted souvenirs and jewelry, fashions, cameras and toys at reasonable prices.
• Lantau Island & Po Lin Monastery
Twice the size of Hong Kong Island, this sparsely populated island features a traditional fishing village as well as the popular Po Lin Monastery featuring the world's largest outdoor buddha.
An exotic blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures, this former colony features an ancient temple honoring a goddess, a sky tower offering stunning views and a cultural museum.
• Man Mo Temple
The smell of incense pervades this oldest and most famous of Hong Kong's temples, dedicated to Man, God of Literature and Mo, God of Martial Valor.
• Dim Sum
Enjoy the lively nature of a traditional dim sum meal, served by wait staff in mouthwatering small plates of dumplings, spring rolls and tarts.
Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon ) Vietnam
Over a quarter of a century has passed since the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon. Today, the name of this bustling metropolis on the Mekong River is Ho Chi Minh City. Yet, the essence of the city, a major trading center since the 18th century, remains unchanged. The air is filled with the cries of street hawkers and honking horns. Bicycles, motorbikes and automobiles fly down the boulevards at dizzying speeds. And everywhere, friendly faces and warm greetings meet you.
Motor scooters are the main means of transportation in Saigon. Thousands of people travel by scooter to and from work, shopping etc. We even say a family of 4 people on one scooter!
Our favorite tour:
The choice for our favorite tour in Vietnam was a challenge.
You could feel the pulse of Ho Chi Minh City as you visit Reunification Hall ( the former Presidential Palace of South Vietnam ) and Notre Dame Cathedral to the History Museum and the Jade Emperor Temple. Pause in front the French colonial Post Office for a photo, then head to a deluxe hotel restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City for a lunch buffet where both western and Vietnamese entrees will be available.
Enjoy traditional Vietnamese entertainment. Then see the art of lacquer ware-making, one of Vietnam's most popular exports. Take in a brief demonstration of the lacquering process and shopping completes this intriguing tour. A good choice unto itself.
If you want to do something different, more adventurous and more personal, a visit to the Mekong Delta is the one must-see tour to do.
You'll board an air-conditioned motorcoach for the 90-minute journey to My Tho Island in the Mekong Delta. Travel through the lush tropical countryside, passing small villages and verdant rice paddy fields.
Upon arrival at the Mekong Delta, we boarded a motor launch for a cruise along the winding canals that comprise much of this rich brown waterway system. The canals teem with river traffic, ranging from dugout canoes and barges to houseboats and ferries. Look for the eye symbol painted on the bows of the boats to protect them from evil spirits.
To access the smaller canals of My Tho Island, take a four-person sampan ride. Be sure to try the local fruits as you'll get a chance to sample a tropical assortment during your visit to My Tho, which is famous for its tropical fruit plantation that produce longans, grapefruits, jackfruits, bananas and mangoes.
Once on land at My Tho Island, we visited a traditional Delta home and learned Vietnamese traditions and Delta customs. See the family altar, a typical kitchen and the common areas. Often, there are three generations of one family living under one roof. During the walk through the village, enjoy entertainment by children singing traditional Vietnamese folk songs. The musical accompaniment includes a one-string Vietnamese instrument called a "dan bau." Afterwards, a traditional Mekong Delta cuisine is served at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant for lunch before leaving My Tho for the ship.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly named Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent republic of South Vietnam from 1955â€“75. Population: 6.651 million Area: 809 sq miles
• Notre Dame Cathedral
Admire the 19th-century red brick construction of the Roman-Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, then recall the historic end of the Vietnam War at Ho Chi Minh's stately Reunification Palace.
• Dong Khoi Street/Ben Thanh Market
The best places to shop in Ho Chi Minh City are bustling Dong Khoi Street, with its artisan stores and cafes, and Ben Thanh Market, a historic symbol of Saigon, full of souvenirs and tempting cuisine.
• National Museum of Vietnamese History
This French Colonial building houses a collection of Vietnamese relics, from prehistoric artifacts and carvings, to excavations of Han tombs, Buddhist statuary and everyday items.
• Cholon (Chinatown)
A predominantly Chinese district, Cholon was historically filled with brothels and opium dens. Today it is filled with restaurants, temples, jade stores and medicine shops.
• Mekong Delta
This waterway filled with nutrient-rich silt is the "rice basket" of Vietnam, growing a majority of the country's rice and produce, as well as a major rice exporter. Don't miss the floating markets.
• Home Visit
There's no better introduction to Vietnamese culture than to be welcomed into a traditional home, which often houses three generations. See the family altar and learn customs of the Mekong Delta.
• Cu Chi Tunnels
During wartime, this underground network of tunnels stretched to Cambodia and included meeting rooms, kitchens and first-aid units. Today it features a museum and model of bunkers and snares.
• Jade Emperor Pagoda
Just over 100 years old, this elaborately decorated Taoist pagoda, also known as the Tortoise Pagoda, features a spectacular statue of the Jade Emperor, revered as the god of the heavens.
Laem Chabang is your gateway to Bangkok. This enchanting city on the Chao Phraya River is a magical place where graceful dancers perform in shimmering silk gowns, temples with gold-leaf spires harbor priceless Buddhas and riverboats cruise a maze of canals. The only nation in Southeast Asia to escape colonial rule, Thailand offers a rich and ancient culture that flowered unhindered by Western influence. Proud and strongly nationalistic, the Thai people call their nation Muang Thai - "Land of the Free." Founded in 1782 by King Rama I, Bangkok is home to more than eight million people. The capital's proper name is Krung Thep - the "City of Angels."
Raye & I took a walking tour of the Grand Palace to explore its ornate and elaborate courtyards. The city's most spectacular landmark, the palace complex, once the residence of the Kings of Thailand, is now reserved for royal ceremonies and state occasions.
Beautifully situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the palace's major buildings, are crowned with glittering gold spires richly decorated with gilt and colored-glass mosaics. To say this was just an eye-opening experience would be understating its magnificent beauty and opulence.
We later visited Wat Trimitr, the Temple of the Golden Buddha, which houses one of the world's largest statues of the Buddha, carved from solid gold( 5.2 tons ) in the Sukothai style. In the 18th century, the Buddha was covered in plaster to protect it from invading armies. It was then "rediscovered" in 1957 when the statue was being moved by a crane. The plaster-covered Buddha slipped and landed in the mud, only to be found by a workman. Through a small crack in the plaster, he saw a sliver of gold and the magnificent work of art was revealed.
Bangkok's most famed landmark, this grand royal complex sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The former residence of the royal Siamese court, it's a masterful example of architectural design.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is the capital and the most populous city of Thailand. The city occupies 605.7 sq miles along the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million.
• Grand Palace
Bangkok's most famed landmark, this grand royal complex sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The former residence of the royal Siamese court, it's a masterful example of architectural design.
Admire striking temples such as Wat Phra Kaeo (known for its Emerald Buddha), Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn).
• Chao Phraya River Cruise
Dubbed "Venice of the East," float along Bangkok's canals for a majestic view of the city's vibrant shoreline. Glimpse Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn and Phra Prang, a 260-foot high pagoda.
• Wat Po
The oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Temple of the Reclining Buddha houses the third largest most awe-inspiring Buddha in Thailand as well as more than one thousand Buddha images.
• Jim Thompson's House
Discover an array of South East Asian artifacts at the former residence of American entrepreneur Jim Thompson, then immerse yourself in Thai culture within Vimanmek Mansion, the world's largest teakwood building.
• Vimanmek Mansion Museum
Visit the world's largest teakwood building, a restored former palace commemorating King Rama V and displaying everything from ancient artifacts of Thailand to his personal photographs and art.
The former capital of the Siamese kingdom, this Thai city feature several temples, palaces and museums as well as a UNESCO-designated historical park filled with ancient ruins.
• Nong Nuch Gardens
Give your camera a workout in this enchanting botanical park, which features trained elephants and some tigers (for photos only). Enjoy a presentation of traditional music, various Thai dances and more.
Singapore - the very name summons visions of the mysterious East. The commercial center of Southeast Asia, this island city-state of four million people is a metropolis of modern high-rise buildings, Chinese shop-houses with red-tiled roofs, sturdy Victorian buildings, Buddhist temples and Arab bazaars. Founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles of the fabled East India Company, the city is a melting pot of people and cultures. Malay, Chinese, English and Tamil are official languages. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are the major faiths. Singapore is an ever-fascinating island boasting colorful traditions, luxurious hotels and some of the finest duty-free shopping in the world.
Our flight(s) home did not leave until the day after we disembarked Diamond Princess. So, we booked a hotel in Singapore overnight. Decided to take the Princess post cruise day tour of Singapore that would,at the end of the tour drop us off at the hotel.
Time to explore some of Singapore's most treasured and beautiful cultural spots. Our day started with a drive through the streets of Singapore on our way to Mt. Faber, the highest part of the town, to view the magnificent panoramic views of the harbor, Sentosa Island and the downtown district. Our next stop was the National Orchid Garden, perched on a hill atop the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The National Orchid Garden displays the world's largest collection of orchids in full splendor. It is designed with four colored zones to match the seasons and houses over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids. Be sure to see the "dignitaries" orchids, such as Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Laura Bush and Princess Diana in the VIP (Very Important Plants) Garden.
Then on to Orchard Road, which might sound like the perfect place to pick apples, but it's actually Singapore's most fashionable shopping district. Then, we came face to face with Singapore's most popular tourism icon, The Merlion - a fountain sculpted with a lion's head and the body of a fish. The lion is representative of the animal that a Sumatran prince saw, and the fish pays tribute to Singapore's history as an ancient sea town. The next stop was the exotic quarter, known as Little India, where the scent of jasmine wafts through the air and stalls display colorful saris, dazzling jewelry, and local fruits and vegetables. We then stopped at a lovely Chinese restaurant located right in the middle of Little India. The delicious food was served family-style. Then, we're off to Chinatown, the original section where Chinese immigrants lived, worked and built a life. This native area is filled with quaint and cultural sights and wonderful traditional stores that you can browse.
Raye & Marty Trencher's list of must-see tourist attractions in and around Singapore
The Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian sovereign city-state (one of only three in the world, and the only one that is also an island country) off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
5 million people live in Singapore.
• Thian Hock Keng Temple/Chinatown/Sri Mariamman Temple
Shop and dine on authentic dishes in lively Chinatown after immersing yourself in Hindu culture at the 19th-century Sri Mariamman and Thian Hock Keng Temples, the oldest and most popular in Singapore.
• Botanic Gardens
The Gardens epitomize the tropical island's luxuriant parks. Spread over 52 hectares, they offer a combination of untouched primary forest and specialty gardens, including the National Orchid Garden.
• Raffles Hotel
See the hotel that's been immortalized in novels and history books. Visit the Long Bar, home of the famed "Singapore Sling" and the Bar & Billiard Room, with its "Tiger under the Billiard Table."
• Orchard Road
Welcome to the shopping and entertainment hub of the city. Named after the orchards that covered the area until the 19th century, today you could spend hours shopping, eating and people-watching.
• Jurong Bird Park
With over 8,000 residents representing 600 species, this bird sanctuary is the largest in the world. Don't miss the huge walk in aviaries (one with giant waterfall) in a lush jungle setting.
• Singapore River Cruise
Climb aboard a bumboat and sail along the river that was once the city's main commercial lifeline. Today, the modern world combines with the idyllic charm of the quays, a union that is Singapore.
• Little India & Sultan Mosque
Inhale the spicy aromas of Little India, strolling past awe-inspiring structures like Veeramakaliamman Temple, and admire the prayer hall and gilded domes of Masjid Sultan, the great Sultan Mosque.
• Singapore Zoo
Considered among the best in the world, the zoo sits in a rainforest environment. Its "open concept" offers the opportunity to fully experience the animals and be inspired by the wonders of nature.
Port Talks and Enrichment@ Sea Lectures
Our kudo's to Heather Hopkins for her insightful port talks and to Dr. John Freedman. for his destination lectures. If you want to get a full understanding of what you are about to find once ashore, don't miss these important events held throughout the cruise.
Our Captain, Execuitve Chef and Maitre d'Hotel
We had an opportunity to tour the bridge and chat with Captain Graham Goodway and to take a tour of the Galley with Executive Chef Nilo Palma and Maitre d'Hotel Jean-Francois Ferat. Captain Goodway joined the ship in Anchorage for the trans-pacific journey to Beijing, where we came aboard. He is most familiar and vastly experienced in cruising Asian waterways. Both Nilo and Jean-Francios put on one of the most entertaining and fun " cooking with passion" classes we ever attended.
Balcony Cabins. Some covered, some not
Raye & I choose a mini-suite on Dolphin deck, cabin 523. Mini-suite cabins do not have covered balconies. This shot we took from the bridge shows both the covered and non covered balcony cabins.
Twin beds that make up into a queen-size bed. Separate sitting area with sofa bed and desk. Balcony. Two televisions. Refrigerator. Walk-in closet. Bathroom with tub and shower. Approximately 354 square feet, including balcony.
Q. This cruise sounds expensive. Can I do this cruise on the "cheap" You sure can.
Book an inside cabin rather than a balcony or mini-suite and you'll save thousands. The food the same. The shows the same. Only the view or lack of, is different. Use your frequent flyer miles and you will save nearly $3000 a couple from most US airports. Skip the expensive shore excursions and go off "on your own" at every port of call. Take advantage of the free shuttles and limited your souvenirs. Get what you must have and leave the rest behind. Limit your onboard purchases of photo's, drinks and stay out of the gift shops. It can be quite a shock to your wallet, when you add up your receipts to see what you've spent over 17 days, both onboard and ashore. This trip can cost in excess of $10,000 a couple or a whole lot less if you are frugal.
When Raye & I go on a cruise, especially to a destination we have never been to, we go with the mindset that we're going to have a good time no matter what. There is little on the Diamond Princess that you wont find enjoyable, and if you don't find one particular thing interesting, fun, inspiring or educational, you are likely to find many other activities of interest that fits your fancy. Plus, the ports of call on this Grand Asia cruise vacation are spectacular.
According to Cruise Critic 84% of those who have cruised on Diamond Princess and wrote about it, liked it. The others had a mixed reaction with some parts of the overall cruise experience enjoyable, others no so much. That percentage of likes and dislikes is typical of every cruise ship experience. One cannot judge passenger expectations, nor the consistency of service from one departure to the next. So, we recommend you read all the reviews you want, but take them with a grain of salt, as your experience could be fantastic and your fellow passengers, housed in the cabin next to you could be something else altogether.
The weather was beautiful. We only had one day of cloudy skies and a bit of rain. Seas were relatively calm throughout the voyage. Temperatures ranged from the mid 70's to mid 90's and the pool deck was full with people swimming and sunning. If you didn't know it, you would of thought you were sailing in the Caribbean rather that out in the South China Sea. There is an indoor pool with a retractable glass enclosure so you could still be out at the pool during inclement weather. While there are plenty of activities to keep you busy throughout the ship, there were people just sitting around reading a book (many on their Kindle, Nook or IPad ) , playing cards or mahjong. Some were taking in a port/country lecture or up in the gym working out. But, frankly not many in the gym compared to the overall passenger count. As with every cruise, you can do as much as you want or as little as you like, it's all up to you. Having met dozens of people from all over the world, after reviewing their experience, it was apparent that this cruise was each individuals vacation and everyone got out of it whatever they wanted.
When we set out to write this review, we knew it had to be a comprehensive review of both the Diamond Princess and the Asian ports of call we visited. We hope you enjoyed reading our comments as much as we had writing them for you. We are always available to answer any questions, as well as help you plan that perfect cruise vacation. No matter if you destination is Asia, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii or South America we can introduce you to and direct you to some incredibly rewarding and money-saving cruise vacations. Our services are complimentary and so is our phone number. Just call us at 800.365.1445 or we can be reached at email@example.com.
Raye & Marty Trencher
Editor's and Publisher's
Cruise Traveler Magazine
More About Diamond Princess
Public Health and Safety
Each person entering a dining room, or food service facility onboard is expected to use the Puralator antibacterial gel for their hands. (this was prevalent throughout the ship, as well as re-embarking from ports). This is a necessary step to prevent the spread of Norovirus. These steps and other preventative measures were being taken.
If you visit Skywalkers and Club Fusion, you are most likely to not encounter a crowd. There are not a lot of young people ( 25 and under ) on this cruise, so these two venues were under utilized.
Coming & Going
Getting off and on the ship from port to port was a breeze. Make sure you keep your ship ID ( aka Cruise Card ) as well carry your photo ID (passport, driver's license, and whatever is required for that port call) with you when you disembark.
As far as disembarking goes, you will get colored luggage tags and a specific time to disembark. Assigned times are necessary to prevent a "rush" at the gangway. Otherwise it would be a free for all, so find a nice quiet corner in the Princess Theatre, read your Kindle, Nook, Tablet or magazine, and just relax. You'll get off the ship in good time. Also, be sure to sign up for the auto-payment function for your shipboard account. You can review and print your bill daily at kiosks located at the Passenger Services desk and can make adjustments if necessary. That way, there are no surprises at the end of your cruise. If you don't use auto-pay, the line to pay your bill will be long, very long.
Immigration and Passport Control in Singapore was not an easy process. The Voyager of the Seas arrived at the same time as the Diamond Princess. The facility is just not up to handle the processing of 5400 passengers from two ships at the same time. Expect long and slow lines. When you exit the secured area, the real challenge begins. The reception hall is too small. You will find yourself crowded together like sardines in a can, surrounded by dozens of greeters with signs held high. If you have a transfer to the airport, a hotel or booked an all day tour of Singapore, you will find it a challenge to find the right greeter, and the right bus. Don't blame the cruise line. They have no control over the process. This is clearly Singapore's problem. Be patient, dont get frustrated, just realize its not the most fun thing youll do on your cruise vacation.
Over the years getting online from a cruise ship has been inconsistent and slow. The ship's geographic location and satellite services dictate the speed and quality of service. If you expect that high-speed connection you have at home or the office, forget it. That said, we were able to get online right from our cabin, as WiFi is available in just about most places on the ship. Log in, and up load and down load speeds were adequate to check e-mail, or visit our favorite we sites. Caution: if you want to download or send pictures of your cruise to friends and family, make sure they are compressed or reduced in pixel size. Sending a single 4 meg photo will take forever and cost you a bundle.
You can also visit the ship's Internet Cafe. The facility on Diamond has,29 computer stations with flat screens and even a coffee/pastry shop. We never had to wait for a terminal. And rates can be as low as $.35 per minute, which is reasonable by shipboard standards. A technical manager is there to assist you with set up for your IPad, Tablet, Laptop or other device.
Various priced usage packages are available, however, If you can, don't use the Internet on board. $.35-50 a minute adds up quick, and it's not exactly high speed. You can find several Internet Cafes at each port. Service may cost you $1.50 to $2.00 for as much as 30 minutes. Prices ashore vary a lot, so you will need to research online at home for the best deals.
Should I Book a Balcony Cabin?
There are 748 cabins with a balcony. But, some of the balconies aren't covered (mini-suites on Dolphin Deck are totally exposed; cabins on Caribe Deck are partially exposed). A balcony provides an outdoor space for romantic star gazing, an intimate outdoor breakfast or dinner meal but smoking is not allowed.
Gratuities are automatically charged to your onboard account at $10.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- so it's up to you to tip them should you find their services to your liking.
The Diamond Princess is similar to Princess's Grand-class vessels, but with a distinct advantage. The Diamond is larger than the Grand-class vessels, yet carry fewer passengers relative to its size. As a result, it feels much roomier.
Despite its size, you will particularly find a small-ship atmosphere and an understated, yet elegant interior decor.
In addition to the standard dining in the International Dining Room with two traditional, assigned dinner seatings, this ships has four additional "themed" dining rooms for traditional or anytime seating. Each offer the same menus with a few additional selections that reflect the "theme" of each dining room. Extra cost dining options are the two specialty restaurants, Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse, which have a surcharge and require reservations. Sabatini's is a separate fully decorated venue with great Italian cuisine. Skip the Steakhouse, nothing special there. The pizzeria, grill, patisserie, and ice cream bar offer casual daytime dining and snack options. A typical British pub lunch is served in the Wheelhouse Bar. The Horizon Court buffet and complimentary room service are available 24 hours. Ultimate Balcony Dining is offered to passengers with balcony accommodations.
Cabins: More than 70% of accommodations offer an ocean view and, of those, 78% include private balconies. Even the least expensive inside categories have ample storage and a small sitting area with chair and table. Cabins that sleep third and fourth passengers are available. If you have a large family consider the Family Suites on Dolphin Deck, which sleep up to six in two self-contained staterooms that connect through a living room. Typical stateroom features are safes, refrigerators, hair dryers, and bathrobes for use during the cruise. Bathroom toiletries include shampoo, lotion, and bath gel. Suites: Suites have two TVs, a sitting area, dining area, wet bar, large walk-in closet, and separate whirlpool bathtub and shower. Mini-suites have a separate sitting area, two TVs, walk-in closet, and a combination bathtub-shower.
Twenty-seven staterooms are designed for wheelchair accessibility.
© 2013 Cruise Traveler Magazine, Travel Direct Corporation