This was our first cruise, and we chose Diamond Princess because it is one of the few ships that cruise to Alaska from Seattle (most depart from Vancouver). If you take this cruise, spend a day or two in Seattle before or after the cruise. We enjoyed visiting Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium, Nordstrom's, the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project.
Overall our experience on Diamond Princess was excellent. Our group of nine included children aged 10-13 and adults aged 45-75. We booked three mini-suites with balconies (sleeps four, with choice of 2 twin or 1 queen bed, fold out sofa and bunk bed that drops down from the ceiling). Our suites were adjoining and connected via the balconies. I expected the cabins to be cramped but we had plenty of room. Definitely go for a balcony room on this cruise! The scenery is fabulous in spots, and you can frequently see humpback whales surfacing near the ship.
We booked the 6 pm traditional dinner seating in the International Dining Room which allowed our family to get together each day for dinner after going our separate ways on board ship or at ports. At dinner, the food was very good to excellent, exceeding my expectations for cruise fare. We generally ate breakfast and lunch at Horizon Court, the 24 hour buffet, which was overall of good quality, although at peak times there can be a line. Burgers at the Trident Grill were good. The pizza place was not great, and the ice cream parlor has an additional charge. We also tried afternoon tea at the Pacific Moon. The tea experience was a bit disappointing (for example, there was no choice of tea, and it was not served in individual tea pots), it is NOT comparable to high tea that you might be served in a nice hotel.
A note on "dressing for dinner." There were two "formal" nights on our 7 night cruise. However, although some people arrived in tuxedos and gowns, you really don't need to. A dark suit and tie for men and a nice dress for a woman is very appropriate. On other nights, dress was "smart casual" which appears to be anything except shorts, t shirts, and jeans. So, a pair of khaki pants and golf shirt for a man, and a slacks/skirt outfit for a woman would be fine.
If you are new to cruising like we were, beware, you will eat too much! Luckily there is a well-equipped fitness center on board, jogging track, and also some free exercise classes (there is an additional $10 per class charge for yoga, pilates, and spinning). To get a treadmill at peak times (7 am -10pm) you need to reserve a day ahead.
Our kids really enjoyed the kid's program. They joined the Princess Pirateers, for kids aged 10-13. The kids were well entertained with crafts, science activities, games, Playstation, juke box, dances, and just hanging out together. The kids room is generally open daily from 9am-12pm, 2-5pm and 7-10pm (thus mealtimes are on your own). While not a problem for lunch, this generally meant that our 6 pm dinner seating conflicted with the kids program starting at 7 pm since dinner usually ran to 7:30 pm.
Activities enjoyed by the adults in our group included country line dancing lessons (bring your boots!! there is a country western hoe down once a week in Club Fusion), the casino, stage shows in the Princess Theater and comedy acts in various lounges at night. We especially enjoyed "Bert" the zany piano player who entertained in the Crooners lounge almost nightly, with sing-a-longs and requests. If you order a martini here you may be treated to a special "shake" from your server!! Oh yes, there is lots of opportunity for drinking on board, and note that while food is included in your cruise fare, drinks are not free (and 15% service charge is added on to the price).
One of the surprises on our trip was the weather. We had NO RAIN and it was in the 70's most days. We generally needed nothing warmer than a fleece jacket or sweatshirt, except for the morning we cruised down Tracy Arm, which was rather cold and windy. You could use a windbreaker and a cheap pair of gloves. One day was actually hot and I had to sit in the shade on deck! There are something like 9 swimming pools on the ship, but only a few of the small ones are reserved for adults. So expect the pools to be filled with kids!
A few words about the ports and cruise excursions. In Alaska, we stopped at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchican. These towns survive principally on tourism, and are filled with jewelry stores and souvenir shops (most appeared to be tourist traps). We are not into shopping, but if you are, you might want to attend the "shopping talks" given by the ship's shopping advisor. If you have the money for excursions (which tend to be quite expensive), I would recommend either the scenic flights (such as helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau), or active adventure type activities that get you off the beaten track and away from town. For instance, we enjoyed canoeing to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, and several of our group went snorkeling in Ketchican. Also recommended in Ketchican is the Sportfishing and Wilderness Dining. Steer clear of most of the town tours (although we did enjoy the "Original Streetcar" in Skagway). If you like museums, you should visit the Alaska State Museum in Juneau (about a 15 minute walk from the ship). There is an extensive exhibit on Alaskan native culture, an interesting eagle nest diorama, and exhibits on Alaska history from Russian settlement through present. A popular excursion in Skagway is the White Pass Scenic Rail trip, but note, it is a four hour train ride, and there is no food on the train.
We also stopped in Victoria, Canada, but arrived at night and only for a short while (7 pm-midnight). This was nothing to write home about. One of our party enjoyed the "pub tour." Some of us tried the "ghosts and graveyards" tour, which, apart from a visit to an interesting Chinese cemetery, was pretty dreadful. The last graveyard we went to was in a park frequented by derelicts. In retrospect, we probably should have tried the Butchart Gardens tour, or just stayed on the ship. I would have liked to see the Royal British Columbia Museum, but since we were there at night, it was not open.
Disembarking in Seattle was fairly organized but we had to wait about an hour after leaving our stateroom. You will be assigned a color and number code and you have to wait for your color/number to be called. They expect you to be out of your stateroom by 9am so they can be cleaned, so there is a crowd of people hanging out on deck and in the lounges. The kids got pretty restless through this process. Once we got off the ship, customs and luggage claim was a breeze, but flagging a taxi into town was a free-for-all. It might would probably help to have the Princess transfers.
Overall a great trip, and we would cruise again in the future. Although we were very satisfied with the Diamond Princess, we might try Royal Caribbean next time. Hope this helps your cruise planning!