After a number of recent cruises on Celebrity, mostly on Millennium class ships, we returned to Princess for a one-week Mexican Riviera cruise on Diamond Princess in early February, 2005. We were once Princess regulars-in fact our Captain's Circle logbook begins with a Princess forbear, the Sitmar Fairwind way back in 1976. We've also cruised on Cunard, NCL, RCL and Holland America.
Design and Layout
Before the cruise we thought we'd find the Diamond simply too big. That didn't happen. The ship's designers have done a good job of breaking up the spaces so things don't seem overwhelming. Even so, there are some "you can't get there from here" issues that are befuddling. Traffic flow gets pretty strange in a few places. But, while there are always some passengers who are eternally confused on any ship, it is possible to get the hang of the Diamond within a day or so if you work at it.
I kept getting turned around on the Lido deck when emerging from the midships elevators or stairs, located between the indoor and outdoor pools. From the elevator landing the similar look and color schemes of the pools got me going the wrong way a few times. Something as simple as different primary colors in each space would have helped a lot.
The other pretty obvious design flaw is the food service area in the buffet restaurant. Make no mistake, I think scramble lines are a great way to go, but they only work when there's sufficient space to scramble. The best such setup we've seen was on the Brilliance of the Seas, where there's ample room to maneuver your way to whatever type of food you'd like to grab. On the Diamond, the cramped quarters render the scramble concept largely ineffective and at peak periods, claustrophobic.
We didn't visit other rooms, so our impressions are only of our own cabin-a standard balcony on Aloha deck. We liked the design very much, and thought that the "around the corner" closet and bathroom entrance was a very good feature. The balcony was pleasant and we thought the overall cabin design was just fine. We did miss the always full water pitchers found on some other lines. We had to call room service for pitchers of ice water, which was a bit of a nuisance. Our cabin steward was very good, on a par with what we've come to expect on the better popular priced lines.
This was our first experience with "Personal Choice" dining and we became fast fans of the concept, and consider it a big plus for Princess. This scheme fits perfectly with our personal preferences in two ways. First, we're late diners. We eat no earlier than 7:30 or 8:00 at home, and we always take second seating on cruises. This means that getting a table at the personal choice restaurants was no problem, since we always showed up after the crowds had departed. We made reservations some nights, but it wasn't really necessary except at Sabatini's. Second, we tend to prefer a table for two (or the size of our party). We've never considered dinnertime the place to make fabulous new friends any more than we'd consider a good restaurant a place to sit down randomly at a large table of people. At the same time, we're not shy and we're far from antisocial. We never fail to make new friends on a cruise, and sometimes lasting friends. This cruise was no exception, and being able to dine with these friends when and where we wanted to was a big plus.
We never ate dinner in the main dining room. We did eat some lunches there. We ate in all five of the specialty restaurants, including Sabatini's. Overall, the food was good, but we felt it wasn't as consistently good as on Celebrity. There were some dishes that were real winners, such as the rack of lamb and the osso bucco. All the food in Sabatini's was excellent. Generally, the beef was just OK, as were the salads and soups.
The four "standard" specialty dining rooms are very pretty places where, as most people know, you can choose from either the main dining room menu for the evening, or the set specialty menu for the individual restaurant. In some cases this makes for a strange juxtaposition, especially in the Pacific Moon restaurant, where the dinner rolls on the table were a bit of a surprise, and where the two menus seemed quite the odd couple. We decided to stick with the specialty choices, which turned out to be not such a great idea. The spring rolls were basically awful, and the stir fry was a bland chop suey-type affair. Our neighborhood strip mall Chinese restaurant has nothing to fear from the Pacific Moon, although it must be said that our neighborhood strip mall Chinese restaurant is a very good one.
Making the rounds of the other restaurants, we found the Sterling Steak House had a very good atmosphere, but the beef was just OK, and not always cooked as ordered. The "South of the Border" Santa Fe dining room was quite good, and worth the trip just for the excellent guacamole. The Vivaldi room featured the osso bucco, which was an excellent choice.
Our evening at the surcharge Sabatini's restaurant was a highlight. All the food was well above average. The only negative is that they serve way too much of it. The variety is impressive, but this is one of those situations where "less is more." Instead of automatically serving all of the appetizers and pastas to everyone, they might be better off letting people choose as they go along. The service was very good, but not at the level of the specialty restaurants on Millennium class ships.
If you're a wine drinker, you should note that if you order a bottle and don't finish it, it will be put away for you and can be retrieved from any other dining room. This is an excellent service feature.
Finally the buffet at the Horizon Court was, well, a buffet. Unremarkable food was made less appetizing by the cramped food service quarters mentioned earlier. The main dining room is a better bet for lunch where even something as simple as a composed salad was more rewarding than the scramble line.
And here's the best food news of all: my wife and I both went on diets at the new year. By the time we left for the cruise I'd already lost 15 pounds. After a week on the ship and another week in Palm Springs we returned home to discover. . .no change! We both stayed at the same weight over two and a half weeks of vacation, which we felt was a real moral victory. Now it's back to the serious weight-loss grind for both of us. But it's a bit easier knowing we're starting where we left off.
I've all but given up on "production shows" on every cruise line. They're usually poorly conceived and rely on form over content to please their audiences. I stuck my head in for one of them and found the usual belching stage smoke and dancers trying their best in what was essentially a lost cause. I left after five minutes.
Much more successful were the individual acts, especially the comedians. There were three or four comics on this cruise, and many of their performances were in the very pleasant Explorer's Lounge on deck 7. A smaller, cabaret-style venue, this place is perfect for a drink and a comedy or magic set, and we enjoyed the place very much. I wish more ships had this kind of entertainment in a more intimate setting. This sort of atmosphere was standard on the older, smaller ships. It's a real plus for Princess that they've resurrected the idea on some of the biggest ships afloat.
One night in the main theatre featured an American songbook set by a very good vocalist called Tony B. No, not that Tony B., but a darn good performer who can really hold a stage in the old Al Martino/Jerry Vale style. We thought he was excellent, and the show band really did justice to his top-notch arrangements.
Officers / Cruise Staff
The Diamond features a very pleasant cruise staff and some wonderful deck officers. We'd sailed with Captain Bernard Warner before on the Dawn, and it was great to see him again. He's a warm, energetic Brit with a wry sense of humor who handles his "social" obligations with great comfort and grace. His best one liner came when he was talking about taking command of the brand new Diamond in Japan last year. When Mitsubishi handed over the keys they also gave him the results of the sea trials. He said that he did a little math and realized that "Basically, this thing gets 63 feet to the gallon." We also had a chance to chat with Senior First Officer Jon Paul Bryant who's an equally delightful guy.
The daily activities are about what you'd expect: wine tastings, napkin folding, drink making, crafts and the like. They also hold computer classes in the wedding chapel (is there a message here?). Except for an introductory class or two, there's a fee for each class. Most classes center around Photoshop, which is a program I use regularly. I stuck my head in a few times and my impression was that the instructor was very competent. Princess also offers enrichment lectures of various kinds at no cost, and I found the two talks on genealogy especially useful. The internet café is large and pleasant, and features the best coffee on the ship (extra charge). Connect time is 35 cents a minute, but is waived for Platinum and Elite Captain's Circle members. As is typical on ships, the service is very slow.
But best of all, we made some new friends at the first trivia contest, and over the week our crack team won four or five times, which means that we returned home with a bagful of travel clocks, luggage straps, passport wallets and luggage tags. We could open a Princess logo merchandise store.
You're almost certain to have a very good time aboard the Diamond. The ship is new, lovely, well-fitted and the spaces are well proportioned so they don't seem cavernous or overcrowded. The cabins are ample, the staff is great, the service is good, there's some entertainment for everybody, and the food is serviceable. Have fun.