It has been more than a few years since our last cruise with Princess or P&O and we were looking forward to sailing on a brand new vessel. This was also out first experience with a Grand Class ship, the previous Princess vessel being the Sun-Class Dawn Princess. Living in Southern California, Mexico is what it is. We have traveled extensively throughout the region, so the ship herself was more appealing than the itinerary.
Pier Embarkation - The parking lot reserved for Princess Passengers is actually not at the pier, but nearby next to the Lane Victory. On April 17th, there were no shuttle buses running, so be prepared for a walk to Berth 93. The parking area directly adjacent to the terminal is reserved for Royal Caribbean passengers. Check-in was fast and efficient, with no queue at the Platinum desk. Platinum members also are afforded the added benefit of not having to wait in the security line.
First Impressions - The Diamond Princess is huge and new, but once onboard feels decidedly small, and quite honestly unspectacular. While it was obvious that construction and materials were of high quality, the first impressions of the public areas are average, as if the ship came out of the same Princess Cruises playbook that built the Dawn Princess. A small atrium area, low ceilings in the dining room and narrow entrances to the Princess theater contributed to the impression. The ship does not have the wow factor one might find on RCI's Voyager class ships, there is no old world elegance of a Holland America Ship. The sophisticated style of Celebrity was missing; even Carnival blasts with over the top in your face Las Vegas glitz. All week long we kept searching for a word or phrase to describe the Diamond Princess, and the best we could come up with was decidedly average.
The Cabin - Overall the mini Suite offers a lot of bang for the buck. The Suite was large and had a good floor plan. The cabin steward did a good job of keeping our room neat and tidy. On the negative side, we found it odd that there are no closet doors, especially in a suite where one might be inclined to have guests. The Veranda is open above with no privacy from prying eyes on decks above, the elements, or the fine spray of the midnight pool deck power wash. Lastly, I have to agree about the poor design of the tub shower. It is difficult to shower if you are over six feet tall.
Food and Beverage - Dining in the Restaurant of you choice every night in itself sounds like a good idea, giving the passenger the freedom to choose where when and with whom they wish do dine should add to the cruise experience. Unfortunately, onboard the Diamond Princess the concept in its current form just doesn't work. The impression is that each venue offers something different. a Chop House or Asian. Italian or Southwestern. In actuality each restaurant is nothing more than an extension of the main dining room with a supplemental menu offering a few unique items. Customers are seated in banks of four to six tables, and one must wait for each table to finish each course before being served the next. The four venues really didn't seem like restaurants in that the guests chatted across tables as is typical for a ships dining room. I really enjoy chatting with other passengers, however if you are trying to sell the concept as being similar to land based resorts, it just doesn't work. One would never chat across three or four tables at your favorite steak house. With the exception of the prime rib from the cart in Sterling's, the specialty dishes ranged from inedible to unremarkable, As a suggestion, stay away from the specialty items, and order from the regular menu. With respect to the upscale, up charged specialty restaurant, Sabatini's, I have but two words - Stay Away! Save your cover charge for the specialty dining rooms on Celebrity, RCI, Holland America. Finally, the casual buffets suffered from the same poor quality. Jelly doughnut filling is not strawberry jam, French fries do not make a good breakfast potato, hot dogs rolled in pastry are not the same as Italian sausage, Squid stir-fry does not make a good taco filling. enough said.
Entertainment - Excellent.
Shore Excursions - The program was well organized, and seemed to offer a wide range of activities to suit all tastes. There seems to be more eco-adventure excursions as at RCI, which seemed to be very popular.
The Lotus Spa - Brought to you by our friends at Steiner, the Lotus Spa was in keeping with offerings on all newer ships. The staff was friendly and accommodating, the treatments were good to excellent and fairly priced. The only drawback was in the details concerning the thermal suite. This area is almost identical to the Persian Gardens on Celebrity's millennium class vessels, but unfortunately it is located directly underneath the basketball court, and where the Persian Garden is softly lit, the thermal suite is very bright. The lap pool on the other hand is a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of the other outdoor pools, was protected from the wind, and was off limits to children.
Disembarkation - Platinum members had use of a private departure lounge while waiting for disembarkations. The morning Los Angeles Times was a welcome surprise. We did find it odd that Suite guests were not disembarked in the first groups as is common with other lines. F.I.S. formalities were painless. Again no shuttle buses to the remote parking area, so be prepared for the walk to your car.
In summary, in my opinion Princess has lost their way. Nothing that we experienced is un-fixable, but there is a desperate need for a complete brand make-over. Princess touts a 165 year history, and markets itself as 'affordable luxury'. In practice, at least on Diamond Princess, mediocrity is the order of the day.