I had the pleasure of sailing on the Diamond Princess this month on the 14-day Grand Japan cruise.
The Diamond Princess, owned and operated by Princess Cruises, is not quite a mega-ship (Carnival just announced its new mega-ships will hold 7,000 people), but it’s still pretty decent-sized at 952 feet in length (just 94 feet shorter than the New York’s Chrysler Building) with capacity for 2,706 passengers and 1,100 crew.
This ship underwent a $30 million-dollar refurb just last year, getting a new lick of paint and some upgrades, such as a new 8,800 square foot Japanese-style spa where you can get naked with your fellow passengers à la traditional Japanese bathing etiquette for an extra charge of $15 per person for a 90-minute session.
Like many large cruise ships, you need a map to navigate your way around and will find a number of dining areas, bars and lounges, pools and jacuzzis, an outdoor movie screen, a gym and a sports area with a basketball court and mini-golf.
After 14-days, we were still getting lost and there were parts of the ship that we never made it to (such as the Sports Club or Whisky Bar) or didn’t quite spend enough time in (Skywalkers Nightclub was in fact a great observation area during the day with gorgeous views off the back of the boat). With a boat like this, the journey is just as exciting as the destination.
The Grand Japan itinerary had 8 ports of call and 5 sea days (including day cruising through the Shiretoko Peninsula) – read more about the itinerary and ports of call. This is certainly not the cheapest itinerary – 14 nights cost on average $164 per person per night but it’s worth it for a cruise that’s slightly off the well-worn cruise path.
I enjoyed this ship and loved this cruise. The food, the destinations, the entertainment, the length, the balance of destinations versus sea days. The staff could smile more – the waitstaff in particular really do look like they hate their jobs. But I was smiling enough for all of them.
- Copious amounts of food, aside from the three specialty restaurants (Sabatini’s, Kai Sushi, Sterling Steakhouse) and the occasional lobster served at the grill – read more about the food on the Diamond Princess
- All-you-can-eat ice cream at the ice cream station – soft-serve, hard scoops and milkshakes on request, including matcha green tea flavour, natch
- Unlimited iced tea, filtered water, coffee, tea (caffeinated and herbal varieties, as well as Japanese green tea)
- All entertainment, including shows and lounge acts – there were some amazing performances including gorgeous electric violinist Jane Cho, the hilarious David Aiken comedy juggler, the English Diane Kichijitsu who performs Japanese comic storytelling (Rakugo) – as well as onboard karaoke (of course) and the standard singing and dancing productions in the main theatre
- Activities and enrichment programmes including a cooking demonstration and tour of the galley, ukulele lessons, dance classes, art lectures, beginners Japanese classes, trivia nights and so on
- An open-air cinema on the top deck – deck chairs are arranged for you and you’re given a blanket so you can keep snug and popcorn delivered to your deck chair
- Access to the spa (steam room and sauna) and fitness center (including weights and cardio machines and the best video game-stationary bike I’ve ever seen)
- Access to the 4 pools (1 of which is indoors, 1 of which has a lap machine, and 2 of which are for adults only) and 8 jacuzzis dotted around the top decks – you could always manage to find one which was completely empty
- Sports deck activities such as basketball, mini golf, and shuffleboard
- Some gym classes, such as stretching and core class
- Champagne and canapés at the Captain’s Welcome Reception, plus the odd glass of champagne at the art auctions
- Room service – in case you need extra food and can’t be bothered to go to any of the dining rooms to get it
- Soda, alcohol, and specialty coffee drinks, such as espresso, cappuccino or iced coffee
- Access to Izumi, the Japanese-style onsen/spa
- Access The Sanctuary, a private adults-only deck in a prime location at the front of the ship – at $20 for half-day and $40 for full-day access, it was empty for most of the cruise
- Certain gym classes, such as spinning, Zumba, and Pilates
- Spa services such as massages
For cruise enthusiasts, the below will be old hat. But for those of you who are new to cruising, below are some points to note, some of which may be specific to Princess Cruises:
You can bring 1 bottle of your own wine per person on board at no charge. If you take this to the dining room, you will be charged a $15 corkage fee. If you drink this at the buffet (for dinner, for example), there is no fee. (You can buy reasonably-priced wine at all convenience stores in Japan, starting at $3 for some Japanese plonk. Of course, we had to try!) Any additional bottles are apparently charged regardless. They say they will take any additional bottles of alcohol you bring on board from the ports and give back to you when you depart, but not sure if they actually bother. (They didn’t confiscate the sake I bought at the very last port.)
On Princess, there’s an automatic charge of $11.50 per person for gratuity. If you’re really cheap/generous or happy/unhappy with the service, you can contact someone somewhere on board the ship to get this adjusted. As I imagine most people do, we paid it. We racked up $161 per person in gratuities for our 14-day cruise, which effectively used up the $140pp of onboard ship credit we received when booking. On well, with a crew to passenger ratio of something like 1 crew to every 2.5 passengers, and the crew do work hard – even if they rarely smile!
Photos are really expensive on cruise lines at the best of times. On this cruise, an 8×10 taken on formal night will set you back $24.99 per print. If you want the digital file as well, it’s additional $9.99 – so you get the print and the original digital file for the jaw-dropping price of $34.98 – each.
They also have a really over-complicated deal which I don’t think was advertised (or if it was, it was probably too hard to follow) – buy 1 print at $24.99 AND a Princess thumb drive for $14.99, then get 1 free print, then pay only $29.99 for each additional digital file. (But you won’t get the prints; these will just get thrown away.) I wish I weren’t such a sucker for photos, as I begrudgingly dropped over $600 for the memories. But I much preferred Royal Caribbean’s option to buy the digital file of every single one of my cruise photos for something like $400. Not sure if Royal Caribbean offer this on all cruises, but as a photo fanatic, dare I say I would choose Royal Caribbean over Princess purely for this reason?
Beware of the extras
Cruises feel all-inclusive, but there are a lot of sneaky extras that can add up if you’re not careful. Make sure you’ve budgeted for your additional costs – or be prudent when it comes to the extras. They make it far too easy to spend money with the simple flash of your plastic cruise card, so if you’re on a budget, keep an eye on the excursions, those refills on the soda, the daily cappuccino or the bottled water in your fridge.
Beware of the upsells
While it can get exhausting to feel like you’re constantly being sold to, it’s better to be in the right frame of mind and just expect it. Staff will happily offer you a cappuccino at dinner and you’ll be billed for it, when a black coffee with milk is “free”. You may win a “free” piece of “artwork” (poster) from the Art Gallery but then have to pay money for the frame and to ship it to yourself. You can arrange a “free” photo session at the “Platinum Studio” for artistic black and white photos but it will set you back over $300 for a single print (though it is archivally printed in the USA, of course). But at the same time, no one will bat an eyelid if you sit at one of the bars and ask for a water or have no drinks whatsoever.
To me, a cruise is perfect as a supplement to a host of other holidays. It’s relaxing and easy and fits the bill for a certain kind of break, such as a family holiday where you have a range of ages and interests.
We booked the 14-day Grand Japan cruise on the Diamond Princess – Roundtrip from Tokyo (Yokohama) – through UK-based Cruise Connections. Cost of the cruise excluding flights and extras was $2,300 per person with $140pp onboard credit.