We booked a 17 day cruise, which was actually two back-to-back cruises from Yokohama. Prior to joining the cruise, we spent 3 days in Tokyo. With hindsight, we might have been better with one cruise then time in Kyoto, as the menus and entertainment were basically repeated after 8 days.
Diamond Princess has been given a Japanese style make-over but is still a really nice ship. The original Crown Grill is now a Japanese speciality restaurant and about half of the passengers were from Japan. Unlike its sister ship, Sapphire Princess, there is no International Café and we missed the Any-time Dining offered by the rest of the fleet. Japanese food was always available, to cater for everybody’s taste.
With Australians being the next largest group, we sometimes wondered which country we were circling. UK and USA passengers were minority groups.
Rough weather delayed our start by one day and, sadly, the firework display in Kumano was cancelled.
As independent travellers, we were frustrated by the lack of information provided for each port. On all previous cruises we had found the nightly port briefing summary sheet useful but virtually nothing was provided.
The “port experts” (Wendy and Dave Upton) were both hopeless and failed to answer most of our questions. Wendy had a scatter-gun approach to her presentations and Dave’s were largely motherhood information. Before stopping at the port called Aburatsu (Miyazaki), they said that the city was just 10 km from the port but it was actually an 80 minute train journey. None of the Princess trips go there and, fortunately, we did not attempt it.
Entertainment was average but we enjoyed the Bravo show (both weeks), which is one of the best we have seen on our many Princess cruises. The Born to be Wild production was also good, as they managed to use the big LCD display
sensibly. Princess have economised by using singers from their production shows to give a solo performance in the theatre and there was very little alternative entertainment in the Explorers lounge in the evening.
Service and food were consistently good but cut backs are more noticeable on each cruise. Lobsters on formal nights are so small that you need two and wine prices are high for very average wine.
The itinerary was a bit variable, with several interesting ports and a few with very little of interest. We found the trains and trams easy to use and the locals were extremely helpful, especially in the tourist offices.
The two stops in Busan meant that we had to go through the immigration formalities twice, which was a bit tedious, but we liked the town.
With the August heat (30 degrees C) and rain we were glad that we had not opted for a balcony. We find the Princess beds to be very comfortable but the duvets are far too warm and the ship is invariably too cold.
Overall, it was a really enjoyable cruise but the lack of port information was clearly avoidable and we were glad we had done some earlier research and come prepared.
We found there was no need to opt for any of the over-priced Princess excursions as we could reach the same sights independently. Using the Princess shuttle bus is, however, generally unavoidable, and the 10 to 20 USD charged sometimes seemed a bit steep for these short trips.
The menu and entertainment for the second cruise was basically a repeat of the first, even though 900 passengers stayed on.
Yokohama is an attractive and accessible port with easy access to the train station and buses. It was also our embarkation port and we found it to be very efficient.
We caught the number 8 bus, which goes to the Sankekin garden. It is a 15 minute ride and costs 220 Yen. Entry to the garden was 700 Yen, which seemed very reasonable. Within the garden you can participate in a tea ceremony, which was a new experience for us (cost 500 Yen).
The gardens are laid out with an inner and outer garden. They cover quite a large area and are landscaped with many ponds and bridges. The buildings mainly date back to 1919.
China Town is a 15 minute walk from the ship and well worth a visit. An interesting place to visit around lunch time when they are busy making dim sum. We tried their cha sui pork but it was very disappointing, having too much veg and not enough pork.
We did not have time to go on the big wheel as it was quite a long walk from where we were docked. However, the gardens along the port are well kept and we passed the tall tower.
Nagasaki city is easy walking distance from the port and a one day tram pass costs just 500 Yen. There is plenty to see and do in the city and the sites are easy to reach by tram. The shipyard where the Diamond and Sapphire Princess were built is nearby but not open to visitors.
Having visited the Peace Park and Nagasaki museum on a previous trip, we decided to go to Glover Gardens then on to the Inasa Ropeway (cable car).
Glover Garden is just 10 minutes walk from the port. It is a pleasant collection of relocated European style homes built for foreign traders and diplomats when Japan was first opened to the world. It is built on the hill side but there are escalators to make it easier to reach. Entry was 610 Yen.
The old Catholic Church, constructed in 1864 during the Edo Period, is close to Glover Gardens. The church was designed to appeal to the growing community of foreign merchants and is the only Western building designated as a national treasure.
The Inasa Ropeway was a short tram ride away and gave us panoramic views of the island of Kyushu. The return trip costs 1230 Yen and cars runs every 20 minutes. The “Spectacle” bridge is of interest, as is Shinchi China Town, if time permits.
On leaving Nagasaki, we passed Hashima, which is also known by its nickname “Gunkanjima” (Battleship Island) due to its unique silhouette. Gunkanjima flourished as a coal mining community from 1890. In 1974 when the coal mine closed, the island became completely deserted.