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Cruise Ship Review

Diamond Princess - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

When this ship was launched in winter 2004 we were impressed. On a return visit we were even more impressed. The Diamond debuted as the Princess fleet's biggest, at 116,000 tons (sister ship Sapphire Princess also holds that title) and the first cruise ship built in Japan in more than a decade. This is one of our favorite ships in the Princess fleet and here are some of the reasons why:

Personal Choice Dining. There is one main dining room featuring set seating at 5:45 and 8 p.m. for those who like traditional service; in response to demand, Princess recently expanded to include the Vivaldi restaurant (for the first seating only). For those who want more flexibility, there are four, intimate, themed venues where you can dine fee free any time between 5:30 and 10 p.m.

Club Fusion is all about high tech with big high definition TV screens and a state-of-the-art sound system and a decent dance floor, and really redefines the concept of secondary show lounge. It's also the perfect venue for games shows and a redefined talent show called Princess Idol.

Skywalkers Nightclub, the sky-high disco introduced on the Grand-class ships, has been expanded and redesigned here to include more space and a balcony overlooking the aft pool.

The huge Internet Cafe on Diamond has, count them, 29 computer stations with flat screens and a coffee/pastry shop. It's rare to have to wait for a terminal. And rates are 35 cents per minute, which is cheap by shipboard standards.

The large number of cabins with balconies -- 748. Even though some of the balconies aren't exactly private (mini-suites on Dolphin Deck are totally exposed; cabins on Caribe Deck are partially exposed) they provide a wonderful space for stargazing, smooching, intimate outdoor meals and smoking.

We are even fond of the atrium on this vessel, a proud focal point including Art Nouveau glass-and-brass designs on the atrium elevators. The ship's shops are located on two decks and the atrium also boasts bars including the ship's martini bar, as well as the purser's desk. At only three decks the space feels like an upscale Parisian shopping arcade.

The dining rooms and variety of lounges disperse the crowds and make you feel like you're on a much smaller ship. That said, there are times the Diamond does feel big, particularly at night when you find yourself at the wrong end of the hallway from your cabin. We saw more than one woman take off her heels to make the trek.

Diamond Princess, with its four pools, plus a kiddie splash pool, extensive children's center and cutting edge entertainment and programs, is particularly well suited to families, and that's probably why there were a good number of multigenerational groups onboard: grandparents traveling with their kids and the grandkids. But couples will find much to like on this vessel too, including the fact the restaurants have a decent number of tables for two.

Dining

On this ship it's all about choice, including the option to have no choice. When you book your cruise you pick either Personal Choice Dining or traditional dining (and you can even change your mind when you get to the ship). With the traditional dining setup, you eat in the International Dining Room (or Vivaldi, early seating only) at the same table and same time nightly with the same assigned tablemates.

Personal Choice Dining is more of a restaurant-type option; in this case you can eat in any of four, themed (no surcharge) dining rooms, and you can eat whenever you like and with whom you like. Want to have a table for two one night and a table for eight the next? No problem. Want to eat at 6 p.m. one night and 8 p.m. the next? No problem. The only catch is the themed dining rooms get filled up, and reservations are suggested.

One change made by Princess about a year after launch is that all restaurants, even the specialty dining rooms, serve the same menu (each menu does include a smattering of themed cuisine) but the rooms themselves still offer unique ambiences. The specialty restaurants are Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi (after 7:45 p.m. only). The former Sterling Steakhouse has been renamed the Savoy.

Added in the restaurant makeover was Princess' signature Sterling Steakhouse; it's located in an unused-at-night section of the Horizon Court buffet area. The space features a more elegant evening look -- and the same menu as the rest of the fleet's Sterling Steakhouses. Service charge is $15.

The International Dining Room is also open for open seating breakfast and lunch.

The restaurants offer a good selection of wine from $20 to $50 per bottle. You can bring your own, but may be charged a $10 corkage fee. There is a charge for espresso or cappuccino. Don't miss a chance to finish your meal with the Italian liquor limoncello.

Room Service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited. The breakfast menu is limited to yogurt, pastries and bread, fruit, cereal, coffee and juice. The otherwise round-the-clock menu offers fare such as deli and club sandwiches, salads, soup of the day, grilled burgers and cheeseburgers, and a few dessert items. If you're entertaining there are canapes available for a fee; you can also order wine, beer and drinks, including full bottles. On all room service deliveries a tip (a dollar or two for the average order, more for party orders) is requested.

There is always something to eat at the Horizon Court buffet on Lido, which also offers a bistro menu with waiter service (for drinks) into the wee hours. Lunch in Horizon Court is pretty uninspired with your typical hot items and cold salads (we preferred to grab a burger or a slice of pizza by the pool). But breakfast here is better than in the dining room -- the buffet included fried eggs, eggs benedict, cereals, crispy bacon, corned beef hash, French toast with cornflake crust and fresh fruit. With the buffet areas on two sides, there was rarely a crowd. Seating is indoors and outdoors.

Don't miss afternoon tea, served daily in the Pacific Moon, with sandwiches, pastries, and warm scones with cream (tea connoisseurs will notice however that the pour Lipton).

Another must-do at least once during your cruise is the reservations-only specialty restaurant Sabatini's, named for the famous trattoria in Florence, and serving an inspired Italian menu (again, Princess does Italian well). The cozy venue, with Italian music playing and murals on the walls, is open daily for dinner and occasionally for lunch, and a fee of $20 per person is charged. They pile on the food here, so come hungry. We particularly enjoyed the extraordinary cannelloni.

Princess sells a soda pass for $22.50 ($25 with souvenir cup). You have to pay for ice cream sundaes ($3.50) if you order them on the pool deck.

Public Rooms

We've made no bones that we like the layout of this vessel, from the enticing Grand Plaza atrium, a warm, central spot for meeting up with pals, to the rocking Skywalkers on the very top of the ship. Only one tiny quibble is we often got lost looking for the various dining rooms.

At Crooner's martini bar in the atrium, you can order a 007 (traditional martini with Vermouth), watch passersby and just feel downright sophisticated. The Explorer's Lounge has our heart for being such an accessible space, and we like the Egyptian-inspired decor.

The Wheelhouse Bar is bigger than on other ships, but still has a nice, club-like ambience and nautical accents. We were very impressed with the bartenders here who will concoct original creations if you ask -- one made a cosmo-type drink and then took out matches and burnt an orange rind to add extra flavor. Club Fusion, a new entertainment lounge with dozens of high-definition TV screens and an energetic, high-tech vibe, is just plain cool and a perfect venue for "Princess Idol," the ship's takeoff on "American Idol" (it's also used for other game shows and dance events). The Wake View Bar underneath Club Fusion (you have to take the staircase in the back of the club) is a hidden spot with aft-facing portholes that serves as the green room for the Princess Idol show (with interviews from there broadcast in Club Fusion). We always drop our jaw at the spaceship-like Skywalkers, and here the trademark disco and observation lounge is bigger and even has an aft-facing balcony (for smooching and smoking) in addition to floor-to-ceiling windows. Princess' wonderful stage shows take place in the Princess Theater. Get there early, it gets full.

Our very favorite spot for nighttime imbibing and chatting was tiny Churchill's, the ship's cigar lounge/sports bar, where we were as comfortable as if in someone's living room.

The ship's small library includes music listening stations. The wedding chapel doubles as a venue for religious services and computer classes. The Internet Cafe is huge and enticing, especially with its coffee bar (cappuccinos and the like come at a nominal cost, but the tasty pastries are free). Access is 35 cents per minute; wireless users can also get access for $10.50 per half-hour in the wired atrium.

There is a dedicated art gallery where you can buy reproductions and original art (more art is for sale, of course, in the frequent art auctions).

Cabins

This ship specializes in affordable cabins with balconies (there are 748). More than 70 percent of the ship's cabins are outside. You get views, but you don't necessarily get a lot of interior space, or outside privacy. On Caribe deck, for instance, from the balcony you can see the balcony below and the people above you can see you. Inside cabins start at 168 square ft., and standard outside cabins are 183 square ft. Balcony cabins run 237 to 300 square ft. (and that includes the verandah). There are bigger mini-suites and suites, and the top Grand Suite is 1,329 square ft.

The decor is rather bland and includes mirrors (to give the illusion of more space). Bathrooms in standard cabins are tiny (but we like the Princess Eucalyptus bath products). Mini-suites and up have bathtubs. Nice bathrobes (waffle cotton) are available for use on request (you can also buy one to bring home for $45). Cabins have safes, refrigerators and hairdryers. In-cabin TVs offer in-house movies, CNN, ESPN, TNT, cartoons and Discovery Channel. You get chocolates at turndown. The ship has two connecting family suites and 27 handicapped-accessible cabins.

How good is the cabin service? Our cabin attendant called maintenance to replace a light bulb we didn't even realize was out.

Entertainment

Princess knows entertainment and the stage shows are very impressive. On our cruise "Piano Man," featuring the songs of Billy Joel, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, Liberace and Elton John, with a piano player and the six-piece as Diamond Princess Orchestra backing up the troupe of singers and dancers, drew raves. And we particularly enjoyed "Undercover" in its premier season, an entertaining show based on a spy theme: 007 to Austin Powers.

During our seven-night cruise we impressively had three wonderful comedians as well as a comic magician performing in both the Princess Theater and Explorer's Lounge. There was music virtually at every turn: live jazz in the Wheelhouse, a crooner at Crooner's, karaoke in Explorer's, quieter piano music or strings in the atrium, techno rock (or anything else you want to request) at Skywalkers. Second-run movies are offered in the Princess Theater or Explorer's Lounge. Club Fusion hosts Princess Idol, a ship favorite, basically a talent quest -- several rounds take place throughout the cruise -- based on American Idol (if the smoky-voice winner on our cruise had an album out I'd buy it).

The casino draws crowds to its clanging slot machines and lively tables, with frequent tournaments and contests (on the Diamond, bingo also draws a huge crowd as does wooden horse racing).

On the activities front there is nearly always something happening from line dancing classes and art auctions to napkin folding to shopping and beauty seminars. Princess' ScholarShip at Sea program offers courses in photography, computer technology, culinary arts and more (some for a fee). On this ship you can also create ceramics, with a studio located above the Neptune Pool (bring home a fish-shaped tray for $22). Lectures are on such topics as "What Makes You Tick,' conducted by a therapist, and "Makeover Madness," offered by giggling members of the spa staff. (Note: The makeover lectures included a big sales pitch for products.)

There were two wine tastings on our seven-day cruise. At the $7.50 per person tasting, Marius from Poland told us about the vin-ee-yard, and said the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc had a nice are-o-ma, "very winey." The separate gourmet tasting was $25 per person.

A nice touch one afternoon was a public interview session with the Captain, where he answered such questions as "If you're here who's driving?" Answer: "I have no idea."

Movies Under the Stars (M.U.T.S.), the big-screen outdoor theater that's proven so popular with the line's newest ships, will be installed aboard Diamond Princess in November 2010. Passengers can enjoy movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening.

Fitness and Recreation

There are four pools including the popular Neptune Pool and the Calypso Pool with a sliding glass roof providing for all-weather swimming. Little kids also get their own splash pool. The pool near the spa is designated adults-only (there is nice private sunning space above this pool).

Golfers get plenty of attention with a virtual golf simulator on Sports Deck (Deck 16), $50 for 45 minutes. A golf pro runs the show and offers lessons (he also leads golf shore excursions). There's also a 9-hole putting green. Those who like to keep active will enjoy the jogging track, basketball and paddle tennis court, all on Sports Deck.

Relaxing comes easy at the Asian-themed Lotus Spa, where a reasonable $83 will get you a Couples Rasul Ritual, a treatment involving mud and based on a traditional Moroccan cleansing ritual. Look for lots of discounted day-in-port specials.

Some of the massage rooms have the basketball and jogging track above producing squeaking noises (the New Age music was turned up louder than usual to compensate). Still, the Blissful Hot Stone Massage ($175), delivered by a Swedish therapist, was one of the best we've had at sea.

The spa's Thermal Sanctuary Suite is a must-do, an oasis with heated mosaic lounge chairs, an Aromatic steam room, a refreshing mint/fog shower and other steam and sauna options. You can enter free with a spa treatment or pay a fee for a week's use.

A beef: The spa does not provide slippers (though they do provide robes), or even combs or hairdryers for those who take a shower.

The gym is a surprisingly narrow space in front of the ship with ocean views and dozens of implements of destruction (or construction as the case may be). It was less crowded than you'd expect with a California crowd, and rarely were the equipment signup sheets necessary. There are about a half dozen fitness classes per day, half for a fee ($10 for Pilates and SpinXpress).

Family

Children and teens get an impressive amount of designated indoor and outdoor space (nearly 10,000 square ft.).

The little kids' Fun Zone is all primary colors and very kid-friendly. The Off Limits area is cool enough to impress even the most cynical of teens.

Activity-wise, Princess Pelicans (3 - 7) get to do arts and crafts like paining their own t-shirts and have a bunch of games and movies to entice. Pirateers (8 - 12) get to do scavenger hunts and participate in science programs (such as learning about coral reefs). Teens get activities like the "Dating Game," disco parties and casino nights. There's a shipboard Olympics contest and karaoke for all kids. Little ones will also enjoy the outdoor play area and splash pool.

Group babysitting is available (private sitting is not) for $5 per hour, per child, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Pre-booking is required.

Fellow Passengers

Mostly an American crowd, from west of the Mississippi (although there will be some Easterners too). Lots of multigenerational groups (grandparents traveling with their kids and the grandkids). Children and teens although not in overwhelming numbers. Couples in their 30's to 70's. Some singles of various ages (mostly traveling with friends).

Dress Code

For a seven-day cruise, there are two formal nights and five smart casual nights. On formal nights, men wear dinner jackets or dark suits and women cocktail dresses, gowns or fancy pants suits. On smart casual nights there's no need for men to wear a tie, although some will wear jackets. During the day, resort casual wear is the norm. T-shirts and shorts are verboten in the dining rooms.

Gratuity

Princess automatically adds a $10.50 per person (children included), per day gratuity to shipboard accounts ($11 for passengers occupying suites and mini-suites). You can move the number up or down as you so choose at the purser's desk. All bar bills have an automatic 15 percent gratuity added. Tips in the spa and beauty parlor are at your discretion and can be added to your bill (no need to carry cash).

--by Fran Wenograd Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and destination-oriented port profiles, is the travel editor of the Boston Herald and also co-author of Frommer's Alaska Cruises & Ports of Call and Frommer's Europe Cruises & Ports of Call. When this ship was launched in winter 2004 we were impressed. On a return visit we were even more impressed. The Diamond debuted as the Princess fleet's biggest, at 116,000 tons (sister ship Sapphire Princess also holds that title) and the first cruise ship built in Japan in more than a decade. This is one of our favorite ships in the Princess fleet and here are some of the reasons why:

Personal Choice Dining. There is one main dining room featuring set seating at 5:45 and 8 p.m. for those who like traditional service; in response to demand, Princess recently expanded to include the Vivaldi restaurant (for the first seating only). For those who want more flexibility, there are four, intimate, themed venues where you can dine fee free any time between 5:30 and 10 p.m.

Club Fusion is all about high tech with big high definition TV screens and a state-of-the-art sound system and a decent dance floor, and really redefines the concept of secondary show lounge. It's also the perfect venue for games shows and a redefined talent show called Princess Idol.

Skywalkers Nightclub, the sky-high disco introduced on the Grand-class ships, has been expanded and redesigned here to include more space and a balcony overlooking the aft pool.

The huge Internet Cafe on Diamond has, count them, 29 computer stations with flat screens and a coffee/pastry shop. It's rare to have to wait for a terminal. And rates are 35 cents per minute, which is cheap by shipboard standards.

The large number of cabins with balconies -- 748. Even though some of the balconies aren't exactly private (mini-suites on Dolphin Deck are totally exposed; cabins on Caribe Deck are partially exposed) they provide a wonderful space for stargazing, smooching, intimate outdoor meals and smoking.

We are even fond of the atrium on this vessel, a proud focal point including Art Nouveau glass-and-brass designs on the atrium elevators. The ship's shops are located on two decks and the atrium also boasts bars including the ship's martini bar, as well as the purser's desk. At only three decks the space feels like an upscale Parisian shopping arcade.

The dining rooms and variety of lounges disperse the crowds and make you feel like you're on a much smaller ship. That said, there are times the Diamond does feel big, particularly at night when you find yourself at the wrong end of the hallway from your cabin. We saw more than one woman take off her heels to make the trek.

Diamond Princess, with its four pools, plus a kiddie splash pool, extensive children's center and cutting edge entertainment and programs, is particularly well suited to families, and that's probably why there were a good number of multigenerational groups onboard: grandparents traveling with their kids and the grandkids. But couples will find much to like on this vessel too, including the fact the restaurants have a decent number of tables for two.

Gratuity

Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.

Family

Children and teens get an impressive amount of designated indoor and outdoor space (nearly 10,000 square ft.).

The little kids' Fun Zone is all primary colors and very kid-friendly. The Off Limits area is cool enough to impress even the most cynical of teens.

Activity-wise, Princess Pelicans (3 - 7) get to do arts and crafts like painting their own t-shirts and have a bunch of games and movies to entice. Pirateers (8 - 12) get to do scavenger hunts and participate in science programs (such as learning about coral reefs). Teens get activities like the "Dating Game," disco parties and casino nights. There's a shipboard Olympics contest and karaoke for all kids. Little ones will also enjoy the outdoor play area and splash pool.

Group babysitting is available (private sitting is not) for $5 per hour, per child, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Pre-booking is required.

Dining

On this ship it's all about choice, including the option to have no choice. When you book your cruise you pick either Personal Choice Dining or traditional dining (and you can even change your mind when you get to the ship). With the traditional dining setup, you eat in the International Dining Room (or Vivaldi, early seating only) at the same table and same time nightly with the same assigned tablemates.

Personal Choice Dining is more of a restaurant-type option; in this case you can eat in any of four, themed (no surcharge) dining rooms, and you can eat whenever you like and with whom you like. Want to have a table for two one night and a table for eight the next? No problem. Want to eat at 6 p.m. one night and 8 p.m. the next? No problem. The only catch is the themed dining rooms get filled up, and reservations are suggested.

One change made by Princess about a year after launch is that all restaurants, even the specialty dining rooms, serve the same menu (each menu does include a smattering of themed cuisine) but the rooms themselves still offer unique ambiences. The specialty restaurants are Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi (after 7:45 p.m. only). The former Sterling Steakhouse has been renamed the Savoy.

Added in the restaurant makeover was Princess' signature Sterling Steakhouse; it's located in an unused-at-night section of the Horizon Court buffet area. The space features a more elegant evening look -- and the same menu as the rest of the fleet's Sterling Steakhouses. Service charge is $15.

The International Dining Room is also open for open seating breakfast and lunch.

The restaurants offer a good selection of wine from $20 to $50 per bottle. You can bring your own, but may be charged a $10 corkage fee. There is a charge for espresso or cappuccino. Don't miss a chance to finish your meal with the Italian liquor limoncello.

Room Service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited. The breakfast menu is limited to yogurt, pastries and bread, fruit, cereal, coffee and juice. The otherwise round-the-clock menu offers fare such as deli and club sandwiches, salads, soup of the day, grilled burgers and cheeseburgers, and a few dessert items. If you're entertaining there are canapes available for a fee; you can also order wine, beer and drinks, including full bottles. On all room service deliveries a tip (a dollar or two for the average order, more for party orders) is requested.

There is always something to eat at the Horizon Court buffet on Lido, which also offers a bistro menu with waiter service (for drinks) into the wee hours. Lunch in Horizon Court is pretty uninspired with your typical hot items and cold salads (we preferred to grab a burger or a slice of pizza by the pool). But breakfast here is better than in the dining room -- the buffet included fried eggs, eggs benedict, cereals, crispy bacon, corned beef hash, French toast with cornflake crust and fresh fruit. With the buffet areas on two sides, there was rarely a crowd. Seating is indoors and outdoors.

Don't miss afternoon tea, served daily in the Pacific Moon, with sandwiches, pastries, and warm scones with cream (tea connoisseurs will notice however that the pour Lipton).

Another must-do at least once during your cruise is the reservations-only specialty restaurant Sabatini's, named for the famous trattoria in Florence, and serving an inspired Italian menu (again, Princess does Italian well). The cozy venue, with Italian music playing and murals on the walls, is open daily for dinner and occasionally for lunch, and a fee of $25 per person is charged. They pile on the food here, so come hungry. We particularly enjoyed the extraordinary cannelloni.

Dining

On this ship it's all about choice, including the option to have no choice. When you book your cruise you pick either Personal Choice Dining or traditional dining (and you can even change your mind when you get to the ship). With the traditional dining setup, you eat in the International Dining Room (or Vivaldi, early seating only) at the same table and same time nightly with the same assigned tablemates.

Personal Choice Dining is more of a restaurant-type option; in this case you can eat in any of four, themed (no surcharge) dining rooms, and you can eat whenever you like and with whom you like. Want to have a table for two one night and a table for eight the next? No problem. Want to eat at 6 p.m. one night and 8 p.m. the next? No problem. The only catch is the themed dining rooms get filled up, and reservations are suggested.

One change made by Princess about a year after launch is that all restaurants, even the specialty dining rooms, serve the same menu (each menu does include a smattering of themed cuisine) but the rooms themselves still offer unique ambiences. The specialty restaurants are Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi (after 7:45 p.m. only). The former Sterling Steakhouse has been renamed the Savoy.

Added in the restaurant makeover was Princess' signature Sterling Steakhouse; it's located in an unused-at-night section of the Horizon Court buffet area. The space features a more elegant evening look -- and the same menu as the rest of the fleet's Sterling Steakhouses. Service charge is $25.

The International Dining Room is also open for open seating breakfast and lunch.

The restaurants offer a good selection of wine from $20 to $50 per bottle. You can bring your own, but may be charged a $15 corkage fee. There is a charge for espresso or cappuccino. Don't miss a chance to finish your meal with the Italian liquor limoncello.

Room Service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited. The breakfast menu is limited to yogurt, pastries and bread, fruit, cereal, coffee and juice. The otherwise round-the-clock menu offers fare such as deli and club sandwiches, salads, soup of the day, grilled burgers and cheeseburgers, and a few dessert items. If you're entertaining there are canapes available for a fee; you can also order wine, beer and drinks, including full bottles. On all room service deliveries a tip (a dollar or two for the average order, more for party orders) is requested.

There is always something to eat at the Horizon Court buffet on Lido, which also offers a bistro menu with waiter service (for drinks) into the wee hours. Lunch in Horizon Court is pretty uninspired with your typical hot items and cold salads (we preferred to grab a burger or a slice of pizza by the pool). But breakfast here is better than in the dining room -- the buffet included fried eggs, eggs benedict, cereals, crispy bacon, corned beef hash, French toast with cornflake crust and fresh fruit. With the buffet areas on two sides, there was rarely a crowd. Seating is indoors and outdoors.

Don't miss afternoon tea, served daily in the Pacific Moon, with sandwiches, pastries, and warm scones with cream (tea connoisseurs will notice however that the pour Lipton).

Another must-do at least once during your cruise is the reservations-only specialty restaurant Sabatini's, named for the famous trattoria in Florence, and serving an inspired Italian menu (again, Princess does Italian well). The cozy venue, with Italian music playing and murals on the walls, is open daily for dinner and occasionally for lunch, and a fee of $25 per person is charged. They pile on the food here, so come hungry. We particularly enjoyed the extraordinary cannelloni.

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