I confess. I’m not an established “cruiser” so am not an expert on the pro’s and con’s of every cruise company. In fact, I’ve only been on around 8 cruises depending on your definition and most of them were customized and tailored to a specific tourist destination, such as the regional companies that do sails through Alaska’s waters or the coast of Greece. I also took a short cruise in Chile’s Patagonia, a small luxury cruise through the Galapagos Islands and a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean many years ago. So while I’m no beginner to ships or the water, I quickly discovered how much I had to learn from the seasoned cruisers I met over the past few months.
In an effort to expand our cruise coverage, I found myself on a Princess Cruise to Japan and Korea this past summer. Because I’m a newbie, I ended up talking to about 75-80 established cruisers before, during and after the cruise to get a better idea of my experience vis a vis some of the other cruise lines in the industry.
On two separate occasions, I was hot tubbing and swimming with couples who had been on more than 100 cruises. And so, my cruise education began as person after person shared their cruise experiences and the stories ranged from exquisite dinners, spa experiences, cocktails and entertainment to stormy water excursions in colder parts of the world where rough waves and bad weather are inevitable. The couples who had exceeded 100 had been on more than 25 or so Princess cruises and said they’d come back for more, so I was getting great vibes from others while I was experiencing some of my own Princess Magic.
Meet the 952 foot long Diamond Princess, a luxury Princess ship that took me 2,219 miles from Tokyo’s port of Yokohama around the northern tip of Japan and back with a stop over in Busan South Korea.
The cruisers who piped in and offered their opinion for this article were from a variety of countries, including but not limited to Australia, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Argentina, America, Denmark, Israel, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Russia. I spoke to as many people as I could on the daily excursions I took as well as people at dinner. While you typically get assigned to one table and dining room for the duration of the cruise, I switched tables nearly every night in order to increase my opportunities to chat to people.
The majority of the people I spoke to had done between 5-10 cruises and the lines that came up again and again were Norwegan, Holland, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Crystal and Cunard. On the rare occasion, I heard Carnival mentioned, but for the most part, I focused my attention on the 30-60 year old crowd, rather than the 20 something year old crowd, over half were couples (80% still working and roughly 20% retired) and a quarter were there with their kids.
I came up with a very positive list of things people loved about Princess in this order — the service, the amenities and the activities. People with kids gave Princess two thumbs up and those who were older and wanted a quieter cruise oscillated between Princess (for the crowd diversity) and a line like Cunard or Holland when they wanted a bit more solitude. There are clearly benefits to both depending on what you want out of your vacation although truth be told, I discovered a lot of solitude on the ship and it was nothing short of blissful!
While the cruise I took was only half booked, a few people I spoke to preferred a more crowded ship, whereas others loved the fact that there was more space to sit on lounge chairs and less queues in the dining room. That said, there weren’t any queues in the dining room and I went at several different times of day including prime time. And, I never had a problem finding a chair to lounge in the sun, read a book or take a snooze.
Some people love the buffet and never eat in a dining room because they don’t want to sign up for a designated dinner time – others find it offensive if designated times are not offered. The nice thing about Princess is that you can do both.
I felt that Princess did an outstanding job catering to a wide mix of people and nationalities — remember that they had well over 1,000 people and 41 nationalities represented on the ship with the top four being Japanese, American, Australian and British in that order. When you have that kind of diversity on the ship, you’re never going to please everyone all the time and yet, everyone I spoke to across a myriad of nationalities were not only having a fabulous time but gave it a two thumbs up compared to their other cruise experiences, which I personally think is a much stronger statement than had they only sailed with Princess.
Despite not having 100 cruises under my belt, my experience was one I would gladly experience again, quite possibly even to the same region. That said, their cruise to Tahiti and Polynesia looked awfully tempting as did the one that sailed around Scandinavia. The one that really popped for me was from Australia to Papua New Guinea, so this route remains very high on my list and has for quite some time, especially as an avid photographer.
I somehow had a feeling that this wouldn’t be my first Princess cruise even before I set foot on the boat. Why Japan?
I ended up choosing a Japan route largely because I hadn’t been there before and it has been on my radar for a long time. A cruise gives you a unique opportunity to get to a frequent number of places in a country and avoid the travel time since the boat is able to travel overnight. How lovely to go to sleep in one port and wake up in a completely different part of the country. Efficiency at its best! It allows you to spend your valuable time exploring a region rather than spending the time in buses, trains and planes.
Princess offers so many destination options your head is likely to spin, but that’s half the fun. With over 115 itineraries to 350 destinations, there’s plenty to choose from. For Japan alone, I had between 5-8 options yet other itineraries included stops to other Southeastern Asian countries as well such as Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, and so on. There is also a much longer cruise that starts in Australia and stops in Indonesia and many other diverse ports on the way up to Japan, a route I’d love to take one day.
She stands tall and proud before embarkation hour with a couple thousand people on board.
I took off in mid-July on an Ancient Capitals tour, which is a ten day cruise that starts in Tokyo (out of Yokohama Port) and sails to Kanazawa, Maizuru, Sakaiminato, Busan South Korea and Nagasaki. See my separate write ups on all of these destinations including fabulous photos and videos in our Japan (Travel to Japan) and South Korea (Travel to Korea) section. Unlike a cruise to the South Pacific or the Caribbean which would likely be more leisurely in nature, the Ancient Capitals tour offered in-depth history, rich architecture, plenty of awe-inspiring temples and fabulous food.
When you’re not taking in a cultural excursion or walking the entire length of a town on shore, there’s plenty to do while you’re on board, whether it be for your two days at sea, in the mornings before you head out to a port or evenings when you return. Cruising feels a bit like a luxury summer camp where you have a boat load of fun thanks to an activity cruise director who has lined up things to do nearly every hour on the hour. Long time cruisers know this of course and they choose their cruise depending on their interests.
From the feedback I received, I learned that Princess is a great option for those who want a little more diversity from destinations, cultural excursions and nature as well as for families.
In my own personal experience, I felt that Princess offered a great blend of both. Their sit down meals in the main dining rooms were beautifully presented and my main courses were delicious. Imagine Quail & Venison Terrine with a gingered red and white onion compote over a mesclun salad, an elegantly pressed tune and salmon sushi and a twice baked goat’s cheese souffle with garlic to start you off, followed by a Skillet-Fried Orange Roughy or Broiled Scallops with a sweet Japanese wine sauce, mushrooms and asparagus as your main accompanied by a nice glass of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Did I grab your attention yet? Be sure to check out our post on Food Aboard the Princess on Japanese Waters…
Below, the Beef Wellington.
That great blend of multiple offers extends to Princess Cruise activities as well, which are not geared to the severe adventure seeker who wants to jump out of airplanes or take on serious hikes. Nor do they specifically cater to a very senior crowd who may want more of a low key experience, although you will find people who want a relaxing time and adventure seekers on the same ship largely because you can customize your experience.
There were plenty of families on my ship so I was able to get a sense of what activities they had for both kids and adults. Whether it’s playing basketball, taking in a swim, taking on a game in the shuffleboard court or playing ping pong, there were plenty of things for children to do. One of my favorite things, which is fun for both adults and kids, is their outdoor movie nights, where you can kick back on one of the pool lounge chairs and take in a movie under the open sky. There are plenty of blankets to wrap yourself in if you get too cold.
There are activities which you can do on your own and others that try to include the whole ship. For example, they kicked off the first evening with a Sake Barrel Breaking Ceremony and then later on, had a champagne toast from the ship’s Captain Graham Goodway around a champagne fountain. T’was a nice (and elegant) touch!
Like most nights, they had lounge and jazz music playing from one of their on-board bands, such as Yevhen’s dinner melodies, the Jozsef Mezei Trio, singer and piano player Brad Stevens, the Sounds of Hawaii with Elua, the Jazz Cats Orchestra and others.
I had an opportunity to chat to the Hawaiian Melodies duo on one of the buses before I saw them perform (below). Energizing, inspiring and fun, their performance matched their personalities, like so many of the staff on board. Warm, eclectic, engaging and interesting, Princess’ entertainers came from a wide range of countries around the world. They performed regularly throughout the cruise on what Princess refers to as the “Crooners Lounge” which I found incredibly fitting.
Below, the Crooner’s Lounge.
Singing, guitar and piano players weren’t the only talent on board. There was an Illusion Magic Show with Hiroki Hara, a piano concert by Tomono Kawamura, a showtime production show, a performance of Piano Man, a Country & Western Hoe Down and a 1950’s musical number among others. They were all a boat load of fun and I left with a smile on my face after every performance, however my favorite was the performance by Ballroom and Latin dancers Alex and Magdalena.
Other performers who drew me into their intoxicating musical spell…
For the serenity seekers among us, they offer a fabulous spa (the Lotus Spa – be sure to check out our review in the We Blog the World Spa section / top spas in the world), and something they refer to as the Izumi Japanese Bath (one of my favorite things on the ship — below).
While they had both a LGBT and daily singles /solos meet up, the numbers were small. Since you are assigned a dining room table for your entire journey, they often put singles and solos together, families together and so on. Since I was keen on meeting a lot of people and experiencing every dining room, I did….although note that the dinner offerings were the same regardless of what dining room you sat in….only the ambiance differed.
I assume there was some thought on language since all of my tables spoke English and I had the fortune to sit with some fabulous people from Australia, England, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S., France, Spain, Argentina, Belgium, Russia, Norway, Denmark and countless others. Below, the Santa Fe, Savoy, International, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi dining rooms.
Below is the Princess Cruise dining staff dancing and celebrating to the scrumptious Baked Alaska one night after dinner. It involved a congo line around the restaurant, lots of clapping, candles and a whole lotta happy faces. (see our video for a taste of the fun)
The above link and below will have you singing along, or at the very least tapping your feet:
They also had an amusing Good Morning Wake Show at 8:30 am each morning for those who were alert enough to attend. When I wasn’t taking in an excursion or exploring one of the Japanese towns or cities myself, I delved into some of the more relaxing options. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t swim and hit the hot tub.
There were 18 decks, 8 whirlpools and 4 pools on the ship, two of which were adult-only (third and fourth shots below). The main two pools were somewhat in the center of the ship and seemed to cater to families (first two shots below), which made sense since the dining room was nearby and although you were assigned specific seating times for dinner each night, you could eat in the cafeteria (referred to as Horizon Court) anytime you wanted a meal or merely a snack, soda or cuppa tea.
My favorite shot of the rear adult only pool, which is where I spent the bulk of my time. The bartenders here also knew how to whip up a mean margarita.
Below, the hot tub I ended up in nightly, which had great views all around. Of course, while we were at sea, there was nothing to see but the stars and when it’s nearly midnight, that’s all you want to see. When it’s simply you and the stars and nothing else, its bliss….well, heaven really.
Before you’re greeted with the stars, the sunsets on the ship grace you with their presence each and every night. They ranged from fire orange with purple hues to a soft misty haze depending on the evening.
Of course, by day there were a variety of land views depending on where we were in the agenda.
Our ship leaving Nagasaki port, yes with me on it. The below shot was taken by John Day, a passenger who disembarked here and then emailed me this shot.
Other activities worth mentioning include a golf putting competition into the main pool, ballroom dance lessons, cards and games get togethers, horse race betting, pool games, an educational event where you could learn all about the exquisite jewelry worn by Jacqueline Kennedy, a Culinary Show with demos and tour by Chef Nilo Palma, English and Japanese language lessons, a Trivia challenge, an Art Auction (they had a couple), Bingo, a game show and nightly Karaoke.
Daily, you could also go to the gym, take in a stretching, Zumba, yoga or pilates class or go hard core and sign up for the abs & core workout. Did I mention the oversized chess? If you play, it’s a fun way to take in the game, particularly with the stunning views from the deck on both sides of you as you strategize against your opponent. Does it get much better than this?
Art was prolific on the ship with new paintings to view every day thanks to the on-board curator Michael Patrick Hart. There was also a very interesting Nature’s Way Exhibit, where you could take in rolling landscapes, relaxing beaches and quaint gardens, the Adachi Museum of Art exhibit, the works of Thomas Kinkade and 50 years of art history from Botticelli to Warhol. Since I’m an art lover, I took in a couple of the events though didn’t leave Japan with a painting under my arm. That suitcase was just far too small although its highly likely that they ship.
Towards the end of the cruise, they threw a couple of dance parties, which included colorful party string and balloons of course. The balloons were a highlight, since they drew in adults and kids alike and their vibrant colors together with the energizing music had us going for hours.
When held together by ceiling netting, they were nothing but a tease but then, they started tumbling down. And….tumbling down. Whether you were one of the most mischievous among us or the most innocent, you couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the joy and wonder their tumbling created. Everyone seemed to participate in their lovely dance…
One late afternoon, I found myself in a Princess Cruise fashion show, quite honestly by accident. As I was browsing in one of the gift shops one day, the manager talked me into participating in a fashion show wearing their latest fashions. How could I resist? While the other participants who modeled were largely in their twenties, I still had a boat loada fun and made a few pals in the process.
For the late night party lovers, below is the Princess on-site casino, a lounge late night and Club Fusion. DJ Kev White also kept things moving late late night at the Skywalker’s Night Club on Deck 18 for those who wanted to boogie down to either funk, disco or modern club music. Did I mention that I tried all of these options? (except for the gambling that is).
One of the things I loved was the overview of each port destination on your room TV which you could view in advance. The video overview provided a host of facts, showed you the map so you could orientate yourself and included tips about getting around as well as what to see and eat. The rooms varied depending on how much space you wanted and whether or not you wanted a balcony or not. To give you an idea of what’s available, you can choose from one of the below options.
- 28 Suites with private balconies – Square footage: 525-1329
- 2 Family Suites with interconnecting cabins with balconies – Square footage: 613
- 186 Mini-suites with private balconies – Square footage: 354*
- 522 Outside cabins with private balconies – Square footage: 237-277*
- 10 Deluxe Oceanview – Square footage: 200
- 212 Ocean view cabins – Square footage: 183-194
- 377 Inside cabins – Square footage: 168
- 27 Wheelchair accessible cabins
The Family Suite is obviously the best choice for families with kids — note it includes a balcony as well.
Below is a shot of a Suite with a Balcony and below it, a Mini Suite with a Balcony, which is what I had.
Mini suite with a balcony…
The bathroom in my suite.
Below, a Room with a Premium Ocean View.
The interior without a balcony or ocean view is the smallest room available which is obviously reflected in the price.
I found that I was rarely in my room with the exception of one afternoon when I just needed to kick back and stare at the sea from my bed for a few hours. I also retreated to my room to get on the Internet and catch up on email on occasion — there are wifi plans you can pre-purchase and they even have an on-site tech geek to help you through glitches should they arise. There’s also an area in the library where you can connect on one of their computers should you not want to bring your own laptop. In the library, the non digital option of course is to read or take out a movie.
One night, we were able to enjoy the Marine Festival Kyoto Fireworks Display from the ship while sipping our margaritas. It doesn’t get much better than that. Nearly every night, I found myself on the upper deck in a hot tub starring at the stars alone before sitting on the deck chair afterwards doing the same. I had a deck off my room, so I also took in the serenity of the evenings and early mornings where you could see nothing but the sea for miles and miles. It’s a great way to get grounded over a cup of tea or glass of wine.
Check out Princess Cruises links for more information on how to plan a cruise. They have a great website that allows you to search by destination, length, time of year and so on.
Be sure to check out other posts we wrote on the region, which include the excursions or solo trips we took of the stops on this cruise, Tokyo, Tokyo restaurants in our Japanese Food and Japan restaurants section and hotels in our Japan Hotels (& Lodging) section, which for this trip is focused on the hotels we stayed at before and after our tour in Tokyo. There is also more information, articles, fabulous photos and videos in our Japan (Travel to Japan), Tokyo (Travel to Tokyo) and South Korea (Travel to Korea) section.
Photo Credits: Champagne Fountain – MaxResDefault (also on YouTube), photo of the ship leaving Nagasaki by John Day, the inside room and suite photos, 2 food photos, Club Fusion, Crooners Lounge and the casino courtesy of Princess Cruises and all other photos by Renee Blodgett.
Note: I was hosted by Princess Cruises but all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.