This cruise was titled "The Festivals of Japan" and it only happens once per year. If you have a chance to sail on this ship at the appropriate festival time, grab it!!! Four of the ports of call visit coastal communities during their festival times when you will see singing and dancing in extraordinary costumes and viewed by tens of thousands of spectators. What was particularly special about this cruise is that you are fully immersed in Japanese culture. Of the approximately 2500 passengers, approximately 10% were not Japanese, and of the 10%, we were split between Americans, particularly Hawaiians, Australians, Canadians, some Brits and Europeans. Announcements were made in Japanese first and English second.
The food primarily is Asian, but there was lots of choose from for more traditional American tastes. There is always a salad bar, lots of cut up canteloupe and honeydew, 2 soups at lunch and dinner--one asian and one not. I would say that the food was 4 star--quite good! I loved the afternoon scones with cream and jam which you can have in the International Dining Room or at the buffet Horizon Court. Portions in the dining room are particularly tiny, but you can always ask for more. Since I'm a big eater, I preferred the Horizon buffet so I can sample everything and go back up for seconds for those items that I preferred.
The ship is a nice size--not too big and not too small. I have cruised about 6 times now and I don't particularly see much difference between rooms on different ships. I had an interior room to save some money and it was more than adequate for one person and the layout was comparable with other lines.
The evening shows which I attended were quite enjoyable, although I tended to watch "Movies under the Stars" and munch the freshly popped popcorn. There is a gym and golf course but I did not use these activities.
My main reason for writing this review is to help people with the shore excursions. In almost every port, Princess provided free shuttles into town. So, I would suggest savings yourself some money and just doing excursions on your own.
For more detail:
Akita: the shuttle drops you off at Kenmin Kalkan which is the Akita prefecture hall and the central location for the evening Kanto festival. I brought my own folding chair and was laughing at my friends who sat in the hot sun waiting 2 hours for the festival to start. I showed up right when the festival began, at 7:15, found a place to sit, and left just before the end to avoid the crowds upon leaving. Once again, I was on the free shuttle back to the Diamond Princess.
Aomori Nebuta festival: The festival is performed twice--during the day from 1 to 3pm in the town and then in the evening on the water. My group paid for seats, but in fact they had to stand and had difficulty seeing the floats. I went during the day for free on the shuttle and found some shade from the relenting sun but was up close and personal! I hate to complain about the heat when I was in the shade and performers were dressed in elaborate costumes and they were dancing in the sun!! The children dancing are my favourite! Once again, I brought my chair. The shuttle drops you off at a wharf one block from the parade. In the evening, the bridge is raised so you either have to go into town prior to the 5pm lifting of the bridge or you can't go. Once you are at the festival, you have to stay past 10pm until the bridge is lowered. I'm so glad that I went in the afternoon!! At the end of the festival, the people of Aomori make a splendid fireworks exhibition which can be seen from the ship. I would suggest seeing the parade in the afternoon and saving the $129 fee, but you can make your own decision.
Sakaiminato: the Princess docks at Showa south warf with complimentary shuttle to Sakaiminato station.
Busan, South Korea: the shuttle whisks you to the Phoenix Hotel, right across from the Fish Market and BIFF square. Again, no need to take a tour. I went on a tour to the Beomosa Temple, which was very nice, and then we spent and hour in the Market. It was enough for me. Busan was a surprisingly modern city and the tour to the temple took us on the 50 minute drive through the city, so it was interesting to see this.
Kochi: the shuttle bus takes you close the action and drops you at the bus terminal in town. From there you can walk to the Castle area, particularly in the "malls" which have shopping and respite from the sun. I did this in the morning and came back to the ship for the afternoon. Then, around 6:30 pm when the sun went down, I headed back to town for the festival. It was simply too hot to be out in the sun during the day.
Tokushima: this is the one city where I would recommend signing up for the Festival. The shuttle does not go into Tokushima, but it goes to Komatashima and from there you can take a train to get to Tokushima, but I was worried that the train would be full. (you can check the train schedule at hyperedia.com. ) I spent the day on the ship and paid for the festival tour at night. I didn't take the shuttle just to explore the area as I didn't think that there was much to see at the Komatshima shuttle stop.
Yokohama: I took the free shuttle from the ship to Sakuragicho Station. Many of the people in my group took the shuttle from Princess to the airport but their flights weren't until 5pm. I didn't wan to sit in the airport for 8 hours. At Sakuragicho station, there is an information booth and they will store your luggage for 500 yen (approx $5) for the day. From Sakuragicho, I walked around the harbour area--seeing the giant ferris wheel, went to the Red Brick Warehouse, through Yamashitacho park, up through China town and back to Sakuragicho station. This walk took about 2-1/2 hours. Then I found a shuttle bus from Sakuragicho station to the airport!!! I was so happy to find this, rather than drag my luggage to Yokohama station and then to the Limousine Bus to the airport. Warning: the airport bus direct to Haneda only operates in the morning, but it turns out that it picks up a short 5 minute walk from the station at the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel--which looks out over the amusement park. This is a high end hotel and the concierge was marvelous and held my luggage for the 10 minutes while I waited for the bus. The bus is run by the Keiku bus line and I used my Passmo card to pay for it (740 yen). The bus goes to the Red Brick Warehouse, Yokohama Prefecture office, Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu and Rose Hotel Yokohama, which is in Chinatown. Definitely bus a Passmo or Suica card at the airport when you arrive in Tokyo. I put the equivalent of $30 on it, and when you go back to the airport to leave Tokyo, you can go on the 2nd floor of airport to the Keikyu office and they will give the cash back which is left on the card. When I arrived in Tokyo, I took and the airport bus which went close to my hotel and it also goes to various stations. I was a bit afraid of the trains and didn't want to lug my luggage up and down multiple platforms and risk getting lost! I stayed in the Ginza area for 3 days prior to the cruise. P.S. If given the choice, definitely fly to Haneda which is approximately 20 minutes from Yokohama or Ginza whereas Narita is very far and very expensive to get to. Another tip: rental a pocket wifi. This way I had internet everywhere that I went including some times when the ship was on the water. This is much cheaper than the ship wifi. I understand that some USA people can get unlimited wifi for $29 but in Canada, it is much more expensive and limits on the usage. If you go, you will have a great trip!!!
The cabin was basic but fine. Large flat screen tv. Grohe shower. Lots of space to hang clothes and lots of hangers. Safe in room. Room steward was amazing.
Stayed in the Ginza area--which was great! It's like 5th Avenue, New York and even found a Dean and DeLuca for lunch!