Diamond Princess Cruise Review by MV400
- Sail Date: February 2015
- Destination: Australia & New Zealand
- Cabin Type: Balcony
We had enough frequent flyer miles to fly business class - but this would have required an additional 10 hours of flight time and switching airlines at least twice. Instead we flew thru LAX to SYD in free economy class seats which we upgraded to "Economy Plus," and loved the additional leg room. Note - we did purchase a day pass at the Delta Club at LAX, and used their shower facilities before boarding our 15 hour flight to Sydney.
After arriving in Sydney, we caught the last of our four flights to Auckland. Clearing Customs and Immigration we met our driver from Corporate Cabs to take us to our hotel. This worked out beautifully as our driver was waiting for us as soon as we exited the terminal. With a pre-arranged price of $85 (NZ) there wasn't a surprise charge due to rush-hour traffic delays when we arrived at our hotel.
We stayed at the Hilton in Auckland which is right next to the wharf. The room was clean and included a small refrigerator (but no microwave). The staff was helpful, courteous and arranged two tourist activities before we arrived. However, the first thing we needed to do was find a grocery store to pick-up some items for the cruise which we didn't want to pack due to already full suitcases. We found a 24 hours "Countdown" about a 5 min walk from the Hilton with only 1 turn required. A simple and safe walk even after traveling for almost 2 days.
The next morning we took a 3 hour city tour of Auckland. It was perfect in length and with only 2 other couples on the mini-bus it was the perfect tour size as well. After dropping us back at the hotel we walked around the wharf area (2 min walk) and had lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area (we counted 12+ to select from). We then walked the area around the wharf to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. There happened to be a fire/rescue demonstration that afternoon which was simply fun to walk around. For dinner we arranged thru the Hilton, a sunset dinner harbor cruise. There are several dinner cruises - so be careful which one you select. Some of the cruises are on large catamarans with 100+ people. We selected a sailing cruise with a total of 14 passengers and 2 crew. Dinner was pre-ordered and prepared by a local restaurant. After "motoring" to a different area of the marina, we stopped and ate dinner in a sheltered area. The crew (for good reason) didn't want to serve dinner while under sail -- the dishes tend to slide on the table too much for most customers. After dessert we raised the sails and we were under way for about 45 - 60 minutes sailing around the harbor. Anyone who wanted to assist the crew was encouraged to do so - it was a great way to end our first day (and Valentine's Day) in Auckland.
When we returned to the Hilton, there was a note in our room advising us that the Dawn Princess will be arriving the next morning, and to ensure our privacy we should draw our curtains. This is well documented on most message boards that while the Hilton is located right at the wharf, some guests are surprised to see ships docked there, and then find their views restricted. I can confirm that when a large cruise ship is berthed alongside of the hotel, your views will be blocked. I was surprised how close the ship is actually to the hotel ...we could pass drinks to each other.
There was no reason to hail a cab to the other berth to board the Diamond Princess. We simply rolled our suitcases for 5 minutes to board the Diamond Princess (there were a total of 3 ships in port that day). From the time we left the Hilton, until we were in our cabin was perhaps 30 minutes (to include stops for pictures). Below is a review with the following categories - the ship, the food and shore excursions ... each with my subjective letter grade. While we are "Platinum" members with Princess, we have also cruised twice on Oceania, once with Celebrity and once with Royal Caribbean.
The ship: "B"
The Diamond Princess is certainly beautiful and looks/feels like other Princess ships. The Dawn Princess which pulled up next to the hotel - at least from the outside - is in need of a new paint job. Obviously, I couldn't see the inside - but would have been embarrassed if I had recommended the Dawn Princess to friends.
The recent dry-dock updates to the Diamond Princess are evident throughout the ship. A couple of nit-picking items:
There is no International Cafe or Vines - we missed both.
The carpet has been replaced with a new color scheme in many areas of the ship- but not in all areas. Odd.
Our stateroom had the new large flat screen TV, the bed was very comfortable (no need for the old egg crate covers).
Laundry - you can now use your cruise card to purchase tokens right in the Laundry rooms. Four washers and dryers on our floor, $3 per wash and $3 per dry. Wash time approximately 35 minutes, and dry time about 55 minutes.
The food: "B"
We had pizza several days - but without the Caribbean sun it just didn't taste as good eating in the NZ fog.
We used traditional dining - while the menus are familiar there were slight tweaks. We tried both the Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini's. Both dinners were good, service was very attentive. However, we just didn't feel we received additional value of $25/person. Again a good dinner - just didn't find the value.
Our waiter in the International dining room - Kumar was OUTSTANDING!
Shore excursions - all booked with Princess.
Tauranga - Wai-o-tapu Valley & Rainbow Springs - C+
This was a nine-hour excursion where we viewed a geothermal area (think Yellowstone) with paths which ranged from 30 - 90 minutes. We then boarded a steam paddle boat for lunch while we cruised around a lake. Lastly, we visited Rainbow springs where we saw native trees, a stocked trout pond and viewed a handful of Kiwi's. Our tour was perfectly timed - but the thermal springs area was very crowded as we were leaving. Since there are many groups doing this tour - the order varies with different buses. Some of the buses did the lunch/cruise last which was after 2PM.
Akaroa - Tranz Alpine & Arthur's Pass - C
Another 9 hour day of which 6+ hours are on a bus. You journey across the Canterbury Plains, stop at a farm for tea and snacks and end at Arthur's Pass. You then board a train for a 2 hour train ride back down the mountain where you meet the bus for the ride back to the ship. There is a box lunch on board (no indication what you were eating - a concern with those with food allergies). Lots of sitting this day with little "activity."
Note" our rail car had a distinct mold odor - which drove the use of an inhaler within 2 minutes of boarding.
Dunedin - Nature's Wonders and Otago Peninsula - C (Argo part A)
The drive to Nature's Wonders was scheduled to be 75 minutes. It was an easy 90 minutes as our bus didn't have a 1st gear which made it difficult for driver. We arrived at Nature's Wonders and boarded an 8 wheel Argo (think ATV). There were 6 passengers to each Argo plus their driver. We visited a seal rookery, and then we observed penguins from a distance. This was all about protecting the environment and the animals. Very nice. We then boarded the bus back to Dunedin. Total time observing the animals - maybe an hour out of the 5 hour excursion. There is an opportunity to stop in the center of town and take a $10 shuttle back to the ship. We didn't do that. We did walk around Port Chalmers where the ship was berthed instead … which was a mistake.
Hobart - Russell Falls, Meadowbank & Wildlife - B+
Another full day excursion. We boarded a bus and visited Russell Falls. This was a nice 30-45 minute walk in a forest where you ended at the falls. Very nice. We did observe "tree kangaroos," and other wild life along the path. We then went to a winery for a quick tasting followed by lunch. Again, all very nice. After lunch we saw a sheepdog herding demonstration and shearing. Watch your step - and make sure you clean your shoes before boarding the bus to the Bonoring Wildlife Park. At Bonoring (a wildlife sanctuary) you see koalas, Tasmanian devils and there must be 100 kangaroos you can interact with. While all other animals are protected in the sanctuary - the kangaroos have free range. You are encouraged to feed them (using the feed found in numerous buckets throughout the park)
Melbourne - River Cruise, Healesville Sanctuary & Wine Tasting - B+
A full day in Melbourne. It started with a 2 hour (?) bus ride to Healesville Sanctuary. The extended bus ride was due to early morning rush-hour traffic. This sanctuary was much larger and nicer than Bonoring. Many more types of animals, and exhibits. They had volunteers at every turn in the path to assist you or answer any questions. We then went to a winery for a tasting and fabulous lunch. Too bad they don't ship back to the US. Our final stop for the day was a quick river cruise along the Yarra River in the central business district. The excursion would have been rated an "A" - the river cruise dropped it to a B+.
Sydney - we pre-arranged our own day with Real Sydney Tours. A+ (would like to go higher)
Disembarkation was a breeze, although we were 15 minutes late getting off the ship. We had exchanged cell phone numbers with our guide (Naomi) prior to leaving for the cruise, and called her as soon as we exited customs and immigration. She picked us up in a Mercedes Sprinter (?), and we were off to explore Sydney. After a quick history lesson about Sydney, we were crossing the harbor bridge and off to the Featherdale Wildlife Park. The ride to the park was an opportunity to get to know each other, and Naomi ensured all 4 of us were engaged in the dialogue. Arriving at the park we found the parking lot full. No worries! Naomi found a spot for our van, quickly obtained our tickets and we were off to explore the park with our own “zoologist.” We bypassed the 5 busloads of tourists at the first exhibit, as Naomi knew the 2nd exhibit was the star attraction. There we found koalas waiting for us to take pictures with them. Guides were there to ensure everyone had a chance to take a few pictures but kept the line moving. Then we were off to feed the kangaroos. Our personal “zoologist” made sure we understood the differences between the species, and took amazing pictures of the tour that would later be sent to us by Real Sydney Tours. The Park was amazing and so was Naomi. After that we visited the Olympic village, and then headed to a ferry stop to catch a ride back to the famous Opera house. Naomi timed our arrival to within 5 minutes of the next ferry - ensured we had tickets, handed us a basket of snacks and drinks and provide directions of where to meet after the ride was over. As we ended the ride Naomi texted us directions, to include a map of where to meet. Then out of the city to the suburbs with amazing views of the city, and lunch. A perfect stop was planned with quick service, reasonable prices and a view of a local beach. After lunch we visited Bondi Beach for some after lunch "eye candy," and then off to Centennial Park. A quick snack at a picnic table wrapped up our day. Nothing rushed, activities timed to perfection with an engaging guide. The BEST “excursion” of the cruise.
Naomi then dropped us at our hotel - the Sydney Hilton right in the central business district (CBD). The staff was helpful, the hotel clean and the room cool. Shopping and restaurants were all within walking distance. We also arranged a car to the airport which arrived right on time the next morning. For us, the hotel was in the right location, with the amenities we needed for an evening stay. Would definitely stay here again if we were looking for a room in the CBD.
Overall a good vacation. We definitely will continue to cruise with Princess based on itineraries, and if we were cruising as part of a multi-generational family vacation. However, we will continue to also cruise with Oceania when looking for a completely different cruise experience.
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