Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sea Days aboard the Diamond Princess

So, I wrote this soon after the cruise, but did not post it.  I went back to look through it again today and make a few edits.  It seems like it ends abruptly.  Probably because I wasn't finished with the draft, but now I've forgotten what else I was going to say, so this is what you get.  WARNING:  It is long and without pictures.

Ours was quite a long cruise (14 days), and while many of the days were spent in Ports, we also had a number of days at sea.  This post is my general review of the Diamond Princess, primarily the food, activities, entertainment, and the staff.

First, of all of the cruise ships I have been on, this one has been my favorite.  On previous cruises I had been on, we ate all of our evening meals in the main dining rooms.  On this cruise, the buffet food was so good, that several of the nights we ate at the buffet instead of the dining room.  The positive sides of this are:
1.  You can eat at your own pace
2.  Variety - You can sample a number of different meats, vegetable dishes, fruits, salads, and desserts that all sound good.  (I took several small helpings of a number of different foods)
3.  You can make your green salads the way you like them
4.  You don't have to get dressed up

That being said, the Dining Room experience is nice as well and should not be missed.  This is the first time I have tried the anytime dining, and I quite liked it.  The pros of anytime dining are:
1. You can build your meal around your schedule, rather than building your schedule around your meal.
2.  You don't feel as bad if you do choose to eat at the buffet,
3.  You do have the opportunity to eat with a variety of different people (if you choose, most nights we were at a two-person table) rather than having to eat with the same people every night.
4.  If you don't like your waiter, you can try a different waiter.

The cons are:
1.  You don't necessarily get to eat with the same people every night (as you can see, this is a pro and con); and,
2.  You don't necessarily build as strong of a rapport with your waiter, as you may not have the same waiter every evening (however you can make reservations so you do have the same waiter every night, or you can request a specific waiter when you get to the dining room if (s)he is available).
3.  You might have to wait for a table (once again, you can make reservations, though)

In terms of eating in the dining room, we preferred the ambiance of the Santa Fe dining room.  We did try out the Pacific Moon dining room one night due to the wait at the Santa Fe, but returned to the Santa Fe the next time we ate in the dining room.  The night we were at the Pacific moon, we ate with 4 couples, and it was nice and interesting conversation (3 of the couples were from Australia), but I'm glad we didn't do that every night.  I didn't like our first waiter at the Santa Fe dining room, but we were given a different table the second night we were there, and I felt like our waiter was excellent.  He was friendly and he didn't drag the meal out.  As a bonus, our table offered a free massage.  After the first night at that table, we did request it the other times we ate in the dining room.  One night the couple in front of us said they would eat anywhere, but would not mind eating at our table.  The hostess knew we liked that table, so she told them she had another table for them.

My dad had a chocolate ice cream cone almost every day.  I tried the ice cream a few times.  I liked it.  Since it came from a machine, I was expecting typical soft-serve ice-cream.  Instead it was more of a Wendy's frosty type consistency and taste (which was a positive for me, as I am not a huge fan of soft-serve ice cream).  So I would give the ice cream good ratings.  I was not a huge fan of the pizza on board.  The grill, was okay.  I got the fries a couple of times, and one hamburger.  The hamburger was good (Definitely better than a McDonald's hamburger in my opinion.  Then again, I've never really been a fan of McDonald's hamburgers).

Now, on to the activities.

The first and second days we were on the ship, they were holding a treasure hunt.  The task was to get stamps from various locations throughout the ship (the casino, a boutique, the internet cafe, the spa...)  I think the goal of this was to orient passengers to the ship and all of the services it had to offer (many of these services make money for the ship, so...).  Once you have a stamp from each of the locations, you drop your paper into the box, and you are entered into the drawing for a number of different prizes.  My dad won one of the prices ($25 towards photos).  I thought it was a fun activity.

One of my favorite cruise ship activities was similar.  It was a scavenger hunt held on sea days for the duration of the cruise.  I missed the first day of the scavenger hunt, but they allowed people that missed that day to join in, because you had until the last scavenger hunt day to turn in the paper from the first day.  This paper asked several questions about the ship and the activities and the staff.  Some examples include "How many bars are on the ship?  How many passenger pools are on the ship?  Where is the pool table located?  How many lifeboats does the ship have?..."  The second page required participants to get signatures of several of the staff on board such as a line dance instructor, a ballroom dance instructor, an Explorer's Lounge band member, the Employee of the month, a married couple that works on the ship...It was fun to go around the ship asking for signatures, but at the same time, I felt like a nuisance.  The staff were all very helpful in helping me obtain the signatures.  It was especially hard for me to get the Employee of the Month's signature, and a few different staff members helped me to locate him and get his signature, and when I asked questions of the staff, they were all very willing to help me find the answers.  They often also gave me extra, interesting tidbits of information.

The second day of the scavenger hunt (the first day I attended), I went alone.  I didn't have a team, however my dad did say he would be willing to help, so I did include him in the team because I was going to need some help.  After they gave us the task, I went back to our cabin to retrieve a number of items, including him.  The task on the second day, was to bring back items starting with each letter of the alphabet, and if you brought something with double of that letter (a princess patter, for example) you received two points for that letter (like in scattergories).  We had about 25 minutes to do this.  We didn't do the greatest, but we were able to bring back something for every letter but two (y and ?).  I also receive double points for a couple of them (I think 3) so we should have received about 27 points in the end.  One team had 33 or so points.

The third day of the scavenger hunt required us to bring our cameras.  Our task was to get names and signatures of staff from as many different countries as we could.  We also had to take a picture of their badge (which listed their country on it) to prove they were from the country in question.  The time limit was somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (I don't remember exactly).  We retrieved signatures from the floor we were on (the 7th floor) around the atrium area, and also a few signatures from the 6th and maybe the 5th floors.  We then headed up to the lido deck (where the pools and food is) because we thought we would be able to get a number of new countries there.  In the end, we felt our time would have been better spent trying to obtain more signatures from the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors.  One thing that slowed us down a bit, was that I forgot to get my pen back from one of the staff, and they walked off with us, so for the future staff, they had to scramble a bit to find their own pens.  That staff member that had my pen actually tracked me down and returned it to me - incredible!  I don't remember how many staff member countries we collected in the end, but it was kind of fun.  Even after the scavenger hunt was over, we found ourselves looking at the badges of the other staff members to see if they were from a country we hadn't obtained on the hunt.  We had a chance to talk with one of the staff members at the buffet, and he told us how many staff were on board and how many different coutries they represented.  I want to say that there were 1040 staff members from 40 different countries, but I don't think I'm remembering that right.  I did notice (even previous to the scavenger hunt) that their was a more diverse group of staff than other cruise ships I have been on.  Those cruise ship staff consisted primarily of Filipino and/or Indonesian staff members.  While this cruise ship still had a large concentration of filipino staff, it wasn't nearly as large of a percentage as the other ships.

The 4th day of the scavenger hunt also required a camera.  We had to take pictures of ourselves participating in various activities.  This day we gained a new member, as he was on a team by himself, and he would have had to ask other passengers to take his picture doing the activities.  Honestly, though, I think we slowed him down. Once again the time limit was somewhere before 20-30 minutes.  Some of the activities we needed to take pictures of us doing included:  doing laundry, eating pizza, playing ping pong, riding the exercise bike, dancing in the night club, playing ping pong, laying on the floor in the middle of the atrium...We completed all of the tasks except for one, and we received the highest score for that round.  Our team member (from the UK) was going to join us for the final round (and the first round paperwork)  Unfortunately, he didn't show up to the fifth round.

The fifth and final round required us to hand in our papers from the first round and then we were given a paper of random items to collect around the trip.  For this round, my dad and I split up.  We first looked through the list of items and ascertained that a number of them could be obtained from the cabin.  My dad went to the cabin to get those items, and then I set out to collect a number of the other items.  Some of the items included:  something tart, a coffee card, a heart-shaped chocolate, casino chips, etc.  We were told that we did not have to spend money to obtain the items (although we could if we wanted to) and that we should try to be creative.  For a few of the items, we could obtain bonus points.  I think we were able to return all but two items (the princess patter from the day of embarkation - it had been in our stateroom for the entire trip, but unfortunately our room steward chose that day to throw most of our previous princess patters away).  The second item we didn't have was a funny picture of a particular cruise director staff member.

All-in-all, I had a lot of fun with this.  Our team didn't do that great, but in the end we came in third for a couple of different reasons.  a) there weren't many teams to begin with; b)only three full teams showed up for the final round.  I can't remember for sure what our prizes were - maybe princess pens?

Another of my favorite activities were the trivia activities.  I would say this was one of the most popular activites on the boat.  The average age of the passengers on the boat was 63 (the karaoke and princess pop-star was not as well received by this crowd).  I tried to attend as many of these as I could.  Early on I met a couple of cousins (Pat from Connecticut and Lynn from New Jersey) and I paired up with them and others on many of the trivia games.  Sometimes they already had a number of members on their team, so my dad and I either formed our own team, or else we joined other individuals.  Our success at trivia was hit and miss.  Pat and/or Lynn (sometimes they were on different teams) won a few trivia games each, but usually when I wasn't on the team with them.  I did win one trivia game when I was on a team with Lynn.  Overall, we were usually in the middle of the pack or close to the top score.  I think our worst performance came towards the end of the cruise, where we were shown a movie poster, and had to name the movie it was from.  My dad and I were on our own team, and neither of us are great at that sort of thing.  We tried to add humor to a few of our responses, but I don't think the cruise staff were catching on to that fact.  Actually, I was a bit embarrassed during this game as well.  Instead of writing all of our answers down, and then having our answers scored, after each poster we had to walk our answers up to the stage, and the cruise staff member scored them on the spot.  At the beginning of the game, our team was given a number that we were to put at the top of each paper we turned in. Usually, I would put our team number on all of the pages that we had.  This time, for some reason I didn't, so I didn't realize when I turned one of my guesses in that our team number wasn't on the page.  At the end of the round, the emcee pointed to our team and asked "Which number?"  or maybe just "number?"  Since the movie was Legally Blonde and there were at least two legally blonde movies, I thought he was asking which number of movie, I said, "I don't know, I guess the original one"  and he said, "It's been so long since you got one right that you don't remember what your team number is?"  While the first part of the statement was probably true, I felt stupid for not realizing he was asking for our team number, but I do feel the question was vague.

I think my favorite trivia set-up was one in which we were given 3 different clues.  If we put down the right answer after the first clue, we were awarded 30 points; a correct answer after the second question awarded us 20 points, and we earned 10 points if we turned in the correct answer after 3 clues.  This was set-up like the movie poster trivia in that we took our answers to the front once we had completed them.  One caveat to the game, though, was that you only received one guess.  So, if you guessed on the 30 point question and were wrong, you didn't receive any points.  There was a flaw or two in the actual quiz, though.  For example, while New York State has a famous canal (The Erie canal), New York City does not, so the first clue on this trivia question was incorrect.

The battle of the sexes was another one of my favorite trivias. This was also a cruise long competition, with different formats each time.  The men pulled ahead in the first round or two, but when we hit the Millionaire round, the women built up a pretty good lead over the men.  Unfortunately, we lost a bit of the lead the next round, and we almost lost the whole game, but we pulled out a save in the end.  Unfortunately, the final prize was champagne, and since the men lost, they were supposed to pour it for the women.  Since I don't drink, I wasn't too thrilled about the prize.  Speaking of which, in general I was not impressed that champagne was a prize of so many of the games.  My other negative about the trivia is that I felt too many of the trivia activities were focused around entertainment (movies and/or music).  I would have liked to see a bit more variety both in the prizes and in the trivia content.

Another activity I attended a couple of times was pictionary.  It was pretty poorly attended both times, but we did barely recruit enough people to be able to play.  I am definitely a better guesser than a drawer.  On a few things, people were amazed I could guess what I did from the picture that was drawn.  One of the times they were giving out prizes to the winner of the game, and my team won, so I received a princess cruises lanyard.  The cruise ship also had some games and puzzles in the library that passengers could check out, and next to the library they had a couple of puzzles set up on puzzle mats on tables.  I did work on one of the puzzles a couple of different times.  Actually, I think I was the first person to start a puzzle, and after that others came along and started the other puzzle.  When we were working on it, this other passenger on the ship came along and said she loved puzzles and then was looking over our shoulder giving us advice.  It was annoying yet sometimes helpful at the same time.  The library also had books available to check-out, travel reference books, a different soduku puzzle each day, and then one other paper activity each day.  There was also a daily question on the Wake Show that could be turned in at the library.

Another activity available on the ship was "Movies under the stars"  There was a movie screen on the Lido Deck and lounge chairs were set up around the pool facing the movie screen.  Each day they had a couple of different movies they would play, usually one in the afternoon, and one a couple of different times at night.  The ship also had a small putting course (which was also very difficult to find), and a fitness center with trainers, bikes, weights, etc.).

While I didn't attend any port lectures in person, they were rebroadcast on one of the television stations.  On past cruises, I have attended port lectures, and much of the focus was on shopping, shopping, shopping and they didn't even touch on anything related to the shore excursions.  Maybe part of this relates to the locations of the cruises - who knows.  The port lectures on these cruises contained some very practical information.  They also discussed not only the shore excursions offered by the ship, but also how to get around, and things to do if you are not signed up for one of the shore excursions, and sometimes even the best order to do them and an estimate of the amount of time each activity would take if you just rush through it, or if you spend a bit of time.  Overall, I was very impressed.

As for the entertainment on the boat, I would say this was the most variable.  I enjoyed listening to retrospect in the wheelhouse lounge.  I felt like the orchestra was pretty good.  I wasn't a huge fan of the type of music C & C Duo offered and the band in the explorer's lounge wasn't my favorite.  That being said, different people have different music tastes. So, what I didn't like, I think others might enjoy.  That being said, I wasn't overly impressed by the production show singers and dancers, even though I did like the style of some of their music.  I just didn't think their voices/dancing were that wonderful.  Sorry.  Some of the other shows I did enjoy were the illusionist and the violinist, and the performance by Jamie Clarke, one of the cruise director's staff.  He has a great voice, and his impressions are pretty spot-on.  His songs were those covered by singers including Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Buble.  It doesn't hurt that he has a bit of a snarky sense of humor.  I also enjoyed the talent show on the last night, that allowed staff to see the talent that staff members other than the regular entertainers and cruise directors staff show off some of their talents (bar tenders, room stewards, etc.).  Hopefully more staff will have the courage to participate in this talent show in the future, as there were a lot of fillers by cruise director's staff.  Oh, and I very much enjoyed the magic class taught by the deputy cruise director, Dan.

A couple of the negatives from this particular cruise ship experience.  1)  The buffet beverage service was hit and miss.  Sometimes we would complete our whole meal before we were asked if we would like a beverage.  Now, on other cruise ships, the beverages were easily obtainable by passengers themselves, and I didn't mind getting my own beverage.  On this ship, that wasn't so much the case.
2) Not really a negative, but only an okay compared to my previous cruises - the room steward(ess?) I will have to say that she was new to the job, and she really wasn't bad, it just wasn't like the experience I had with other room stewards.


Moo said...

Sounds like fun. Our room steward this last time wasn't quite as good, either.

Beee said...

Thanks for the coverage of the ship. As I have only had one room steward, I was okay with him. I know others have down towel art, from seeing previous pictures from cruises. Once I bought the stuffed moose for the kiddos, he did get a little more entertaining. He would often open the door for us, if we were approaching, which was a nice touch.