Insure your cruise ~ Use the automated quote form to compare
Get ready to
cruise with Cruise Wear, Gear, Luggage & More from
Cruising by the Book ~
Top Picks in
Cruise travelers' favorites:
Have a question or a
review to submit?
Write to me
Oct. 16 - 23, 2004
Los Angeles to Puerto
Vallarta, Mazatlan & Cabo San Lucas
by Patrick & Harriette Regan
We have cruised 3 times on Celebrity, 4 times on Princess, once each
on Crystal, Hal and RCCL in the last 2 1/2 years.
We have been trying to select a cruise line where we could begin to
take advantage of the frequent-cruiser perks that increase after the
5th cruise. This Diamond Princess cruise is our 4th Princess cruise in
a row, and we are also one cruise away from “5th” cruise status on
Celebrity. We are trying to decide between Princess and Celebrity for
our “home” cruise line.
Cruising is becoming even more expensive. Crystal is our favorite so
far, but at their prices we could do more premium style cruising on
cruise lines that come close in quality but for less money.
We are comparing certain kinds of cruise value and the quality of the
food and the service. There are things that used to be complimentary. Cappuccino
and designer coffees are not free anymore in the dining
rooms. They are charging for ‘soft serve’, not just the Hagen Das
bars that they have had for a while. Diamond Princess does have a one
hour window in the mid afternoon at the Horizon buffet where ice cream
is dispensed for free. They are offering a champagne breakfast in bed
or on your balcony for $25.00 that includes a half bottle of
champagne. You can order room service for free and bring your own
bottle and save the $25.00.
We have been wanting to travel on one of the newer, bigger, grander
ships, and this Diamond Princess cruise fit our schedule perfectly. We
saw the Diamond Princess in Alaska last summer docked next to the
Coral Princess (which we were on), and we knew we’d love to cruise
on this beautiful ship.
We flew Alaska Airlines from YVR to LAX. We were met by a friend who
drove us the 40 minute drive to the cruise terminal in San Pedro.
Excellent directions were provided by Princess; we got off the Harbor
Freeway and followed the signs to the cruise terminal. There we were,
riding through many stacks of cargo containers; we turned a corner and
there was the awesome sight of the Diamond Princess, stem to stern,
alongside her berth. We followed the drive the length of the ship and
it seemed to go on and on. We gave our luggage to a porter with a
dollar a bag tip and headed for the boarding area with our carry ons.
It was almost 3PM when we arrived and not at all crowded even though
the ship was sold out. It took us about a half hour to board the
ship. We got in the Captain’s Circle line, a much shorter line. The
check-in is just a credit card swipe if you have done the
pre-registration at www.princess.com.
Princess does a good job with their very easy-to-use website. We
received our cruise cards/cabin keys and headed for the boarding line.
There is no way to avoid waiting in the photo line the way boarding
the ship is routed so we just relaxed. We would prefer to be able to
board without getting in the photo line. We like the idea of a
boarding photo but since it has become a twenty-dollar boarding photo,
we’ll pass. There was no welcome aboard Champagne or orange juice,
as on Celebrity.
We sailed out of the LA Harbor in the warm late
afternoon sun. A perfect day. We walked the length of
the ship topside as we sailed away and headed for
Mexico. We carried our Diamond Princess pocket guide
getting familiar with the ship as we marveled at its
beauty and design.
Our balcony cabin was located on the Aloha deck (#12), midships. It
has that new and hardly used feeling. Harriette felt it was clean
enough to put towels down on the floor and lie on them to
There was plenty of closet space, but a paucity of
hooks to hang stuff on. The only hook is a double on
the back of the bathroom door, and once you hang up
your robes there is very little room for anything
else. Fortunately, we had brought 2 of our own plastic over-the-door
hooks, which we hung on the outside of the closets. The drawer space
is excellent, and there is a built-in desk with a plug that we used
for our charging station. We travel with a laptop charger, battery
charger and electric razor charger, and the desk surface and plug
placement was excellent. There were built-in night stands on either
side of the queen bed, and good lighting.
The counters in the bathroom are almost nonexistent;
there is just a narrow overhang with enough room to
set a drinking glass on. The Diamond Princess is a
brand new ship--she should have had more thoughtful
bathroom design. Celebrity’s newer M class ships’
bathrooms have decent counter space, so you can set
things down while ‘getting decent’, and they also have
many secure shelves for storing your bathroom stuff. We are not terribly happy with the fact that Princess
doesn’t place a throwaway plastic liner in the
bathroom trash can. This is a foolish economy is these
days of the Norwalk virus and the compromised immune
system some of us have. Princess provides separate
packets of shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion in a
bathroom basket, instead of wall mounted shampoo and conditioner dispensers in the shower as Celebrity does. These packages of bathroom
products carry the imprint of the onboard Lotus Spa, and they are made
out of a fancy glazed cardboard. They are good quality products, but
all the packages are the same color and look exactly alike in the
shower. If you wear glasses, you can’t tell the packages apart.
They are also impossible to open if your hands are wet, so it must be
done before you enter the shower and before
you take off your glasses. We are glad we brought
our Swiss Army knife for opening them.
We also miss the steel water carafe that is provided
on Celebrity and kept filled by the cabin steward.
Celebrity wins the cabin ergonomic design and
We met our cabin steward, Sam, from Thailand. We
tipped him $20.00, and asked him for a couple of
robes. We also asked him to get rid of the bedspread. We know the cruise lines don’t change them often and
we feel more “comfortable” when we flop or sit on the
bed with the spread gone. Dateline NBC programs and
comedian Howie Mandel have ruined us forever about
just flopping down on a hotel or cruise ship
Sam did a great job for us; he got to know our
breakfast schedule and the cabin was always made up
when we returned. He kept the cabin truly clean. Thank
Princess has found a way to get more affordable
balcony cabins incorporated into this ship’s design.
Hooray. We used to think balconies had to be totally
private, but the amphitheater type of balcony with the
big sliding door really gives one a cruise-y feeling.
We can’t imagine ever cruising again without one. It’s
a very small balcony, just enough room for 2 chairs.
Some of the balconies aft are even smaller; no matter
their size, having a balcony gives you that door to
the ocean outside. On the Aloha deck we had no
balconies staring down from above us, and we
overlooked all of the balconies below.
One of the reasons we chose the Diamond Princess was
because they had four no-extra-charge dining rooms
here on the Diamond Princess. The Santa Fe, featuring
Mexican food; Pacific Moon, the Asian Venue; the
Sterling Steak House; and the Vivaldi, featuring
Italian food. All four of these dining rooms are
included in the price of the cruise. Princess is
starting to add a cover charge for the Sterling Steak
House on other Princess ships, but for this Diamond
Princess cruise the Sterling was included.
The International dining room has the traditional 2
seatings (6:15PM and 8:30PM) with the same table, same
wait staff, or the ‘anytime’ dining. We opted for
personal choice dining where you need to make a
reservation. The International dining room menu is
available in all of the anytime dining venues, so you
aren’t missing out on anything.
If you drop in without a reservation you may have to
wait depending on the time of the evening. On the
Island Princess you were given a beeper so you could
wander the ship until your table was ready. Diamond
Princess didn’t have the beepers.
There is one more dining room, Sabatini’s, which has a
$20.00 per person cover charge. It is Italian with
more courses and extra special service. We tried it
one night and enjoyed it, but we prefer to use the no-extra-cost
anytime dining rooms.
Maitre D’ Fabio Marcotti presides over the best
run dining rooms and most pleasant and knowledgeable
waiter service we have ever seen on a cruise ship. There are 3078 passengers to be served on the Diamond
Princess, and the service was superb. All of the
headwaiters and the wait staff have a great “can do”
attitude without being obsequious. Fabio Marcotti
seems to be everywhere. We saw him moving from dining
room to dining room each evening quietly making sure
all was well. We dined with many different waiters and
enjoyed it. Our friend Mark and his wife Nin and
daughter Marisa joined us most evenings. Nin is from
Thailand, and we were able to reserve a table each
evening where there was a Thai waiter. The headwaiters
in each restaurant went out of their way to make sure
we got a Thai-speaking waiter on the team that served
We took the kitchen tour conducted by Fabio Marcotti,
and we learned a lot. The kitchen is very modern, and
it is contiguous to the dining rooms. There are many streamlined
devices where waiters can automatically pick up salads, appetizers
etc. without having to wait on each order. The next salad just pops
into place like the old automats of years ago. The kitchen is very
clean, even cleaner than the one we saw on the Crystal Harmony. There
are small sinks everywhere--next to stoves, cutting tables etc. There is always a place for kitchen workers to rewash their hands or
to rerinse what they are prepping or cooking at their work stations. I
toured the kitchen with Mark, who was a restaurateur some years ago,
and he marveled at the kitchen.
Fabio explained that every Thursday he receives a
passenger list for the next Saturday’s sailing on the
Diamond, and he and his staff assign 1200 seats in the traditional
dining room based on requests, dining needs, groups etc., and then on
Saturday they try to make any changes they can to accommodate
late-running passenger requests. The headwaiters at the personal
choice venues are taking reservations at each dining room as people
board, and there is a central number that spells “dine” that you
can use for reservations by telephone. We did a modified personal
choice on the Coral Princess, but there was only one personal choice
dining room, not four. We think this is the future of cruise dining,
and the automatic tip added daily to your bill covers those who serve
you well. Complain to a headwaiter if there is a problem, and reward
those servers who really get it with a few singles at the end of the
Personal choice dining requires much more management
from the Maitre D’ and his head waiters than
traditional dining does, and they do a great job of
it. It’s a great addition to cruising, and Princess
does it well. The biggest part of the cruise for us is
the food, service and atmosphere.
The Horizon Court is open 24 hours a day. We noticed
that the buffet offerings were a bit more interesting
than on previous cruises, but we don’t like the poor
layout. There are no trays at this Princess buffet,
and the lack of trays makes gathering buffet items
difficult. There is no lemonade available. People mill
around unsure of which direction to go in. The buffet
is poorly laid out for such a brand new ship. Also, we
find generally find ourselves eating more than we
really want on cruise buffets, so we never ate at the
PIZZA, BURGERS & HOT DOGS
The poolside pizza was great--thin crust, crisp,
great selection and taste. The pizza guys really got
it done right. They were open daily from late morning
until dinner time.
The Trident Grill near the pool served nicely grilled
burgers and hot dogs with all of the toppings non-stop
from late morning to dinnertime.
The quality of the food is good. It is high banquet
level food with some specialized entrees in the
personal choice rooms. They manage to serve near ten
thousand passenger meals a day on the Diamond
Princess. The appetizers, salads and desserts are
excellent. Most of the entrees are good. Celebrity
does a better job with the sauces and the baked goods,
but their beef wasn’t very good. The Princess beef was
much better on the Island and the Coral but not very
good on the Diamond Princess. I guess it has something
to do with the mad cow scare and the fact that the US
is not importing tasty Canadian beef now. We noticed
the lobster tail is shrinking on Princess. The ones
they serve in the dining rooms on lobster night are
near thumb sized, similar to what the Sizzler buffet
chain has for lobster. The beef and lobster were
better at Sabatini’s -- the extra charge ($20.00 per
person) dining room.
If you don’t like something, send it back and order
something else. Sometimes when we couldn’t decide on
an entree we would order it in appetizer size in order
to sample it and have a main entree too. Yum. All in
all the food quality is almost a tossup between
Celebrity and Princess now. The waiter service and
attitude is much better on Princess.
Available 24 hours a day. The menu is limited outside
of regular meal hours. We like ordering morning
coffee, rolls and juice before going to the dining
room. The croissants are just crescent shaped dinner
rolls. They have no buttery crunch. There is a card
you hang on the cabin door knob with your breakfast
order, and breakfast is delivered at the time you
choose. Tip the room service waiter. They work
extremely hard delivering food all over this huge
ship, and a dollar or two means a lot.
Not very warm, not very good. We’ve had better catering truck coffee.
Don’t order cappuccino or lattes
in the dining rooms. You will be charged, and it all
comes out of a push button machine! It used to be free
in the dining rooms.
We love strolling off our meals on the wraparound
promenade deck. It was never crowded, and there are
plenty of deck chairs when you need a break. Celebrity
doesn’t have them on their M class ships which compare
to the Diamond Princess.
The public areas of the ship are truly clean, not just
picked up after. The public bathrooms are also kept
very clean; on some ships they are neglected,
especially the bathrooms near the dining rooms. The
public rooms and sitting areas are very comfortable
and well designed.
Diamond Princess is about 900 feet long. It takes a
couple of days to discover everything. Skywalker’s
lounge is located aft, at the very top of the ship.
It’s a great place during the day to sit and
contemplate the views. There is a jogging track and
cyber golf place on top of the ship above the gym. The
gym has all of the usual equipment, along with too
many TV’s. The problem with the television is that
some thoughtless passengers play the volume very
loudly. Often many different channels are on, each
vying for attention, creating a babble of unwanted
sound. We would prefer that the sound remain muted and
people watch CNN, ESPN etc. with the captions on so
those of us exercising while listening to our I Pods
or CD players can enjoy our music.
There are coin laundromats located throughout the ship
too. Celebrity doesn’t have these, and they are
helpful to those of us who like to pack minimally.
SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENT
We’ve spent our lives working in the motion picture
and television production world. We’re not big fans of
the Broadway show type of entertainment unless it’s
near Broadway level. We like to see the comedians and
listen to music in the smaller venues. It is
impossible to get seats on this ship to the early
shows because of the rampant seat saving unless you
arrive a half hour early. The later shows have seats
available. Some clueless cruisers wander in loudly,
very late, trying to find seats in the darkened
theater, making it particularly difficult for the
comedians continue to hold their audience. Passengers
more than 5 minutes late should not be allowed to
enter, in our opinion. The Princess Theater is
beautiful. There is also the Explorers’ Lounge, the
Wheelhouse Bar, Crooners’ Lounge, Club Fusion and at
the top of the ship Skywalker’s nightclub to explore.
We miss having a jazz trio on this voyage. The Coral
and the Island Princess have jazz trios, piano, bass
and drums, sometimes with a vocalist. We enjoy sipping
a drink or two and listening to the jazz. There are
hardworking solo piano players at Crooners’ bar and in
the Atrium. There is a nice movie theater with recent
movie releases, but again latecomers trying to find a
seat disrupt the flow of the movie.
Honor system for checking out books, and very short
hours. The reading chairs are facing in the ‘wrong’
direction, not taking advantage of the ocean views!
Ships’ libraries need to be open later. Celebrity does
a much better job in this area.
Our afternoon favorite. Scones with quality whipped
cream served with finger sandwiches and mini sweets in
the British tradition. Yum yum! Princess does this
better than Celebrity.
POOLS AND HOT TUBS
This is where you notice there are 3078 passengers
aboard this big ship. There are way too many people
trying to crowd into the hot tubs and pools. We sat in
a hot tub with every seat on the built-in underwater
bench taken and watched another row of people crowd
the edge, sit on the steps etc. We don’t wish to sit
in a hot tub and feel the arms, legs and ankles of
other cruisers rubbing or squeezing us. Yuck!
THE CRUISE DIRECTOR
is Billy Highgate. More like Billy Lowgate. His staff
is loud and overbearing, and they yell into the
microphones. Billy seems to be wishing he was
somewhere else. We agreed. It was more a Carnival type
of cruise staff than a Princess one. We also miss the
morning TV show that exists on most ships mc’d by the
cruise director--it gives the day’s events, drink of
the day, show times, etc. These shows also introduce a
sailing crew member or performer in an interview
setting. Brian Price, cruise director of the Coral
Princess, had it down perfectly with his short,
informative show, which ran all day on the Princess
channels. You could always watch reruns of the show
and find out what was up for the evening as you got
ready for dinner. This is a must for passengers to
have access to because in our opinion the Princess
Patter newspaper is a disaster as far disseminating
is nothing more than an ad sheet. It is woefully
incomplete. We like the one on boarding day to list
more than which nights are the formal-dress occasions.
We would like a list of theme dinner nights, the
names of the crew and hotel staff department heads,
and the hours of all of the food places, not just the
big rooms but the pizza place, the burger place, etc.
This is all contained a large notebook in your cabin,
but it can’t be folded up in your back pocket. Who was
the Executive Chef? We couldn’t tell.
Crystal goes one step further; they list the dinner
themes for the cruise as well as give advance notice
of the special buffets, so you can plan your eating
schedule ahead and make the appropriate reservations.
This should be a must for Princess with the advent of
personal choice dining.
The Patter is also badly edited and organized, more
like the Princess Splatter. It jumps around, so you
might miss some event stashed among the ads. The
worst. This would be so easy to fix. Celebrity wins
this one, big time. I never once saw the name of the
hotel manager in the Patter. He probably was at the
captain’s welcoming party but we weren’t. Who was that
They are always rattling the loudspeakers announcing
something all day on the Diamond Princess. On the
Coral and Island Princess and on Celebrity and Crystal
the loudspeakers are hardly ever used. As it should
be; this is a cruise, and we don’t want to hear any
more about bingo, or the art auctions, etc. The worst.
If Billy Highgate did the morning TV show this
information would run all day for us to hear and see
when we wished. Billy’s staff has very poor microphone technique,
which makes these announcements even more difficult especially when
one is napping or relaxing in their cabin.
Puerto Vallarta was the first port we visited. We were
up early having a light snack and watching the ship
swing into its berth. We love this part of cruising.
There are cabs and tour vehicles lining up in the
traffic circle which will take you to town, but if you
leave the ship and walk 150 yards, there is another
cab stand with better prices. Five dollars takes you
to town. There is a
Wal-Mart across the highway with good souvenir prices.
Mazatlan, our second stop, has a large shopping area
in walking distance of the ship. If you catch a cab
you can go into town for even better prices and more
selection. Mazatlan has an industrial feeling somewhat
like San Pedro, California.
Cabo San Lucas, the third and final stop, is a
tendering port. The ship sails at 2PM, so you can’t go
far. If you leave the tender dock and walk to the main
street in front of the hotels you are only a couple of
blocks from a restaurant we love called The Crazy
Lobster, located at the intersection of Miguel Hildago
and Calle Zapata. A short walk to a great breakfast or
lunch at locals’ prices, not tourist prices. Huevos
rancheros for 2 with guacamole and cokes were just
five dollars US compared with the same thing
harborside for 15-20 dollars US. The seafood specials
are comparably priced. It isn’t just about the
prices, the food at The Crazy Lobster is fresh and tasty.
Remember--walking a couple of blocks can save you
money on a meal or on beautiful Mexican jewelry. It’s
much higher retail in the shops near the tender dock.
Cabo is the only place we had to tender, and it is a very scenic place. Get on one of the double-deck
tenders, and take the stairway to the top deck. The
view from there of other ships bobbing at anchor, the
rock formations at land’s end and the people para-sailing or jet skiing around
is a very scenic tender
ride. Very cruise-y. We wish the ship could stay
later than 2PM, but this schedule has to do with
making it to LA on time to kick us off early Saturday
We like to give something extra to these hard working
crew members. We have fallen in line with the
automatic tip added on a daily basis to our cruise
bill, saving us the trouble of organizing tip
envelopes (which is a near impossibility with personal
choice dining because so many different serving people
are involved). We like to reward those who provide
thoughtful service. We carry a supply of dollar bills
to tip various helpers on the ship who don’t fall into
the automatic tipping pool--the room service waiter,
the pool attendant, the pizza guys, etc.
Cruising experience has taught us that there are some
things we have to bring when we cruise. We bring a
power strip and an extension cord. We bring a laptop
computer, a small photo printer for 4 x 6 pix, a
battery powered air freshener, over the door plastic
hooks, our I-pods with a set of speakers with a
charging dock, and some DVD’s in a CD case. We like to
watch movies that we like again on the laptop, sitting
in a deck chair, cruising. We’re amazed at how many
people, young and old, are carrying digital cameras. No wonder Kodak is struggling.
The Captain on our Crystal Harmony cruise had a policy
of not shaking hands. Crystal was the first line we
had seen provide hand wipes for boarding and
reboarding the ship. We saw handwiping stations for
the first time on Princess on the Diamond. Yay!
Finally. Norwalk virus has been a problem. Fighting it
begins with getting out of the habit of shaking hands
with Captains, Maitre’d’s, waiters etc. It’s a social
thing we are used to doing politely, but we need to
stop when we are on a ship. Passengers need to help by
washing their hands often. Every passenger needs to
carry and use hand sanitizer, and wash their hands
more often in order to foil the virus.
We feel badly at times for the non sailing crew of
servers, bartenders, cabin attendants, etc. We know
they are making good money compared to the salaries in
their homes around the world, but we see their fatigue at times. Their attitude on this ship and on Princess
in general is great. We would gladly make our bed one
day of a 7 day cruise and eat in the buffet if they
wished to close the dining rooms for one day, but we
sense that is not going to happen. We hope someday the
cruise lines figure out a way to give these
hardworking crew members at least one day off a month.
The sailing crew doesn’t have this problem, by
is a zoo. The worst we have ever seen on any cruise
line. I guess having a little over three thousand
passengers has something to do with it. We thought we
would never get through the lines and our friends Mark
and Nin took two hours more. Princess is going to have
to figure out how to empty these mega ships quicker.
We have metaphorically drunk of the Princess kool aid.
We are staying with Princess for our next cruise on
the new Sapphire Princess on April 23. We are taking
a 19 day ocean voyage from Osaka, Japan to Seattle,
with stops in Japan, Korea, Russia and Alaska before
ending up in Seattle. We can’t wait. We liked the mega
ship except for the crowded hot tubs. We are however, crestfallen to
discover that on a nineteen day cruise we will only get credit for one
cruise in the Captain’s Circle frequent cruiser program. Celebrity
gives a two-cruise credit if you cruise more than twelve days, and we
think Princess should do the same.
See you on board.
Copyright © 2005 by Patrick & Harriette Regan