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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


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 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 exercise.

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 convenience comparison.

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 bedspread. 

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 you, Sam!

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 us.

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 cruise.

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 Horizon Court.

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.

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.

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!

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 information clearly.

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 masked man?

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 morning.

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 governmental regulation.

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. Happy Cruising!

Copyright © 2005 by Patrick & Harriette Regan