This trip was planned back in June 2007 in an effort to escape Thanksgiving! The holidays, although pleasant, can be very time consuming and fatiguing and we decided we’d like to get away this year. We considered a full Panama Canal transit as well as a transatlantic trip but they were either not available or the timing didn’t fit. I found the 15-night roundtrip Hawaii cruises from LA to be a great idea and zeroed in on these. We wanted a balcony since we’d be onboard for 15 days and a little private fresh air is a good thing. Our first choice was Holland America but the schedules didn’t quite mesh with the time I could take off. Princess had just the ticket and at a great price. This would be our first time with Princess. We decided to go with Anytime dining which is similar to NCL’s Freestyle concept but with fewer dining options. There is great debate on the Princess boards about Anytime vs. Traditional dining but we enjoyed Freestyle so decided to try it on Princess. On our last HAL trip, there were a few nights when we really wanted to dine a bit earlier than 8:15PM but that wasn’t an option. Of course the hot appetizers in the bars helped!
I called my travel agent and had her book the cruise for us. I prefer to book through my TA even though I could do it myself for several reasons: If there are any problems with the booking, she will deal with them for me and in the correct language (travel that is!), she has the background and knowledge that I don’t regarding all things travel, I like to give business to people who appreciate it and don’t think of it as a right owed to them, she gets a commission from the cruise line which helps her and doesn’t cost me any more, and she can give me advice on other aspects of the trip, such as hotels, cars, etc. I enjoy doing the research so it’s really an easy booking for her – I tell who, what, where and when and she books it! We booked the Diamond Princess departing on November 18, 2007 from the Port of Los Angeles. Within a week, Princess notified my travel agent that we were upgraded from the BF guarantee to a BA on Lido deck. This was more than acceptable to us. This is a side-facing balcony cabin (L252) which I prefer. Some people enjoy the aft cabins because the balconies are larger but on a number of ships, the tiered aft end does away with some or all of your privacy. We generally book a category as opposed to a specific cabin anymore with the idea that we will probably get upgraded. This has worked for us on every cruise that we’ve done this on (4 so far) and all upgrades were several categories and in good locations. There is always the possibility that we’ll end up with a dud but we’ll take that chance!
I logged into CruiseCritic.com and searched for a roll call for our departure. I found one and joined in. Some in the group have done the trip previously on other ships. The Diamond Princess appears to be the favorite of numerous people who’ve sailed on her. This will be the largest ship we’ve been on to date at 116,000 GRT (the largest previously being NCL’s Norwegian Star at 91,000 GRT). It will also be the longest voyage to date at 15-nights vs. the 14-nights onboard Cunards’ Caronia in the Baltic’s.
We have been to Hawaii previously on NCL’s Norwegian Star in November 2003. We didn’t get to Maui or Kauai on that trip due to large swells that closed the harbors or prevented us from tendering. We went back to Honolulu 2 days early. We were excited about getting to the islands we missed out on the last time.
The cruise was priced right since it was over a holiday and considered low season. I used Marriott reward points to book a free pre-cruise hotel at the Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach and I had a $300 voucher from American Airlines for a bump I took the previous year for work. After the cruise we planned to overnight in LA and spend the day going to the Getty Villa in Malibu. We’d need car and a hotel. The last time we were in LA we stayed at the Marriott Marina Del Rey and liked it so much, we decided to stay there again.
Our outbound flight would leave at 7:35AM and arrive at LAX at 12:40PM with a two hour layover in Dallas – time enough for breakfast or early lunch since the airlines don’t feed you any more.
We decided to take a private car from LAX to Long Beach mainly because we didn’t want to have to schlep luggage too far and flying cross country tends to make us very tired even though we are sitting 90% of that time. We booked the car through PrimeTime Shuttle for about $75 including tip. The travel time was estimated at 1:20 – in reality it was about 35 minutes. Getting into Long Beach in the mid-afternoon would mean more time to wander. Since we’d be three hours ahead, we could take a nap then have a nice dinner. We had seen the Queen Mary on our previous visit so decided to walk around the hotel area. We planned to pick up a few things for the trip such as sun tan lotion, fresh flowers for the room and some bottled water so we’d scout out stores for these items as well. One thing we learned on past trips – if you see something you want, buy it then instead of either having to go back out and get it or trying to remember where you saw it!.
Our pre-cruise documentation included luggage tags, shore excursion brochure, things to know guide and a welcome letter. Since Princess has gone to all electronic ticketing, we simply have to print out our boarding pass and take that with us along with our passport, credit cards, etc.. The immigration information is entered online prior to final payment. I used the Princess.com website to enter the immigration information and to pre-reserve the shore excursions. The website also indicated that there was an itinerary change – basically all the ports were in reverse order from the brochure but that’s OK with us. In addition, they extended the time in Ensenada, Mexico to 7 hours from 4. Online, you can also fill out pages for preferences, requests, special occasion information and find forms for pre-ordering in-room packages like decorations, food and wine. Spa treatments can be ordered online as well.
Packing and Planning
According to the cruise documentation, there would be 3 formal nights on this trip so we would take our tuxes. On our NCL cruise to Hawaii, there was only one formal night and we decided it wasn’t worth the effort to bring the tuxes on that trip. Being Hawaii, the weather would be suited to shorts and t-shirts during the days but leaving from LA in mid-November, the weather would be cooler so a pair of jeans and a sweater would be needed as well. An umbrella and a dollar store ponchos would be useful too. Since we were planning on an excursion or two that involved hiking, we’d need boots as well. The nice thing about only two forms of dress on Princess in the evenings is the packing – no jackets or ties needed! One thing we learned when traveling to Greece and having two of our bags miss the ship, was to cross pack – some of each type of clothing (casual and formal) gets put into different suitcases. This way if one bag goes missing, you could still have clothing for day wear and evening. In Greece, I had no sneakers or sandals and only bathing attire to wear around the ship the first two days! Luckily I could dress for dinner.
We generally start gathering what we think we’ll take and lay it out in groups – shirts, underwear, shorts, t-shirts, etc. Eric makes a clothes diary and records what he takes each time and what he actually used or wished he had. He tends to do a bit better at wearing everything he takes as opposed to me! However, we plan to take enough clothes for 7-10 days and plan on sending out some things to be laundered midway through. The ship usually has some kind of ‘stuff as much as you can into the bag for a set price’ offer as well as the availability of laundry rooms on the ship. Remember to take a roll of quarters with you for the laundry room! Once we have narrowed down the clothes to what we think we really need, we start looking through it and pare it down even more. We usually find that we wear the same t-shirt at least a couple of times and the shorts (not underwear!) can be worn many times more than once or twice. For evening dress, I usually take 3 pair of slacks in black and blue and mix and match those with several different shirts. Each shirt can be worn twice so only 7 would be needed (considering 3 formal nights). Since we are in Anytime dining, the chances of anyone pointing at us in the public rooms and shouting, ‘Don’t you have anything else to wear? We’ve see that outfit already!” are pretty slim – remember we don’t sit with the same people at dinner each night. We will still end up with 2 large and 2 medium suitcases for both of us plus our carryon bags. We found these really great wheeled carryon bags with lots of space and wheels! My carryon usually weights about 30 pounds with all kinds of crap in it so this will save my shoulder.
The last cruise we took, HAL’s Ryndam out of Tampa, we decided to take Eric’s laptop and use the wireless connection available in the atrium area – mainly because we didn’t have to travel with it other than from home to the port – 15 minutes away! I actually ended up not using all the minutes on the plan I bought but that was OK too. We wanted it for email and to make sure if there were any problems, our friends could get in touch with us easily and cheaply! It was cheaper to do this since you could compose your email messages in Word offline and cut and paste the addresses and body once connected. I’ve found out that much of the time you spend is wasted composing the message and not actually doing anything. I may be forced to take my laptop from work but it weights a ton and I’d rather not. Plus airport security makes everything so much nicer these days (I’m kidding!).
We have our usual checklist of things to take care of such as mail, paper, alarm company updates, calling credit card companies, etc. We start this usually at the 2 week mark before sailing. We also set up the timers for lights in the house though many are already on timers. Copies of passports, credit cards, ID area made. I have a website (www.blazelonis.com) that I FTP important information to so I can get it from anywhere if needed (scanned copies of ID, passports, hotel/airline info, etc as well as legal documents such as power of attorney).
If you have an MP3 player, I found it a wonderful way to listen to audio books. Last trip, I ripped The DaVinci Code to my MP3 player and took that instead of the book. It’s a very lightweight option and you can take it anywhere on the ship with you- tan and listen! I also take a book to read but this allows me to cut down on the weight some.
One thing we try do always do is fly into the departure city at least the day before the ship sails. I’ve had nightmares about missing the ship! If I’m unfamiliar with the city, I research the area we’re staying in and look for restaurants and things to do. If we find a restaurant we really want to dine at, we’ll call before we leave (the week before or so) and make the reservation. We did this in Aruba and other places. A useful tool for getting familiar with the area is Google Earth. It’s free and fun to use. You can zoom in using satellite views and add the streets and names as well as show hotels, restaurants, drug stores, shopping, attractions, etc. You can also use the ruler to gauge distances to see if something is within walking distance. Another useful tool is the boards feature on CruiseCritic.com for not only the ships but also the ports. The boards are useful for what to see, what to do and what not too miss. They also have information on the ports, where the ship docks, what’s near, etc.
Some things we take as well include: binoculars, power strip for various appliances (ships usually have only one or two outlets) such as electric toothbrush, camera charger/dock, laptop, etc.
Planning done, it was time to get packing. We get everything chosen and organized then put into the suitcases on Friday night. We would have to leave for the airport about 6AM so this had to be done before bed. We also go to dinner the night before so that cuts out some of the packing time. No matter how much I prepare in advance, I still don’t get to bed before midnight!
Saturday, November 17, 2007 – Clear, sunny, low 60’s
I was up at 4:45AM since I hate to rush. The cab is supposed to be at the house at 6AM. All we needed to do was close up the suitcases and lock them.
The cab was on time and we were at the airport by 6:20AM. Curbside check-in was speedy and off we went to security. The line at security took about 20 minutes to get through. We grabbed coffee then went to the gate. The flight to DFW was on time but full. We had about 1.5 hours before out flight to LAX so decided to have a nice breakfast. We ate at a place called the Riata Grill. We walked around and shopped then went to the gate. The flight was delayed an hour because the plane was coming from Maui and was an hour behind schedule. I called the Prime Time Car service to let them know of the delay. The delay was more like an hour and a half before we could board. While we were taxiing to the runway, a warning indicator came on in the cockpit and we had to return to a gate. There was a hydraulic problem with the rudder and would require a part to be replaced. This took over 4 hours to accomplish and we were told if we needed to leave the plane to make it fast since we were leaving as soon as the problem was fixed – whether you were on it or not! We decided to wait it out. Once we were finally in the air (about 4:30PM DFW time), we still had to pay for food and drinks! The stewardess did give us a two for one on the booze but big deal! Everyone for the most part took it in stride and there were no problems with passengers getting angry. However, one couple did miss their cruise and AA had to fly them to meet the ship and put them up for 2 nights. Another good reason to fly in a day early!
We arrived in LAX at 5:30PM and it was dark. We went to collect our luggage and our drive was coming in the door pushing a luggage cart as we walked passed – great timing. The luggage was delayed about 30 minutes due to a jam! Nothing was running on schedule today! We finally got to the car and to Long Beach and checked into the hotel. It was very cool – about 60 and foggy. We had about 30 minutes before our dinner reservation so off we went to the restaurant.
We had dinner at Parker’s Lighthouse at 7:30PM – I made the reservation online the week before. The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel and we could see it from our room which overlooked the harbor and the Queen Mary (10th floor). We were seated right away and order a cocktail. Dinner was good but large portions. With a bottle of wine, we were done in by the time we got back to the hotel.
Sunday, November 18, 2007 – foggy, cold, mid-50’s, dress was Elegant Casual
Neither of us slept particularly well. We were up several times during the night. The fog was so heavy you couldn’t see the Queen Mary. We finally got up and dressed and walked down the street to the Long Beach Café for breakfast. Great place for breakfast – food was very good but beware the portions are large! We needed to pick up a few things at CVS and Albertson’s so we walked a few blocks to them. We bought some flowers but needed a vase so we picked up a couple of 95 cent clear plastic tumblers at Albertson’s which did the trick and could be left behind.
We walked back to the hotel and couldn’t get in our room – the keycards would not work. Security eventually had to let us in – not sure why. We got dressed and packed up and called for a bellman. After about 25 minutes and still no bellman, I called again. It was now about 12:30PM. The bellman came in about 5 minutes and offered to have the hotel van take us to San Pedro – which we accepted! All in all, the hotel and transfer to the port cost us nothing – free night with points!
We got to the pier about 1:15PM and got in line. We spent the time talking to a lovely couple from England (John and Patty) which made the time go by much faster. Security was tight. All in all, it took about an hour to get on the ship – not too bad considering we’re talking about 2600 people! Vision of Seas was in port with us.
The Diamond Princess is huge. I was very impressed with décor and the cleanliness of the ship – no complaints at all. The crew we met were friendly and directed us to our stateroom. We were in stateroom L252 on Lido deck forward, port side. HAL escorts you to your room but Princess does not – no big deal! The wheeled carry-on’s were our best buy so far! Our room was very nice but smaller than HAL’s standard verandah cabins. Princess puts your names on a tag on the ‘mailbox’ outside your door which I liked. The tags are color coded to your Captain’s Circle status – ours was blue for newbies!
No luggage was there yet as expected so we put down our carry-on’s and went in search of food. The Trident Grill and Pizzeria were just aft of our stateroom so we had a burger and brats with beer. The burgers, brats, hotdogs, etc at the grill were good but the pizza was very bland to my taste and needed the hot peppers, herbs and additional cheese. HAL actually gets the pizza vote from me.
We went back to our stateroom and two bags had arrived. We decided to unpack once all the bags were there and called DINE to make reservations for Sabatini’s and Sterling’s for the 3 formal nights (2 at Sabatini’s and 1 at Sterling’s). We had no problems getting them and all was set. We explored some more, checking the dinner menu and deciding we’d eat at Savoy tonight. We made no reservation however. A note about the food in the dining rooms on Diamond Princess (and Princess in general). The food in each of the dining rooms, whether traditional or anytime, is the same. Each anytime dining room also has one signature dish but the signature dish from any of the anytime dining rooms can be had in any of the other dining rooms! You don’t miss out on anything (lobster, crab legs, etc) by not being on traditional dining or changing dining rooms.
One more bag arrived and one that didn’t belong to us. We started to unpack. There was plenty of room and all our suitcases fit under the beds (well they would once they were put together!). Our stewardess, Toffee, stopped by and introduced herself. We asked that the beds be put together and for extra pillows. By the time we were half way through unpacking, the last bag arrived. All the unpacking was done and it was about time for muster drill. Princess works the muster drill by having you go to your muster station and NOT put on your life vest. Our station was the Princess theater. You sit in an assigned area and instructions are read over the PA with demonstrations provided by crew. Only when told to do so, do you put on your life vest. There is no checking as to whether you did it right or not. You then take it off and are dismissed. You will only go to the lifeboats if instruction to by crew. While this may be more comfortable for the passenger, I think standing on deck reinforces the idea that this is a serious business. I noticed many people not even trying on the vest and many of those that did didn’t put it on correctly. Roll call was not done but they assured us that they somehow knew everyone attended – not likely! All I have to say is watch out for me if we need to get off the ship and you’re fumbling around trying to get your life vest on or don’t know where to go!
After muster, we returned to our stateroom, got camera and binoculars for sail away. The weather was breezy and cooling off as the sun went down. We were delayed in sailing about an hour as they were still loading luggage and stores on the ship. We finally began to leave just after 5PM. Andrea and Tom found us above the bridge and we chatted awhile. We stayed outside until were almost clear of the channel but the fog was so heavy, you couldn’t really see anything so we went inside, walked around some then went back to the room to get ready for dinner.
Our normal routine is to have a drink before dinner so we went to the Wheelhouse bar. This is a wonderful room with lots of sitting areas, cherry paneling and brass lamps – very clubby. There is a smoking section and a dance floor and band. We sat in the non-smoking section. I found the size of the drinks on Princess to be on the small side and frequently ordered a double at twice the price! HAL was much more generous with the pours. The bar staff was friendly and we got to know several of the waiters over the 15 days we were onboard.
Before heading to the Wheelhouse, we stopped by the Savoy restaurant to make a reservation for 8:15PM. We were told we didn’t need one after 8PM but they took it anyway. The general rule was that after 8PM, no reservations were need in the Anytime dining restaurants except, we found out the hard way, Vivaldi. It appears that Vivaldi is used as overflow for the International dining room which is for traditional dining – set times and tables. The restaurants designated as ‘anytime dining’ were Vivaldi, Savoy, Pacific Moon and Santa Fe. We never made it to Santa Fe or Pacific Moon. We ate most of our meals in Savoy with one try at Vivaldi. Vivaldi didn’t open for Anytime dining until 8PM. At the same time, it was used as overflow for the International dining room. We appeared at 8PM and there was a line to get in. After a few minutes, the head waiter came around and took those that were waiting for traditional dining ahead of those on Anytime. We were asked to wait off to the side just a couple of minutes before we were seated. The waiting didn’t bother us but it was the feeling that you were crashing the party by being on anytime dining since preference was given to traditional diners. Had this been stated, we would not have minded. We didn’t go back there again.
Overall, the food was very good to excellent throughout the ship. The waiters were professional and efficient and you didn’t lack for anything. However, some waiters were better suited to us than others. We lucked out on the first night at Savoy with Virole and Natalya and chose to eat in Savoy most nights there after. The maitre ‘d came to know us and would set up our next nights reservations when we left. We ended up having a regular table in Virole’s section.
The pasta’s were exceptionally good. I had the fettuccini Alfredo on several occasions as an appetizer and the pasta entrée several times as well. Eric enjoyed the fish and seafood. We have no complaints about the food and the portions were good (not too much, not too little). The wine selection was very nice and we didn’t repeat any wines throughout the cruise. The prices were reasonable as well.
Being that we had a 3 hour time difference from home and the excitement of getting onboard, we turned in after dinner. There was a bit of movement but not what I would call rough. During the night it did become more noticeable.
Monday, November 19, 2007 – At Sea – very cool, upper 50’s, overcast – seas ‘mild’ – 1.5 to 4 feet – windy, dress was Elegant Casual
Today I awoke with a nasty headache and sour stomach. I took aspirin and drank water but it wouldn’t go away. Eventually it made me nauseous and nature took its course. The headache was from tension (work, travel, excitement, etc) and not the ship movement even though the ship was rocking! Eric went to breakfast and the library and by the time he came back, I felt much better. We eventually left the stateroom around 11AM. I ate a light lunch then we went to a lecture at 1PM. After the lecture it was time for the CruiseCritic Meet and Mingle at 3PM.
The M&M was held in Skywalkers and the turnout was very good. Many of the people who chatted on the CC board were in attendance. The lei’s were a success and it was nice to put faces to screen names! A bar waitress was present to get drinks and she even took group pictures with numerous cameras. We ran into several of the members during the cruise which was fun.
There was a GLBT meeting in the Wheelhouse bar at 5PM which we attended. It was hosted by one of CD staff members. About 8 people showed up and we chatted for about 45 minutes. One member of one couple had a cousin in Clearwater who we know! We again ran into several of the group over the time onboard. The meetings are listed as GLBT because it appears the younger folks these days don’t know what ‘Friends of Dorothy’ means! There were 3 meetings held during the cruise, one of which was at 11:30PM in Skywalkers – way past our bedtime!
We thought we’d try Skywalkers for a drink before dinner but it doesn’t open until 10PM. What a waste of a great space. Back to the Wheelhouse – 900 feet and 6 floors in the other direction!
Dinner was in Vivaldi. Food was good, service good but not really to our liking. We prefer Savoy for décor, ambiance, and service.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 – At Sea – very cool, low 60’s, overcast with some sun – seas ‘mild’ – 1.5 to 4 feet – breezy, dress was Formal
The seas were a little calmer today but still choppy at times. The weather was a bit warmer but not much. More sun as well. The first couple of days at sea are usually cool and a bit rough. Instead of the long sleeved shirt, undershirt and jeans I wore yesterday, today it was jeans, undershirt and short sleeved shirt!
Usual routine – breakfast in Horizon Court, wander, sit in on the port lecture before lunch and lunch. After lunch, I watched the new Harry Potter movie in the room and Eric went to a lecture. We met up later in the afternoon.
A word or two about the Horizon Court buffet area. Personally, I don’t like the layout of the food area and find it very confusing and hard to navigate. The main problem is that everyone is wandering from one island to the next, back and forth, trying to see what’s what and getting in each others way. Not all like items are together, so the green salads and dressings are in one place while other cold salads (pasta, etc) are in another. Cheeses were by the fruit but also there were some by the salads. Hot items were spread out as well – there were hot entrees in different places – pasta in one place, meats in another on the other side, etc. HAL may have long serving lines but at least the items are grouped logically (usually – there were exceptions!). HAL and other lines win in this department. We didn’t eat in the restaurants for any meals other than dinner.
And a word about the internet on the Diamond Princess – it SUCKED! Forget the wireless option – it was terrible with a capital T. It was ten times slower than dialup and was down (the whole internet connection was done several times) frequently. It took me on more than one occasion over 2 minutes to get logged off ($1 down the drain at .50 per minute!). I logged off and gave up on numerous occasions as well. The Internet center computers weren’t much better and more expensive (.75 per minute hoping the screen would change!). People were told the system was being upgraded and would be better by the end of the cruise or it was slow because of the satellite connection, etc. All crap as far as I’m concerned – it was just bad. The other confusing part was getting your wireless connection established. We had our laptop and you accessed the wireless in the atrium area – library, writing room, etc. Once you got connected, a login page appeared waiting for a user code and password. No help about how to get that. You have to go to the internet center and ask a tech for help. You had to log in on one the ships PC’s which issued a user code and password, then your account was establish. The tech guy was helpful and I did get it set up without a problem but a little note about how to go about it would be nice on the log in page. There was also nothing in the Patter or anywhere else that I saw.
It was nice to see so many people (the majority by far) dressed up with a better than average percentage in tuxes. There were photographers set up on each floor of the atrium and outside the internet center, each with different backdrops.
Dinner tonight was at Sabatini’s. We checked the menu and from other menu’s we found online and we expected a lot of fish and seafood. However, that was not the case. The general comment was that there was so much food before your entrée that you couldn’t finish your entrée. This night we didn’t find that to be the case nor was there a lot of fish on the menu. The way it works is that you choose your entrée and everything else is brought out. You can take or ship anything presented. You are first served cold appetizers such as marinated, grilled mushrooms, chunks of parm cheese, procuitto, arugula salad, marinated roasted red peppers, olives, artichokes, etc. They also brought out cold cooked shrimp and anchovies (I passed on these!). After that, they clear your plates and bring out hot appetizers such as mini cheese quiche, mini crab cakes, etc. Again your plates are cleared and they bring out the pasta - paparadelli with a spinach and mushroom sauce, ravioli with a butter and truffle sauce. After this, they ask for your choice of soup – chicken broth with vegetables (delicious) or tomato broth with seafood. After that, you can have a salad or skip it. Then your entrée arrives. After that is dessert. The food was wonderful, not too much and I usually do not finish a meal in a restaurant, even without an appetizer and I ended up having dessert! Remember, you don’t have to take everything and you can tell them very small portions. The service was excellent as well. We were looking forward to our next meal here!