Why are we blogging?

We thoroughly enjoyed the blogs from those on the World Cruise 2010. They were so useful and some were also very entertaining and so we we started our own, late 2010, ready for the 2011 cruise(s).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diamond Princess or Dawn Princess? Final thoughts.

With Princess, there are obvious structures that just roll over from one ship to another, regardless of size, but having spent enough time on these two to form some opinions, with several people pestering us for our opinions, so here goes.


Firstly, the basic facts on the two ships, Diamond first:


Built:  2004  vs  1994 ; Built in Japan (Mitsubishi) vs Italy.  Do you notice ten years difference? Not really though the Dawn is due  a partial refurbishment shortly.  On both ships, the staff are constantly painting the exteriors, varnishing the handrails, replacing astro-turf, replacing carpets etc.

Verdict:  A slight win to the Diamond.  The Dawn is showing its age in places.


Size: 113,000 tonnes 2,700 passengers, 77,000 tonnes 1,950 passengers.

Verdict:  Well you’ll have to wait until the summary to see whether bigger is better!


Balconies:  The Diamond has three different balcony structures.  Decks 11 & 12 appear to be standard cabins with a small balcony, the same as the Dawn, but unlike the Dawn, the cabins on the two decks below (mini-suites) have larger balconies – and it looks as though they are updating the balcony chairs – but they had only got as far as deck 10... The downside on the Diamond is that from the upper decks, you can’t see the dock side as well.

Verdict:  A draw.  The lack of privacy for those on decks 9 & 10 on the Diamond, even though  there are so many extra mini suites, and the fact that decks 11 & 12 have lost a better view of the dockside, evens this out.


Cabins:  The layout of the Diamond’s walk in wardrobe scores here, but the bathroom is similar (tiny shower).  The TV is set higher which is better for watching TV from the bed.  The Dawn is Australian based so does have one Australian electrical socket per cabin plus one US.  The Diamond only has US sockets.  Incidentally, our fridge in cabin 702 on the Diamond didn’t have an air vent above it, but 706 did...  Cabin 702 had no print on the wall but 706 did!  Strange.

The dividing walls between the cabins are steel, so ideal for attaching magnets, but the wall alongside the bed is steel on the Dawn but not the   Diamond.

Verdict:  Marginally a win for the Diamond.


Swimming: This is a real win for the Diamond as it has an excellent covered swimming pool in the centre of the lido deck, whereas the Dawn has nothing more than a canopy over the small rear pool for shelter.  The sanctuary pool up at the front of the Diamond, seemed OK, but we weren’t too sure whether it was for sanctuary passengers only!

Verdict:  Definitely a win for the Diamond


Atrium: Somewhat surprisingly, the Dawn atrium works a lot better than the Diamond.  The evenings with Alan & Alana both quizzing and for dancing on level 7 works well.  On the Diamond, the ‘Crooners Bar’ has the pianist tucked into a corner and even though he was brilliant (Maurizio), there was nowhere to dance and nowhere enough seating.  When he played downstairs on level 5, the sound went right through the whole atrium and it wasn’t easy to get a quiet place to relax.

Verdict: A win to the Dawn and helped by –


Coffee: One would think that with 30% more passengers there would be at least 30% more coffee outlets on the Diamond.  (That means barista coffee.)  Somewhat surprisingly, apart from the bar down on deck 5, the only other public coffee outlet appeared to be at the calypso bar – and the coffee machine was out of sight in a back room – and they didn’t have the larger cappuccino cups!  I think Sabatinis restaurant had coffee but, that is hardly public.   Whether this is because it is an American ship, people are happy with filter coffee, I really don’t know.

The Dawn not only had the deck 5 atrium coffee, but it was also available at the bar on deck 7, the buffet bar and the ice cream parlour.

Verdict: A resounding win to the Dawn.  


Food & Dining:  This is interesting as opinions may well differ and I may resort to being a bit picky.  Firstly, the pizzeria on the Dawn is a free, an excellent viable alternative to the buffet or the dining room, as they cook individual pizzas and calzone (yum!) to order, which means your own choice of toppings.  The Diamond has a small pizza bar that simply churns out rather lack lustre pizzas and you simply get a slice or as many slices as you want.

The buffets on both ships are excellent but being picky again, the Dawn breakfast options were more limited, but the scrambled eggs were always served just right, even if they were ‘straight’. The Diamond generally had plain scrambled eggs but also another tray, enlivened by either cheese, salmon, mushrooms etc, but they always seemed a bit overcooked.  In fact, quite a few of the Diamond’s dishes appeared a little overcooked.

The layout of the Diamond buffet didn’t work very well as it was similar in size to the Dawn, but cramming in potentially 800 extra diners with poor flow, doesn’t  work well.  Getting fresh toast wasn’t that easy and the omelettes and presumably poached eggs were cooked to order which is fine, but having to walk well away for the breakfast waffles and also the speciality lunches meant that it was somewhat disjointed and inconvenient.  Having said that, there were plenty of seats – always, and you could take food out onto the back deck.

However, the biggest disappointment of all for me, was that all forms of doughnuts (chocolate, white chocolate, apricot jam, custard, etc ) seem to have been withdrawn on instructions from head office!  Why????  If you want to get fat, there are 100’s of desserts, fried foods and other calorie laden options.   The small (mini) chocolate doughnuts did appear just once in the atrium.

Overall the dining room food I thought was a tad better on the Dawn.  Often, mains seemed incomplete or a bit lacking in finesse.  But as I said,  I am being a bit picky.  We didn’t try the Sterling Steakhouse nor the grill bar, so I can’t comment on them, but I didn’t see the kebabs on the Diamond.

Verdict: The Dawn by a reasonable margin – but as always, very much a personal view.


Deck 7 - the entertainment & promenade deck.  Arguably, this is the central deck on both ships.  You have the theatre at the front on both ships and a ‘Wheelhouse Bar’.  The Diamond has a small pipe and cigar smoker’s lounge bar, between the Wheelhouse and the theatre. Quite why they thought it necessary to leave the doors permanently open, is one of those dumb concession to smokers that just annoys everyone else. Yeuk.

Coming backwards, you hit the atrium and on the Dawn, it is an excellent relaxing environment but on the Diamond, half of it is shops, making it neither one thing nor the other.  Moving back on the Dawn, it is through the small ‘art gallery and Magnums bar and the infamous ‘Jammers Nightclub’, but on the Diamond, you come across what is best described as ‘the extra section’.  If you took the Dawn, cut it in half and popped an extra section in, on the lido deck it incorporates the indoor pool, but on deck 7, they have slotted in an extra entertainment venue.  This is the ‘Explorers Lounge’ where the guest entertainer snot in the theatre, perform nightly – or three times nightly.

Whoever designed this as a venue needs sorting out. Put simply, if you have a magician or a juggler, you normally need to see him/her from head to foot, but this venue has one level of seating on the stage/dance floor, then a flat raised platform for most of the table and seats.  This means that it is not tiered and viewing is therefore very poor.  On the positive side, the sound system is good.

Moving back on both ships, we have the photo galleries but on the Diamond, they take up a narrow space, sharing it  with the entrance to the Internet cafe and Sabatinis restaurant.

Right at the rear on both ships, you have another entertainment lounge.  On the Dawn, this is the Vista lounge, a bright tiered venue with good natural light until the curtains are closed, their second entertainment venue.  On the Diamond, this is “Club Fusion”.   It may have been planned (rather than designed...) as the second venue as this is quite hi tech, with a full wall screen above the staircase that leads down stairs to the small cosy bar. But it is another viewing disaster with dark heavy pillars everywhere, but with four closed circuit TV sets wrapped around each one, so you end up watching the TV rather than whatever is on the small stage, as once again, this is a flat floor and not tiered...  Talking to one of the regular entertainers, somewhat unsurprisingly he claimed that all the entertainers refused to work in it!

Outside, this is the walking or promenade deck, but on the Diamond, there are stairs at the front end so doing ‘laps’ is not quite so easy for the hobblers an wobblers.

Verdict: Despite the new and larger Diamond and ten extra years of technology, the appalling secondary venues are a huge disappointment, so for us, the Dawn wins here hands down.


This is by no means a comprehensive look at the ships, but it is what stands out.  We haven’t mentioned the more open smoking policy on the Diamond, where the Casino backs on to the front desk, once again with permanently open doors – and smoking is often allowed, so it permeates the atrium.  The smoking policy will have changed by the time you read this as smoking is now banned in the cabins and on the balconies, but they haven’t stated what the policy is for the casino...

Our overall verdict?  The Dawn wins - for us...  The Diamond is still a nice ship and nothing I have written should put anyone off, but the Dawn is to us, just the right size.  Not too big, not too small and a fantastic atmosphere, certainly for a longer cruise.

Yes we have booked again for 2012 and also for 2013 – on the Dawn.  Doesn’t that tell you something?  The new blog link should now be in the panel to the left, but nothing much of cruising interest will happen until July, but check it out before then, as we are travelling...

Thank you for the positive comments, both on the blog and via email and although it has been difficult keeping up at times, I hope the effort was worthwhile.  I do know that several family and friends found it useful  - and it saved me sending them identical emails!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 35 - Auckland and home! Dec 29th

We woke about 6:20am – but we had already docked in downtown Auckland, with two other cruise ships following us in.  This is one of the better port locations as not only is is it a real port rather than a container terminal, but those enjoying the various tourism options only have to stroll to the ferry terminal (ferry boats in the photograph), the train station or the bus station or stroll up to the Sky tower.
All that remained for us was to take a pic or two, grab a quick bite from the buffet, empty the safe and say a few farewells en route to the atrium at 7:55am, staggering under the weight of Paula’s dolphin carving..
As before, we saw there was no queue so although we had specified an 8:25am disembarkation,  we shook hand with dance teacher Paul and entertainment staffer Nicole and just walked straight off.  Locating the baggage was easy and we simply headed to the taxi rank, loaded up and we were home at 8:25am, $40 lighter and looking at the miserable weather for the first time since the heavy shower in Singapore.

So that was, in Princess terminology, our 4th cruise with them, but in reality, just two lots of two.  Once at home, the email hiccup was still around but magically, after an email and a call to my provider, things returned to normal. 

All that remains now is a comparison of the Dawn Princess and the Diamond Princess as we look forward to an exciting 2012 (and 2013!) and I have already initiated a new blog...  So, just one more episode of this marathon to go.

Day 34 - Tauranga - with family! Dec 28th

For some strange reason, the ship had a bit of a mild vibration over night and all that seemed to do was shake up the innards, so we kept waking up and made more than the usual overnight single trip to the bathroom! Paula was up early for the sail in to Mt Maunganui, whilst I tried to get more sleep, but I was still out of bed at 7:15.  Although we’d told Julie not to have breakfast, we did manage a quick snack to tide us over.
We walked off about 8:15 and met Julie & Stephen at the dock security gate where the security officer struggled to find both their names on his list, but let them in anyway.  We picked up their security passes in exchange for their passports and headed to the buffet via the cabin.
They enjoyed a Princess breakfast but were ecstatic at the Belgian waffle with stewed apple and cream from the ice cream kiosk!
An enjoyable swim and spa after a wander through the ship and then an early lunch before we all went ashore at 12:30.

Paula and I walked along the beach road and back via the main street of Mt Maunganui with a coffee en route. (This was the most expensive coffee of the whole trip $5.70!)    At this time of the year, (approaching New Year’s eve) the beach is a favourite place for teenagers so the roads were extremely busy with holidaymakers – especially with the baseball cap on backwards brigade in their noisy Rotary engined cars.

No trivia win to polish off the trip but we confused the waiters by changing seats every time their backs were turned...   Childish – but fun.
The Explorers entertainer was once again, Bayne Bacon but we always enjoy his performances.  For the last time, Greg dragged us up to the buffet.  As is usual for Princess, you put your tagged cases outside the cabin before dinner so you have to be careful to make sure you have left out clothes and wash gear for the morning.   I accidentally packed my wallet as it was still in my shorts...

Day 33 - Our last sea day - Dec 27th

A better night – presumably as we didn’t surface until after 9am!  The weather was quite pleasant so we took our breakfasts out on the rear deck.

Trivia score is irrelevant as we didn’t win – what a surprise...  A leisurely lunch with Cath & Greg, then we played “Cheat” up in Skywalkers before getting up to date (a little) with the blog (not that it means much as I was running so late anyway – and still am...).

This was the last formal night but we are over them anyway so just our normal 5:30pm meal with our usual companions.  I had the beef Wellington (a day late?) but the pastry was a bit soggy but assisted Paula by demolishing her lobster, whilst she dealt to the prawns.

Explorers lounge was comedian Darren Sanders - again, but the previous night was better.

We corrupted C & G by dragging them downstairs for a coffee and they retaliated by dragging us upstairs (kicking and screaming) to the buffet – yet again.   The beef Wellington on offer looked better than what we had eaten earlier!

Meanwhile, we had a message that our Auckland friends who were due to be in Tauranga tomorrow, are still in Auckland as their daughter hadn’t headed north camping as planned, as the weather was so bad up there!  We had sought special permission to have Paula’s daughter and number 3 grandson come aboard in Tauranga as Julie has never been on a cruise ship before and much to our surprise, the request was granted.  Looking forwards to tomorrow...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 32 - Boxing Day in Wellington

Even though I had reverted to a Coldral night pill, not a good night.  By the time we woke, we had docked right across the road from the “cake tin” stadium in Wellington.
With Greg and Cathy, we decided that as it was a fine day and we could see our target across the bay, the Princess $5US/$8NZ shuttle wasn’t really worth it.  (I wonder who does the currency calculations?) We strolled off the ship easily enough and en route, called in at the small Maori Art & Craft Centre.  We spent a bit of time (and money) here as they had some excellent stuff on display.  On to the Te Papa Museum along the very attractive waterfront.  This is NZ’s National museum and far better you research it on line as I can’t really do it justice on here.
Entry is free (much to the surprise of our American guests), though there are boxes around for voluntary donations. This is a spectacular museum and well worth a visit.  We barely scratched the surface during our visit but left with a distinct impression that this is something that NZ can be proud of. 
After a coffee, we strolled out back towards the centre of town, when Greg and Cathy split to do their own thing.  We headed to the famous Wellington cable car.  A bonus for us oldies as our NZ Seniors card allowed us a free ride.  We were tempted by the food and drink available at the top, but the NZ minced meat pie was instantly forgettable!  We didn’t stay too long after taking in the spectacular view and headed back down again to Lambton Quay.   What we are not sure of is how Princess manages to charge about $99 for a short City tour and just these two attractions... We spied the shuttle bus and decided to fork out the $5US for the trip back.  Behind us were a couple of the entertainment staff and it was nice to see them out as a couple.
After a pleasant dinner, we watched a film in the theatre, Helen Mirren, in “The Debt”.  Good film but not exactly light entertainment, so e then headed for the Explorer’s Lounge to the comedian, Darren Sanders.  Pretty good.
I still couldn’t access my emails on line, so I gave in, changed my computer settings and downloaded them.
Our last sea day tomorrow,  and then just one more port and it is home again – until the next time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 31 - Christmas Day in Akaroa

Well, by the time we woke from a sound sleep (hooray...) we had berthed at Akaroa. Now my NZ geography isn’t much better than my world geography, so it was a bit of a surprise to find that this tiny place is over 80kms from Christchurch, so unless you were doing  a Princess tour to that earthquake devastated city, it was irrelevant even mentioning it!
We watched the Wake Show and this was a cracker.  Cruise Director Warren made a superb Santa and with new Deputy Cruise Director Matt Thompson as his new sidekick since Sydney, this duo really gelled.  Made up for the previous Deputy who we didn’t really care for.  They really appealed to the kids and later, in the atrium, they really did an excellent job, posing for pics with kids young and old.
We met up with Cathy and Greg again and caught the tender to shore.  A stunning day in a stunning bay.
The locals were well aware of the ship’s arrival so well over half the retail establishments were open.  There is a strong French influence here as the French were apparently the first settlers.
Prices appeared to be very high here (confirmed by Kiwi friends who had been before) even without holiday surcharges. As we strolled away from the centre, the girls found a retail establishment that looked like a derelict shed, (see pic) but prices were up to 80% cheaper than for identical items in town.  Guess where they spent their money. On our walk back, although I craved fish and chips (I usually do by the sea!) the prices were astronomical.  At the fish and chip shop it was about $16.50 and at the “Bully Hayes” cafe, where we plonked ourselves, a staggering $24.50.  I opted for the seafood chowder, another favourite that tends to vary in quality and price.  A normal bowl was $11 and a large bowl, $15.  Sorry, not worth it! (Our local cafe seafood chowder is a bigger bowl, tastier and with heaps more seafood in it for $8.50...) Overall a very pleasant place but far from cheap.  To the side of the mainstreet was a statue of an artist so the natural pose was to stand behind the frame.
Back to the ship and en route, a hokey-pokey ice cream. Now normally, mass produced ice cream can’t possibly be as good as a locally made item, but in this case, the commercial stuff (Tip-Top) is better! (And cheaper...)
We were back on board about 3pm and had a lie down and a read before the trivia.  Now you would think that the cruise staff would have a kind, mild, quiz for Christmas Day.  Not a bit of it!  The winners managed 6/20 and we managed 5!
Christmas dinner was traditional and not bad at all.  A good portion of turkey for me.  Even the English style Christmas pud was tasty.  After that, we headed (early) to the theatre for the staff’s Christmas Pantomime – Cinderella.  Brilliant!  Lots of fun, though I think the Americans were a bit confused... English panto is a tradition that obviously never really crossed the Atlantic.
Despite the filling Christmas dinner, Greg still dragged us up to the buffet after the panto.  Well, certainly a different Christmas day from normal, but all the better for that.
Boxing Day and we hit the nation’s capital – Wellington.  No doubt many places will be open and hopefully the pleasant weather will continue, as we know that neither Sydney nor Auckland have been brilliant recently.  Once again, we haven’t booked any tours but we are keen to visit Te Papa museum, to see where our rates surcharges for the last few years have been spent. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 30 - Port Chalmers/Dunedin - Christmas Eve

Neither of us slept very well initially but final wake up was just before 8am.By that time, we had already docked.  It never ceases to amaze me that the ship is so stable that it is impossible to tell at times whether we are moving or not.  We met Greg & Cathy at 9:30am in the Atrium and just walked off the ship.  Alongside was the Taeiri Gorge railway train.  (We’d done that trip early 2008 after cycling the Otago rail trail – fantastic, but much cheaper than what Princess were charging!)
We took the Princess shuttle bus into Dunedin’s Octagon.
We walked the shops on George St and it was an education having Greg along.   Talk about chatting up shop assistants.  One called him a ratbag, (in jest...) a term he hadn’t heard before, so we didn’t enlighten him. Then we found an appropriate picture location. Quite fun really.  At the Meridien Centre we managed a coffee from a well known Australian chain, before ambling back again to the Octagon, down to the railway station, then round the cornder to the Cadbury’s factory shop (we couldn’t do the official tour) but weren’t allowed to buy as we didn’t have a tour ticket.  This was quite fortunate as prices in the Countdown supermarket right across the road were more reasonable anyway!
We caught the ship’s shuttle back and at the dock gates we met a real female jobsworth.  She walked to the rear of the coach demanding photo ID and was attempting to tick off each passenger against her list, working back to the front of the coach so that no one could get off.  Logically, we couldn’t get on the ship without our cruise cards anyway; the port area was totally fenced off by shipping containers; at 1 minute per person per check and probably 2,000 passengers, it was likely to be a 30 hour job...
Ho hum. We headed for the buffet of course then trivia where we only managed 13/20.  I got two badly wrong which would have put us in a tie breaker for first.  Whoops.
After wearing our jingly reindeer headwear at dinner, we watched the carol service put on by the ship’s crew before once again attacking the buffet!
A strange Christmas Eve so as we were both needing a good sleep, we both took some form of medication.
The ship is well decorated and as there are about 270 kids on board, tomorrow will be interesting.  The atrium has an impressive display of gingerbread houses decorated with all sorts of food items such as pastas, mini shredded wheat, cornflakes etc. 
Some passengers are heading from Akaroa to Christchurch (about 80kms) for Princess tours tomorrow, but we’ll take the DiY option again.  No doubt Santa will have our presents at home, as we didn't advise a changed address. 

Days 27/28 & 29 - At sea including cruising Fjordland -

Dec 21st

At this point in the cruise, Paula was questioning whether I was the right cruise companion or not, after yet another night that was disturbed by my coughing! At about 7:30am, I grabbed my book and headed out to give her a bit of peace and quiet. Initially I sat outside but it wasn’t too warm so I decamped to the side of the covered Calypso pool.  Eventually , I prised Paula out and for a change, I had a cooked breakfast.
After morning trivia, (no, we didn’t win...) we headed back upstairs with Greg & Cathy to go through the various NZ tours on offer, before we headed to the speciality Indian buffet.  Exactly the same food as previously.  When you consider that there were quite a few passengers doing a back to back and the absolute range of potential Indian dishes, repeating it dish for dish was unnecessary and unfortunately, symptomatic of the whole cruise.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.
After the 4:15pm trivia, we barely  had time to shower and change before meeting Cathy & Greg in the Santa Fe dining room.  Although this is really an anytime dining room, as for the first part of the cruise, head waiter Roland kindly accommodated the four of us as regular diners on the same table.  Cathy and Greg proved to be fantastic company and Greg is a larger than life character, standing at 6ft 4” (see pic with Lena...) with a great sense of humour, so we made it a regular meal time.
The show was once again, a repeat (also on the Dawn), Roy Shanks, magician, but a guy who is quite pleasant to watch more than once.
Internet access was non-existent or dropped out altogether.  Clocks on 1 hr again tonight.

Dec 22nd

What a night’s sleep. Back on the Coldral night pill and we didn’t wake until 10:44 – just 1 minute before trivia!  We made it by question 5, but didn’t win...  Horizon Court for brunch with C & G.
Paula indulged herself with a massage (her first of the cruise), whilst I read and tried to catch up with emails.  Unfortunately, at this point, I seemed to have another internet problem as I couldn’t access the web-server to check the incoming mail...
No trivia win...  After another pleasant meal, we went up to the atrium, to play cards, where Greg taught us a simple enough game called “8’s”.  We then taught them “Cheat” using two packs of cards... Lots of laughs and at this point, we acquired nicknames. Every time it was Greg’s call, it was Spades, which was eventually corrupted to “Schpados”.  So he became Schpados from then on.  I became Diamex (Diamonds), Paula became “Crubs” and Cathy, “Hearts”...
Whilst playing, we spied whales! (Real ones, not the on board great whites.)
Hopefully the weather will stay clear for cruising Fjordland tomorrow.

Dec 23rd – Fjordland, back in NZ

Another erratic sleep but Paula hopped out of bed at 7am, just in time for the entry into Milford Sound. As this was just a cruising day, we desperately hoped for good weather and we were so lucky as we had a brilliant day.  We were relieved for all the foreigners on board as they were able to get a glimpse of what NZ is all about. Some were less impressed (see pic).  Had it been misty (which it often is), then it could have been a wasted day, but it was clear and bright all day.  Once up the Milford Sound, the ship did a graceful 360 and cruised out again then into another fjord. We weren’t really expecting that.

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Morning trivia with just 4 of us, we managed 18/20 – and still didn’t win!  The two we got wrong were Shirley Temple’s age for her first Oscar (6, not the 7 we guessed) and we failed to guess the combined ages of the two presenters!
Lunch speciality was a pie buffet but I managed with a couple of sausage rolls, (nice) steak and kidney pie (too salty...), then Reindeer chilli! (Don’t tell Santa...) Not much chilli in it though. Mind you, the term "Who ate all the pies" assumed some significance.  (See pic)
After another pleasant meal with Cathy & Greg, we headed up top to Skywalkers on deck 18 to play cards – on the side away from the smokers.  Greg has corrupted us as after the 5:30 meal, he is peckish again at 9:30, so we return to the buffet... After that it was back to Club Fusion for “Liar, Liar”. Not the best of shows as the staff are probably a bit too young, serious and straight for it and even the guest entertainer wasn’t as inventive as we would have liked.  Nevertheless, we managed 3 out of 4 correct.  The cough is still with me...  Port Chalmers (Dunedin) tomorrow, so the first opportunity for many to step onto kiwi soil.  As on the Dawn, immigration and MAF (Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries) procedures were carried out efficiently whilst at sea.  Great system.  But, we were advised that we needed photo ID when in NZ...
Typical statement from Greg:
“You know Ray, I just can’t wait for tomorrow”
“Why is that Greg?”
“’Cos I get better looking every day...”
“Yeah, right”