Our first full day aboard Diamond Princess was one spent at sea en route to Kagoshima from Yokohama where we’d left the evening before.
We don’t normally get up super early when it’s a sea day, preferring instead to lay in a bit then grab a late breakfast and hunt down various activities on board (usually trivia if we’re on a Princess ship). However, the thing about flying halfway around the world and not being able to sleep on planes is that your body clock can get severely screwed around and despite trying to force ourselves to stay up until a sensible time of night the day before we still found ourselves awake much earlier than we’d planned on the back of only a few hours asleep. In fact, the sun hadn’t quite crawled above the horizon by the time we decided we couldn’t stay in bed any longer.
Breakfast took place early. Very early. Six o’clock in the morning to be precise. And it was surprisingly busy, we discovered, though the excuse of jet lag couldn’t apply to our fellow passengers, most of whom were Japanese. We would discover on this cruise that the Japanese as a general rule went to bed reasonably early, got up early, and took part in a lot of onboard activities.
As we’d hoped and expected breakfast options in the buffet were set out to cater for the mix of cultures on the ship with the more usual options enhanced by the presence of rice, pasta, and potato dishes. Breakfast done, we took an early morning stroll around the top deck because you can never get bored of the sea views when you’re on a cruise ship, starting at the aft.
A very distinctive feature on the aft of Diamond Princess, different from all the other ships in the Princess Cruises fleet, is the Japanese spa area including its gorgeous-looking whirpool. You have to book time to use the baths inside and the whirlpool outside and to get access to the more comfortable recliners in this area and I think we only saw one person using it for the entire duration of the cruise, although that’s obviously based on when we would pass by this photographically-appealing spot. The reason we didn’t try it out was because the spa area is gender-segregated (which we could deal with) and requires mandatory nakedness inside (which we could not). We don’t even like looking at our own bodies unclothed and the thought of inflicting that trauma on the Princess staff and fellow passengers was not something we could countenance. Still, with the wake of the ship behind it and the great design of the whirlpool this proved to be a very popular spot to take pictures from.
Heading forward took us to the middle of the ship’s top deck with a view over the main outdoor swimming pool set beneath the large TV screen used for movies under the stars and various other broadcasts during the day. An important point about the swimming pools on Diamond Princess is that they were not heated at all on this cruise. At the southernmost point of our cruise, off Vietnam and in the shallower Sanctuary pool near the front of the ship, this was okay, but off the coast of Japan as we were on this day and in the deeper main pool this most definitely was not. We took a swim in the early afternoon that consisted of about three minutes trying to catch our breath as the crushingly cold water contracted every muscle on our bodies before giving up. It felt dangerously cold.
This was when we discovered something else on Diamond Princess that we’d not encountered on any of the other Princess ships on which we’d cruised: early morning, gentle, stretching exercises. Now, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t take place on other ships but this was new to us. This was Radio Taiso and consisted of two short routines of a few minutes in length each being played back-to-back for a few hours on the movie screen. There were always people taking part alongside it, mostly Japanese as you’d expect, but as the cruise went on we saw more western passengers joining in. I’m happy to say that we took part on almost every sea day including this first one.
The short video below includes some of the Radio Taiso exercise routines on the Diamond Princess on this first sea day.
The indoor pool was no warmer than the outside pool we discovered as we wandered through and shot some photos. “Come on in!” shouted an Australian to us. “It’s bloody freezing!” he smiled through clenched and chattering teeth. We declined.
The Sanctuary at the front of the ship is an area we’ve never paid to make use of and have never seen it highly utilised on any cruise. That was no different on this cruise either.
However, the Sanctuary Pool has been the pool we most use typically as it’s adults only, less likely to have people in it, and more sheltered from sea breezes. As I’ve already mentioned we tried swimming in the main pool on this sea day simply because it was unexpectedly empty; that obviously turned out to be because nobody in their right mind was risking hypothermia. We therefore ended up reverting back to using the Sanctuary Pool on most other days which while it also wasn’t heated benefitted from a shallower depth that better retained the miniscule warmth it picked up under the sunshine. By the time we were off Vietnam this pool was actually very pleasant and quite popular as other passengers realised they could have a dip without fearing a heart attack. Clearly, it’s not ideal for swimming laps because of its small size and we were disappointed to see that the current machine that had been present before had been removed at some point in the last decade but we still enjoyed making use of it.
That covered the outside areas of the ship so we had a wander into the piazza, the hub of the ship, in order to pick up the daily crossword, quizzes, and sudoku puzzles, take part in the morning trivia (we did woefully bad), and see if there was anything else of interest taking place. It was still very early so very empty as you can see.
We had hoped to make use of the Wake View Bar accessed from Club Fusion for a spot of quiet reading, a favourite haunt of ours from our first cruise on Diamond Princess, but this was an area roped off from passengers throughout the trip. A shame, although we had got to see its equivalent space on Diamond’s sister ship, Sapphire, earlier in the year so it wasn’t too big a deal.
There’s clearly something about Diamond Princess that sends us to the Princess Theater to attend lectures. We simply haven’t attended lectures on any other ship we’ve cruised on. It happened on our first cruise in 2008 because of the talks given about the history of magic, Houdini, and similar subjects by a guest entertainer on the ship. It also happened on this cruise as the guest speaker was a former Australian detective and his talks interested us too. On this first sea day morning it was the history of forensics.
One of the other lectures on board proved to be very interesting and relevant to a situation that developed during the cruise indeed (and the serious blot on this whole cruise, although not directly the fault of Princess Cruises) but that can wait for another post for an explanation. I’m such a tease.
We’d known before coming aboard Diamond Princess that it was one of two ships in the fleet with a specialty sushi restaurant. Sushi was not something we’d had before and while we knew we’d have a few stops in Japan it seemed more sensible to try out sushi in an environment where we could more easily explain we had absolutely no idea what to order. Wandering past the Kai Sushi restaurant on deck 7 around lunchtime we saw it had only a couple of people eating inside so we ventured in and were seated immediately by the window looking out onto the promenade deck. After a quick discussion with our kimono-clad waitress in the light and airy surroundings we both went for the Nigiri Menu at $17 per person and two sakes, one of which was the Drunken Whale and the other I can’t remember. The drinks were served slightly chilled but were surprisingly pleasant when compared to the last time we’d had the drink many years prior.
The food was prepared expertly by the chef in full view of us just a couple of metres away while a steady stream of bowls and side dishes were brought up. Soups, salad, and a constant supply of green tea were soon joined by the fresh cuts of fish and rice. The quality of the ingredients cannot be faulted, it all looked absolutely fantastic, and it is definitely worth the cover charge if you’re a fan of sushi or just want to try something a little different. Did we like it? No, not really, but that’s a matter of personal taste and don’t let that be a guide for you. The reason we didn’t like it was all down to one magic word: wasabi. We hate wasabi. We hadn’t realised that apparently sushi dishes like to disguise the flavour of whatever it is you’re eating with a horrible burning sensation that sears your taste buds. Well, each to their own and now we know. We also weren’t particularly keen on the soups but at least we gave it all a go. Macha ice cream, though: now you’re talking. That’s gloriously lovely.
So, our first sea day back aboard Diamond Princess after a gap of a decade saw us exploring, trying sushi, going to a lecture, having a (brief) swim, taking part in a few trivia challenges, doing the various daily quizzes, reading, having the odd drink or two and getting to know some of the waiters, and even trying to slip in an afternoon nap in the cabin in an attempt to shift our body clocks into the right timezone (limited success). In short: wonderfully relaxing with just a smidge of education and brainteasing. This is how we like to take it easy at sea inbetween port stops and after a long flight to get out to Asia having a first day at sea on a cruise ship is hard to beat.
The first evening was a formal night so the usual dressing up in tuxedo for me and fancy dress for the wife, some wine and a glass of fizz before dinner, and dinner itself.
If we have one big criticism about formal nights on Princess cruise ships it’s that the fanciness seems to be limited to just one of the formal nights in a two-week cruise. That’s the night where lobster is offered. That’s the night where the champagne fountain is poured. Neither of those two things really matter a great deal to me but it does mean that the other formal nights, such as this first one, don’t really have anything to set them apart from any other night on the menu or going on around the ship. Of course, we know that the main reason for the nights as far as the line is concerned is to sell the photos but it would be nice if there was some kind of incentive or reward to passengers for making an effort.
We finished with some people-watching and cocktail-drinking in Skywalkers then retired for the night, looking forward to waking at our first stop on the cruise, Kagoshima.