Regrettably the weather was cold and wet in Whittier, where many passengers got off and others got on the Diamond Princess for the second leg of our journey to Tianjin. It was sad to not be able to really explore this little town as it had a much friendlier feel that the 3 regular tourist traps of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. We thrilled at the send off by a few wet cold guys on the dock waving and sending up fireworks. It was a lovely touch.
Happily day one rounding Montague Island and passing Kodiak Island into the Pacific was very smooth sailing and the Diamond Princess did what it does best and cruised along at 20+ knots. Having vented my spleen about the first week of our voyage up from Vancouver, I better give a positive… Alcohol prices are set at around nightclub levels and lower than such lines as Royal Caribbean and the exorbitant prices on Costa. There appears to be a marked improvement in staff attitude, however entertainment remains bad with only a couple of exceptions, Lavinia Fox, Dan Reilly, onboard singer/dancers (..and the constant sanity of Funch)....and we did finally get a couple of World Rugby competition matches on the big screen rather than endless American version of football.
Even though there are typhoons in Philippines and lows to the north, our 7 day passage to Muroran in Japan has been smooth and easy sailing. Muroran seemed like a series of small town areas feeding the Nippon Steel Works, oil refinery and other industrial industry. The people put on a great show in each area and non stop free shuttle around the area. Not everything worked as it should, including immigration computer glitches which caused up to 2 hour delay to get off the ship. The force 9 gales didn't help either, but undeterred the wonderfully friendly people of Muroran, including school kids as helpers on Sunday, their day off. This is not a tourist paradise, but I like it all the same and some free sake helped.
Another day at sea and into Vladivostok. Due to have the G10 summit or some ineffectual rubbish, the city is on the move, with bridges being built, old buildings renovated, new underground power and street lighting etc. Actually a fun place with many points of interest within a short walk from the ship. There was an American warship visiting and due to do joint anti pirate exercises off Philippines with the Russians.
One notable thing was there appeared to be a leg growth pill available for young women, who already being extremely tall, chose to wear 6 inch heels as well. As an old mate would say “its a paradise for yummy mummies” If they also learned how to smile the picture would be perfect. Another must see is Yul Brynner’s family home.
This is a place that in 2 years will be totally transformed and I would say be quite a sight. We were also blessed with perfect weather...which I gather is very unusual.
We left for the next port of Pusan (Busan) in Korea in perfect calm seas with barely a ripple. Busan is a very big city spread around large bays. It has vibrancy, great shopping and great food. However it is not a cheap place and expect to pay high prices for everything. Our ship berthed at a new terminal outside the city proper and we had very good shuttle bus system laid on. There is a new monster bridge being built and I gather the city terminal, where we saw “Legend of the Seas” moored, may be closed once the bridge is built and the new terminal finished.
The second largest fish market in the world is in downtown area and fresh abalone and ice cold beer goes down well. Lotte the 11 story department store I gather has facility to sell duty free to be picked up at the ship...but the staff not only have poor or no English, but if they serve you at all, forget to mention the possibility. We were held up leaving port by geriatrics on the last bus, which ended up our ship having a race to clear port with “Legend of the Seas”...who won the race to much hooting of ships horns. And so onward to another overnight sail and time change in dead calm waters.
Qingdao is an dreadful place. Dirty with rubbish and dog poo all over, unfriendly and even the food was ordinary. The maps provided by the ship continue to be a joke and the local tourist map not much better. The advise given to photograph the shops around the bus shuttle pick up point was good advise and the only friendly faces, Police, were able to help with directions. Frankly I would skip Qingdao if ever possible.
Dalian on the other hand was a well laid out and relatively clean city, with some German and Russian buildings and some good sightseeing. Weather in Qingdao and Dalian was horrible with a very thick haze the whole day. We learned what everyone knows, that Friendship stores are a rip off.
We had so few hours here, that very few of the many possible attractions could be seen, but looked to be worth a return trip sometime. But most noticeable was the fact the Vladivostok leg growth pills were available in Dalian and these extraordinarily log legged beauties enhanced the scenery enormously. Definitely a place to spend much more time as there was days more sightseeing we could have done given the time.
The rotten weather held for Tianjin port area...but this is another story.
The Diamond Princess is a lovely ship very well sailed...BUT the food is patchy and generally not up to 4 star. As an enormous number of passengers were either Chinese, or of Chinese decent, one would have though a Chinese cook could have been employed to create something edible out of the second rate ingredients the ship is forced to put up with. There were gallant attempts at Asian food that fell way short of edible. Chinese ate some out of good manners, but at home wouldn't touch the stuff. While on manners, a few of the American and German passengers could do with some.
And the entertainment was lousy. When cruise personnel and the bad acts have to keep milking the audience and singing their own praises, you know its second rate. The most popular people were the lecturers about ports, customs etc. as there was no entertainment worth wasting time looking at....and some of the movies shown were pure drivel. Only a few movie channels on in house TV where previously on the Sapphire Princess, there was large selection and a proper TV guide as well as home region daily broadsheet of news and events. We will give Princess another go as while the Diamond was 3 star at best, the Sapphire was a good 4+star when we sailed her. One more trip should give a deciding vote about Princess.