Hakodate was to be the northernmost stop for the cruise, which also ported in Sakaiminato, Kanazawa, Aomori, Busan (South Korea), and, finally, Kobe. Many Diamond Princess land excursions were designed to spotlight Japan’s beauteous gardens (Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Japanese Garden, for one), but since cherry blossoms were looking to be a bust, I spent most of my time exploring solo. Round-trip shuttle bus service between the ship and central locations in the respective cities was available for $5-$10, and each held treasures indeed, from fish markets, incredible sushi, and other Japanese culinary delights to niche museums, onsen, and local gay folk.
I checked into my balcony stateroom on board the Diamond Princess, which was decorated in caramel brown wood and blue. There was a desk perfect for working on my laptop (while expensive, the Wi-Fi was reliable and speedy enough), and a minifridge I’d repeatedly fill with bottles of addictive orange honey tea bought from Japanese vending machines. After unpacking, I settled into the comfy queen-sized bed and read through the daily “Princess Patter” newsletter and schedule.
I also made habit of watching each morning’s “Wake Show,” co-hosted by ebullient blonde, USA-born Cruise Director, Lynn Van Vorce, and her Japanese counterpart, Mikiko Ikemoto. I kind of wish they called it the “Woke Show,” in the spirit of being current. Incidentally, the TV system was absolutely packed with on-demand movies, including very recent theatrical releases. A bonus for sea days: some stateroom levels feature self-service laundry rooms, which I put to use at least twice.
One thing that immediately stood out about the Diamond Princess was its generous assortment of pools, Jacuzzis, and hot tubs scattered all about the ship’s levels and various decks, including a child-free one in an adults-only area dubbed The Sanctuary. The largest outdoor pool and a main hub of activity and sunning, Neptune’s Reef and Pool, also serves as outdoor movie theater, aka “Movies Under the Stars,” with a giant screen positioned over the pool, a sprawling assemblage of deck chairs, and dual-level bars plus counters for really tasty pizza, burgers, and softserve ice cream. Those preferring indoor, heated swimming could opt for the adjacent, glass-enclosed Calypso Reef & Pool: a pair of very popular ping-pong tables occupy its second level.