By Christopher Tan
Since being casted on the popular 1970s television series The Love Boat, they have made dreams come true for more than 1.7 million people from around the world annually.
Spending a week on a cruise ship is inevitably high on almost everyone’s bucket list. For some peculiar reason, many seem to envision that lazing on a sun-baked deckchair with a glass of freshly peeled pineapple juice while waiting to catch the sunset would be the epitome of a perfect day. For others, it could be the lure of a romantic adventure akin to the movie Titanic.
Irrespective of what the motives may be, there is definitely something about floating on a cruise liner in the middle of nowhere that continues to draw the crowd. With the Asian and international cruise passenger market growing at an average rate of 14% annually over the past 10 years, Malaysia’s cruise industry is also set to grow with passengers exceeding half a million last year.
“The experience of being on a cruise ship is unlike most other forms of holidays. On a cruise, people are more casual, relaxed and most of all, have the time to meet people from other walks of life to learn and share stories with,” said Diamond Princess’ captain Fabrizio Maresca, aformer Italian Navy coast guard who has skippered several ships in the Princess Cruises fleet over the last 14 years.
Diamond Princess, which was launched in 2004 and recently underwent a USD30 mil (RM97.5 mil) makeover, is part of the 17-strong fleet of Princess Cruises, the third largest cruise line in the world offering more than 150 different itineraries across 300 ports and destinations including Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, Mexico, South America, Australia/New Zealand, Hawaii, Tahiti/French Polynesia, Asia and Africa.
Princess Cruises was catapulted to stardom in 1977 when its ship, the Pacific Princess, was cast in a starring role on the popular television show The Love Boat, widely credited with fuelling the expansion of the cruise industry.
Comprising 1,337 passenger cabins including suites with private balconies, family suites, balcony cabins, ocean view cabins and inside cabins, the 18-deck refurbished Diamond Princess is currently homeport in Yokohama, Japan for an extended season of 9-day cruises that include visits to Taiwan, South Korea, Hokkaido, Russia and 15 Japanese ports.
“As Asia offers an unforgettable combination of natural beauty, fascinating culture and colourful history, this is a great way for passengers to enjoy these attractions and to truly engage in all that this region has to offer,” remarked Maresca, during a recent tour of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which hosted 2,000 passengers including 17 Malaysians.
The new features aboard the ship, which include a 8,800-sq ft bath and garden complex – the largest Japanese bath at sea – and a sushi restaurant, add to the ship’s current impressive array of dining and entertainment facilities including its Movies-Under-the-Stars poolside theatre and The Sanctuary, an exclusive top-deck retreat.
The new Japanese bath area is highlighted by an elegant, open-air Japanese unisex hydro-therapy pool surrounded by shaded lounge chairs and refreshing footbath facilities. Inside, its two separate, gender-segregated sauna and bath with open air skylight and picturesque sea views is a must try. And to help relieve those built up tension in the back and shoulders, the Utaseyu stone bath are the best way to complete the bath experience.
A conversation about cruising would not be complete without the mention of food, yes, plenty of it! The latest addition to Diamond Princess’ wide array of dining conveniences is Kai Sushi, a trendy 66-seater sushi restaurant that serves miso shiro, nigiri sushi, maki sushi, sashimi variety of seafood delights, and as well as different styles of sakes and its signature dessert, matcha ice cream with red bean paste.
For all-day dining – cause of the writer’s inflated waistline – the ship’s buffet area, Horizon Court feature a diverse selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner provisions. There are also action stations for live a la carte cooking and an enticing pastry section. For a more exquisite palate, the classy Italian restaurant Sabatini’s offers a modest but scrumptious menu.
There are numerous eateries on-board to meet the different needs of an international community. Whether it is a quick hot dog at Trident Grill, hot slice of pizza from Prego Pizzeria, sinful ice creams at Sundaes, a soothing pick-me-up over at Wine Bar or an unhurried meal via room service, you will not hear a single whine over food throughout the journey.
“The food is one of the first aspects that passengers look out for when deciding on which cruise to choose. Thus, it is imperative that we have not just a wide selection but also the very best in taste,” explained executive chef Nilo Palma, who has been with Princess Cruises since 2009.
With 21 years of culinary experience behind him and the experience required to manage 210 kitchen staffs comprising 42 nationalities – including two sous chefs from Malaysia – spread out over seven kitchen galleys, Palma finds it more challenging than anything he has done before.
“Preparing the food requirements of 2,000 passengers is an enormous task. We prepare 350kg of beef each day, 1,200kg of chicken daily and 27,000 eggs each week during each voyage,” the chef pointed out, adding that most of the ingredients were brought in from Los Angeles, USA and Yokohama in Japan.
The presence of a large multinational culinary team helps to cater for any specific requests that may arise. Palma said: “The diverse group of cooks and specialities we have allow us to meet almost any demand from our passengers on their taste and diet preferences, such as halal dishes, Asian menu or European-styled food.”
For those that had assumed a long week of boredom of doing nothing but stare at the open sea, how wrong they were. Guest facilities on-board include three swimming pools, eight whirlpools, casino, fitness centre, children playrooms, video arcade, 9-hole putting course, library, art gallery, sports deck, duty-free shops that carry luxury brands such as Omega, Swarovski, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Coach and Ralph Lauren, plus unexpectedly, a wedding chapel!
In fact, a 9-day journey did not seem sufficient to really participate in its host of non-stop activities lined up throughout the day. Daily activities on the ship include morning exercises, treasure hunts, sports competitions, wellness seminars, culinary demonstration, art auctions, photography exhibitions, casino gaming lessons, musical instrument lessons and dance classes.
In terms of entertainment, there are endless varieties of performances, musicals, magic show, concerts and movies to keep everyone happy. There are also activities that are designed for festival periods such as Easter, Christmas and even sports events such as the football World Cup.
“We are the fun people here as our team’s primary role is to provide fun to all passengers here with us,” declared cruise director Warren Smith.
The pleasant former competitive dancer from South Africa who joined the group in 2008 said that the biggest challenge for his team was to ensure that perfect execution on the timing of all shows, events and activities planned.
“This is crucial not just so that we are able to meet the schedule of each day’s packed events and to make sure that everything takes place, but also to help keep the passenger flow moving throughout the boat daily,” said Smith.
His entertainment team comprises more than 100 members including musicians, performers and technical support crew. It even has its own orchestra on board to support the distinctive production shows at the 870-seater theatre.
“Each production cost around US$1.5 mil to produce including performers fees, equipment and licensing fees. Amongst the favourites shows include Born To Be Wild, Piano Man and Do You Wanna Dance, which are always packed,” Smith said.
After all that energy-sapping activities and pulsating shows, a tad of pampering at the well-furnished spa over a comprehensive assortment of hair and facial treatments, acupuncture, detox programmes, massages and grooming services is the perfect finale to the day and to rejuvenate yourself for the next day’s thrills.
Now that the writer has scratched off “Recreate the Leonardo DiCaprio pose at the bow of a ship” from his own bucket list, he is already working on improving his drawing skills as he eyes “Do a Kate Winslet-like sketch on a cruise ship” on the same list.
Malaysia, ship ahoy!
Princess Cruises is responding to the vast potential of the Malaysian and Southeast Asian cruise market by introducing the largest deployment ever by a premium cruise line in the region, bringing the Sapphire Princess to Southeast Asia for a 4-month season from November 2014 to February 2015.
The itineraries, running from three to 11 days, covers seven countries and 16 ports in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei. This includes a 3-day Straits of Malacca trip calling at Penang and Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang) and a 4-day Malaysia trip calling at Penang, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang). Others include a 5-day Thailand and Malaysia trip and a 10-day Malaysia and Indonesia trip.
The 116,000-ton Sapphire Princess carries 2,670 passengers and features more than 200 suites and mini-suites with private balconies, spa, dining facilities, shopping boutiques and Internet café among other amenities.