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Before my visit to Japan, one of the highlights I most anticipated was a soak in an onsen — the country’s beloved hot-spring pools. Yet, I didn’t expect to do so in the middle of the sea, with an ocean view churning past as I enjoyed the detoxifying, piping-hot water.
My onsen experience took place in the Izumi Japanese Bath, one of the distinctly Japanese attractions on Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess — a Nagasaki-built, 2,670-passenger ship. For $15 per visit, or $60 for five, Izumi’s facilities include gender-segregated baths and saunas (nudity, as per Japanese custom, is mandatory), with a large outdoor coed hot tub (bathing suit required).
I was able to enjoy the ship’s bathhouse and more last April during the 12-day Spring Flowers itinerary that included port stops and excursions focused on Japan’s cherry blossom season. The cruise visited the cities of Sakaiminato, Kanazawa, Hakodate, Aomori and Kobe. As it turned out, searching for cherry blossoms became a challenging mission, since Japan’s south saw the season arrive a month earlier than usual, while the bloom was delayed in the northern part of the country.
Fortunately, the ship provided plenty of opportunities for engaging with Japanese culture, whether that was at Kai Sushi restaurant; at the rotating ramen, soba and udon noodle station at the Horizon Court buffet; by participating in activities such as rakugo storytelling (an ancient art form) and origami classes; or by trying on a yukata, a traditional Japanese outfit.
Beyond its Japanese elements, Diamond Princess features a steakhouse, an Italian restaurant and multiple dining rooms. There are also 13 indoor and outdoor saltwater pools and hot tubs, including one in an adults-only area.
Movies play both day and night on a large screen overlooking the main outdoor pool deck, while cabins boast an impressive on-demand entertainment selection in multiple languages.
Adjacent to the full-service Lotus Spa, a spacious fitness center and gym is loaded with modern equipment. And kids and teens can busy themselves in special activity-packed clubs, while it’s strictly adults-only in the Vegas-style Grand Casino and Skywalkers Nightclub.
Accommodation categories on the ship include two-bedroom family suites that sleep up to eight; suites with all Club Class perks, including complimentary minibars; balcony staterooms; porthole/window-view cabins; and, most affordable of all, interior rooms. My balcony stateroom — which included two chairs and a table on its delightful open-air balcony — was decorated in caramel-brown wood and hues of tan and blue, with a queen-size bed, a desk, a minifridge and more. Although Wi-Fi access was pricey, I found it stable and fairly speedy.
During the Japanese port stops on our itinerary, there were many excursions to grand gardens and historical sites. Since the cherry blossoms were either dead or barely budding, I focused instead on local fish markets — in some, you could slurp uni right from the urchin shell — as well as art museums and sake distilleries.
Then, finally, in Aomori, riding a taxi to its stunning museum of art, trees dense with fresh white and pink blooms revealed themselves. At that moment, I couldn’t help smiling as I thought to myself, “Mission accomplished.”
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