The movies at sea onboard Diamond Princess. Picture: PT Singam

On the night before the end of our first cruise, taken aboard Diamond Princess, we had an invitation from cruise director Angela Kristensen.

"If you don't want to leave us tomorrow, I could hide you in my cupboard," she said to laughter in the ship's Princess Theatre.

My wife Teresa and I were among 2775 passengers, including 115 from WA, who'd cruised from Singapore for six nights with three stops along the Vietnam coast. We were heading for Hong Kong, where about 600 of us would disembark the next morning.

The audience was in high spirits and we didn't care that Ms Kristensen was joking about the size of her cabin: "They call it a stateroom but I call it a cupboard . . . there isn't much room."

The voyage was an eye-opener for my wife and me, landlubbers keen to see if we could have fun at sea. A $1990 fly-cruise-stay offer in the Travel pages caught my eye, but we decided on more days in Singapore and Hong Kong and Brooke Beer at Flight Centre Belridge organised a two-week package including insurance for less than $2600 a person.

We stayed at the Peninsula Hotel in Singapore where we spent two days sightseeing and indulging in hawker delights. And as we took a taxi to the Marina Cruise Centre to board Diamond Princess, we were full of questions. Would we get aboard easily? Would we be happy with the cabin? Would we get seasick? Would we like the food?

We needn't have worried. The embarkation process, from immigration, customs and health checks, was effortless. It was a special day, not just for us maiden cruisers but for Diamond Princess which had just emerged from a $US30 million ($32 million) makeover.

We had an inside cabin on deck nine, with no daylight or ocean view. With a queen-sized bed, bedside tables, a writing desk and chair, a fridge and a small round table, the cabin seemed a squeeze but once we'd unpacked it was bearable. The small bathroom had a toilet, sink and shower. The cabin was fine for a short cruise but for a longer itinerary, I'd pay more for a mini-suite, which has double the space, bath and balcony.

The cabin would soon become simply a place to retire at night as we were swept up by the excitement of this floating world of leisure. A place we could wine and dine, meet people from Bunbury to Bath, Cardiff to California, listen to music and dance, watch movies under the stars, be entertained by international artists and good in-house productions, play table tennis, golf and bingo, take up photography or arts and crafts, relax in the spa, have a flutter in the casino or just read a book.

Diamond Princess was late out of Singapore but we were happily enjoying lunch at the Horizon Court buffet which served mostly Western dishes but also some Japanese. After a safety drill, we explored - admiring the spiral staircases, glass-walled panoramic lifts and pleasing decor of the atrium where one could enjoy a drink and a snack to the sounds of a pianist, violinist and cellist.

I made some inquiries at passenger services where the long queue included some disgruntled passengers. Complaints about poor ventilation and toilets and televisions not working were blamed as glitches from the refit. A couple reported lost luggage and some protested at promised room upgrades not being met. I found it paid to wait for port days, when people were on shore excursions, to speak to passenger services and Princess Cruises would do well to boost its staff in this area.

We popped over to the lobby bar to buy a coffee card for $US29; the free coffee isn't great and the card buys you 15 specialty coffees.

Apart from buffet breakfast and lunch at Horizon Court and pizza and burger eateries, the ship offers traditional dining, when one eats at a set time with the same group every night in the International Dining Room, and anytime dining - flexible timing in a choice of four restaurants. We opted for the latter, sometimes at a table for two, another time sharing a table.

I learnt from customer services director Steve Ross that the ship's water supply was pure - tapped from the evaporative systems and chlorinated. The ship's bakers produced thousands of bread rolls daily. Even the free ice-cream offered at a dedicated station was made aboard. A total of 17 tonnes of food and three tonnes of beverages were consumed daily, with very little left over.

Each night we received our Princess Patter newsletter and it became our guide to life at sea. The 6am Good Morning Wake Show on the Princess TV channel was also essential for planning the day.

I began the first morning enjoying the ocean views from a treadmill in the gym while Teresa enjoyed a walk around the deck followed by Zumba. Yoga, Pilates, carpet bowls and ballroom dancing were among the many activities on offer while that evening was designated as the only formal night of the cruise. Most passengers dressed to the nines for Captain Goodway's welcome aboard party in the atrium.

We caught the 7pm show I Got the Music, before joining the English captain and then dining with three couples we had never met before.

Room service was stretched on the third morning with 200 breakfasts being prepared for those going ashore to our first port of call at Ho Chi Minh City. I opted for a quiet day aboard, lazing on the deck and reading a book. And, of course, meeting more people, dining and wining and dancing.

In Nha Trang, I took the 20-minute ride by tender to spend an hour in the city and get a glimpse of Vietnam, which we intend to explore on a longer trip.

Back aboard, manna from heaven, a Mrs Mac's pie at the Trident Grill. Teresa discovered the joys of afternoon tea at the Pacific Moon restaurant and I joined her for tea and scones. Later we were lured by 60s music from the Wheelhouse Bar, and ended up dancing the night away.

When the ship anchored near the port of Chan May, many cruisers took the hour-long trip to Da Nang, where memories of America's wartime presence remain strong. I joined Teresa at the Sunday interdenominational Christian church service conducted aboard by deputy cruise director, Queenslander Michael Reitano.

The other highlight of the day was the performance by celebrated Irish flautist Jonathan Johnston who delighted the big Aussie contingent by playing Waltzing Matilda on his gold flute.

Heading into Hong Kong, the Princess Patter was full of events from fruit and vegetable carving to a Mr Sexy Legs competition and a wine seminar. We chose to hear port lecturer Jeana Rogers speak about Hong Kong. We also enjoyed the melodies of the Jozsef Mezei Trio one last time.

Then with our bags packed and left outside our cabin, we went to see the Born to be Wild show.

Six days living out of a suitcase wasn't bad at all, especially on a floating resort with all the mod cons. How else would you get a change of scenery every day, enjoy free shows, food and entertainment, and have to unpack only once?

We disembarked and that night, I watched wistfully from my hotel room as Diamond Princess sailed out of Hong Kong harbour, headed for Tokyo.

I could easily have stowed away in Ms Kristensen's cupboard.

We were swept up by the excitement

of this floating world of leisure. and travel agents.

The West Australian

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