The Diamond Princess’s cruise of southeast Asia was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — but not in the way any of the passengers had been expecting. Many on board had booked the 29-night voyage from Singapore to Japan via Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan to celebrate weddings, anniversaries and landmark birthdays. The ship, a sparkling white 18-storey gin palace, was the “jewel of the sea”, according to its brochure. Guests would be able to dine in black tie at the captain’s table, soak in a Japanese “onsen” bath, swim in freshwater pools and drink from champagne fountains. “It’s effectively a five-star hotel,” says Alan Sandford, a retired teacher from Nottingham who joined the cruise with his wife, Vanessa, for his 65th birthday.
The Diamond Princess set sail from Singapore on January 6 with 1,041 crew and 2,589 passengers mainly from Europe, America and Asia. On board were 77 Britons, including the Sandfords and Elaine and John Spencer from Kent, who were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Joining the ship in Yokohama on January 20 for a 14-night “lunar new year” cruise were David and Sally Abel, a couple from Northamptonshire celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American who had written a novel called The Girl in the Box — a medical mystery set on a cruise ship, which she had researched on the Diamond Princess.