I have always contended that the best way to vacation is via a cruise ship. Once on board, you can travel to multiple destinations without having to worry about changing hotels, planning your meals or your excursions. The only thing required of the vacationer is to get out and enjoy! The good news is, now you can enjoy exploring the ancient sites, hallowed temples and natural wonders throughout the island chain of Japan via cruise ship. This is perhaps the most convenient way to visit the country for non-Japanese speaking tourists, offering boundless opportunities to visit places that would otherwise be very challenging on your own.
Sailing out of Yokohama from May through September, the 2,670-passenger Diamond Princess is operating nine-night journeys to iconic Japanese destinations like Nagasaki and Kyoto (via the port of Kobe). After years of expansion across the Pacific, the California-based Princess has become the first major international cruise line to offer an extended season of voyages around Japan.
The fares are reasonably priced, the nine-night Japan sailings on the Diamond Princess start at $1,009 per person (or about $112 a night for a room, meals and transportation around Japan combined.) Now try managing that on this kind of a budget on your own!
Last year was the first time Princess Cruise Lines dabbled in cruises to Japan with just a handful of sailings on one of its smallest ships, the 2,022-passenger Sun Princess. But after the popularity of the cruises, the company decided to make a sizeable commitment to the market with the deployment of the larger Diamond Princess as well as the Sun Princess.
Diamond Princess is a 10-year-old vessel which has undergone a massive makeover to give it a distinct Japanese flavor. Among several new features are an extensive traditional Japanese bath area, a first for a cruise ship, as well as an à la carte sushi restaurant. Menus in its main restaurants and Horizon Court buffet feature Japanese items, such as miso soup and noodles, alongside Western fare. Announcements onboard the ship are made in both Japanese and English and much of the entertainment is also presented in both languages. These new features were designed specifically to lure Japanese vacationers, who until now haven’t cruised in great numbers.
The Japanese baths, called Izumi, hold true to the long standing Japanese tradition of onsen bathing and require passengers to disrobe completely when entering the baths. There are separate baths for men and women and for a nominal cost of $20 a visit, passengers can experience an authentic Japanese bath.
One item to note is that there is a slight drawback to the cruises as many of them take place during the country’s rainy season of June and early July and can be affected by the typhoons that roll through the region from May through October. For this reason, the foreign passengers greatly outnumber the Japanese passengers on these sailings. Another drawback is that the ships sometimes arrive at terminals far from city centers. In ports such as Kagoshima, Princess has had to arrange lengthy shuttle rides for passengers to reach areas of interest. This can greatly limit the amount of time passengers can spend on land and consequently only allow one to enjoy a taste of a country rather than get an in-depth experience.
Joining Princess Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises will also offer trips to Japan. The line’s Celebrity Millennium will operate three 14-night Northeast Asia cruises between Yokohama and other Asia ports this fall that will include multiple stops in Japan as well as China. Fares will start at $1,549 per person.
Will cruising become the new way to explore Japan? I can only see the popularity of these cruises increasing in time as many who were previously apprehensive about visiting this magnificent country due to language barriers can now put aside their trepidation and enjoy the many wonderful experiences to be had!
Princess Cruise Lines: http://www.princess.com/learn/cruise-destinations/asia-cruises/cruises/japan/
Celebrity Cruises: http://www.celebritycruises.com/