Sailing in Asia

Ibusuki is popular with cruisers looking for a traditional sand bath, a therapeutic spa service designed to improve circulation and general health.

Ibusuki is popular with cruisers looking for a traditional sand bath, a therapeutic spa service designed to improve circulation and general health.

During the past year, cruisers have heard sizable “buzz” about new cruise ships shifting to China. Will there still be enough ships to serve North Americans? The answer is an emphatic “yes” as cruise capacity to serve Americans, Canadians and other English-speaking guests is burgeoning. New upscale ships launching in 2016 include Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Encore, Regent Seven Seas CruisesSeven Seas Explorer, Viking Ocean CruisesViking Sea, Holland America Line’s Koningsdam and others.

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The luxury lines also continue to design new Asian voyages for North American guests. Here’s a sampling of new northern Asia sailings with port calls at Japan, Korea and China. For well-traveled cruisers seeking new experiences, Crystal Cruises’ 14-day “Accent on China and Japan” voyage on Crystal Symphony sails March 31, 2017 from Incheon, Korea to Tokyo, Japan. What’s special? It makes a “maiden call” and overnights in Takamatsu, Japan. So cruisers interested in Edo-period history and traditional Japanese landscaping can stroll the town’s Ritsurin Garden with a footbridge, waterfall, lotus pond, tea houses and folk-craft museum, or visit Takamatsu castle and park, site of the old namesake castle; it’s particularly lovely when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

The Shimizu Port is one of the most scenic ports in Japan, offering views of Mount Fuji.One must-do activity is a stop at a Takamatsu “udon shop” for the city’s specialty — thick, chewy, hand-made noodles in broth. We’d recommend two shops — either Oshokujidokoro Shirunomise Ofukuroand or Chikusei, which also serves excellent tempura. This cruise also overnights in Hiroshima and Tokyo in Japan and offers a double overnight in Xingang (Beijing), China, so guests can create an in-depth destination experience. Day calls are made at Fukuoka, Osaka and Shimizu in Japan and Incheon in Korea.

Pictured: The Shimizu Port is one of the most scenic ports in Japan, offering views of Mount Fuji.

The Crystal Penthouses (CP) with veranda were on “call for availability” status at press time, so we’d suggest Deck 10’s 491-square-foot Penthouse Suites (PS) or 367-square-foot Penthouse with verandah (PH) accommodations. Guests will be pampered with personal butler service and in-suite dining served course by course; one nice touch is that guests can order off the specialty Silk Road and Prego menus.

Seeking a lengthy Asia voyage? We like Seabourn Cruise Line’s 36-day “Seas of the Shoguns” cruise on Seabourn Sojourn. Operating roundtrip from Kobe, Japan, on April 5, 2017, it features multiple Japanese port calls at Hiroshima, Fukuoka (Hakata), Kagoshima, Shimizu, Miyako and Motobu (Okinawa), as well as an overnight call in Yokohama. This in-depth Asian voyage also has calls at Busan (Pusan) and Incheon (Seoul), Korea; Kaohsiung and Keelung, Taiwan; and Yantai, Dalian, Qingdao, Lianyungang, Xiamen and Zhujiajian (Putuoshan), China. A bonus is that the ship will overnight in both Tianjin (for Beijing) and Hong Kong and will have two overnights in Shanghai.

Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Japan, has many bridges, footpaths and small hills that offer a view of the garden and Mt. Shiun. Seen here is a bridge over Nan-ko (Southern lake).

Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Japan, has many bridges, footpaths and small hills that offer a view of the garden and Mt. Shiun. Seen here is a bridge over Nan-ko (Southern lake).

During that Shanghai call, we’d recommend booking Seabourn’s two-day “Hangzhou Mid-Cruise Overnight” excursion. It starts with a tour of Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden and Old Town followed by a 90-minute train ride through the Chinese countryside to Hangzhou, which explorer Marco Polo described as the “City of Heaven” for its beauty. In Hangzhou, guests will tour Lingyin Temple, where thousands of monks once worshipped in dozens of halls, and the Chinese Medicine Museum to learn about the study, mixing and use of natural herbal treatments. Dinner and a hotel stay are included. The next morning, guests take a boat cruise on West Lake surrounded by green hills, causeways and lotus blossoms, before heading by train back to Shanghai to rejoin the ship. Well-appointed veranda suites are still available for this sailing; higher level suites are wait-listed.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 16-night “Marvels of the East” cruise on Seven Seas Voyager sails from Hong Kong to Beijing (Tianjin) on March 7, 2017. The itinerary includes overnights in Xiamen, Shanghai, Kyoto (Kobe) and Beijing, along with port calls at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Seoul (Incheon) and Dalian. One appealing special perk is that guests in all-suite categories enjoy a complimentary three-night “Jewels of Hong Kong” pre-cruise or a complimentary three-night “Beijing and The Great Wall” post-cruise land program.

We like this cruise for two reasons. First, it’s an in-depth Asian cruise that features lecture and enrichment specialists from “The Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys,” so guests enjoy discussions, lectures, Q&As and expert interaction. Second, when the ship calls at Xiamen, cruisers can book an in-depth, three-day land program, “Armies of the First Emperor.” During that program, guests take a flight to Xi’an, where they’ll tour the city’s impressive city wall and, late in the afternoon, check into the Wyndham Grand Xi’an or a similar category hotel.

The Terracotta Warriors Museum is an attraction for cruisers visiting Xi’an, China. It is a repository for 7,000 life-size clay soldiers and horses buried with China’s first emperor.The next morning, cruisers will tour the Terracotta Warriors Museum, a repository for 7,000 life-size clay soldiers and horses buried with China’s first emperor to accompany him into the afterlife. After lunch at a local restaurant, it’s on to the seventh-century Big Wild Goose Pagoda and a historic Grand Mosque. Guests also enjoy a second night in Xi’an, a fun dumpling banquet at De Fa Chang Dumpling Restaurant, and a Shaanxi History Museum visit before their flight to Shanghai to re-join the ship.

Pictured: The Terracotta Warriors Museum is an attraction for cruisers visiting Xi’an, China. It is a repository for 7,000 life-size clay soldiers and horses buried with China’s first emperor.

Top digs for this voyage? Seven Seas Voyager’s Master Suite on Deck 11 is 1,403 square feet with a wraparound veranda. Up to six guests enjoy two bedrooms, two and one half marble bathrooms, a spacious living room and two separate balcony spaces. Among the perks are complimentary use of an iPad and iPod and 24-hour room service with dinner served course by course, on the balcony, if guests so desire.

Silversea Cruises’ 15-day Hong Kong to Tokyo cruise (Voyage 3708) on Silver Shadow departs on April 19, 2017. Prior to departure, why not savor Silversea’s “Introduction to Chinese Gastronomy” tour? This half-day culinary excursion visits a Hong Kong “wet market” where the locals shop for seafood, meat and fresh produce, and visit the Home Management Centre (HMC) in North Point for an interactive Chinese cooking class.

Once under way, Silver Shadow spends a day at sea en route to Keelung, Taiwan. The following day, on another call at Ishigaki, Ryukyu Islands, Japan, active cruisers with an eco-interest can book a half-day Miyara River canoeing excursion through mangrove forests. Next, cruisers can relax for a day in their onboard suite, before the ship overnights in Shanghai. Top digs include the two-bedroom Owner’s Suite with 1,264 feet of space plus veranda spaces; guests in this suite have great views for watching the twinkling lights of Asian cities while dining al fresco course by course, served by their butler.

Silver Shadow also calls at Jeju and Busan (Pusan), Korea; and Hiroshima, Shimizu, Osaka (overnight) and Tokyo (overnight), Japan. If guests are staying in Tokyo for a few days, those desiring an upscale, sushi-bar-style experience should call about the intimate Tapas Molecular Bar (advance reservations are “a must”) within the chic 38th-floor lounge of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Over the course of two hours, chefs will prepare bite-sized delicacies for a maximum of eight diners who will also have views from the lounge toward the Imperial Palace and Shinjuku district. Prefer Japanese tempura? Head for Tenko in Shinjuku. Once a Tokyo geisha house, it now serves up delicate, light tempura, and is a favorite of famed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. 

Oceania CruisesNautica sails a 15-day “Imperial Grandeur” cruise from Hong Kong to Shanghai on February 20, 2017, with calls at Taipei (Keelung), Okinawa (Naha), an overnight at Kyoto (Kobe), Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Seoul (Incheon), Dalian and Beijing (Tianjin), ending with an overnight in Shanghai. The Owner’s Suites on Decks 6, 7 and 8 will give guests more than 1,000 square feet of space to spread out, butler service and pampering perks. The line’s new OLife promotion also gives guests booking well in advance the flexibility to choose from several complimentary amenities, including unlimited Internet access and a choice of a beverage package, shore excursions or a shipboard credit.

For this Asian itinerary, we’d beat the jet lag that comes with overseas travel with Oceania’s pampering pre-cruise, three-night “Jewels of Hong Kong” program, which includes a stay at the luxurious Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel and daily breakfast. If you’re a lobster fan, don’t miss the Cantonese dishes at the hotel’s Shang Palace, or for dim sum after a day of touring, head for the relaxing Lobby Lounge.

Oceania’s guests on this pre-cruise tour also receive airport and pier transfers, and touring that include rides on the Peak Tram and a sampan plus visits to Aberdeen, the Man Mo Temple, Flower Market, Jade Market, Chi Lin Nunnery, Stanley Market and Hollywood Road for exploring antique shops and art stores. We’d pop into Connoisseur Art Gallery to peruse collectible realist and figurative art by Chinese artists, contemporary art and works by Swedish artist Dorina Mocan.

For a big-ship experience with a luxury bent, cruisers might book “Queens Grill” suites on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, which sails a 10-night voyage between Kobe and Shanghai on March 13, 2017. The ship calls at Kagoshima, Busan, Hiroshima (overnight), then arrives back in Kobe for an overnight before heading to Shanghai. If you’re seeking local color while in Kagoshima, one option is Ibusuki, a Satsuma Peninsula resort where you can don a komono for a traditional “sand bath,” a therapeutic spa service designed to improve circulation and general health; you’re covered with warm sand that’s heated by natural hot springs, followed by a shower, Japanese-style bath and lunch. Then cruisers might visit Chiran with homes and small gardens that once belonged to samurai warriors.

At press time, there was still Queens Grill suite availability for the Q3 category Penthouse Suites mid-ship on High Decks 4, 5, 6 and 8, and the Q4 Penthouses on High Deck 7. All Queens Grill suites feature a large sitting area, walk-in wardrobe and a spacious private balcony. For the ultimate in pampering, a butler will assist with personalized arrangements, room service and packing/unpacking. Most desirable, though, is that guests in all Queens Grill suites can dine whenever they like between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the exclusive Queens Grill restaurant. Entrees might include “Lobster Newberg with Truffle Scented Pilaf Rice” or “Asian Magret of Duck, Steamed Sticky Rice with Scallions, Pan-seared Bok Choy.”

If cruisers are seeking a small-ship experience, Ponant’s small-ship L’Austral will take travelers on a 14-night “From the Philippines to the Japanese Coast” voyage. It stops at islands with white-sand beaches, limestone cliffs and lush mangroves, plus Japan’s southern islands that offer Zen gardens and ancient temples.

Elsewhere in Asia

Other oceangoing cruise lines offer other Asian voyages, including small-ship Paul Gauguin Cruises, which offers new “Fiji and Bali” itineraries in 2017. Azamara Club Cruises operates a 13-day “Spice Route” voyage on Azamara Journey roundtrip from Singapore on April 9; it calls at Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur) and Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Kochi, Mormugao (Goa) and Mumbai (Bombay), India.

Got kids? On March 5, 2017, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ ultra-luxury Europa 2 sails between Singapore and Hong Kong on an “Asian Island Worlds” itinerary that also includes Taiwan. This ship fields modern family apartments, perfect for a couple and two kids; we’ve toured these and love the well-designed children’s bedroom with bunk beds, toys and a kid-friendly bathroom. Europa 2 also operates a supervised children’s club. For grandparents seeking the ultimate in luxury for themselves (with family members staying elsewhere on the ship), we suggest the spacious Owner’s Suite as a pampering “family base.” 

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