Unique Asia Itineraries for 2019-2020

PONANT’S “In the Wake of General MacArthur: The Legacy of World War II” itinerary will include a meeting with atomic blast survivors or relatives at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan. Seen here is the Atomic Bomb Dome, part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. // Photography: Taku S / Getty Images

Asia cruises can vary wildly, based on the onboard experience and the itinerary. Luxury Travel Advisor has singled out these notable voyages, determined by that something special they offer to luxury travelers headed to Asia in 2019 or 2020. 

In the Wake of General MacArthur: Designed for American guests with a passion for World War II history is Ponant’s “In the Wake of General MacArthur: The Legacy of World War II” itinerary. The 184-passenger Le Laperouse, the line’s first in a new series of Explorers-class ships, sails a two-week voyage between Hong Kong and Osaka, Japan, departing September 27, 2019. One ship highlight is a new hydraulic platform, making this type of expedition ship easier for boarding, Zodiac launches and access for watersports and swimming. Ponant is including a special cruise package for this “Quintessential Collection” voyage. Perks include a two-night, pre-cruise stay at Hong Kong’s Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel; mingling with onboard guest lecturers and historians James Bradley and Philip Hurst, who will lead World War II lectures and discussions; Hong Kong sightseeing including a visit to the Museum of Coastal Defence’s World War II exhibits; driver / guide gratuities on included excursions; and transfers. Later in the cruise, travelers can participate in a meeting at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan with atomic blast survivors or relatives. An optional excursion will transport cruisers to a Chiran, Japan museum dedicated to Kamikaze pilots.

We’ve singled out this itinerary for its strong Japanese line-up. Le Laperouse will call at Ishigaki, Naha (Okinawa), Kagoshima, Uwajima, Hiroshima, Tokushima, Shimizu, Shingu and Osaka. This cruise also calls at Keelung, (Chilung), Taiwan.  Beyond the World War II-related options, those who love Asian culture and heritage can visit the National Palace Museum in Taipei or delve into the Ryukyu kingdom’s legacy at the UNESCO World Heritage Shuri Castle on Okinawa.

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First World Cruise in Six Years: Ultra-luxury Seabourn will sail its first World Cruise in six years, when the 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn departs January 4, 2020 from Miami to San Francisco. During the 146-day voyage, travelers can expect exclusive World Cruise events, overnight stays and late departures from many ports. More than two dozen Asian port calls are on tap, including Benoa (Denpasar), Bali (overnight) and Komodo Island, Indonesia; Puerto Princesa, Manila and the Hundred Islands, Philippines; Hong Kong (overnight); Ho Chi Minh City (overnight), Vietnam; Ko Kood, Laem Chabang (Bangkok) and Phuket, Thailand; Singapore (overnight); Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Georgetown and Porto Malai (Langkawi), Malaysia; Sihanoukville, Cambodia; Sabang, Puluh Weh, Indonesia; Chennai, India (overnight); and Hambantota and Colombo, Sri Lanka.

One highlight? Seabourn Sojourn sails up the Saigon River into downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s former French Colonial capital. During the ship’s overnight stay, guests can go ashore for dining and perhaps attend a performance at the Saigon Opera House. We’d top off the evening with cocktails at SOHY, one of Ho Chi Minh City’s ultra-cool, rooftop bars. When luxury cruisers go ashore in Singapore, they’ll also have two enticing new activities to consider. Opening in late 2018 is Design Orchard, a new fashion, lifestyle and beauty brand center within Orchard’s Road shopping and entertainment district; it’s designed as a creative business incubator for local emerging designers. Also, famed Chef Alain Ducasse will open a new restaurant in Singapore’s Raffles Hotel in 2019; reservations are likely to be a “must.”  

On this cruise, Seabourn will make it easy for culinary-focused guests to delve into the local culture with “Shopping with the Chef” excursions at local food markets in Manila, Phuket and Ho Chi Minh City. During the Thai port call in Ko Kood, guests also can enjoy Seabourn’s signature “Caviar in the Surf Beach BBQ and Marina Day” with complimentary watersports, weather permitting. This cruise also offers a mid-voyage overland trip to India’s Taj Mahal. 

In Vietnam, Crystal cruisers will get a chance to visit the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located south of the city of Da Nang. //Photography: Getty Images / saiko3p

Asia with a South Pacific Twist: On February 2, 2020, Crystal Cruises’ recently refurbished, 848-passenger Crystal Symphony sails from Guam, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific, to Hong Kong. During its “Pagodas and Pearls of the Orient” itinerary, port calls include Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands; Manila, the Philippines (overnight); Da Nang and Hanoi/Hongai, Vietnam (overnight); and Hong Kong (overnight). 

Tip? During time ashore in Da Nang, Vietnam, Crystal’s cruisers may wish to visit the new Golden Bridge, which opened this summer to hefty social media buzz and global news coverage. Nestled in Ba Na Hill, nearly 4,600 feet above sea level in a high mountain forest area, this pedestrian bridge spans a very deep valley. What’s most eye-opening, though, is that it’s seemingly a golden thread supported by two gigantic hands — something akin to a “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” setting.  

Embarking in Guam can give cruisers a pre-cruise stay in what’s typically been a less-visited destination for most U.S. travelers, plus the Saipan call also adds a South Pacific twist with historic World War II sites and gorgeous beaches. While in Guam, we’d suggest an “ocean dive” to view local marine life via the Atlantis submarine or, alternatively, enjoying beach play, a jungle riverboat adventure, a concert / theater event or kayaking. Or, why not grab a selfie with the Magellan Monument? Upscale shoppers will find such designer brands as Furla, Bottega Veneta, Chloe and Givenchy Paris at Tumon Sands Plaza. 

For a romantic pre-cruise dinner, Alfredo’s Steakhouse is a chic, casual eatery with ocean views within the Dusit Thani Guam Resort. Those with a hearty appetite can order a 32-ounce, bone-in Cowboy Ribeye or perhaps a 12-ounce Japanese Wagyu A5 tenderloin filet. More modest cuts of tasty Wagyu (starting at just three ounces) are also available, along with fresh fish, oysters, prawns and other seafood. 

Intensive Japan: If full destination immersion in Japan is desired, Azamara Club Cruises obliges with its 15-night “Circle Japan Intensive Voyage,” departing April 27, 2019 roundtrip from Tokyo (Yokohama). The 690-passenger Azamara Quest does call one day at Busan, South Korea, but all other ports are within Japan, including Hakodate, Aomori, Akita, Kanazawa, Sakaiminato, Kitakyushu, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Kobe, Shimizu (Mt. Fuji) and Tokyo. 

Going ashore at Hakodate, we’d head for the Hakodate Asaichi or morning market. Inside, cruisers will find Donburi Yokocho Ichiba, a restaurant arcade of 20 different eateries. The local specialty is a bowl of steamed rice topped with fresh seafood such as fish and sea urchin. Or, in Takamatsu, one Azamara excursion teaches cruisers how to make Japanese Udon noodles at a local culinary school. In Hakodate, Azamara’s “Japanese Cultural Experience at a Local High School” will take travelers for an afternoon at an all-girls high school where students will lead a traditional tea ceremony and calligraphy lesson. 

In Aomori, active, extremely fit cruisers can opt for Azamara’s “Shirakami Mountains Walking Tour” to explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site on a guided trek described as “strenuous” but the reward is seeing breathtaking landscapes. In Kobe, Azamara offers a “Kobe Beef Dinner Tour,” or alternatively, cruisers can choose to visit “Kyoto by High-Speed Train with Lunch” and peruse ancient temples. 

New Hong Kong Touring: For travelers who love pre- and post-cruise stays, Cunard Line is introducing voyage and tour packages for certain Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria voyages in 2019. These new three- and four-day packages will debut in such cities as Rome, Hong Kong, Dubai and Cape Town. Packages include upscale hotel stays plus iconic landmark sightseeing and cultural activities. 

In Hong Kong, those new post-cruise tours are available upon arrival on March 5, 2019 for Queen Mary 2’s “China and Korea” (voyage M905) and “Shanghai to Hong Kong” (M905C) itineraries. Plus, the package is available as a pre-cruise tour on Queen Mary 2’s March 5, 2019 departure (voyage M906A) from “Hong Kong to Singapore.” Guests reserving the new package will stay three nights at Kowloon’s Royal Garden Hotel, which has Hong Kong Harbor views, and also ride the Peak Tram as well as a sampan; explore Stanley Village; enjoy a dim sum lunch; and take a Lantau Island excursion. 

Philippine & Malaysian Immersion: Many voyages operate between Singapore and Hong Kong, typically sailing along Vietnam’s coastline. But what if travelers previously have “been there, done that” in Vietnam? Another option is a sailing that uses a different routing between those two big cities. Silversea Cruises and Windstar Cruises both do so via Borneo (Malaysia and Brunei) and the Philippines. This itinerary routing also gives cruisers a chance to explore Palawan, the Philippines; its Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For example, on January 19, 2019, Silversea’s 382-passenger Silver Shadow operates a 13-day “Singapore to Hong Kong” sailing with calls at Muara, Brunei; in Kuching (Sarawak) and Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan (both in Sabah), Malaysia; and at Puerto Princesa (Palawan), Coron, Romblon Island and Manila, the Philippines. Eco-lovers have much to celebrate with this routing, as in Sandakan, they can take Silversea’s shore excursion to observe Bornean orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Asian bears at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Or, they can choose a different Silversea eco-excursion, which includes the orangutan center and the Lahuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. 

In Sandakan, Malaysia, Silver Shadow‘s eco-loving guests will get to observe Bornean orangutans. // Photography: Silversea Cruises

For a bit more casual luxury product, Windstar Cruises’ 212-passenger Star Legend sails January 13, 2019 from Singapore to Hong Kong on a “Best of the Philippines and Borneo” itinerary. Calls include Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; Bandar Seri Begawan / Muara, Brunei; Puerto Princesa (Palawan), Manila (overnight) and the Hundred Islands, in the Philippines. Windstar’s guests can visit orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a rescue and rehabilitation center; board an outrigger and swim in the crystal waters of Hundred Islands National Park; or snorkel or scuba dive among historical WWII Japanese wrecks off Busuanga Island in the Philippines.

During a port call in Manila, both lines’ guests can explore walled, cobblestoned Intramuros, founded by the Spanish in the 16th century; it’s fun to stroll through Fort Santiago, Casa Manila (a Colonial-era lifestyle museum), Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. For cultural buffs, the National Museum displays artifacts recovered from sunken Spanish Galleons, while the Ayala Museum offers handcrafted dioramas, a boat gallery and Philippine artwork. When it’s time for shopping therapy, we’d suggest cruisers browse and buy at Manila’s humongous SM Mall of Asia. 

That said, travelers with a history bent or military background may wish to pay their respects at Manila’s American Cemetery and Memorial, the largest American memorial outside the U.S.; it honors U.S. and Allied service personnel killed during World War II.

Exploring Myanmar & India: More interested in Myanmar and India? Then one choice is Oceania Cruises’ 18-day “Far East Mystique” cruise between Singapore and Dubai, U.A.E., on Nautica; departures are April 9, 2019, April 25, 2019 and May 1, 2020. With the line’s OLife Choice, a limited time inclusive package includes roundtrip airfare plus a choice of one of these: eight free shore excursions; a free beverage packet or $800 shipboard credit. 

On this Asia intensive journey, port calls include Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang) and Penang, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Rangoon, Myanmar (double overnight); Cochin (Kochi), Mangalore, Goa (Mormugao) and Mumbai, India, along with Fujairah and finally Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Certainly, the luxury of four days ashore in India is a big plus on this itinerary. 

While in Mumbai, we’d suggest cruisers take Oceania’s “Elephanta Caves” excursion, which transports them by boat to Gharapuri Island, distinguished for its twin hills rising from the sea. The isle’s basalt rock caves are halfway up the higher of the two peaks, so while climbing steps is required, the rewards are views of seventh-century, rock-cut temples, a complex of shrines, courtyards, grand halls and porticos. 

Oceania’s daytime Rangoon shore excursions span everything from meditation to watching a monk’s novitiation ceremony to spending time with “the locals.” For something truly spectacular, don’t miss Oceania’s “Shwedagon by Night Tour,” showcasing the jewel-studded Shwedagon Pagoda, its glistening dome tipped with a single, 76-carat diamond. It’s quite memorable to gaze on the shimmering pagoda at night atop Singuttara Hill.

Modern Skylines & Ancient Cultures: For those seeking a good mix of modern and ancient sites, one highly inclusive option is Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 14-night “Shanghai to Bangkok (Laem Chabang)” itinerary, departing March 13, 2020. We like that this 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager itinerary includes an overnight in Shanghai upon embarkation, so guests have time to explore that bustling city. Other calls include Xiamen, China; Hong Kong (overnight); Hanoi (Ha Long Bay); Hue (Chan May) and Ho Chi Minh City (overnight), Vietnam; and then ending in Bangkok (overnight).  

Guests can select from nearly four dozen complimentary shore excursions. In Xiamen, China, we’d suggest the Regent-included “Day in Quanzhou” excursion because it explores an ancient city that gained fame as the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road and was visited by Marco Polo and Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta. Cruisers will visit Kaiyuan Temple, the province’s largest Buddhist temple, and see the iconic East & West Pagoda and Ancient Boat Museum. After a traditional Chinese lunch, guests will stroll along historic Tumen Street passing the 11th-century Qingjing Mosque. 

While this Regent Seven Seas itinerary gives cruisers views of illuminated modern skylines in such cities as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok, and the chance to explore ancient sites nearly everywhere, even more savory are the pre- and post-cruise packages. Three-night, pre-cruise packages feature either Shanghai and the Great Wall of China or Shanghai and Xian’s Terracotta Warriors. Similarly, post-cruise packages spend more time in Bangkok or offer journeys to Chiang Mai, Thailand, or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 

Four Days in Java: With departures on March 26 and November 29, 2019, Viking Ocean Cruises’ 13-day “Bangkok, Bali & Beyond” itinerary offers a robust roundup of Asian arts and cultural capitals and extensive time ashore on the island of Java, Indonesia. The 930-passenger Viking Orion will overnight in Bangkok (Laem Chabang) before sailing to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Singapore; Jakarta (overnight), Semarang and Surabaya, all on Java, Indonesia; and disembarking guests in Bali, Indonesia. 

One nice perk is that seven guided tours are included within the cruise fare. Since guests have an overnight in Jakarta, we’d opt for the eight-hour “Sunda Kelapa & Jakarta” tour, so cruisers can mingle with trading fishmongers at the old port and see colorful wooden Pinisi schooners lining the harbor. Then it’s on to Fatahillah Square, the former Colonial Dutch government seat; an Indonesian-fusion style lunch; the National Monument, a 400-foot-tall marble obelisk topped with a gold-coated flame, and the National History Museum of Indonesia. Finally, a stop is made at Jakarta’s “Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park,” which gives a small-scale look at iconic sites throughout Indonesia’s provinces.

Pre-cruise, guests can add on Angkor Wat, Bangkok or Luang Prabang, Laos. The latter will take guests to a remote, northern Laos destination that was the nation’s royal capital until 1975. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is famed for its plethora of Buddhist temples. The Viking package includes one night at Bangkok’s Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport and three nights at Luang Prabang’s Luang Say Residence (or similar properties); nine meals; three guided tours; services of Viking hosts and local guides; transfers; and the roundtrip flight from / to Bangkok.

Tokyo to Singapore: For a good amount of sea days, perfect for those who love relaxation, fun in the sun or spa treatments, plus embarkation / disembarkation in two prime Asian cities for shopping and dining, and the eclectic port calls along the way, we like Hapag-Lloyd CruisesEuropa 2’s voyage from Tokyo to Singapore on May 8, 2019. The 500-passenger Europa 2 is a bastion of luxury afloat, particularly after late 2017 drydock updates. Both English and German are spoken onboard, and the ship has English speaking shore excursions. 

Also notable is that Europa 2 is making a maiden visit to Japan, with embarkation in Tokyo, as well as destination calls at Toba on Japan’s Shima Peninsula, Naha in Okinawa and Ishigaki, Japan’s southernmost city. In Okinawa, cruisers can eyeball a bullring. Yes, bullfighting is popular here, just as it is in Spain and Latin America, but in Okinawa, two bulls square off against each other rather than one bull against a matador. Other port calls on this voyage include Taipei (Keelung), Taiwan; Hong Kong; Ha Long Bay (for Hanoi), Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City (overnight) in Vietnam, prior to arrival in Singapore.

This itinerary is also one of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ “IN2BALANCE” themed cruises, so experts and trainers will present Far East philosophy and options for yoga, tai chi, personal wellbeing, shiatsu, stress reduction and interval training. 

During the sea days, travelers can check out Europa 2’s recently redesigned spa. All saunas were renovated, including a high-heat Finnish sauna, a revitalizing Deep Ocean sauna and a mineral steam bath. The spa area also features a lounge corner with a soothing electric fireplace and new lounge furniture has been added to the spa’s outdoor area.  

When it comes to Asian exploration for 2019 or 2020, the voyages of distinction singled out above offer something unusual for guests eager for an exotic cruise in the lap of luxury.  

The Thean Hou Temple decorated with lanterns in Kuala Lumpur. Seabourn Sojourn, Oceania’s Nautica and Viking Orion will all call at the Malaysian capital. // Photography: Viking Ocean Cruises

Asia River Cruises

For 2019, Uniworld will begin using the upscale Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer for its Yangtze River cruises in China. Guests can expect spacious staterooms and suites with private balconies, an observation deck, two-floor theater, library, and spa, beauty and fitness spaces. Complementing its 11-day “Highlights of China & The Yangtze” itinerary, Uniworld will debut a new six-day Mongolia extension to the Gobi Desert and Ulaanbaatar.

With French Colonial décor and richly carved wood furniture, AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara will operate two seven-night itineraries, “Riches of the Mekong” and “Charms of the Mekong,” between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2019 and 2020. One highlight is a visit to Koh Oknha Tey, a Cambodian silk-weaving village.  

Pandaw, which will debut a “Lower Ganges River” itinerary in India — between Kolkata and Farakka — this December on Orient Pandaw, also has announced it will bring in the refurbished Katha Pandaw to operate a new 14-night “Upper Ganges” itinerary from Kolkata to Varanasi and the Brahmaputra River. 

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