Abercrombie & Kent’s new Japan, Hong Kong and Ryukyu Islands cruise will depart next summer and stop at Itsukushima Shrine in Japan. // © 2016 Japan National Tourist Organization
Feature image (above): A stateroom onboard the luxury L'Austral // © 2016 Francois Lefebvre
An impressive list of both well-known and more exotic destinations fills out the itinerary of Abercrombie & Kent (A&K)’s new Japan, Hong Kong and the Ryukyu Islands Cruise, scheduled to sail May 28 through June 12 next year.
The diverse collection of stops includes familiar names such as the Japanese cities of Kyoto and Osaka; Taipei, Taiwan; and Hong Kong, but the trip also aims to showcase a part of Japan many U.S. travelers may never have heard of before.
“Japan has been an increasingly hot destination for U.S. travelers,” said Bob Simpson, vice president of expedition cruising for A&K. “And this voyage presents an opportunity to experience an entirely new Japan experience through one of Asia’s most beautiful and diverse island groups, the Ryukyu islands.”
As they island-hop from Shikotsu all the way down to Ishigaki, the far southern island of Japan, Simpson says guests will enjoy a wide range of geography, including “some of the world's best beaches and turquoise blue waters for snorkeling, but also a diverse cultural experience unique to the ancient Ryukyu kingdom.”
Loaded with highlights, the new cruise visits seven UNESCO World Heritage sites — but two destinations stand out for Simpson.
“I was totally amazed with Yakushima Island,” he said. “It is a relatively small island — only approximately 500 square kilometers — yet possesses every varied climate and geographical zone of the entire country of Japan.”
A subtropical collection of both rainforest and alpine forest, Yakushima is also home to rocky coastlines and granite mountains, some reaching nearly 8,000 feet in elevation, according to Simpson. Meanwhile, some of the island’s native forests are home to Yakusugi cedar trees that are more than 7,000 years old, and guests on the new cruise product might get a chance to see some of destination’s unique wildlife, including the Yakushika deer and the Yakushima macaque monkey.
Amami Oshima is another island site Simpson enjoys; he describes the destination as a wild island paradise of mangrove forests, stunning deep-blue waters and vibrant coral reefs. He notes that the destination is often compared to the Galapagos, thanks in part to its population of several endangered endemic species, including the Amami rabbit.
“Known as a living fossil, it’s the last living species of long extinct Asian rabbits, and it’s on the UNESCO endangered list, specifically due to the Indian mongoose, which is non-native but introduced species to Amami,” Simpson said. “Through Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), we are supporting a trapping and relocation project conducted by the Amami Wildlife Conservation Center to assist and protect the Amami rabbit’s last remaining habitat.”
Guests who join the cruise’s Kinsakubaru Virgin forest trek excursion on Amami Oshima will have the opportunity to join a behind-the-scenes visit to the conservation center, where they’ll meet with the research staff and learn about how the funding from AKP is aiding in the protection of the Amami rabbit.
Affluent clients will find A&K’s L’Austral ship a comfortable home base for the expedition. Although the vessel can carry around 250 passengers, A&K has decided to limit the new product to under 200 clients, which enhances the intimacy of the voyage, according to Simpson, and “enables us to guarantee private balconies for all guests.”
L’Austral is home to two dining venues and 24-hour room service, along with shipwide open bars and in-suite complimentary mini-bars — all stocked on demand.
Simpson also says that the two-weeks-plus product “is a rather active program, with multiple trekking, sea kayaking and snorkeling opportunities — so back onboard, many guests are sure to retool and relax in L’Austral’s full-service spa.”
The 16-day Japan, Hong Kong & the Ryukyu Islands Cruise starts at $19,995 per person for double occupancy, but agents and clients should note that A&K is running a special of $16,995 for those booking before Aug 31.