We could have toured the peace park in Nagasaki, but decided
instead to visit Shimabara’s restored samurai castle. A
well-preserved, 17th-century Japanese village, Shimabara also
boasts several old samurai houses that recall the lifestyle of the
feudal warriors centuries ago. Most intriguing are the water canals
running down the center of the quiet pebble lanes once used for
scooping out clean water.
Shimabara is just one of the exotic places we visited on our
12-day cruise aboard the Diamond Princess from Osaka, Japan, to
Beijing, China. As passengers seek out more unusual cruising
destinations, China and the Far East are becoming increasingly
popular. To meet this demand, Princess Cruises has boosted its Asia
itineraries by 25 percent.
For the 2006-07 season, the line is deploying two ships the
intimate 670-passenger Pacific Princess and the 2,670-passenger
Sapphire Princess (almost identical to our Diamond Princess).
Princess is offering eight different itineraries. This year, from
May to November, 16-day cruises between Beijing and Bangkok will
call at Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Nha Trang (Vietnam), Ho Chi
Minh City and Singapore. In October, 12-day cruises between Osaka
and Beijing are offered, including an Oct. 2 sailing that will
visit a new port for Princess Kagoshima (Japan). A new 15-day
Southeast Asia and India voyage between Bangkok and Mumbai,
departing Aug. 17 and Sept. 1, will feature Sihanoukville,
Cambodia, the gateway for an overland tour to the legendary temple
of Angkor Wat.
Cruising is perhaps the most relaxing way to visit Asia because
the ship offers familiar comforts (such as flush toilets) while
transporting passengers to exotic locales. Our voyage took us to
Nagasaki, Vladivostock (Russia), Pusan (South Korea), Shanghai and
Were there rough patches in this ambitious itinerary? Sure. The
tour guides weren’t as informative as we would have liked (due to
language difficulties). But the cruise introduced us to more
countries and provided a more diverse sampling of cultures, sights
and sounds than what is realistically possible on a land-based
vacation of the same duration.
In Vladivostock, the homeport of Russia’s Pacific navy fleet, we
crawled through a preserved WWII submarine and sipped borscht at a
local restaurant. Later, a folkloric troupe performed onboard the
ship. The Diamond Princess was a novelty in this port, and locals
lined up on the dock by the hundreds to wave goodbye as we
One of the highlights was Gyeongju, South Korea a two-hour bus
ride from the port of Pusan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the
ancient capital is home to hundreds of centuries-old royal tombs,
Buddhist temples and carvings.
Shanghai was another favorite port of call. The Diamond Princess
was too big to dock upriver at the city pier, so we rode by bus 90
minutes in from the vast container port. Once in the city, we
admired the modern business towers built in the shapes of cascading
wedding cakes, pyramids and arched domes. In the old city, we
strolled through the 400-year-old Chinese Yu Garden, where a maze
of bridges and corridors link Ming dynasty pavilions, carp ponds
and elaborate rockeries. We also visited the Jade Buddha Temple,
where monks prayed in front of a six-foot-tall, 1,000-year-old
seated Buddha, carved from a single piece of white jade.
After Shanghai, we called at the Chinese coastal resort of
Dalian. What struck us about Dalian is how similar it looks to any
large North American city modern high-rises and condos, pleasant
parks and playgrounds. But fellow diners at a downtown restaurant
chowing down on live wriggly shrimp reminded us how far from home
we actually were.
The next day, we disembarked in Beijing, where we stayed the
night. We had time to walk atop part of the Great Wall and visit
Tianammen Square, before flying home.
Asia cruise specialist, Max Snytin, of California-based
TravelWizard.com, sells many Princess cruises to China and Asia. He
offers these tips:
Add a pre- or post-cruise stay: Extending your
client’s trip will add value to their vacation. One of his clients
chose an additional Yangtze River cruise. Or for a Beijing
disembarkation, suggest a four-day Xian add-on to see the famous
Upgrade to business class: Recommend a business-class upgrade,
“so your client doesn’t lose a couple of days of their cruise
because they’re so tired,” said Snytin.
Do your research: Know the best hotels to
recommend for pre- and post-cruise stays and the typical activities
offered. In Asia and the Far East, Princess offers pre- and
post-tour packages in Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai, Osaka and