An Asian Princess

Sailing through exotic waterways

By: Janice Mucalov

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 Dalian (China).

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 left.

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, 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 Terra-Cotta warriors.

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 Singapore.


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