I recently returned from a 14-day cruise on Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, a ship that focuses on Asia and Australia itineraries and which was refurbished recently to enhance the Asian theme, with the addition of a new Japanese-style bathhouse and an à la carte sushi restaurant.
The voyage was the Princess Cruises’ 14-day Grand Japan cruise, technically a combination of 2 separate cruises – the 5-day Korea & Japan Getaway and the 9-day Hokkaido cruise.
For all intents and purposes, it didn’t make much difference other than we got to partake in two welcome receptions (with free-flowing champagne), had a repeat of some of the entertainment and menus in the dining room, and saw the demographics of the boats shift from a largely Japanese clientele (about 90-95%) to a more international clientele with about 65% Australians, New Zealanders, Russians and Chinese on the 9-day portion of the cruise.
Day 1: Tokyo (Yokohama), Japan
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Busan, South Korea
Day 4: Nagasaki, Japan
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Tokyo (Yokohama), Japan
Day 7: At Sea
Day 8: Kushiro, Japan
Day 9: Shiretoko Peninsula (Scenic Cruising), Japan
Day 10: Korsakov, Russia
Day 11: Otaru, Japan
Day 12: Hakodate, Japan
Day 13: Aomori, Japan
Day 14: At Sea
Day 15: Tokyo (Yokohama), Japan
Most of the ports are very central and/or served by a free shuttle:
- Yokohama – easy access by foot to tram and metro (5-10 min), walking distance to the Minato Mirai area and Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
- Busan (South Korea) – free shuttle takes you from the port to the centre of town (15 min), very near the Jagalchi Fish Market and metro stop (Nampo Station)
- Nagasaki – easy access by foot to the tram (5 min) which takes you to several points of interest
- Kushiro – free shuttle takes you to Fisherman’s Wharf (MOO)
- Korsakov (Russia) – you need to take small boats (tenders) from the ship to the shore. As far as I could tell, most people took Princess shore excursions.
- Otaru – the ship docked slightly further from town than I was expecting, between Minami Otaru Station and Otaru Chikkou Station. I can’t recall if there’s a free shuttle at this port as we took a taxi from the port to Otaru Canal for $6. The port was about a 30-min walk to the beginning of the famous Sakaimachi Street (though it’s not well sign-posted).
- Hakodate – free shuttle takes you to the main Hakodate train station (15 min), very near the tram stop and walking distance to other tourist destinations like the Hakodate Morning Market, Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse and Motomachi areas
- Aomori – free shuttle takes you to the Aomori Prefecture Tourist Center (ASPAM) in 5-10 minutes where you can have a drink at the observation deck, watch a tsugaru-shamisen performance (twice per day) and buy souvenirs; other tourist destinations like the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum and Shinmachi shopping street are a 5-10 min walk
We did two shore excursions with Princess, in Kushiro and Korsakov (Russia).
Kushiro is known for its nature, and as the sights we wanted to see were outside the city, we opted for a 4-hour shore excursion with Princess. The tour took us to Kushiro Marshland National Park and Observation Deck and the Crane Nature Park. At $89 a pop, it didn’t quite meet our expectations. In retrospect, I think this is less to do with Princess and more to do with the locations themselves. The Marshland National Park was rather ordinary to behold, and the Crane Nature Park was in reality a small zoo with a few cranes in enclosures with clipped wings.
For the Russian port, there’s no need to arrange a Russian visa in advance if you take a Princess excursion, which we did. We did the 2-hour Walking Tour of Korsakov for $39 per person, which was worthwhile. Despite the tour being only 2-hours, the town of Korsakov was quite compact so we got a good taster of the city.
Points to note – Money, money, money!
Be aware that in Japan and Korea, only certain ATM machines take international debit cards. And even if the ATM machine has as the Visa/Mastercard symbol (many do not), it still may not accept your card. However, I think the ATMs inside all 7-11 convenience stores (of which there are many) do take international ATM cards.
I meant to get some won before we got to Korea. Once we disembarked in Busan, there was an ATM at the dock but there was too long of a line, and once I got to the train station, it was hard to find an ATM that took my card. I didn’t find it necessary to have any rubles in Korsakov. The handicrafts market organised for the cruise passengers happily accepted dollars, and I managed to convince the guy selling the local fermented drink on the main drag to sell me a glass for $1.
Though I’ve lived in Japan, every single stop on this cruise was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. Each port was convenient and had something unique to see and specialities to eat. Combined with 2-3 extra days in Tokyo, this is the perfect way to get a taste of this amazing country.
Stay tuned for more details on the individual destinations, plus some posts on the great things you can eat!