Is the saying, “‘a bad cruise is always better than working’ true in this case?” asked Scott Dawkins on Cruise Critic’s Facebook page. Dawkins was asking, of course, about the recent trial voyage of the 9,700-ton Mangyongbong, a rusted former ferry transformed into North Korea’s first known cruise ship.
During the cruise from Rason, a port near the China-Russia border, to the Mount Kumgang resort, the 130 press, Chinese travel agents and invited guests entertained themselves with karaoke and dined on buffet grub carried on metal trays. The Associated Press, part of the journalist contingent onboard, reported that “some passengers slept on wooden bunkbeds while others were assigned mattresses on the floor.” According to Agence France Presse, also aboard for the pleasure cruise, “the better rooms had tables, chairs and private washrooms.”
As to other onboard features, Facebooker Jason Burgos speculated that “there was probably a 30-foot Kim Jong-Il statue on the serenity deck.” Photographic evidence didn’t reveal any sculptures — or pools or hot tubs for that matter — but there were plastic chairs aplenty and tables covered with Korean beer.
Norman Box wondered if “Comrade Captain Stu-Bing” was at the controls.
“Maybe we could get a group together for a CC Cruise on her,” suggested Rasa Sayang on the message boards. Could it happen? According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Vice mayor of Rason City Hwang Chol-nam said that “Any country, people from America, Japanese, Singaporean can come to Rason” — without a special visa. Provided they arrange the trip through a designated tour company and leave their mobile phone in China (where they would fly to before busing to the potholed embarkation port; U.S. citizens, of course, need a visa for travel to China).
As you may have guessed, the cheeky video above is somewhat representative of the response to the Mangyongbong cruise. (Derision.) “But don’t laugh Korea’s cruise dream off too quickly,” wrote Sue Bryant, blogger for Cruise Critic’s U.K. sister site. “With lines like Costa and Royal Caribbean already basing ships in China, aimed at the local market but also selling to international passengers, could it only be a matter of time before North Korea is on our cruising radar?” North Korean officials say the Mangyongbong cruise is just the beginning, reported the Agence France Presse. “Next year, we aim to get a bigger, nicer boat that can accommodate 1,000 people,” said Park Chol Su, vice president of Taepung International Investment Group, the force behind the cruise.
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