"The Cruise of a Lifetime! Tokyo to Hong Kong. We sailed on this magnificent ship from Tokyo - the Seven Seas Mariner was on a leg of a Grand Asian Cruise. Brochures cannot adequately describe this incredible adventure. The "Mariner" is a GREAT cruise ship - elegant, superbly staffed, and totally comfortable. This review should have been submitted months ago, but we had too many distractions and obligations before us. The problem with submitting such an incredibly great cruise is due to the diversity of great experiences. First, there is the cruise ship - a wonderful ship that deserves a separate evaluation. Secondly, the ports-of-call provided a lifetime of adventure - magnificent, superb, glorious, and just plain wonderful! So, where to start? I'll attempt to mix it all in - from beginning to end.
We flew from SFO direct to Tokyo on a UAL 747 - much faster than we anticipated. We flew Business Class due to the length of the flight. We were treated royally - for a trans-Pacific flight it is wise to upgrade if possible. It took almost 11-hours, but very comfortable hours.
It had been 54-years since I last saw Tokyo - about 75% of the people we saw there were not even alive when I departed Yokohama in 1952 in my army uniform. So, my return was quite dramatic for me - where have all the years gone? Tokyo has not changed much, although the buildingS are taller and more massive. The population is greater, and the transportation modes are greatly improved. My nostalgia is as great as ever.
The massive airport at Narita was exciting to see. It's a good hour and one-half into Tokyo due to huge amounts of traffic. Our driver took the two of us in a large, new van - all to ourselves - to the Empress Hotel, a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark. This hotel was the headquarters for Gen. Douglas MacArthur when Japan was occupied by American forces in WW2. The Empress is totally grand! Regent Cruise Lines offers this hotel as a pre-cruise option - don't miss it! Wow! The experience was truly wonderful!
We arranged for 2-private tours prior to our arrival in Tokyo. Our first tour took us by private car and a tour guide to the city of Kamakura, south of Tokyo by a couple of hours. Kamakura is the site where the largest Buddha is on display. I had visited Kamakura in 1952 and saw the giant Buddha in my army uniform. And, there Buddha was, once again, just as gigantic and peaceful as I had remembered in my youthful days. Truly, this was a thrill for both my wife and me. The tour guide took us inside the massive "body" of Buddha, along with many other tourists. If you visit Kamakura someday, make sure you take in this most impressive site. We had lunch at a farmhouse that had been brought to Kamakura from the hills of the surrounding area. We were introduced to a great Japanese-type soup, the name escapes me at the moment. But, we slurped the soup - our guide showed us how to politely "slurp" - lots of noise, and it was so, so tasty. It was quite interesting to watch our very demure and polite tour guide lady demonstrate the polite way to "slurp."
Our return to Tokyo took us past the gigantic "exporting" cranes that line the Bay of Tokyo. Exports are the life-blood of Japan. Ships from all over the world can be see taking on their cargoes - it goes on for miles and miles of waterfront. Traffic is massive, but it moves. I attempted to find some of the landmarks I had known 54-years ago - but, nothing seemed familiar. Nevertheless, it was a very nostalgic experience for me.
Our next-day tour of Tokyo was so memorable! Our guide took us to the Tokyo Tower, a massive "erector-set" type of structure that reaches almost into the stratosphere. Up we went on a speedy elevator to the mid-section. This is the highest elevation for tourists. Needless to say, this tour is an absolute "must" for any tourist desiring to see Tokyo from a lofty perch. Our next stop was the grounds of the Imperial Palace. The Japanese people really take care of their royalty. The massive grounds are indescribably beautiful!
Our 2-days in Tokyo went by all too quickly. We hated to depart the Empress Hotel with all it's beauty and comforts. Don't ever miss staying there. The bathrooms are unbelievably GREAT!! Trust me - you have never been in such wonderful bathrooms in your life!!
The Seven Seas Mariner was waiting for us somewhere in Tokyo Bay - perhaps mid-way between Tokyo and Yokohama. The last time I saw her was in San Francisco on her maiden voyage where my wife and I boarded her with our Travel Agent. I'll never forget her elegance and luxurious appointments. This was our first opportunity to go aboard for a most memorable cruise. I could feel the lump in my throat as we went aboard for a most memorable and warm greeting. She's as pretty and gracious as the first time we had lunch aboard her in San Francisco.
Our Suite was wonderful - just as I had remembered her. A large marbled bathroom - lots of space for all we had packed, and a lovely balcony that would ensure a good vantage point at sea and in the ports we would visit. The brochures describe the elegance to the nth degree. She was neat and spanking clean! This is everything we had planned and bargained for - luxury beyond belief!
Our first port-of-call was Hiroshima, Japan. On August 6th 1945 I totally recall reading the headlines of an A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. None of us quite understood the significance of such a weapon, but eventually we found out. Soon, another A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The result of all this was the ending of hostilities with Japan in WW2 In 2-sentences I can hardly describe the totality of these enormous events. Japan was set to defend her shores with all she could muster. The imminent allied invasion, no doubt, would have taken over a millions lives in U.S. military personnel - not counting the Japanese casualties. My high school buddies, including myself, were next up of the draftee list. We would have been directly involved in the invasion of Japan had the war not abruptly ended. Hiroshima was a place I entered with a great deal of apprehension. Truly, this was one huge event in my life that I had not anticipated. Every citizen should have the opportunity to visit Hiroshima to observe what "total devastation" truly is. For the most part Hiroshima is well back on it's feet, but the scars still remain - the feeling is somber, but it is reality.
We sailed to Dalian, China. Our ship and elegant crew were marvelous. What a way to go!! The food, entertainment, and fellow passengers are absolutely wonderful! Our accommodations are absolutely superb! Dallian was quite a revelation for us. We had never seen the shores of China and our anticipation level was high. We had booked a tour that would take us to the apartment house of a retired couple. Our elegant bus and guides took us to some high rise apartment structures all grouped together. In groups of 8 we hiked up the 5-stories of the concrete buildings. Elevators were not to be found. The exteriors looked quite dingy, but when we entered the apartment of our waiting hosts it all changed. Yes, the apartments were small - a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and a small eating area. The retired couple were most gracious. Their apartment was spotless. We were introduced by our college-aged female guides - all of a sudden we were all friends, shaking hands and it felt like we had been old-time neighbors. It was a "happening." I asked "Poppa" if he had a grandson or granddaughter through our guide-interpreter. I presented him with a S.F. Giants baseball cap to pass it on to one of them. Lots of laughter and lots of shaking of hands, etc. It was such a wonderful, warm way for all of us from our country to meet, first-hand, actual citizens of this huge emerging nation, China.
We sailed for Tientjin, a port just below Beijing. The grandeur of this cruise was about to unfold before our very eyes. A large contingent of buses met our ship at the port. We had about 700-passengers aboard, and every passenger was treated to a trip to Beijing. We were provided with rooms in 5-star hotels, a wonderful dinner at our assigned hotels, and a wonderful breakfast the next morning. After breakfast we were split into 2-groups - one group to visit the Forbidden City and the other group to visit the Great Wall of China. In the afternoon we switched. Can you imagine what we absorbed in tourism that day? Needless to say, it was totally grand. It was awesome! Words cannot describe it all adequately! That night we all were provided with elegant hotel dinners - oh, so grand! Our hotels were the best in Beijing. First class!! After breakfast the next morning one group returned to the ship in Tientjin. MInd you, all this entertainment, touring, dinners, et al was provided by Regent Cruise line - "on the house!'
My wife and I had booked an excursion to Xian with about 250-other shipmates. The others returned to the ship and sailed on to Shanghai. Our group flew to Xian, the burial place of the thousands of Terracotta Soldiers, one of the most incredibly interesting archeological sites in the entire world. Buried circa 250-BC to "protect" the Emperor's tomb, they were uncovered accidentally in the late 1970's by farmers digging for a well. No matter where a tourist goes during their lifetime, Xian is a 'MUST" place to visit. My advice is to read a great deal about this place, because it is worth your while to "soak-up" the significance of all this place has to offer. Archeology truly comes to life just observing it all. I would have to rate this tour to Xian one of the most significant and memorable tours we have ever taken. The flight from Beijing in modern A-320 Air Bus craft was excellent - approx. one hour and a half. Our flight back to meet the Seven Seas Mariner in Shanghai was also about 1-1/2-hours in length. Our tour guides throughout this entire 3-day sojourn were absolutely magnificent. Never, ever, had we experienced such talented, gracious, and well-prepared tour guides. Regent Cruise Line has truly opened up China to us. I am still in awe over what they have accomplished for us as American tourists.
Shanghai is truly spectacular! It's massive! Like Beijing, high-rise structures are worked on night and day, 7-days a week, 24-hours a day. Shanghai has constructed over 1500- high-rise buildings, all over 30-stories in the past 15-years. It is absolutely astounding to see it all rising out of relative obscurity. Traffic on the river is testimony alone to the huge, huge construction projects as barges ply the river, night and day, to and fro, delivering steel, cement, concrete, sand, gravel, rock, etc., etc. All materials used in constructing these massive buildings. I seriously doubt that humans have ever witnessed such a massive concentration of construction endeavor in the history of the world. It truly is something to behold! Regent Cruises met us at the airport and took us by bus to their grand hotel in the middle of Shanghai. We were greeted as though we were royalty. The hotel staff, all young college-aged, met us as the entryway and guided us into a huge reception area where they wined and dined us so elegantly! It was all "on the house." Wow!!! The young group of waiters were so gracious. They all wanted to talk to us in English - eager to demonstrate their ability to communicate in English. It truly was a great experience. How gracious and accommodating they all were!
Reluctantly, we left this wonderful reception and boarded the bus to return to the Seven Seas Mariner awaiting our arrival at the dockside. Oh, how great it was to feel their warm reception as we ambled up the gangway! Back home again! Oh yes, we were a bit tuckered out from all the travel, and most of us "hit the hay" a bit early that evening. Cruising down the highly trafficked river the next day, heading for Hong Kong, was another fantastic experience. We zigged and we zagged past the hundreds of barges, small ships, large ships, sampans, et al. Here we were, floating by this massive build-up in Shanghai, aboard this most elegant cruise ship, pinching ourselves to make sure it wasn't all just a dream! We finally reached the sea and headed for Hong Kong.
You can imagine the great conversations at the dinner table that evening as the Captain and crew put on an elegant formal dinner for all of us. Can it be true? Is it all a dream? If it was a dream we certainly were totally alert and thoroughly enjoying it all. We arrived in Hong Kong in the evening darkness. After dinner we went to view our port arrival in the upper, forward lounge. Yes, it was crowded. The lights of Hong Kong were all around us. What a thrilling sight! Outside, the air was warm and humid, so we remained in the lounge area to witness this incredibly beautiful arrival - millions of lights surrounded the harbor. My "Jack Daniels" and ice never tasted better. I cannot possibly adequately describe the thrill of arriving at this beautiful city aboard our elegant and proud ship. Hong Kong is all that they told us. Beautiful, very, very busy, and the cross-roads to Asia. Our suite at the Intercontinental, overlooking the river, was fantastic! With reluctance, we left our "lovely lady," the 7-Seas Mariner to take on the beauty of Hong Kong. You can be sure, we will definitely do a reprise aboard the Mariner - she truly is the "Shang-ri-la" of cruising!