I've been wanting to go to Japan for many years. I have a friend in Tokyo but, still, this destination never came to the top of my destination list. This summer, however, my college-age daughter had a summer abroad program in Tokyo ... Read More
I've been wanting to go to Japan for many years. I have a friend in Tokyo but, still, this destination never came to the top of my destination list. This summer, however, my college-age daughter had a summer abroad program in Tokyo so my husband and I decided the 3 of us would go a week early and check out Japan!
I'd always heard that cruises were not the best way to see Japan because so much of what you'd want to see is too far inland from the ports. I can't argue with that, but I can say that when we stayed for 2 weeks after the cruise and traveled on our own, it was quite challenging! Mainly because of so few English speakers, even in tourist areas. We've done a lot of traveling over the years and I normally opt for escorted tours when I think there will be language obstacles, but the tours I looked at for Japan were very expensive. We just did those two weeks on our own, with the help of my friend from Tokyo when we were in a pinch. With her help, we were able to see Kyoto and Nara and really enjoyed both.
Going on the cruise, though, is something I'd recommend as a great taste of Japan, at a reasonable price and you didn't have to worry about managing in a country that is so foreign to Americans.
So, this was my 9th cruise. It's been a while since I was on Princess, but it turns out there are some perks if you are a repeat cruiser with them. Their database didn't go back far enough to find my last cruise, but they said I could send photos to the company to prove I'd been a customer in the past. (Perks go up with number of cruises you've taken.)
I thought the ship was lovely. But most cruise ships are. They all have their special things. I can't say that any one cruise line really stood out, but the ship was nice. This was the second time I've had a balcony. Once you've had one, it is hard to go back! Previously, a window was good enough.
This room was an upgrade through our agent and was supposed to be one level under a suite. We were in cabin C531. Room was configured with twin beds (can be pushed together), and a bed that dropped out of ceiling. Ladder to get up there didn't seem totally stable, but fine for a 20-year-old to use. I wouldn't have been comfortable climbing up there! The steward put the bed back into the ceiling after the 2nd night, but then there was no place for our daughter to lounge or nap in the room. After that, we just asked him to leave it down. Not optimal for person sleeping underneath, but not bad. Better than paying for daughter to have her own room!
We went on one week of a two-week loop cruise; May 27 - Jun 3. We chose this week because it worked with the timing of when my daughter had to be in Tokyo for her summer program. Our ports were Okinawa, Ishigaki, and Taipei.
Our ship had almost 2700 guests. During our week, there were about 200 English speakers. No problem, but it was unexpected. We spoke to people who had done both weeks and they said that the previous week there were about 700 English speakers. (There were more ports the first week, which attracts foreigners, and Japanese cruisers preferred more days at sea...or that's what I was told.) Only advantage to more English speakers for us was that there would be more opportunities to meet and converse with other travelers. One disappointment was that at dinner, we were the only 3 at our table. I thought we'd be seated with other travelers and could compare notes. If that is important to you, you better request it. So instead, we typically had either breakfast or lunch in the international dining room, where we would be seated with others who spoke our same language. Even then, it wasn't always easy to be seated with others unless you walked in close to the same time. I did request to be seated with others and they were always willing to accommodate.
The service we received on the ship was always excellent! We had really nice servers at dinner! I think that the food was more suited to Japanese preferences, though there were always yummy things to choose from. Regarding the portions, they were are on smaller side, but they were also unlimited so I preferred getting to sample a wider variety and then asking for more of my favorite.
I thought the buffet was good. We went several times for lunch. Something for everyone.
Didn't see much entertainment. We had the second seating for dinner and we couldn't seem to make it to the shows until it was 'standing room only.' Didn't want to see it that much! The show we did see was good. Note: the behind the scenes tour of theater and kitchen where interesting.
Other on-board activities we liked were the trivia games and we especially liked the movies under the stars! I wish they had had a room set up with jigsaw puzzles like they did on our last cruise to Alaska on Holland America.
Also, for the first time, we bought the unlimited non-alcoholic beverage package for the cruise. There were several "mocktails'" that were yummy. Plus you could get sodas (no diet coke, but they did have Coke Zero). Hot chocolate was included, too. You paid a tip, but only on the total, not on each drink, so we thought it was well worth it. Could only buy it the first day of cruise. I think it was $7 per day, put 15% tip on the total. Alcohol Package was a lot more expensive. We just bought individual cocktails if we wanted them. Also, you could bring a bottle of wine per adult when you boarded. I think that was your only opportunity. (Drinking age in Japan is 20)
We did an excursion in Okinawa through the ship. If I look up the title, I'll never finish this review! We went to a ''living museum'' type of place where they showed crafts, served tea samples, and had entertainment in the form of a Japanese show. You could explore at own pace or walk with guide. We did half-and-half as we lost the guide when we tried to buy shave ice and couldn't figure out the machine to place order! Shave ice was delicious. (Tip...even though there are women to prepare your order at window, you order on a panel where you put in your money and push button for what you want. I think it then gave you a receipt that you gave to the counter help.) The show was entertaining, especially the Lion-Dog. At end you could stand in line and have them take a photo (with your phone or camera, no charge) with the whole cast. Cute!
Also went to see Shikinaen Royal Garden on that excursion. Quite lovely, but not a show-stopper. Over all, we enjoyed it! Plus, it was nice getting general info from the guide on the bus! (BEWARE...Some excursions are given in Japanese and some in English. English tours were more expensive and some people complained. I assumed it was because they paid a premium for English guides as there were very few English speakers that we came across in Japan.)
In Ishigaki, we just walked into town. Went to the open market called Euglena Mall. Cute enough. Brought some souvenirs but highlight was getting a frozen juice bar at a shop just a block down from mall at Fruit Jewelry Factory. (Not a jewelry store...Check it out on Yelp) They had many food items for gifts, too.
In Taipei, we just bought the bus trip into town. Unfortunately, I bought the Japanese version and it was too late to change by the time I discovered mistake! On the other hand, it was less expensive than English tour for the same thing! Turned out fine. As long as we knew where to pick up bus back to ship at end of day, we were good! Bus dropped off and picked up at Taipei 101 Buildilng...a very easy landmark to find! When we arrived, we started down the escalator to have a Starbucks drink and get our bearings! We ended up in same building for lunch. Steamed dumplings and other delicious items. No menus in English, but at least there were pictures we could point to. Also, you can pay to go to a top floor and look at the view. We didn't but in the area where you buy tickets, there were lots of cool souvenirs to buy. Lastly, the tour guide had about $20 worth of money from Taiwan that you could buy with Japanese yen. That made exchange convenient. Used money to pay for lunch and a couple of souvenirs.
So bottom line...with you enjoy cruising in general, I do recommend doing this cruise. Especially if it is the only way you'll see Japan! I'd probably have done the opposite week that had a stop in South Korea and seen more ports in Japan.
PS I didn't care for Sushi restaurant...not to my American taste. Read Less