Cruise to Japan

Way back when I was in secondary school (and I mean way back), I studied Japanese. For 5 years! Not unsurprisingly I guess, ever since that time I’ve longed to visit Japan, but have always been put off by the horror stories about how expensive it is. But earlier this year I happened to espy a Royal Caribbean cruise that sailed from Singapore to Tokyo over 10 nights, at a very reasonable price. So thought maybe it’s finally time to go. However what convinced me ultimately was the timing of the cruise – mid-April, which meant there was a good chance we would arrive in Japan during the tail end of the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. That tipped the ‘scales of indecision’ and I decided it was time to go! (Nihon go – so to speak!)

We flew Oman Air to Dubai then Malaysian Airlines to Singapore via K.L. The MH flight ended up being quite enjoyable as we manage an upgrade to business class for a modest fee.

We stopped only for 1 night in Singapore before the cruise because of time constrains, staying at the Festive Hotel on Sentosa – part of the Resorts World complex. Sentosa has changed a lot over the years, especially recently. We enjoyed riding the cable car up to Mt Faber and back and wandering around the area.

The next morning we set off by taxi to Marina Bay to board the Voyager of the Seas. The cruise was good – my only real complaint being the disembarkation at each of the ports of call. Most were pretty much a shambles – not nearly as efficiently handled as other cruises we’ve been on. But overall it was definitely an enjoyable cruise.

The first port of call was Nha Trang, Vietnam. I’d booked a cycling tour through Vietnam Active – a great team and I highly recommend them. We enjoyed cycling through the rice paddies. Next stop was Hong Kong, which is one of the most beautiful ports in the world to sail into or out of. We spent the day at Ocean Park. The kids loved it. I didn’t, only because it was so crowded. Cruise stop number 3 was Taipei, Taiwan where we did a private taxi tour and visited Taipei 101 and some temples and memorials. Next was Nagasaki, Japan. It  was a moving experience to visit Peace Park, the Ground Zero memorial and the museum. Let us all hope nuclear weapons are never used in anger again.

I’d checked with Royal Caribbean which pier we would dock at in Tokyo/Yokohama and had booked a hotel that was within walking distance to make it easy for us to settle in. Unfortunately we docked at a different pier, 23 kms from where we expected to be! Thanks Royal Caribbean. So, it was straight into the thick of it – finding the right train to take us to Yokohama and then the right metro to a stop near our hotel, with luggage in tow. It ended up being not too difficult at all and after we dropped our luggage at the JAL City Hotel Yokohama we headed back to the metro station and rode to Shibuya with it’s famous huge and very busy pedestrian crossing. We’d planned on staying in the city until the evening, but fatigue set in and we ended up on the metro, heading back to Yokohama, during the infamous Tokyo peak hour. And we survivied :)

Next day we had a private taxi tour to various historical sites in Kamakura. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed it immensely. The following day we took an express-way bus to Yamanakako, near Mt Fuji. I chose this location in particular hoping there might still be some cherry blossom about, due to the elevation. Good fortune was with us – there were still many trees in blossom – beautiful shades of pink. We stayed at the Mt Fuji Hotel and the views from our balcony were awesome. The kids got to sleep in Japanese style beds on the floor. Amani and I went to the Onsen (volcanic hot spring baths) and watched the sun setting over Mt Fuji. It was a Zen moment. Follow that up with a tradition 5 course Japanese dinner and as you can imagine, I was as happy as :)

The following day we walked from the hotel down to Lake Yamanaka. Part way down the four of us stood under a cherry tree in blossom and I gave it a good old shake. The petals rained down on us. That’s something I remember my father telling my mother he wanted to do to her one day, but they never got around to it unfortunately. The children really, really enjoyed riding in the swan shaped paddle boats on the lake, while feeding live white swans at the same time. It was a lovely day.

We took it easy on the last day, catching the Narita Express train at Fujisan station in the afternoon. Stayed at Narita that night at the Nikko Hotel where we enjoyed our last Japanese dinner of the trip. Next morning, 7+ hours in Air Asia cattle class (groan) to K.L. where we also had an overnight, to help break the journey. Since we had almost 24 hours, rather than just stay at the Sama-Sama hotel (which is very nice by the way), I decided to venture a little further afield and we stayed on the coast (40 minutes by taxi) at the AVANI Sepang Resort. Turned out to be a good choice – it was very nice. Headed home on Malaysian Airlines the next day.

By the way, Japan was not that expensive at all – no more so than Australia or Europe.