PRINCESS CRUISE JAPAN: HUGH

As a pair of twenty somethings, we’re probably not the target age range to be considering a cruising holiday. But when given the opportunity we jumped at it. And I’m so very glad we did.

We arrived at the port (Yokohama) by train from Tokyo central just in time to grab a quick bite to eat (sushi, of course) on the waterfront and admire the ship before boarding. It was a hot, humid day and unfortunately we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore Yokohama (a city of 3.7 million people, once the largest suburb in the world until it was incorporated in to Tokyo) before we had to join the throngs and complete embarkation.

This was done in the recently completed Yokohama port terminal. An impressive architectural building, with vast swaths of grass across its sinewy roofscape. There was a fair amount of waiting around whilst the hundreds of people passed through security and had their passports and paperwork checked. We were able to hand over our luggage at this stage so at least we didn’t have to lug that around as well. Tip – make sure you have all your baggage labels printed off and don’t leave your passports etc in your main bag as you will need all of this to get on the ship!

At the gangplank we had our security photo taken and were handed our access cards (which act as your room key / shipboard account / and allow you to pass on and off the boat when in port with ease.) Then it was on to our room where our bags were waiting and we were greeted by our room steward, the lovely Nazario.

Then it was time to wander and get acquainted. The Sun Princess carries 1,998 passengers and 924 crew – so its size is impressive, yet not overwhelming. Our first stop was the three storey atrium which acts as the heart of the vessel. A sake ceremony was in full swing when we arrived so we had at least three cups from the sake barrel before making our way to the upper deck to wave goodbye to the band playing us out below. Passing beneath Yokohama Bridge was a highlight that evening as we relaxed in the roof top spa.

Over the next 9 days we really came to appreciate the size of the boat as it allowed us to have plenty of time together or apart relaxing with a book in a quiet spot under the sun. We shared our table at dinner with a great mix of people (an American husband and wife, an American father and daughter and an Australian mother and daughter.) It was really lovely to come together at the end of the day over a couple of bottles of wine and some delicious (and never-ending!) food to chat about what we had been up too. But since the size offers you so much space and so many eating / drinking etc options we rarely ran in to anyone during the day, which would be nice if you had had sufficient time with your dining companions the night before :)

We had an interior cabin which was spacious and clean with plenty of room for luggage and clothes to hang in the wardrobe. With a big bathroom and generous shower. I never felt claustrophobic and wasn’t aware of any noise other than the general workings of the ship, which was very unobtrusive. It was actually quite nice on a few occasions to come back to our room for an afternoon nap (the cruising lifestyle clearly suited us!!)

I can definitely see the advantage of a balcony cabin when cruising interesting coastline or of course for the obligatory pre dinner drink. But I would not discount the option of an interior cabin if you want to keep the costs low or you think you might be spending most of your time outside of the cabin anyway.

The itinerary for our Japan cruise was one which Princess are currently trialing. We were able to visit some interesting ports with a focus on Hokkaido and a brief foray in to Russia. We traveled in the height of the Japanese summer so in Tokyo it was stifling and humid. As we moved up the coast the temperature dropped to the mid-twenties (and in Russia the weather became quite overcast and cool.) Hakkodate was the standout port town for me. Though our day in Sapporo was a close runner up. We did a few of the shore tours organised by Princess. On the whole we felt these offered great value for money. And were so efficiently organised that you never had to worry about racing back to the ship or missing any of the key sights in what can be quite a tricky country to navigate by yourself. In Sapporo we took the ship operated transfer in to town which also offered some fantastic commentary from a delightful host as we drove for 30mins in to the city. I think this tour, as an example, cost $20 each. And gave us a really interesting insight to the city that we would not have got if we had taken the train there by ourselves. Not to say you always need to go with the organised agenda. In a lot of cases we just walked off the ship and went for a wander around. There was always an enthusiastic group to welcome us and hand out local maps and tips for what to do. As well as some awesome traditional bands which seemed to be out in full force wherever we went!

In the evenings we usually had the main dining option (where we sat with our new found friends and wait staff who were only too happy to cater for your every whim and hold any bottles of unfinished wine for the next night.) Here you will be fed three or four courses that would suit every taste including some really interesting local dishes. We spent the two formal nights here in the main dining room as well, which was a super fun evening and a lovely excuse to get dressed up (every other night, a relaxed dress code applies but on these two nights people really went all out. Very impressive.)

On the odd night when we felt like dining alone, we could go to the pizza restaurant or the buffet. All free, of course!! After dinner we either hit the rooftop pools / spas. Or took in a show (mostly gaudy Broadway type numbers though one night they had a really good magician which was pretty cool.) Another really nice feature of Princess is their “Movies under the Stars”, where they show current new release films with all the extras (a rug to keep cosy and free flowing popcorn.)

Naturally, they have a fully equipped gym with all the latest equipment. A spa (which sadly, I didn’t get to try out) and many many other activities to keep yourself entertained.

A benefit of a larger cruise ship for any itinerary that spends a couple of days at sea in any given period of time is the endless array of things to do. And it never felt overcrowded. Staff knew our names after the first few days and would greet us with a smile and a cheery hello. Getting on and off the ship was a simple process involving no queues, a flash of your key card and a quick scan of any bags through security. The only instance in fact where we had to wait was the one day we used the tender service to get ashore. This was in Russia and the only reason this was less than straight forward was the Russian authorities taking forever to process all the necessary passports and visas. No real way to get around this I’m sure and not a big inconvenience. We were always kept abreast of what was happening and they were most effusive with their apologies.

When disembarking there are various options to choose from. You can leave you bag for collection the night before. And then when you disembark it will be waiting for you at the pier. We chose to take our bags off with us. This meant we were first to leave, and so long as you can manage your own cases up the gangplank I think this was definitely the way to go. No hustling over bags etc at the busy port terminal. We just stepped right off.

After this trip I can safely say we’re definitely a converted pair of avid cruisers. Would we do it again, we’re already booked for our next one and can’t recommended it enough!! If you’re keen on a completely stress free getaway. Visiting some amazing places. And all the while in incredible comfort, with food and and drinks and things to do everywhere you turn! Then you should definitely give it a whirl.