By Ralph Grizzle & Aaron Saunders
Last month, we sailed on Silver Shadow from Bali to Singapore. That was a wonderful voyage that you can read more about in Top 10 Highlights From Silversea Voyage 3403: Should You Cruise Indonesia?
But maybe it’s time you started thinking about your own cruises to Asia. The continent’s vast array of countries, cultures and historic sites should be enough to give even the most skeptical travelers pause for thought. Further enticing adventurers, however, is the fact that 2014 holds some exciting new ships and itineraries in Asia.
No longer a destination relegated to older ships, Asia is on the receiving end of some of the cruise industry’s best and brightest players — and more than a few lines are getting into the game for the first time.
Here’s a peek at what has caught our attention in 2014:
Crystal announced back in June that it would be substantially expanding its Asian offerings for the 2014 season, sending both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony to the region during the winter, spring and fall of 2014. The two vessels will sail a total of 34 voyages that feature maiden calls for Crystal: Malacca, Malaysia; Lombok, Makassar/Ujung Pandang and Surabaya, Indonesia.
For the first time in five years, Crystal will offer two voyages that explore both Japan and China on a single itinerary. This includes voyages sailing from Beijing to Tokyo, calling on Osaka, Nagasaki and Shimizu, Japan. In China, stops are made in Shanghai and Dalian. A complimentary overland package in Beijing also will be offered to guests.
Crystal is also returning to other Asian ports after a long absence. These include Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei; Jakarta and Komodo Island, Indonesia; Yangon, Myanmar; Koh Samui, Thailand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan.
While other lines are lengthening the vast majority of their Asian itineraries, Crystal is one of the few lines to offer shorter luxury voyages in the region. Cruises spanning as few as five days are offered throughout the 2014 season.
Seattle-based Holland America Line has long been a player when it comes to cruising in Asia, and 2014 is no exception. The midsize 1,432-guest Volendam returns to Asia on a series of voyages ranging from 14 to 42 days, many of which can be combined to create back-to-back voyage segments without repeating ports.
Typically, these sail between Singapore and Hong Kong, or Hong Kong and Osaka. There are even Transpacific voyages that sail between Japan and Alaska, continuing on to the Canadian city of Vancouver.
The line’s elegant ms Rotterdam also sails Asian waters during the first half of 2014, and some of her itineraries are decidedly original.
On March 14, 2014, she sails a 14-day Indonesian Discovery voyage departing roundtrip from Singapore and calling on well-known ports like Jakarta, but which also make time to stop in locales like Semarang, Surabaya, and Bali. Holland America is renowned for the personable service delivered by its Indonesian and Filipino crew members, and these voyages are like a homecoming for them, so expect a good deal of excitement on the part of guests and crew alike.
Princess offered its first Asian cruise back in 1987 aboard the Royal Princess. Now, 27 years later, the line is still going strong in Asia, deploying the 680-guest Ocean Princess; the 2,000-guest Sun Princess and the Grand Class, 3,100-guest Diamond Princess to the region in 2014.
Not only is Princess featuring voyages that solely explore Asia, but the company is also offering longer voyages that explore both Australia, Asia and parts of the South Pacific on a single sailing. Typically, these range in excess of 20 days in length, but it’s tough to beat the sheer “cool” factor of being able to cruise from Sydney, Australia to Kobe, Japan on Sun Princess’s 22-day Australia and Asia itinerary, departing March 30, 2014.
Prefer to sail from the U.S. West Coast? Diamond Princess sister-ship Sapphire Princess cruises from Los Angeles, California on April 3 bound for Osaka on a massive 25-day Grand Pacific Crossing itinerary that includes ports calls in Hawaii, Guam, Taiwan, China and, last but not least, Japan.
If you like your ships big and family friendly, Royal Caribbean may be the way to go in Asia in 2014. Once deploying only its smaller, older vessels like Legend of the Seas, Royal Caribbean is sending the trendsetting 1999-built Voyager of the Seas and her younger, slightly larger fleetmate Mariner of the Seas to the region.
The line has also expanded its itinerary offerings to include short, three-day voyages departing roundtrip from Singapore to 14-night repositioning voyages that sail from Fremantle, Australia to Singapore. In between are more than 100 itineraries that explore Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, and lots more.
Royal Caribbean may not typically come to mind when you think of cruise lines offering a multitude of itineraries that call on off-the-beaten-path ports, but the line has some of the best offerings in Asia in 2014.
Ahh, SeaDream. The name alone is enough to send shivers of joy down the spines of luxury cruisers, and why not? With its intimate yachts (not ships) that feature nearly every pampering feature one could ask for — including the option to sleep up on deck, under the stars, on the line’s signature “Balinese Beds” — SeaDream has long been at the top of the wish lists of many cruisers.
The company also just began operating its very first itineraries in Asia, kicking off sailings at the end of November 2013.
As unbelievable as it sounds, the two-vessel luxury line has never sailed these waters before, preferring to concentrate instead on proven markets like the Mediterranean and Caribbean. But all that changed with the deployment of the sleek, 112-guest SeaDream II to the region through April 2014.
SeaDream’s new Asian voyages range from seven to 15 days in length, and will include ports of embarkation in Phuket, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong and Cairns, Australia.
But if you want to get in on these itineraries, don’t wait: At the time of printing, SeaDream has no plans to visit Asia during the remainder of 2014 or 2015.
Windstar is sailing to Asia for the first time near the end of 2014, thanks to the acquisition of three of Seabourn’s ultra-luxurious yachts. The first, Star Pride (the former Seabourn Pride) sails from the Mediterranean to Singapore via Dubai in November 2014, where she will spend the winter operating voyages from both Singapore and Hong Kong.
Although Star Pride will lack the sails that have, until now, characterized Windstar ships, she will carry on the line’s tradition of offering itineraries that include long duration stays in ports of call that larger vessels typically do not call on.
Her deployment to Asian waters is also particularly significant, as it marks the first time that Windstar has been able to offer its guests sailings in the region. The new Star Pride boasts a higher service speed than her sail-and-motor-driven fleetmates, allowing Windstar to craft itineraries to regions like Asia where its previous fleet wouldn’t have been well-suited to.
Of course, there are many ways to cruise Asia this year. In fact, more cruise lines than ever are recognizing that, despite the long travel distances, the allure of Asia’s cultural and historical treasures remains more powerful now than ever before.
Isn’t it time you sailed the region?