Unique Itinerary: Cruising Japan

Although cruises around Asia are more popular than ever, voyages around Japan have been something of a slow burn. Princess Cruises made a huge commitment to the region a few years ago, deploying Diamond Princess to Japan year-round and refitting her with a number of interesting features designed to court both the English and Japanese-speaking markets.

princess japan
Women in traditional Japanese kimonos walking at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Courtesy of Princess Cruises

Because of that, Princess is the undisputed heavyweight champ in the area. Diamond Princess sails everything from quick five-night voyages to Honshu and Okinawa from Tokyo, to the 16-night Southern Islands and Sea of Japan itinerary that visits ports of call in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

While Princess operates year-round in Japan, the line is far from the only operator offering cruises to Japan. The success the line is having with Diamond Princess is spurring other cruise lines into action, with many tentatively testing out the Japanese waters.

Diamond Princess now makes her home in Alaska. Photo © Aaron Saunders

One such line is Viking Cruises, which is sending its upcoming, 930-guest Viking Orion to Japan in 2019. She’ll sail a spectacular 22-night repositioning cruise between Japan and Vancouver, Canada that departs on May 5, 2019. Departing from Tokyo (Yokohama), Viking Orion will spend an overnight in Sapporo before setting off for Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and finally, British Columbia.

Azamara Club Cruises is also committing multiple sailings around Japan, aboard the elegant Azamara Quest, in 2019.

Azamara will offer a series of Circle Japan cruises that run between 13 and 14 days in length, with a typical itinerary departing Tokyo and calling on Hakodate, Akita, Kanazawa, Sakaiminato, Kitakyushu, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, and Shimizu, with an overnight stay in Kobe and a port call on Busan, South Korea.

Azamara is also offering a rather unique voyage to Japan, Russia and Alaska aboard Azamara Quest on May 12, 2019. This repositioning voyage between Tokyo and Seward, Alaska offers two calls on the Japanese ports of Sapporo and Kushiro before setting sail for Petropavlovsk, Russia and finally Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, and Homer, Alaska.

Kushiro, Japan is vibrant and modern. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Norwegian Cruise Line is sending its 2,376-guest Norwegian Jewel to Japan on a handful of voyages next year – and they’re selling fast.

The nearly-sold-out 11-day voyage from Hong Kong to Tokyo on March 21, 2018 reveals just how popular this region has become. Inside and Oceanview staterooms on this sailing are already sold out, leaving just the uppermost balcony and suite categories available. For a large mainstream ship like Norwegian Jewel to be that full nearly five months in advance is quite rare.

More availability can be found on Norwegian Jewel’s April 1, 2018 voyage from Japan to Shanghai, and return 12-day “China and Japan from Shanghai” cruise.

For a real adventure, though, you might want to book a spot on Norwegian Jewel’s 20-day Transpacific Crossing between Tokyo and Seattle. This one leaves May 6, 2018, and will run you just barely over what a weeklong cruise to Alaska would. In short, if you can take the three-plus weeks off of work, this cruise is a huge value – and you don’t have to fly roundtrip across the Pacific Ocean.

Holland America Line also runs a great series of voyages to Japan and China aboard the classy Volendam, which spends her spring cruising these waters between Shanghai and Yokohama, or roundtrip out of Yokohama, before she crosses the Pacific on April 11, 2018, bound for Vancouver.

As with Norwegian’s voyage aboard Norwegian Jewel, many of these springtime cruises around Japan aboard Volendam are almost entirely sold out already, though better availability exists for fall cruises, when Holland America sends its larger Westerdam across the Pacific to Japan and Asia.

Holland America Line is sending its Westerdam to Japan and beyond at the end of its 2018 Alaska season. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Other cruise lines, like Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, and others offer one-off voyages that hit a variety of Japanese ports of call. These are typically offered during the spring and fall, as vessels are repositioning from Alaska to Asia. Because these voyages are so rare, they tend to sell out quickly as well.

The best advice for booking a cruise to Japan is to book early. As Japan grows in popularity as a cruise destination, it places greater demand on these sailings, particularly for cruise lines that may only offer one or two voyages to the country per year.

While other English-speaking cruise lines haven’t matched Princess Cruises’ breadth and depth of itineraries, they are far from being the only game in town. The next time you’re looking for an exotic cruise to Asia, consider Japan – and then see if your favorite cruise line has a voyage to this amazing island country that’s right for you.

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  • Those are the big ships, but there are boutique luxury ships in Japan too. Don’t forget about Windstar, with Star Legend offering a series of cruises around the Japanese islands in the spring and autumn? Also, Ponant offers cruises around the Japanese islands every year on their stunning super-yachts.


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