Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cruising in Asia: I'm On a Boat! - Sun Princess Yokohama to Hong Kong

Intro and Planning
Getting to Tokyo - Southwest, Sheraton LAX, and JAL First Class LAX to Narita
Shinjuku and Beyond - Park Hyatt Tokyo, Shinkansen, and Kitty Chan?!
I'm On a Boat! - Sun Princess Yokohama to Hong Kong
Hong Kong - Grand Hyatt, 10 McDonalds, and More Hello Kitty!
Getting Home - Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco

(Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

You can read more on the details of this cruise here. It was the best itinerary we could find leaving from Japan and making stops in places we had never been. 7 Days from Yokohama to Hong Kong, stopping in Osaka, Kagoshima, Taiwan, and finally Hong Kong.

From Shinjuku to Yokohoma is pretty quick on a train, but again we underestimated how far it would be from the train itself to the station exit and a taxi. It was quite a trek with our bags in tow. Once we made it to the taxi it was just a quick 10 minutes to the dock. By the time we got there it was just short of total chaos. There were what seemed hundreds of taxis not only in line to get up to the check in area, but also a huge line to get back out. We spared our driver and walked the last 100 yards.

By the time we got into the building though, it was nearly empty. Unfortunately, it was also mostly empty of anyone to direct us where to go. At this point, you are left in the hands of the cruise staff and you get the same level of service you might expect from a TSA agent... We finally found someone to help us check in and it only took about 15 minutes to clear their version of customs and make it onto the ship.

Now at this point, I would normally have photos of the room, however it appears it was so underwhelming we never even bothered to take a photo! It looks like our excitement stopped at the door with the welcome balloons for our anniversary.

I mentioned in the planning phase of the trip that we had gotten a "good deal" on the cruise fare itself. However, we still felt it was quite a bit overpriced for a 7 day cruise in a balcony cabin. A few weeks before we left for the trip though we received a call from our travel agent letting us know the balcony cabin we had booked had been oversold. At first I thought maybe this meant we would get a free upgrade which would have been great, but everything from balcony up had already sold out. Instead we were offered a downgrade to an oceanview room and $1600 in onboard credit (60% of the cruise fare we paid!) We do like to have a balcony, but if this was the other way around, would I pay more than double to go from having a window to a deck... not a chance! This ended up paying for all our excursions, on-board expenses, and we still left with a $400 in cash as it was refundable credit.

Looking back we took hardly any photos on this boat, and for good reason. The ship was actually on its way back to Australia via Singapore after our trip to be overhauled. Interestingly enough at the end of the cruise following ours it caught fire and the final trip was delayed. (Story Here) Luckily we didn't have that to deal with, but it is another reason to consider trip insurance. We actually had insurance on that trip, but it was thrown in as a bonus by the agent we booked through.

The sun princess was tired, very tired. I am sure after the renovations its perfectly fine, but it was in dire need of an update. This was also a 1 time itinerary, so they were vastly underprepared for their shore excursions. We tried to book something for our first stop in Osaka, but it was sold out before we even got to the ship, for every outing! Luckily, I had lived in neighboring Kyoto in college and new just the place to visit. We hoped on a train to Nara that only took about 30 minutes. I had told my wife we were going to see some deer at a temple, and she was not exactly impressed. However, if you have not been, its pretty hard to explain what to expect.

Ok, some deer... hanging out by a temple, that's different. Oh, they look hungry do they? Not to worry, lets just buy some of these crackers to feed them.

Oh you have some friends that are hungry too?

Uh oh... running out of crackers! Here try my shirt instead...

After a bite to eat, you might want to step into a store to enjoy some AC.

Seriously, best part of the trip, I would go back again just to share this with someone.

alright, back to the boat, next stop Kagoshima

We saw some gardens... stopped by a volcano and back on the ship. We actually had some people on the tour that didnt realize we made it to the volcano until the trip had ended. Needless to say people had complaints about that tour ($175pp for what!). We did end up getting 50% back because there were so many complaints about the tour.

Volcano is up there somewhere... obscured by clouds and mist.

Next stop! Taipei via Keelung.
The port of Keelung is about 45 minutes from Taipei, and there really isn't much to see there, but they did greet us with some lion dancing. 

So off to the city we went. First a quick photo stop for Taipei 101, need to get back there some day to go inside.

Then off to the national museum, which was extremely strict about photos. We were not allowed to bring a camera inside.
The thing that was most surprising about this museum sounds pretty odd, but it was the number of Chinese visitors in the museum. No, I don't mean local people from Taiwan, but people that came from China to see Chinese artifacts in Taiwan's national museum. There was definitely a bit of a weird tension between those visitors and the staff. For us though on a tour group, everyone working there was great.

Another quick timed stop to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Followed by lunch at "The Grand Hotel" which was just a buffet, but quite nice.

If you look closely at the image below taken from the hotel parking lot, you can see just how much Taipei 101 stands out!

Our trip also included a stop at the Confucius temple and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. 

Keep in mind, this whole tour, including the lunch, was the same price as the Kagoshima tour!

After a few days at sea, we made it to our last stop in Hong Kong. We were able to take a full day excursion that would take us back to the hotel at the end of the day, which was great. It included a tram ride up to the top of Victoria's Peak.

Lunch at the "Jumbo" floating restaurant. Which somehow we missed pictures of! And ended with a harbor cruise that dropped us off on Hong Kong island.

More next on our stay at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.

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