Asia Cruise Lines, Cruise Trip Booking & Travel Information
Cruise Lines Set Their Sights on Asia
By AMY GUNDERSON
Published: October 2, 2005
New York Times
OVER the next year, Bob Fabian, a retiree from Charlotte, N.C., will visit Bangkok, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Pusan in South Korea, and some 10 cities in Japan. But his trips aren't taking him through countless airports and hotels - instead, Mr. Fabian is traveling around Asia by cruise ship.
"Bangkok is fabulous," he said. "The Grand Palace is just indescribable. It's like the eighth wonder of the world."
Mr. Fabian went with his wife on their first cruise to Asia a year and a half ago aboard a Crystal Cruises ship and was so enthralled that he booked three more cruises to the region. In December, the couple will take a 20-day trip from Singapore to Sydney aboard Princess Cruises' Diamond Princess.
Then next spring, they plan to sail on Oceania Cruises' Nautica from Hong Kong, making stops in Vietnam, Thailand and India before traveling up the Suez Canal to its final destination, Athens, some 35 days later. In October, it's a 14-day trip with Cruise West, a small-ship operator that docks in ports throughout Japan.
Until recently, Asian ports were the mainstay of smaller cruise lines or those so-called world cruises, globe-circling treks of typically 100 or more days that would include several stops in the Far East. But cruising makes going to Asia more accessible for many tourists - language barriers and the logistics of moving around the region are less of a problem when you can return to your ship each night - and airlines are beefing up their nonstop flights to the region. Now, travel agents are marketing sailings in Asia to cruise veterans and accomplished travelers as an alternative to the Caribbean and Europe.
"For baby boomers like me, we've all been there and done that," said Nancy Yale, a travel agent in Fairfield, Conn., who specializes in cruises and has seen her bookings to Asia increase exponentially over the last two years. "Some of my clients have been to Asia on business or have even done land tours there, but they are going back for cruises."
Operators are adding ships to the region, venturing into new ports and diversifying schedules to include shorter trips.
"Cruises to Asia are changing," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of CruiseCritic, an online magazine. "The cruise industry is trying to market to a younger, more active audience, so they are sending bigger, newer ships there. In the past, the oldest, smallest ships got the Asia assignment. There are also now shorter itineraries, so if you don't have three weeks off, you can go for 10 days."
Silversea Cruises - which will operate 17 separate cruises in Asia and Australia in 2006, ranging from 8 to 16 days - has a program that charges passengers daily rates so they can join a cruise at the port of their choice. Travelers can embark at any point, but must stay a minimum of five nights, for a daily rate as low as $480.
While most cruise lines have their ships in Asia for only part of the year, the Malaysia-based Star Cruises, which also owns Norwegian Cruise Line, runs trips year round in Asia. It caters primarily to Asian travelers, but its SuperStar Virgo itineraries attract the greatest diversity of passengers, including Australians, Britons and Americans. The ship maintains an Asian dÃ©Â£Â¯r and restaurants - there is even a poolside noodle bar.
Princess Cruises launched its first full season of cruises in Asia in 2004, and next year is beefing up capacity in the region by 25 percent.
Holland America, which previously only stopped in Asia on world cruises or during 30-day sailings once a year, is moving its refurbished 1,258-passenger Statendam to the region in March for four cruises, some as short as two weeks.
Oceania Cruises' newest ship, the Nautica, will begin its service in November by sailing for five months in Asia.
There are also a growing number of itineraries to choose from. Princess Cruises, which distinguishes itself from most other operators by running summer cruises in Asia, is adding the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville - from which travelers can reach Angkor Wat - in 2006. Holland America also added more overnight stays in ports like Shanghai and Osaka.
Overnight stays in ports are also featured on Oceania Cruises.
"The overnights are very heavy on the Asia cruises," said Tim Rubacky, manager of Oceania's marketing and public relations. "They've become a trademark for us in Europe, but in Asia it is even more important."
The extra time allows travelers plenty of opportunity to get into a city, and comes in handy for checking out the night life. Reaching a city center or shore excursion can mean a trek of a half-hour or more from the port. Hanoi, which is on Oceania's itineraries, is about a three-hour drive from Halong Bay.
Though many cruise lines are delving into trips that take up less time, long-haul world cruises are still a standard offering, and they can also be bought in shorter segments. Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager goes to Asia as part of its 108-day world cruise. As the ship makes its way from Sydney to Dubai there are three trips ranging from 14 to 22 nights. Radisson added Rangoon to the 2006 itinerary, and the ship spends multiple nights in Hong Kong, rather than just a single overnight stay. In 2007, Holland America will run three longer cruises, including a 105-day trip on the Amsterdam that will stop for the first time in Nha Tran, Vietnam; Tuticorin, India; and Salalah, Oman.
The Queen Mary 2 will run its first world cruise in 2007, an 80-day trip that can be bought in segments as short as 14 days. The ship's 19-day trip from Sydney to Dubai will stop in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Cochin, India. While the cruise ships might be swathed in luxury, often the Asian ports are not, but that is also changing. Singapore upgraded its port in 1998, and Shanghai broke ground on a new cruise ship terminal that should be completed by early 2007.
"The majority of ports there are not what you might see in the U.S.," said Mr. Rubacky. "But with more ships returning to Asia, countries are starting to put a better face on the ports."
Asia Cruise Lines Guide
The number of cruise lines sending ships to Asia has increased markedly in the past couple of years, making it easier to travel in the Far East. All prices below are per person double occupancy and do not include air fare unless noted.
(60) 3 3101 1313, Star Cruises is the biggest Asian based cruise line and one of the fastest-growing in the world. Starting with two ships in 1993, the company owns ten ships at the moment. The Star fleet consist of three distinct brands: Star, SuperStar and MegaStar. The cruise line has bought many ships from other cruise lines (the former Sun Viking from Royal Caribbean, the former Golden Princess from Princess Cruises and even the former Baltic ferries Athena and Kalypso. Star Cruises has also purchased the luxury liner Europa from Germany's Hapag-Lloyd with plans to convert it to the most luxurious ship cruising in Asian waters. The cruise line is also building new ships, the first two are already in service - the superliners Superstar Leo and Superstar Virgo. .
(877) 724-5425, has three 14-day cruises aboard the 1,258-passenger Statendam. On March 20 and April 17, 2006, the ship departs from Hong Kong and travels north with overnight stays in Shanghai and Xingang, from which passengers can reach Beijing and the Great Wall. The boat also visits Dalian, China; Pusan, South Korea; and Nagasaki, Japan, where onshore trips tour Shimabara castle and a samurai village, before reaching Osaka. It does the reverse route on April 3. Prices start at $2,199.
The 670-passenger Pacific Princess, leaves Bangkok on Aug. 17, 2006, for Mumbai, India. The 16-day trip stops at Sihanoukville, Cambodia; Phu My, Vietnam - where passengers can reach Ho Chi Minh City; Singapore; Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Colombo, Sri Lanka; and the port of Mormugao on the west coast of India. It does the reverse route on Sept. 1, 2006. Prices start at $2,995.
Seven Seas Cruises
The 14-night segment of a world cruise on Radisson 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager, departs Feb. 24, 2006, out of Hong Kong and includes overnight stays in the Vietnamese ports of Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Gai, where travelers can visit Halong Bay or Hanoi. The ship also stops in Bangkok before arriving in Singapore. Until Oct. 15, fares start at $9,296, including air fare, but if you book flights separately you can get a $1,400 credit against the cost of the cruise.
The small-ship operator is offering its inaugural tour of Japan aboard the 120-passenger Spirit of Oceanus. It is sold out for 2006, but space on all of its seven 2007 voyages remains. The trip lasts 14 days and includes two nights at hotels at the start and end of the 10-night cruise. It leaves from Kobe or Niigata and stops in eight Japanese ports including Okayama, home to the 17th-century Korakuen Garden, and Izumo, site of the country's oldest Shinto shrine, as well as Pusan, South Korea. The 2007 cruises start at $5,699, and depart Niigata on March 28, April 17 and Oct. 18, and leave from Kobe on April 7 and 27, Oct. 8 and 28.