Planning cruise itineraries is a lot like the game "Risk:" It's always difficult to hold Asia.
Over the years, the cruise lines have tried. In 2000 and 2001, Asia was considered the Next Big Thing, the place everyone would be visiting once they'd cruised the Caribbean and Alaska. But then 9/11 happened, and cruise lines brought their ships home to serve a jittery traveling public.
Time heals all wounds. For 2007, cruise lines big and small are increasing their presence in Asia, visiting Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, as well as the East Asian nations of China, Japan, and Korea. For some lines, the intent is to lure American passengers abroad, but others have their eyes on the local market as well.
Most cruise lines are scheduling longish cruises aimed at luring American and other international travelers to the region.
At Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com), the 1,266-passenger Statendam will offer a 14-night China/Japan itinerary sailing between Hong Kong and Osaka, Japan, in Mar-April 2007, as well as a 20-night Australia/Southeast Asia trip sailing Sydney to Hong Kong in March. The larger, 1,380-passenger Amsterdam, meanwhile, is offering a 64-night mega-itinerary that sails from Seattle, circling the whole Pacific basic with stops in Japan, Russia, China, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii, before debarking in San Diego. Travelers can also choose to book either half of the trip, SeattleÂ?Singapore or SingaporeÂ?San Diego.
At Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com), the Japanese-built 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess will sail five 16-night Beijing to Bangkok and Bangkok to Beijing cruises October through December, visiting Nagasaki and Okinawa (Japan), Shanghai, Taipei, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (China), Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Bangkok (Thailand), and Singapore. A longer, 20-night cruise will sail from Bangkok to Sydney, Australia. Passengers can also sign on for a three-day pre- or post-cruise land trip that visits the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.
Rounding out the mainstream lines, the 684-passenger Nautica from Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com) has Asia itineraries available in both early and late 2007, including 15- and 24-night cruises departing from Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, and Bangkok January through March (with port calls including Hanoi, Canton, Seoul, Shanghai, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Okinawa, Taipei, Nha Trang, Saigon, Ko Samui, and Bangkok) and an 18-night cruise sailing from Singapore to Sydney in December.
Luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) is returning to Asia for the first time in two years, with four itineraries available aboard the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony. Two 14-day trips in Mar-April sail from Hong Kong to Beijing (visiting Taipei, Kagoshima, Shanghai, and Dalian, with a three-day post-cruise extension in Beijing) and Beijing to Hong Kong (visiting Shanghai, Nagasaki, and Osaka, with a pre-cruise Beijing stay). In April, an 11-night Southeast Asia cruise sails Hong Kong to Singapore, visiting Chan May (gateway to Hue, Vietnam), with overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. Most interesting of all is a 16-night Singapore-to-Dubai trip in May that features calls in Phuket (Thailand), three days in Yangon/Rangoon (Myanmar/Burma), and Cochin and Mumbai (India). Several pre- or post-cruise land programs are available as well, including a new six-night trip to Tibet.
In fall 2007, Regent Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 877/505-5370; www.rssc.com) is offering a series of 12- to 15-night voyages aboard the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner. On September 26, Mariner sails Osaka to Hong Kong, stopping at Nagasaki, Pusan, and Dalien, with two days in Beijing, three in Shanghai, and an extra end-of-cruise day in Hong Kong. On October 10, she sails Hong Kong to Bangkok, with two days in Hanoi, two in Ho Chi Minh City, and stops in Chan May, Nha Trang, and Ko Samui. On October 22, the Bangkok to Singapore run includes three days in Yangon/Rangoon, plus two in Singapore, one each in Phuket and Penang, and an extra day in Bangkok. a 15-night Singapore to Sydney trip rounds out the season on November 4, stopping at Java, Bali, and Komodo Island before hitting five ports in Australia.
At ultra-luxe Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800-929-9391; www.seabourn.com), the 208-passenger Seabourn Spirit is currently in Asia, and will be offering a total of twelve regional cruises between now and April, most of them 14 nights in duration and sailing Hong Kong to Singapore or Singapore to Hong Kong. The vessel returns to the region in December 2007 for a similar season.
Competitor Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) offers a similar number of Asia cruises aboard the 382-passenger Silver Whisper and 294-passenger Silver Cloud, with a dozen sailings from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok now through March, and two more scheduled in December 2007.
For those wanting a more intimate cruise experience, small-ship lines Cruise West and INTRAV are both offering several port-intensive regional cruises.
In March, April, September and October, the 114-passenger Spirit of Oceanus from Cruise West (tel. 800/426-7702; www.cruisewest.com) sails a 13-night "Japan Unveiled" itinerary from Kobe to Niigata/Tokyo, visiting Okayama/Kurashiki, Takamatsu and the Inland Sea, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Beppu, Nagasaki, Hagi, Isumo, and Kanazawa, with a quick trip across the Korea Strait to Ulsan. In November and December, the ship sails a 16-night cruise from Tokyo to Hanoi (with port calls in Japan, China, South Korea, and Vietnam) followed by four 11-night Vietnam cruises, sailing north- or southbound between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
At INTRAV (tel. 800/456-8100; www.intrav.com), the 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey has five different Asian itineraries for 2007. On April 3, a 16-night cruise from Brunei to Hong Kong explores the islands of the Philippines, including Cebu, Corregidor, Manila, and Bataan. In April 18, a 12-night Hong Kong to Kobe itinerary explores the islands and cities of China and Japan, including Okinawa, the Ryukyu Islands, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. On May 1, 11 and 23, a 12-night "Temples & Gardens of Ancient Japan" cruise sails between Kobe and Tokyo. In September, two 10-night Vietnam cruises sail between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, while in October a single 11-night cruise sails from Singapore to Bali, concentrating on Indonesian ports.
Finally, those seeking a sailing adventure should check out Star Clippers (tel. 800/442-0551; www.starclippers.com), whose 170-passenger sailing ship Star Flyer is based in Asia from Jan-Mar and Nov-Dec. Seven-night cruises sail round-trip from Phuket, Thailand, or one-way between Phuket and Singapore, visiting ports such as the Surin and Similan Islands, Penang, Malacca, Ko Lipe, Ko Rok Nok, Ko Khai Nok, Ko Adang, Langkawi, Phang Nga/Ko Hong, and the Phi Phi Islands.
Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean are in the latter group.
In July, Carnival's Costa brand sent its 1,000-passenger Costa Allegra to Shanghai, becoming the first large international cruise operation licensed to embark Chinese citizens from that nation's ports. The ship is offering five-day cruises from Shanghai to Nagasaki, Japan, and Cheju, Korea, marketed exclusively to a Chinese clientele.
In December 2007 Royal Caribbean will move the 2,000-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas to the region for a six-month series of 2- to 5-night cruises sailing from Singapore (with calls in Malaysia and Thailand), Hong Kong (with calls at Taiwan, Japan, and Sanya, on China's Hainan Island), and Shanghai (with calls in Seoul, Cheju Island, and Pusan, South Korea, and Nagasaki and Fukuoka, Japan). All cruises are targeted primarily toward an Asian clientele.
"We are confident that the Asian market and the Pan Asia regions, in general, have tremendous growth potential," said Royal Caribbean president Adam Goldstein.
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