In my first blog (which can be found here), I introduced the Sliversea Silver Explorer expedition ship. This blog will highlight the various ports of call we visited on this 10 day cruise. These ports were:
- Kobe, Japan (Embarkation Port)
- Okayama, Japan
- Takamatsu, Japan
- Miyajima and Hiroshima (1/2 day in each port), Japan
- Hagi, Japan
- Sakaiminato, Japan
- Kanazawa, Japan (followed by a day at sea)
- Sokcho, South Korea
- Busan, South Korea (Disembarkation Port)
Each port that we visited had excursions that were included in the cruise fare. This was nice as we did not have to worry about the costs of the excursions and could choose which excursion to partake in depending on our preference. It should be noted that in some ports there was only one organized excursion and in others there were two or three to choose from. With each excursion we were provided with an English speaking guide and headsets so that we could hear our guides no matter how far we wandered from them.
This was the port at which we boarded the Silver Explorer. We had arrived the night before and stayed at the Kobe Oriental Hotel. Since we were not boarding the ship until 1 pm, we strolled around Kobe on our own and, of course, made sure that we had lunch at a Kobe Beef Restaurant.
Once aboard, we were welcomed aboard the ship by the crew and were introduced to the various expedition leaders whom we would be getting presentations from throughout the cruise. There was also the mandatory Lifeboat Drill & Zodiac briefing. Dinner started at 7 pm and we set sail for Okayama, Japan at 8:30 pm.
We arrived in Okayama at 6:30 am. After breakfast, we joined an 8 hour excursion where we visited Korakuen Garden and Kurashiki Old Town.
Koraku-en Garden was a beautifully laid out Japanese Garden that was built in 1700 and is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, along with Kenroku-en in Kanazawa and Kairaku-en in Mito.
The excursion included a Japanese Bento lunch at a restaurant located next to Kurashiki Old Town. The lunch itself was good, but really just lunch and not much of a cultural experience.
Kurashiki Old Town is the old merchant quarter and contains 17th century wooden warehouses. It was quite nice to tour this are and visit the various shops that represented how the area looked during the Meiji period (1868-1912).
After the excursion we returned to the ship and joined the Captain’s Welcome reception in the Explorer Lounge. After dinner, we visited Setouchi Onsen which was located in walking distance from the ship (https://www.seto-tamanoyu.jp/). We had time to do this as the all-aboard that evening was not until 2:30 am. This was quite nice as our cabin did not have a bath tub.
Takamatsu is a port city on Japan’s Shikoku Island. We arrived at 6:30 am and the first event was a wonderful Welcome Ceremony by the local government officials and Miss Takamatsu as this was the first time for Silver Explorer to visit this port.
At 9:30 am we boarded the buses and headed to Ritsurin Garden. This beautiful garden was given 3 stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japan and is recognized as the most beautiful garden in Japan. It boasts 6 ponds, 13 hills, a waterfall, a bamboo forest and plum, cherry, and pine trees over its 75 acres.
After the visit to the garden, we we headed to venue where they taught us how to make Udon. Although all of the instructors were all Japanese, our on-boarded interpreter was on hand to translate everything. I must admit that at first I was caught a little off guard by this activity, but the instructors made it very entertaining and all of our fellow passengers really got into in and it was very enjoyable.
After lunch, we returned to the ship where we served more Udon by the local representatives of Takamatsu.
As we prepared to leave Takamatsu, we were entertained by a local jazz group that sang a variety of songs as we sailed away from the pier. I was struck by the number of people that had turned out to watch our ship depart and really felt the warmth of the Japanese people in their farewell to our ship.
Miyajima and Hiroshima
We arrived in Miyajima at 6:00 am and this was the first, and only, location where the Silver Explorer would be anchored off shore. This also means that it would be our only opportunity to experience the zodiacs transferring us to shore.
Miyajima is a small island in Hiroshima Bay which is best known for the famous floating Torii Gate, and is classified as one of the “Three Most Beautiful Views” of Japan (this list includes Amanohashidate “heaven bridge“ in Kyoto prefecture and Matsushima“pine tree island” in Miyagi prefecture).
The Torii Gate is located in front of Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto Shrine and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Another amazing feature of Miyajima is the deer. The deer on the island are everywhere and they are not afraid of humans at all. We were actually warned by our guide that we should not hold any paper in our hands as the deer will eat any paper they come across. One of my fellow passengers did not heed this advice and actually had their ticket to the shrine eaten by a deer. They are beautiful to observe.
After visiting the shrine, we took a short walk through Miyajima to Daishoin, the main temple of the Shingon Buddhism school of Omuroa, on top of a hill looking over Miyajima.
After leaving Miyajima after lunch, we arrived in Hiroshima at 2 pm.
This was the stop on our cruise that I was interested in the most. Of course, we were all taught about the U.S. dropping the A-Bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, but it is a completely unforgettable experience to visit this city and tour the Peace Memorial site and museum.
This is the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. The Atomic Bomb detonated approximatelu 600 feet above Hiroshima, very close to this dome. Previously the Genbaku Dome, it is the only structure to have survived in the epicenter of the blast. The government had originally wanted to demolish the dome, but the residents of Hiroshima insisted that it be preserved as a memorial.
I was struck on how the entire message of the site at Hiroshima is to serve as a caution to the world on not allowing anything similar of what happened in Hiroshima (and days later in Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945) to happen again. There was no blame, just a clear message of peace.
We arrived in Hagi around noon and were greeted by local officials and had a presentation by high school students who welcomed us to Hagi. We were also given a package of their local dried oranges. It was a very nice greeting.
The excursion in Hagi was relatively short as we had arrived at noon, had the presentation at the port and then boarded the buses at 12:30 pm and we would be leaving Hagi at 4:45 pm. We visited the Tokoji Temple which is the resting place of the Mori daimyo (a powerful family in the the time of the feudal lords) and the ruins of Hagi Castle (only part of the foundation was still present).
On this day, we had the choice of two different excursions while in Sakaiminato. One would visit Adachi Museum and Yushien Garden and the other would tour Matsue Castle and then take a short boat cruise along the moat that surrounds the castle.
Having already visited a few gardens, I chose to visit the castle and the boat cruise.
A Sake brewery came onto the ship to do a presentation on how Sake is produced and to also provide a tasting. Of course, they also brought bottles for us to purchase if we liked the Sake we tried.
Kanazawa is located in the Ishikawa Prefecture in Easter Japan on the coast of the Sea of Japan and since it was spared from any destruction during World War II, it has been able to maintain most of it’s cultural and historical sites in tact. When we arrived wee were greeted by Miss Kagayuzen and an entourage of Kagayuzen Ambassadors. Kaga Yuzen is the distinct dyeing technique of the Kaga region, most notably displayed on kimonos.
We had visited Kanazawa before, and did not take part in the full schedule of the days’ excursions as we made plans to meet with a friend. We did participate in the first activity which was a tour of Omicho Market which is bustling with freshly caught fish sold in many stores in the market, fresh vegetable stands and, of course, amazing food stands/restaurants.
After the market, our fellow passengers headed to Kenroku En Garden, which is a spectacular area located on a small hill in Kanazawa. Once the tour of the garden was completed, they enjoyed a Japanese lunch while being entertained by a Geisha performance.
In the late afternoon, all passengers were required to meet with immigration officials from South Korea as we would be entering their county after our day at sea.
As we departed Kanazawa, we were treated to an amazing performance by a dance troupe. Please make sure to watch the video below, we were informed that each of the flags being waved were 15kg or more.
Day at Sea
After Kanazawa, we spent a full day at sea as we traveled across the Sea of Japan and headed for Sokcho in South Korea. During the day we were offered tours of the Bridge on the Silver Explorer, listened to a fascinating lecture on the Korean War.
Also, as the on-board host, we offered guests on board a lesson in origami.
Sokcho, South Korea
Sokcho is located in the northern part of South Korea and is located close to the DMZ between the two Koreas. From 1945 to the end of the Korean War, Sokcho actually belonged to North Korea.
There were two separate excursions that passengers could participate in while visiting Sokcho. One was a hike in Seorakasasan National Park which is a designated Biosphere Preservation District by UNESCO. With the weather being uncertain the day before arriving in Sokcho, we decided to participate in the second choice of excursion, which was called the “Spirit of Sokcho”. This excursion included a visit to Cheongho-dong, which is the hometown to many Koreans with North Korean ancestry. This was followed by a trip to Naksana Temple and finally the Sokcho Fish Market.
At the end of the day, after visiting Sokcho, we gathered in the Explorer Lounge to view a video review of our entire cruise that was created by the on-board photographer. A copy of the video on DVD and a flash drive was provided to each cabin so that the passengers could take a copy home. There was no charge for this video.
Busan, South Korea
Busan was out last stop and disembarkation point for the cruise. There was an excursion offered into Busan, but the majority of the guests did not join the excursion and traveled their separate ways, many of them continuing their vacations in South Korea, and some returning home. The staff was very organized in assisting the passengers with disembarking.
Busan was out last stop and we headed from the port to the airport as we would be continuing our vacation by traveling to Tokyo, Japan.
Overall, the cruise was extremely enjoyable and, as it was our first expedition cruise, it was really interesting to attend the lectures every day and learn more about the destinations we were heading to including historical, geological, and cultural backgrounds.
Again, the cruise experience aboard Silver Explorer, in essence, can be described as toned down luxury. An expedition ship is all about the destination and not the ship itself. The staff and crew are amazing and definitely have a passion for showcasing the ports of call while still ensuring that the passengers are well taken care of a treated with the upmost in excellent customer service.
All of the Virtuoso passengers on-board were provided with a $150 USD shipboard credit, a welcome reception and Virtuoso Hosts (us) that provided any information and assistance that they required to ensure a wonderful cruise.
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