By Yun Suh-young
Boarding a cruise ship used to be a special experience only for the rich. The good ones cost thousands of dollars to sail a few nights regardless of the destination, preventing economically-challenged passengers from making their luxury cruise dreams a reality. Not anymore.
A cruise ship, launched on Feb. 16, will now take you on a relatively cheap yet luxurious journey to Japan. It is the first time a cruise ship has ever set sail from a Korean port, not to mention owned by a Korean company.
Club Harmony, a ship owned by Harmony Cruise with investments by Polaris Shipping, a Korean shipping company, now offers four to five day journeys to Japan at reasonable prices. A three-night trip ranges from 399,000 won to 1.09 million won ($353-$966).
On a floating resort
This reporter was among the passengers aboard the maiden voyage of the cruise ship for four days to Nagasaki and Fukuoka, cities located in Kyushu, a southern Japanese island.
The trip began with a brief introduction of the ship and safety education. After registering a credit card, a boarding card was distributed. Passengers are charged for their spending on the ship through the boarding card which is linked to the individual’s credit card.
The ship began sailing at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m., dinner was provided at the Cristallo Restaurant located on the fifth floor. A fusion-Korean meal was served in courses and tasted fabulous. Passengers are advised to dress up in formal attire if they want to dine there. Those who aren’t comfortable with the luxurious and formal dinner can dine at the buffet on the seventh floor. The buffet serves all-Korean food. A long line of people may require patience, however.
After dinner, romantic music filled the night. Starting from 9 p.m. Big Band Swing VIP All Stars, a swing jazz band from Las Vegas, played funky music at the Marina Ballroom on the sixth floor. The ballroom was packed with passengers eager to get the most out of their first night on the cruise. Few brave passengers took the ballroom floor encouraged by the rhythm.
After the jazz performance, those still lively enough to participate in a second round of dancing went up to the Laguna Club on the seventh floor to party away with disco music performed by K-pop dance groups like K-girls.
To maximize these entertainment opportunities, passengers may borrow a formal dress at a rental shop in the lobby for 80,000 won ($71).
Couples with children need not worry about leaving their little ones behind while indulging in a night of grown up activities because they may send their children to the Kid’s Club located on the sixth floor which provides various activities until 10 p.m.
For those who don’t feel like dancing but would prefer to lounge with their friends until late, Harry’s Bar is open until midnight to provide drinks and a nice atmosphere.
Trip on shore
After a good night’s sleep, you may find the cruise ship already docked at the Japanese port in the morning.
Breakfast is served at both the Cristallo Restaurant and the buffet.
Passengers can leave the ship from 8:30 a.m. They may choose to stay inside the cruise ship or go on a group tour provided by the ship. Others may set out on a journey on their own. But everyone has to be back by 5:30 p.m. because the ship sets sail at 6 p.m.
Harmony Cruise has several cruise lines to Japan but the maiden trip was destined to Nagasaki and Fukuoka.
This reporter opted for a singular adventure and toured Nagasaki alone. The city was a great place to walk around as many tourist sites are located in close vicinity to each other.
The Atomic Bomb Museum, Peace Park, Dejima (which used to be a trade center between Japanese and Western merchants), Glover Garden, Shinchi Chinatown, and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum are great places to visit. Hollander’s Slope is a lovely street to pass by on your way to any of the destinations. Nagasaki champon (hot noodles) is also worth trying at the Chinatown.
For those who remain on board, there are various activities to enjoy. Board games are provided in the lounge in the morning and Japanese classes are also offered in the Harris Bar in the afternoon. A seminar about spas is provided everyday from 4:30 p.m. at Elemis Spa located on the ninth floor.
On the second day of the tour, the cruise liner docked at Fukuoka after another long passage over the waves.
Fukuoka Tower, Momochi Beach, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, Kushida Shrine, Canal City, and Hakata Station are some major tourist sites to visit. Joining a group tour is advised in Fukuoka as the city is larger than Nagasaki and takes longer to get from one place to another. If you’re a shopper, you may set out on your own to Canal City or a department store at Hakata Station. It may take a whole day to look around the shopping mall properly.
After a long tour on shore, the cruise ship may look like a paradise. Taking a rest can be a good choice but for those who enjoy engaging in activities even on board, music and disco parties are repeatedly offered at the designated times every day. Those who would like to receive a relaxing massage may visit the Elemis Spa which provides various massage programs starting at 80,000 won ($71).
It’s still a ship
A cruise is still a ship although it provides hotel-like accommodation. Those who are sensitive to seasickness may have to take a pill before the ship sets sail at 6 p.m. The rides can be a little bumpy because the cruise ship is not huge in size and accommodates only about a thousand passengers.
Also, there are some inconveniences in the service and accommodation. Those who want to take a hot shower may have to get up earlier than others as the hot water runs out from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. when most of the passengers take showers.
Communication devices are also unavailable on board. Access to internet is difficult on the ship and cell phones lose communication once the ship sets sail. A television is installed in every room but is difficult to watch due to poor transmission.
The duty free store provides only limited items. Until March, the duty free only offers alcohol and cigarettes.
There is also no convenience store in the cruise so those who want to munch on snacks in between meals may have to pack them in advance.
About Club Harmony
Club Harmony was originally an Italian cruise line operating in Europe. Because of this history, the cruise ship has a European-style interior.
Constructed in 1969 in Finland, the ship went through remodeling in 1989. It was purchased by a Korean shipping company, Polaris Shipping Co. Ltd. last year and is operated by Harmony Cruise.
The 25,558 ton ship is about as large as two soccer fields put together. With 383 guest rooms, a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, theater, luxury restaurant, fitness club, and spa, the ship can accommodate up to 1,000 passengers.
The cruise line runs a three-night tour and a four-night tour every week to Japan. The destinations include Kagoshima, Beppu, and Osaka, not to mention Nagasaki and Fukuoka. Eight cruise packages are scheduled per month.
There are 356 personnel on board who are from 13 different countries. The official language used on the ship is English.
To make reservations, call 1600-1073. For more information, call 02-2260-1234 or visit www.harmonycruise.com.