A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

Let’s talk about a part of Japan that not many people think of heading to; Okinawa. This lovely chain of islands to the south of the country are a little bit harder and expensive to access than some of the bigger cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. But they are most definitely worth it! Some of Okinawa’s islands are geographically closer to Taiwan than the main islands of Japan, so it made sense to take a scenic cruise to Okinawa.

I took this cruise several years ago with my father. We started our trip in Taiwan, where we boarded the Superstar Aquarius for a four day scenic cruise to Okinawa and back.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Superstar Aquarius at the Keelung Port.

Boarding the Ship for a Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

After waiting in the Keelung Port terminal building for what seemed like forever, staggered boarding started, based on allocated decks. My father and I were on a deck with windows, so we got to board relatively quickly. We showed our passports to the customer service agent to gain entry into the secured area, where we ran into a snag. The agent looked at our passports then asked us to wait a minute. What could’ve possibly been going on?

A few minutes later an excited staff member from the ship walked quickly toward us. She was the onboard Guest Services Co-ordinator. She asked us if we would like to sit at the captain’s table for the Captain’s Dinner to be held on the second night aboard the Superstar Aquarius. We were relieved that there wasn’t a problem and indicated that we would like that.

Once we’d passed through immigration, we were greeted by a band on the gangway to the ship, playing some welcoming tropical music.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Superstar Aquarius Welcome Band

Leaving Taiwan

Our departure day was actually quite dull and hazy, which was a bit of bummer. I had this idea in my head that pulling out of a port on a cruise should be done under a blazing tropical sun with people dancing on the deck. I was half right.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Staff Dancing on the deck of the Superstar Aquarius

Despite the haze, the view on departure was still kind of nice. There seems to be a few islands on the way out that look like mountains jutting straight out of the sea. This one is now called Casa de Kez. True story.

Once we lost sight of land, the sun started setting on the sea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Sunset on the Sea

Getting to Know the Crew

We settled in then explored the ship a bit. I went to the customer service desk to ask a question for my dad and the Customer Services Co-ordinator I had met earlier was there. She told me that she was so happy to have English speakers on the ship. Obviously, as the cruise was leaving from Taiwan, most of the guests on board were from Taiwan or mainland China. That meant most didn’t speak English. Samantha, the Customer Service Co-ordinator, was Korean and didn’t speak any Mandarin. She was happy to have someone to talk to.

Samantha was in charge of finding people to sit at the captain’s table for each sailing. The captain and crew were all Swedish and didn’t speak Mandarin, so obviously they preferred to have English speakers at the table with them. This is why Samantha had asked us about sitting at the captain’s table during check in.

Eating Onboard A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

After talking to Samantha for a while, it was dinner time so I headed to one of the onboard dining rooms. It was quite impressive and even had fruit with flowers carved into it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Watermelon Carved With Flowers

Every meal was set out in a buffet style. We soon learnt that you needed to get there at the right time to be able to avoid the queue but still be able to get fresh food. That time definitely wasn’t at the beginning of the dinner service! We also had to make sure that we only got hungry during their meal service hours as meals outside those hours were not included in the cruise price.

Ishigaki – A Little Island With a Big Heart

We docked in the port of Ishigaki the next day and Japanese immigration officials completed their immigration checks onboard the ship. We were lucky to be in the first batch of people processed and excitedly made our way to shore.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Welcome to Ishigaki

I was excited to finally be back in Japan after 20 years. Okinawa was concurrently the Japan I remembered, whilst also being completely different. The narrow streets and multiple storey buildings I remembered from living in Kagoshima didn’t seem to be too prevalent in Okinawa. The vending machines on every street definitely were though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Souvenir Shop in Ishigaki

We made our way to a cute little cafe kind of place. Once inside, I slowly spluttered out a grammatically dubious, “Do you speak English?”, in super rusty Japanese. The smiley, kind lady that had rushed to serve us indicated that she didn’t. Oh no, that meant I had to subject her to my Japanese. A language that I once spoke almost fluently, but hadn’t used in 20 years.

Language Struggles

I could hear myself slaughtering the language with almost every sentence that I spoke. Still, the kind lady told me that my Japanese was great. Even when I accidentally threw Cantonese words into the mix. She was also surprised that I could read the Japanese menu. The more I spoke, the more I remembered and got back into the flow of the language. It was at this point that the lady started throwing in a few English words here and there. It turns out that she did know a little bit of English, she just hadn’t been confident enough to use it in the beginning.

I asked the lady about the best way to get to Banna Park at the centre of the island. She told me that we could get a taxi and ask the driver to wait for us and bring us back down. I wasn’t confident in my ability to remember everything she had said, so she graciously wrote it down for me!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Note For Taxi Driver

If you know anything about Japanese writing, you can see that she went to the trouble of writing the base writing form, Hiragana, above the Kanji, just in case I couldn’t read them. As if writing the note in the first place wasn’t sweet enough, she had to go one level sweeter. This is one of the things I love about Japan!

Taxi Driver Turned Tour Guide

Our taxi driver was a lovely man who was enamored with the fact that he had a chance to speak Japanese with a non-Japanese speaker. He asked many questions on the way to the park. When we got to the car park near the park’s lookout, the taxi driver surprised us. He turned off his meter, got out of his taxi and became our guide!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. View From Banna Park Lookout on Ishigaki Island

When we got to the lookout, he pointed out some islands and gave me a bit of a history lesson about things that had happened in that particular part of the sea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa.

Dad was a bit in the dark about what was going on but when I told him what was being said, he exclaimed, “This guy is great!”. He was right. Mr Taxi man had gone above and beyond, as most Japanese people do. My dad was starting to see why I loved Japan so much and beginning to love it himself.

A Dog With An Invitation on A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

When we got back to our cabin, we found this little guy with our invitation to dine with the captain.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Dog With an Invitation

My dad was quite stoked about the idea of dining with the captain. We were two of four people invited to dine at the captain’s table. The other two were a mother and daughter from Singapore. They were also chosen for being from an English speaking country.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Captain's Dinner

Dining With the Captain and First Officer on A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

The dinner was quite delicious and the atmosphere was very jovial. At one point, the ship staff were dancing around the buffet while catchy music played. My dad and the captain got talking and realised that they both shared a love for classic cars. It was pretty hard to shut them up after that.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Dining With the Captain and First Officer

Both the captain and the first officer told us that we were some of the better guests they’d had at the table, because normally there’s no conversation due to the language barrier. They did indicate that on most sailings they have to sit through uncomfortable silences because it’s ship policy that the crew dine with passengers.

The captain mentioned that they also do an exclusive bridge tour, by invitation only. Dad indicated his eagerness to see the control centre for the ship and the captain advised that he would see what he can do.

Nature in Naha

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Naha Port

The ship had docked in the Naha port very early in the morning. Due to the fact that we had cleared Japanese immigration the day before, we were able to just walk right off the ship with no waiting. We made our way to Elephant Rock. You can guess how it got that name, right?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Elephant Rock in Naha

We then climbed to the top of the rock for another view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. View From Elephant Rock

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Rocks in the Sea

Next, we hopped in a glass-bottomed boat to see what was going on under the crystal blue water. As you would expect, there were many fish.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Glass-Bottomed Boat in Ishigaki

Mihama American Village in Naha

The interesting thing about Naha is that it is home to an American naval base. Which makes it possibly the least Japanese place in Japan.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. American Town in Naha

All of the buildings were built in the American style. It really didn’t feel like we were in Japan anymore. This also made things a bit easier for dad, who was actually able to order his own snack because many people at the stores spoke English.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Mihama American Town in Naha

There was even a Sunset Beach.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Sunset Beach Naha

Another Day, Another Animal With An Invitation on A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa

Upon returning to our cabin from our day exploring Naha, there was an elephant on one of the beds. We wondered if this was a slight nod to the Elephant Rock that we had seen earlier in the day. This elephant came with an invitation for a bridge tour the next day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Elephant With An Invitation.

We had figured that we would be with a group of people, but we soon found out that this was a very personal invitation, just for us! After our tour, the captain invited us into his private office. An office with a view of the whole bridge and much of the sea outside from its balcony. Dad and the captain chatted about their cars again and exchanged email addresses at the end. The captain made it clear that he wanted us to stay longer, but unfortunately he had to go back to work.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Scenic Cruise to Okinawa. Do What the Captain Says

Is a Cruise Worth It?

This cruise was a great first time experience for both me and my father. It’s not really my preferred way to travel, but dad enjoyed it so much that he declared that he needed to cruise more often. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to cruise again. But I am glad that I got to take him to a few new places before he passed.

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46 Replies to “A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa”

  1. I love Okinawa (and how flipping lovely people are there!)

    It is so sweet that the lady wrote out that you’d like to visit the viewpoint, and then head back to town. She put it so politely too! It must have been really fun (if scary) to use your Japanese after 20 years! I am starting to feel a bit rusty too now I’ve been away from Japan for so long. :(

    1. OMG, I know right!

      I was definitely apprehensive at first as Cantonese is my default second language and kept accidentally inserting Canto words, haha. I also found my reading had become very slow because I’d have to stop and think the words and sounds. The locals would still tell me that my Japanese was amazing though. Just another reason to love Japan!

  2. I’m sorry to read that your father passed away before he could take another cruise. This one must have very special memories for you! I’ve never been to Japan but it’s on my bucket list as soon as we can start travelling again!

  3. I’ve only been to two parts of Japan (Osaka when my son was studying there, and Tokyo) and would love to visit Okinawa – partly because I’d love to experience their healthy diet!

    1. I havent made it to the north yet, I’ve only lived in and visited the south, but I’m a huge fan of it!

  4. I really enjoyed reading your cruise story. So wonderful that you got to experience this with your dad! I’ve never been to Okinawa, but hopefully, someday I will.

  5. I’m adding this to the list of cruises I want to do. ! cant wait for cruises to restart! I really want to do the cruise around Alaska! I’ve heard its the best when it comes to scenic beauty!

  6. Ah Japan is my absolute favourite place and this post reminds me why! The people. It’s true that they always love to help and want to make sure you’re having a great time like the lady with the note and your taxi driver guide. This makes me want to go back. We didn’t get chance to explore these islands but it sounds really fun. I had no idea they were actually nearer to Taiwan too! It sounds like you were really looked after on the cruise too, which also makes a trip extra special :-)

    1. Yes, Japanese people are amazing! The cruise staff were amazing too. I’m still in contact with some of them almost 10 years later!
      I always want to go back to japan! I haven’t even made it to the north yet.

  7. Oh I’m so sorry to hear your father passed away :-( I read another blog post of yours last week where you referred to his illness but I was hesitant to ask after him. I bet your memories of these trips are rather mixed, but it is very lovely that you got the chance to share these experiences with him and that he clearly enjoyed himself! Okinawa seems like a great destination btw. I love the architecure in one of the photos you posted and the people seem real friendly too. Especially the lady in the shop you supported you to speak Japanese and helped you on your way too. In some countries people are so arrogant when visitors can’t pronounce everything correctly which just kills all confidence. And how amazing you got to sit at the crew table for dinner! Thanks for sharing all your special travel memories here :-)

    1. It was a great trip and I was glad to be able to show my dad two places that I really love.

      Japanese people are always awesomely helpful. I found that when I lived in Kyushu as well. I have also experienced people refusing to understand me in China, even though I speak Mandarin. I actually thought the problem was me, until I went to Taiwan and everyone understood me perfectly. I’d probably be a lot more confident in Mandarin if I’d picked it up in Taiwan instead of China.

  8. Sounds like you have some memories. Isn’t it great when the gestures of strangers surprise us – from the taxi driver to invitation to the capital’s table you certainly experienced some great ones along the way.

  9. not just that Okinawa sounds so great, I loved to read about your special experiences with the Captian at dinner time, with the lady who you spoke Japanese with and with the Taxi driver.
    Such experiences with locals make every travel so much more memorable and special!

    1. I definitely couldn’t stay on a ship too long. Luckily our cruise was only 4 days long. It was a nice experience, but not my preferred way to travel.

    1. It’s an amazing place to see. The American village in Naha is also a good place to go if you dont speak any Japanese.

  10. We took our first cruise in and we really liked it. So far, I have been on 6 cruises and I am sure there will be more. While I enjoy a lot of the amenities, for me, cruising is a comparably inexpensive way to see many destinations in a short period of time. When we first came to Belize on a cruise many years ago, we really enjoyed the country and made the decision to come back for a 2 week vacation. Something that we did a few years later.

    1. I guess it is a cheap way to get to some of the Caribbean islands if you’re in North America, but in Asia where flights are so cheap, cruises are often the most expensive option. Unless you can find a good deal like I did with this cruise.

  11. I haven’t done many cruises, but I am a bit more curious to try now! Thank you for sharing this lovely experience that you had with your father. Even if it isn’t usually your travel mode of choice, it is special that you were able to share it with him. I’m sorry to hear he has passed. I lost my mom last year, and I sometimes find myself thinking about the things we didn’t get to do together. This post also reminded me of my grandma because I am working with her on a post about RV travel, and even though we can’t physically travel together right now it is important to me to continue trying to make those connections. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I think a short cruise is nice to try, but more than 3 or 4 days would start to get a bit boring. There is actually a themed cruise I want to go on next year, but I havent had any luck getting anyone to come with me. Aside from that, I generally prefer to explore the world by myself.

  12. Wow, I had no idea about Okinawa until now. My knowledge of Japan is restricted to Tokyo and Kyoto, which are the places I think about visiting whenever I’m in Japan (major bucketlist item!) The cruise looks so dreamy and Naha is especially gorgeous!

  13. Wow, what a fun experience you had on this scenic cruise to Okinawa. We personally love cruising often for the food and entertainment alone. But I do love getting off at ports like Ishigaki where you can dive into the local culture of the area. Elephant Rock looks like it was a fun excursion too. Our planet is so cool and beautiful!

    1. There are a lot of cruises in Asia actually, including ones that just go out into international waters so that people can gamble, hehe.

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