IT was not the best time to go on a cruise because of a typhoon warning, but the group of travel agents from Manila, Cebu and Davao led by Nancy Balingit of Cruise Professionals, Inc. and Aida Uy of Cebu Fortune Travel remained unfazed. Everyone was eager to board the Golden Princess of Princess Cruises for a swing around the islands of Okinawa, Miyakojima and Ishigaki in Japan.
The Golden Princess set sail from the port of Keelung in Taiwan on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. With a tonnage of 108,000 tons, the 16-deck ship offers all the amenities and activities which make for a glorious experience at sea...varied dining options including formal and buffet dining, specialty restaurants, an all-day international cafe, ice cream bar, pizzeria, among them; a choice of bars; swimming pools, fitness center and spa; conference room, library and lounges; casino and theater; wedding chapel and medical center; shops and art gallery...there’s nothing else to wish for.
It was a bumpy first night onboard even as the Captain hosted the traditional welcome party at the Piazza with the dramatic sparkling wine waterfall. Dinner for our Philippine group followed at Sabatini’s, the ship’s Italian specialty restaurant, courtesy of Princess Cruises.
Okinawa was such a welcome sight the next day. Its principal landmark is the 14th century Ryukyu Shurijo Castle, a reminder of Ryukju kingdom’s 500-year reign. Then under the power of China, Okinawa flourished as a great trading center with China, Korea and Southeast Asia. The castle (with its shimmering Shureimon Gate in red and gold lacquer) is now a museum and has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Another must-see place is the Shikinaen Gardens, constructed in the 18th century as a second home to the Ryuku kings. Its winding paths lead to landscaped gardens and quaint wooden palace buildings.
Shopping was also on the agenda and we ended up at the biggest mall in town. Back on the ship, we found all kinds of activities going on...piano music, karaoke madness and happy hour, a comedy and magic show, a 50’s themed deck party, and more.
The second cruise stop was the agricultural island of Miyakojima. We took the hop on-hop off bus which brought us to a beach with an unobstructed view of the Kurima-Ohashi Bridge connecting Miyakojima to Kurima island.
We then proceeded to the Ueno German Culture Village where we saw the replica of the Marksburg Castle which is being used as the Hakuai Memorial Museum. It houses remnants from the rescued German ship, everyday implements from the Rhine region and works of art. There are also rooms reproduced from the original castle.
For those who didnt want to miss a spa experience in Japan, they hopped to the Shigira Ougon Onsen, a natural open-air hot spring resort with beautiful views and flower gardens where they made a quick dip.
The last island we visited during the cruise was Ishigaki, the quiet little isle best known for its underwater world. Of course we couldn’t miss a spin on a glass-bottom boat to see the beauty of the sea kingdom. Another breath-taking sight was the panoramic view of Cape Tamatori and Ibaruma Bay from the observation deck up a little cliff overlooking the waters. It was a windy day and the experience was delightfully refreshing.
Our final night onboard the Golden Princess was dazzling. After a delectable dinner at the formal dining room we watched Showtime’s “Let Me Entertain You” at the Princess Theatre. It was a colorful mix of songs and dances. Then we went to the Piazza where all the action was...line dancing and acrobatic performances and finally the much awaited Farewell Balloon Drop party where hundreds of balloons were released from the atrium ceiling after an hour or so of non-stop disco dancing. What a blast! What a night! What a grand finale!
We couldn’t leave Taipei without taking a look at the collection of precious and historical items at the National Palace Museum. It was a learning experience on Chinese art and culture all through the different dynasties. Of course we couldn’t miss a visit to the distinctive blue and white Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, the legendary landmark of Taipei. And to complete the Taipei stopover, we went on a quickie shopping spree at Taipei 101, once upon a time the world’s tallest building.
Our Golden Princess cruise was an experience we will long remember. ...gave us glimpses of three laid-back islands in Japan and a chance to get acquainted with Taipei.