We just completed the April Far Horizons cruise from Hong Kong to Tokyo. I believe it may have been Viking’s first or second time into some of these ports so I thought I would would provide some input on the tours we took to those of you will be doing these tours later this year and next. I have always gotten a lot of value from Cruise Critic’s reviews and wanted to pay it forward.
We generally like to do a combination of included, optional, private guides and do-it-yourself tours and that is what we did this time.
We arrived 2 days early on our own and stayed at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel, a lovely hotel and the one used by the Viking Pre-tour, although we paid less. The first day we used Tours by Stephen https://www.stephentourhk.com to visit Lantau Island. He was an excellent guide with great input on the culture and history of Hong Kong. I would highly recommend him. He gave us numerous suggestions for things to do on our own the next day, and by then we had mastered the metro with Stephen’s help.
After boarding the ship we did the included Postcards of Hong Kong which was excellent and we got a great guide. I believe Viking has experience in Hong Kong and had a great tour and guides as a result.
In Taipei we did the Taipei in Brief included tour. We did 3 stops, the Taipei Tower 101. No time to go to the top and just enough time to run down the street to get a photo. Not sure why we went to the deck on the 5th floor, was just a place to take a photo in front of a screen. Silly really. Second stop Chiang Kai-shek Memorial for the changing of the guard, very interesting, but not much time wish we had more. Third stop the Martyrs Shrine for a photo op. Good guide and just about what expected from a included tour. Remember the port is at least 45 minutes from Taipei, so DIY is more difficult here .
At Kagoshima we took the optional tour to Sakurajima Volcano. Nice ferry ride over with the bus and a circling of the island with a stop at the lava flow, a buried shrine gate and a foot bath at the hot springs. Good value for the money. It was a rush to get back in time for the Kagoshima scenic ride, which was the included tour for this stop. It was 2 stops, one to a high point in the city to view the volcano and a stop at a small museum. It was our first stop in Japan and the guide gave us a lot of basic information on Japan. If that was the only tour in Kagoshima, I might have been disappointed.
Nagasaki was one of my favorite ports. The cruise ship docks right in town. We took the included Peace Park tour and left the tour after the walk through the Peace Park, walked about 200 yards through ground zero and then to the Atomic Bomb Museum on our own. Museum cost was less than $5 each including the wonderful English audio guide. Went through it at our pace and then took the tram back to right in front of the ship. Way cheaper than the Optional tour to the museum. In the afternoon we walked from the ship to Glover Gardens and Orau Church (about half a mile), both worthwhile stops and easy to do on your own.
At Busan we took the Igade Park Coastal Hike and Skywalk tour. It was rated demanding and it was very difficult. My iWatch recorded 65 flights of stairs. Lots of steps, if you have weak knees don’t go. We are in good shape and enjoyed the beautiful coastline, but you must be in shape to tackle this one. We did not make it back in time for the included Busan Panoramic Drive so I can’t comment on it. Sometimes it looks like you can do both a morning tour and an afternoon tour, but if you are late, its a no go. Be sure you do the paid tour in the morning.
In Hiroshima we did the Postcards of Hiroshima, which walked us through the Peace Park and the site of the remnants of the bombed out dome. Because there was a shuttle offered here, we left the tour after it went through the park. Our intention was to go thru the museum on our own, but the crowds were too great. So we walked to the nearby Hiroshima Castle (it was ok) and after that walked about a mile to the Sukkei-en Gardens which were excellent. Then back a mile to the shuttle stop to get back to the ship. Lots of options here if you are willing to DIY.
There was an overnight in Hiroshima and the second day we did the optional Itsukshima Tour. This takes you on a ferry to a beautiful Torri gate in the water and a shrine again a very good tour, but with a not so good guide. Many on the tour missed going in the shrine because the guide didn’t tell them they needed to go with him and not explore on their own until after the shrine visit. Hopefully Viking will improve on the guides they get as they become more experienced with these ports.
In Osaka, we took the optional Ancient Kyoto tour. Again it was a good value and we enjoyed it despite the crowds of Japanese there because it was Golden Week.. About 1 hour drive each way, and visits to the bamboo forest, a shrine, a temple for a vegetarian lunch, and the golden pavilion. Really worthwhile and we had a very good guide here.
In Shimizu we took the included Stunning Vistas of Shimizu to see Mt Fuji which very fortunately was visible both days. This tour goes to 2 stops, first a great observation deck and then a local beach with pine forest and some hiking trails. My hope is Viking will add an hour to this tour because both places were beautiful and we could have used more time at each.
In Tokyo we used www.triplelights.com to find a private guide. We did a 6 hour tour of the city and guide picked us up at the ship in the Hurami Cruise port and delivered us after the tour to the shuttle bus location downtown. We visited Skytree tower for great views, Asakusa Shrine, Edo Museum and Imperial Gardens. You can pretty much design a tour with the sites you want. Note that the guide is paid in advance to TripleLights and you pay for all transportation costs, lunch and entrance fees for you and the guide. Good value and saw a lot more than if we did a included or optional tour.
We also stayed in Tokyo on our own 2 extra days at the Marriott Prince Sakura Tower using points. One of the best hotels we have stayed in. We did the Meiji shrine and Shibuya Crossing on our own using the metro card we got the day before. Both give a good feel for life in Tokyo.
Our last day was also a private tour of Kamakura using TripleLights again. Our guide was Eiko and she was excellent. Saw both shrines and temples and participated in a teamasters tea ceremony. Best guide of the trip and a lot fun. There is a Viking optional tour that goes to Kamakura, but we felt we got so much more out of a personalized tour that costs just slightly more for 2 and would have been less if there were 4.
One other note...proper dress is required in the shrines with shoulders and knees covered. Bring slip on shoes that can be worn with socks because shoe removal is required at several places and its easier if you don’t have to retie shoelaces at those stops
I hope you all enjoy your cruise as much as we did.