Land vs Small Ship

edited August 2020 in Essence of Japan

I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts on the two Japan tours - one a cruise and one a land tour. I'd really be interested in itinerary comparisons as to why one is favored over the other as opposed to the discussion of "I prefer cruises" or "I prefer land tours". I'd like to hear about things like, on the cruise you get to see TBD, which we thought was special. You don't see that on the land tour. Or the opposite, on the land tour you get to see TBD, that you don't see on the cruise.

The two tours are captured in the picture below.



  • edited June 2020

    I don't know if you'll get a comparison of the two itineraries but have you read the review and comments by joycesw (do a search on "japan" and author: "joycesw." As I posted awhile back, Joyce, a high tour count forum member, is no longer with us, but she had some significant issues with "Cruising . . .?" Here is just a snippet from the first search hit, "We did this tour in 2017. I am not sure about what kinds of tips you are looking for? I wrote a pretty comprehensive review (you might be able to find it in the archives) in which I expressed my dissatisfaction with the organization of four groups within the tour." That was awhile ago, and things may have changed, but from what Joyce learned from numerous email and phone exchanges with the Tauck tour development folk- they were going to increase the number of number of groups not reduce them!, things could be worse. Hopefully they are doing a much better job coordinating groups, but it is something to research further and consider. Check out her posts.

    To search on author, type "Japan" in the search window at the top of this page, hit return. You'll get a box with "Japan" in it and a "down arrow" at the right. Clicking the down arrow brings up a search form. Start typing then select Joyce's screen name (it is case sensitive) in the Author block. Then click search at the bottom of the form. That should give you only her posts about Japan.

  • Sam, I haven't been on either tour but did live in Japan for 2 years mostly Tokyo area and Northern Japan. If I had a choice I'd go with the land tour. While both have a lot of interesting sites, the land tour activities seem to have a more intimate, culturally oriented bent. That's probably due to the smaller group size even on a classic tour vs how many the ship takes (I think about 3-4 times that but something to check with Tauck on). Living there I found the customs, food, crafts, sleeping/ eating in tatame mat rooms, bathing in the giant tubs, etc unique. The other thing I'd look in detail at are the hotels and choice of restaurants in them. Do I feel I'm in any four star hotel anywhere or are there unique local choices? Other than fewer transfers, are you gaining anything being on board a ship in the evening? Would you rather be in a hotel where you can go exploring during free time.

    You've been on enough Tauck tours to be able to read the itinerary and know if it's how you like to spend your time. The only way I'd take a small ship cruise is if it gave me the chance to see places too hard to visit on a land tour e.g. the Scotland tour that goes around the islands.

  • AlanS, Claudia - Thanks for your comments. I did go back into the archive and review old posts by joycesw. I think I will have to do as Claudia suggest and do more in-depth research into both itineraries, seeing which has the most options for seeing 'Must See/Do" items. Both tours seem pretty expensive - but I guess that's due to the COL in Japan.

  • It's always tricky to give someone else recommendations about an itinerary or the usual "what should I see at X location" question. One person's joy is another's hell. Example, the one thing the cruise has that the land tour doesn't is the sumo demonstration. I kind of got into it living there but fully understood why someone else wouldn't be into it. 😁

  • I prefer land tours. You made me do it, Sam :)

    Seriously, even though Japan is a relatively small country, think about the difference in intercity travel times between bullet trains going 200-300 mph and a ship going 10-15 mph. And as already mentioned, there's the ability and flexibility to wander the cities, with first world travel options, after the official tour day ends. To me, this is a no-brainer. YMMV.

  • I also think that the age of the traveler dictates choices in travel options

  • We took the ship tour in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it. We experienced so much, and we don't feel that we missed anything. We stayed at a fabulous hotel in Tokyo looking down on the center of the city, we took the bullet train (average delay time is 6 seconds), we saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki (very moving experiences), we saw temples and gardens that were outstanding, and so much more. By ship you go to Busan, South Korea where we ate at a unique restaurant by a large fish market.
    We found that the Japanese people were very kind and considerate both to us and to each other....a culture to be admired!
    As a special touch, at each departure, the town folk with their children would come out to play instruments, sing and dance to wave us off. An additional highlight was having a children's band come on board to entertain us.
    As a bonus, our TA arranged for a group of us to be driven up to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji. (Question for research...why is it called the fifth station?)
    Going by ship is our no-brainer choice. :)

  • Connorlaker, your comment about the locals waving you off reminds me of the first time I went to a MacDonalds there. Had eaten my food and was leaving the restaurant when I heard all these people saying thank you and goodbye in Japanese. Turned around and realized it was all the counterstaff who had stopped what they were doing to see me off. And you're right about the people. Two years there working with their navy and living half the time in a small town, I don't remember any rude people.

  • Hate to interrupt the warm and fuzzies, but let's not forget the Bataan Death March, what they did in China in WWII, etc.

  • And the Germans gassed millions of jews. Americans committed atrocities against native americans, slaves, fellow Americans during the civil war, etc. I suspect it would be hard to find a people who hadn't done something horrid to some group. Plenty of horror stories to tell. Do we blame their descendants and refuse to travel?

  • That’s what humans do, they conquer and kill each other. The hope is that trying to be civilized overcomes those urges. When I visited Japan, I was struck by how safe it is there and how everyone tries to do nothing to dishonor their families. And I bet they are excellent about wearing masks correctly for the greater good, not like here in the US

  • This is a travel forum, not a political grandstand.

  • OK back to the task at hand. One of the two tours will make it onto my 'Wish List' of tours. I've begun my exercise of detailing sights seen on each tour, places stayed at on each tour, when there is free time what opportunities exist to do/see additional things. This will take some time because I might only spend 5-6 hours a week doing the research and assembling what I call my augmented itinerary. It's one additional thing to do other than binge watching various series, movies, etc.

    I'm pretty certain that I will never exhaust my 'Wish List' of tours, but that's OK. I've already had a decent run and am very thankful that my health and finances have allowed me to do what I've done and to think about doing more.

  • edited June 2020

    Actually I think those topics are very important to help people make decisions. Political stuff? No! Travel related? I say yes! People do change their minds when they hear all sides of an issue.

  • Ok, let's all take a deep breath. Many of us are going stir crazy as we are in near quarantine conditions. I feel both or all sides of "travel related" issues should be welcome- by their nature many (most?) are personal impressions or opinions. Posts should not be restricted to fact-based discussions only. Remember, new participants may not know the tour history and may not have delved into the archives. Everyone should feel free to provide answers and impressions (opinions), point to where more can be found in the forum archives or elsewhere, or preferably do both. Also, lets not become "Cynthias." (reference is to "HOA Cynthia" on a current TV commercial) :)

  • On the original subject, one of the advantages of the ship is that you unpack and pack much less frequently. Some of us do not like living out of a suitcase. I have been to Japan many times for work and for pleasure, and I’m sure Tauck will show you the finest side of the Japanese culture. There are other sides to the octagon.

    My father in law held no particular animosity toward the Japanese, and he was one of the hikers in ‘Bataan’, torpedoed in a Japanese transport by a U.S. submarine, and held prisoner in Japan for 45 months. He encountered some good people and some bad people ... just like many other places.

  • Back to the subject at hand, I too usually prefer land trips. However, based on Joyce’s recommendations and others, we went on the boat tour (Land of the Rising Sun). We were told that you see more by boat. Perhaps we did, but the negatives far outweighed the positives. 1. Too many Tauck guests: there were about 100-120 divided into 4 groups. The groups were always changing based on your activity selection. We did not form many attachments - which is unusual for us! The welcome dinner and farewell dinner were too impersonal.
    2. The ports that we visited were mostly interesting but 1-2 were a huge yawn.
    3. Some days the 4 groups all went to the same site - at staggered times. Often we were rushed because the next group was coming. There were many logistical problems.
    4. Most of the meals were on the boat - so you spent much time on the bus going from the morning’s activity to the boat for lunch and then back out again to return to dinner.
    5. The trip did include a few days before the boat portion in Kyoto and a few days at the end in Tokyo. This was great!

    Yes, you unpack once...but I love staying at different hotels and having the time to explore without worrying if we’ll make it back to the boat in time! Each trip has appeal to different tastes!

  • NancyCohen: When did you take this ship tour? I read Joyce's review and she had similar issues to yours but I understood Tauck was revamping this tour after hearing comments the first year or two it was offered. I am very interested in this tour (love cruises, like the idea of unpacking once, want to see both Hiroshima and Nagasaki while the land tour does only Hiroshima, and several other reasons. I would schedule this for spring 2022 as my 2021 travel calendar is already filling up (I am being optimistic about travel next year!). I understand the "group" format as I did a Tauck cruise/tour around New Zealand that was structured in the same way - I travel as a solo and like to meet new people so maybe that type of structure works better for me.

  • edited June 2020

    I haven’t taken either tour, but have been to many places in Japan but a long time ago. We prefer land tours. Nancy describes very well what it was like on the two small ship tours we have taken with Tauck, either the staggered groups where you all go to the same place, or the choice of different places. Not enough time off the ship. How lucky that the tour visits places morning and afternoon, on the Iceland tour you just do one visit a day then it’s back on the ship for most of the time.
    It is indeed really hard to get to know anybody. In times of Covid that is going to be difficult anyway, everyone will be social distancing and wearing masks and we certainly would not want to be sitting near anyone else while eating without masks.
    I remember how negative Joyce was about the ship tour. Nancy, Did you speak to her separately? I looked at the tour at the time and did not care for it. But now it looks better than the land tour, though I would still be cautious about doing it And boy is it expensive as most of the ship tours are compared to land .it is such a shame that it sounds as if there are many meals on the boat. There are many choices in Japan and if people don’t like sushi Or fish, there are other great choices.
    One thing I think Tauck has had to do is include Hiroshima because so many people want to go there, but it probably interrupts the ideal flow of the tour. I haven’t been, but my husband has and it’s very moving of course. But it does mean that Tauck has to skip other sites which might be more typical Japanese to see. I love Japan and we have a tour booked in 2021.

  • Smarks50: I went to Japan in April 2018 about a year after Joyce. I spoke with Joyce multiple times about the trip and her comments - and Tauck assured me that changes would be made. And yes, some changes were made. Yet the boat carried many passengers; my trip was mixed with Tauck guests plus others. There were lots of people to move from activity to activity. I think it boils down to whether you prefer the idea of a boat or a land trip.
    British: my trip (as compared to Joyce’s) included a few more lunches off the boat but all dinners were on the ship. I very much enjoyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the museums were extremely well done. I arrived in Osaka 3 days early and learned how to travel on the trains, went to Kyoto and Nara for private sightseeing with plenty of time to explore! We did not extend our time in Tokyo because it was the start of Golden Week - and extraordinarily crowded. I am happy I went on this trip (all trips are great!!) but K&T, India and Indochina rank higher on my list of favorites!

  • ******Example, the one thing the cruise has that the land tour doesn't is the sumo demonstration. ******
    Claudia when I took the Japan land tour we had a sumo demonstration which was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed.

  • At least for the small group land tour in 2021 the sumo demonstration is on Day 1. Below is the itinerary extract.

    This evening, please join us for a welcome reception and dinner at the Meiji Kinenkan featuring a larger-than-life demonstration by sumo wrestlers.

  • I don't care for wrestling in general but the drama and gamesmanship in sumo was fun to watch. The way the wrestlers would strut around, throw salt, act like they were ready to fight then abruptly step out of the ring. Quite the show. A demo where they explain things would be great. I learned mostly from a co-worker married to a Japanese woman.

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