Hanami, the Japanese spring ritual of picnicking among the vibrant pink cherry blossoms, creates a heightened sense of magic for the lucky travelers who find themselves in Japan during the month of April. But what if you could set sail on a whimsical floral-themed voyage that would let you hop around the country, taking part in a week-long flower scavenger hunt?
That’s exactly what Princess Cruises has in mind with its upcoming Spring Flowers cruise. Sailing next month, the seven-night itinerary offers a whirlwind tour through Japan’s best-known sights: Izumo Grand Shrine, the “land of sake,” and of course, Mount Fuji. But there’s one thing separating this from other marine sightseeing routes in Japan: the entire cruise is flower-themed.
For the last five years, the cruise line has been making this annual voyage to give travelers a unique glimpse of the spectacular cherry blossoms, as well as the country itself. Focusing on regional highlights like Hirosaki Castle and the famous gardens of Kanazawa, the cruise bundles several of Japan’s top bucket list sights into one itinerary.
“All of these destinations have some relevance to the cherry blossom phenomenon,” explains Michael Mihajlov, the head of Asia-Pacific shore excursions for Princess. “We try to optimize the experience based on data [about] when the peak bloom will be. Of course, it’s subject to weather, but you’re definitely going to get to see cherry blossoms.”
Thanks to Japan’s unfettered love for all things floral, the cruise line realized it had a winner on its hands: the Spring Flowers cruise, departing April 13, is almost sold out, though there are still a few rooms left. (Princess also offers an extended 12-day flower-themed cruise — with a whopping 10 ports of call — though that itinerary sold out weeks ago.) But you’d better act fast, because tickets aren’t going to last.
What You’ll Get to See
Starting in Tokyo, the cruise sails through the Kanmon Straits and even detours through a bustling South Korean port city before making its first Japan stop in Sakaiminato. Here, there’s a special surprise for hardcore flower lovers: Tottori Flower Park, a sprawling 125-acre flower park (one of Japan’s largest) with a "flower dome"; there’s even a passenger train, so all you have to do is sit back and let the rainbow landscape float by.
Timing Is Everything
The cruise is timed for mid-April, as that’s when cherry blossom season typically reaches its pink peak, and flower parks around the country are coming into bloom. It’s possible to visit these flower parks during summer, but if you go now, you’ll get to witness the first tulips, hydrangeas, plum blossoms, and sunflowers start to make the landscape blush in brilliant shades of red, yellow, blue, orange, and purple.
Not Just One Sakura, But Many
Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom festival, is celebrated all over Japan — if you’re in the north of the country, the blossoms open slightly later, and if you’re in the south, they’ll open earlier. This cruise puts you front row to multiple sakura seasons by condensing five coastal destinations into a week. That way, you’ll get a little taste of everything, from Tokyo’s Ueno Park to the famous castle town of Kakunodate.
Beyond Just Flowers
Since no one expects you to look at tulips and hanging wisteria 24/7, the cruise has other non-floral perks. In the town of Tsuruga, you can try your hand at making traditional Japanese lacquered chopsticks, or visit Japan’s largest temple and be served a vegetarian meal by Zen Buddhist monks. In Sakaiminato there’s Matsue Castle, a 17th-century castle with scenic canals that you can tour. And there’s always the bonus of having an extra stamp in your passport from visiting Busan in South Korea.