What to Do the Second Time Around the Pacific

Day -31, Grand Asia 2018

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 — Chicago:


How do you plan visits to 33 ports in 15 countries spread across the Pacific Ring of Fire? It can be as easy or as complex as you want.

The easy route is to sign up for the cruise line’s excursions. Holland America sent us a four-color 113-page book of tours in every port, which gives me an idea of what is most popular to see and do. I can read more, check prices and sign up on their website.

The more complex option is to research ports, independent tour operators and other possibilities online. Trip Advisor is a good place to start. I also look at blogs by other travelers and at websites such as the Ports of Call section of Cruise Critic’s forum. I met people on this cruise last year who had whole binders tabbed with information on every port.

Last year I planned for months. This year I’ve left it until almost the last minute. Of course, I didn’t sign up for the cruise until a few weeks ago. For the past few days I have worked my way through each port, taking a country or section at a time.

I blogged before about differences in ship and independent touring and some of the choices I made last year.

This year I plan to take a few ship tours. One will take me to a vulcanology museum in Petropavlovsk, Russia, on the Kamchatka Peninsula. My Russian visa from independent travel years earlier in Saint Petersburg and Moscow has expired, and it just seems easier to go along with a ship tour this time. In Taiwan, I think I will take a ship excursion that takes us to the original Din Tai Fung, where we will learn to make Taiwanese soup noodles. Just like Tom Cruise did when in Taipei. It’s not something I could easily plan on my own.

In other ports, I want a customized experience that the cruise line doesn’t offer. For example, Fukuoka, Japan, is known for the street food stalls called yatai that are disappearing throughout the country. So a group of us are planning an independent yatai crawl while there.

Sometimes the ship excursions are too limited. All of the tours to Beijing visit the same places we visited last year (Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, Temple of Heaven). Surely there are other things to see in a city of more than 20 million people. I guess we will need to find them on our own.

I am much more confident this year exploring some ports on my own after getting the “lay of the land” last year. In others, I have joined with a couple of friends who also are repeating the cruise this year to hire a driver to take us to specific sites or activities.

Meanwhile, I also am making lists of what to pack. More about that in a future post.