Emperors & Empires Cruise on the Oceania Nautica
3/10/15 to 3/26/15

Due to the length of the review, it is in seven parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page. 

Page 1  - Pre-Cruise in Beijing
Page 2  - Pre-Cruise continued; Embarkation and Ship
Page 3 - Ship Continued;  Ports of Call: Tianjin, China; Dalian, China
Page 4 - Ports of Call:  Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China
Page 5 - Ports of Call:  Shanghai, China continued; Ishigaki, Japan;  Okinawa, Japan; Kyoto (Kobe), Japan
Page 6 - Ports of Call:  Osaka (Kobe), Japan; Nagoya, Japan
Page 7 - Ports of Call:  Tokyo, Japan

Seoul, South Korea -  
We had been very excited that Seoul was on our itinerary.  I had heard so much about it and was looking forward to experiencing it myself.  We were very disappointed that we would only be in port from 1:00 PM until 10:00 PM, since it didn’t give us much daylight time for touring.  It did however give us time to attend two very good enrichment lectures about Korea in the morning.  When I came out of the second one and walked out to the promenade deck at around 11:45 AM, I was surprised to see the Incheon Grand Bridge.  The 7.6 mile bridge is one of the longest in the world and is very close to the port area.  I couldn’t believe that we were going to dock almost an hour early.

The ship had slowed down considerably as though we were coming up to a dock.  On our port side was an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel. 

That sure didn’t look like a cruise terminal.  I wasn’t sure what was going on.  When I went up to deck 10 to get a better view, I saw what was happening.  We were entering what looked like a canal lock.  I had never heard that there was a lock going into the port for Seoul.  It is apparently there to maintain the water level in the port area, so ships don’t bottom out with the tides. 

   

Since the Nautica almost filled up the lock, I would have to assume that larger cruise ships would have to dock further away or tender into Seoul. 

Since we had just been through the Panama Canal four months earlier, I was pleased to see that this lock had the same type of gates as those being installed at the new Panama Canal site.  Rather than folding open like the old canal, these gates slid into position.

   

While waiting for the lock to close and fill up, we got to look at the massive car lots with thousands of new Kia’s and/or Hyundai’s. There were so many cars.

   

The whole process took about 40 minutes and then we were on our way to the dock.  We actually ended up arriving late after thinking we would be early. I had booked a tour with a company called This is Korea (www.thisiskorea1.com).  Our guide for the day was Luke.  He was a very upbeat energetic young man that in addition to being the guide was also the van driver and tour photographer.  It was kind of nice to have him take photos during the tour, since he was able to take photos of us without having to give him our cameras.  At the end of the tour he uploaded his photos to my iPhone through an app I installed in the van.  It worked great.

The drive to Seoul took a lot longer than I expected.  The Seoul traffic was pretty heavy.  Our first destination was the Gyeongbok Palace.  The original palace was built in 1395, but it had been destroyed and rebuilt several times.  When we arrived the entrance looked quite impressive.  The original complex had 330 separate buildings; but most were destroyed.

Passing through the entrance we came to a very large courtyard with lovely structures all around.  The main gate had three arched openings.  The king would pass through the center opening while the princes and government officials used the side entrances.  It was quite an ornate structure, like many on the property.

   

It was quite a contrast to see the unusual modern architecture just outside one of the palace walls.

The large gate and hall on the other side of the courtyard led deeper into the palace grounds.

We arrived just before a ceremony of the royal guards was about to take place.  Areas of the courtyard were cordoned off where the visitors could stand to observe and take photo of the event.  All at once brightly colored guards with flags and weapons entered the courtyard from three entrances.  They were quite a site.

   

   

   

They played music and the large drum was beaten during much of the ceremony.  It lasted for ten minutes and was quite a crowd pleaser.

   

After the ceremony ended, we moved through the gate to the next courtyard that had a bridge over a small waterway.  It was guarded by a statue of an imaginary creature.

   

The next gate looked similar to the one we had just passed through.  We had become accustomed to having to pass through numerous gates and halls to get to the main buildings in the various palaces and temples we had visited.

In this temple we didn’t have that many gates to go through, since the Throne Hall was in the next courtyard.

This was quite a lovely building and set up above the others on a raised foundation.  The decorations under the roof line were just gorgeous.

   

Once again we were not able to enter the building; but we could take photos from the openings.  The throne itself was quite different from others we had seen.

   

The most beautiful part of the building was the incredible ceiling with its many colors, patterns and angles.  Just gorgeous.

   

There were many other buildings on the grounds; but the one on the water, to me, was the most special of them.  The setting was lovely with the trees and mountains in the background.

A couple of girls in traditional clothes must have agreed with me, since they were taking a selfie with it.

The roof decorations were quite different from what we had seen in China.  They were much less ornate and made of concrete rather than golden looking.

   

While walking through the grounds, we saw a strange looking squirrel.  It had very large ears and almost made it look like a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit.

We passed by a lovely pavilion and could also see a large pagoda in the background.  Luke told us that it was fairly new and that it was part of the museum that was on the grounds.

   

Close to the museum was a grouping of small statues in a circle.  Luke asked me what year I was born in and pointed at the statue of the pig.  He said that was the sign for the year I was born in.  With all the weight I was putting on during the cruise, it seemed most appropriate.  Each statue represented one of the 12 years.

   

I finally got around to the front of the pagoda and was able to get a better photo of it.

   

We had been at the palace for an hour and a half; but it had been a most interesting place to visit.  Luke told us to stand just outside the palace where he would get the van and pick us up.  The spot was right next to a most unusual statue.  We didn’t know what to think of it.

Driving through town we saw some interesting things.  Seoul looked like a nice modern city.

   

   

Our next stop would be to see the statue of Sejong the Great.  He was the king during 1418 – 1450.  We drove by it in the van; but we needed to park to be able to get good photos of the magnificent statue.

   

The area around the statue was very popular for the locals.  There was one very strange character walking around.

   

There were also many police in the area to monitor a protest of some Kia workers that was supposed to take place.  There weren’t a lot of historical attractions to see other than the palace we had visited and the statue.  The most popular tourist activity seemed to be shopping based on the Oceania excursions that they had available.   The six of us did want to see some of the shopping areas; but Luke told us that they were on the other side of town.  With it being Friday afternoon, the traffic would be very bad and that if we did go there, it could end up taking a long time to get back to the ship.  Since we hadn’t planned on staying in Seoul for dinner, we asked him to just take us somewhere where we could look for a few specific things.  He took us to a store in a downtown mall not far from the statue.  Since we only had about a half hour before we had to head to the ship, it was kind of a waste of time.  It was a shame that the ship hadn’t arrived in the morning, where we could have had more time on the tour.  Luke did the best he could with the short time we had.

As we started to drive out of town, the traffic built up quickly.  Rush hour had started and we didn’t know how long it would take.  Luke took an indirect route to get back to the port at Incheon; but it ended up only taking about an hour and a half.  We heard from others that left town not long after we did with Oceania excursions, that it took almost three hours for them.  Some people that stayed in town late, with independent guides, barely made it back to the ship on time.  Seoul is a nice place to visit, but you need a longer port stay than we had. 
 
After touring for seven days straight, we were ready for our first sea day.  We needed the rest and looked forward to our next port.

 

Shanghai, China – Day 1
Now that we had been able to rest for a day, I was anxious to get to a city I had dreamed about visiting for so many years.  Every time I see a picture of the futuristic looking Shanghai skyline, I think that I have to see it in person.  Well that day had finally arrived.  With the Nautica being a small enough ship to be able to navigate up the Yangtze river and into the much narrower Huangpu River right into downtown Shanghai, we would be able to dock at the premier docking location right across from the beautiful skyscrapers of the Pudong district. Unfortunately it was a foggy day as we cruised slowly up the river.  There was a lot of traffic and activity on the river; but not the type I was anxious to see. 

We passed under a large bridge where we had very little clearance.  I am sure that it is another part of the reason that most ships have to dock way out of town.

   

As we got closer to the center of town, we began to see some of the modern buildings I was expecting.

Finally we got close to the docking area and I could see what I had been waiting for.  With the fog, I couldn’t see the tops of the building and couldn’t even see the famous Orient Pearl Tower; but we had arrived in downtown Shanghai.  At last the tower came into view; but we could only see the lowest part of it.  Now that was a bummer.

   

Looking the other way toward the docking area was more interesting, with a strange looking port terminal that looked like a flying saucer and other unique buildings.  There was also a nice park area with a curving bridge ascending over the length of it.         

   

When we went down to deck four where we would exit the ship, we found out that immigration officials had cruised with us to Seoul so that they could clear us for arrival back into China before we arrived in Shanghai.  I bet that they enjoyed their short cruise.  They had set up a table with a camera type device.  It looked like they were going to take our photos of us when we disembarked the ship.  We were told that it wasn’t a camera, but a device to check our temperature to make sure we didn’t have a fever when reentering China.  I wished that China had been concerned about the terrible pollution as much as they were worried about our temperatures.

At least the weather had warmed up as we cruised south.  It would be in the upper 50’s; which seemed like a heatwave after our other China ports.  I had booked tours for the six of us with Shanghai Travel Professionals (www.shanghaitravelprofessionals.com).  Our guide for the three days was the wonderful Kelly.  She was a true gem.  She was so knowledgeable about history and all the sites we would visit; and she was so sweet and helpful.  We couldn’t have asked for a better guide for this port.  We also had a very good driver for the van that was able to deal with the crazy traffic in and around Shanghai, the largest city in the world with over 24,000,000 people.

 Our first stop was a walk on the Bund.  The Bund itself is the old financial district with numerous beautiful western style buildings.  There is a walkway along the river that allows you to look at those buildings on one side with the modern Pudong buildings on the other.  It is an awesome place to experience the beauty of Shanghai, even if it is foggy. We also had a nice view of the Nautica at the dock. 

   

   

   

   

There were lots of people enjoying the view.  There were lots of flowers all around, as well as a large statue.

   

But the highlight is the Pudong view.  I hoped that we would get to see the tops of the skyscrapers over the next 3 days.

   

We got back on the van and headed to a local street market that had all kinds of food, including the strange and unusual.   

   

   

   

It was not very appealing to me; but it is a view of life in Shanghai.  Before the cruise was over we would see way too many of these types of streets.

Not far from where we exited the local market, we came into a much different type shopping area which was much more promising.

   

As we walked into the Old City Bazaar Market, it was quite impressive.  The place was huge and very crowded.  Now this was what I was expecting from a Chinese market.

   

   

   

It was so Asian, I just loved it.

   

As we maneuvered through the market crowds, we came to an area by the water.  It made for a lovely peaceful setting in the hustle bustle of the market.

We came to our next tourist attraction which almost adjoined the market, the Yu Garden.  This garden was built 400 years ago during the Ming Dynasty.  It looked to be quite a place.  The architecture and plants combined for a beautiful sight. 

   

The first building contained very old Ming Dynasty Rosewood furniture.

The more we walked around the prettier it got.

   

I particularly liked the dragon on top of the wall.  The roof decorations were also unique.

   

There was also a nice rock garden along with manicured trees.  On top of another wall was a double dragon.  This was a very pretty place.

   

   

We moved out of the interior of the buildings and saw the lovely scenery by the water. 

   

A highlight of the garden is the jade rock. It is an 11 foot high rock with 72 holes positioned in such a way that water or smoke sent into one of the holes comes out through all the holes at the same time.  We didn’t get to see it happening; but I am sure it is quite a site.

It was just a lovely place and I took way too many photos; but I am glad I did.

   

Driving through the streets, we saw lots of interesting sights.

   

This was the building where the first national congress of the Chinese Communist Party met in 1921.

Our next destination was to the French Concession area of Shanghai and the Tianzingfan, which is an artsy area with shops, cafes and boutiques.  Kelly told Carol and Doug that they would have to stay in the van while the rest of us checked it out, since the paths were too narrow, they weren’t handicap accessible and it would be crowded.  She was quite right.  I don’t think they minded, since we had already had a very full day.

   

As we were driving to our next destination, I had to take a photo of an unusual looking building decoration.  It looked like the building had feathers on it; but it was actually made of metal.

We drove to the Park Hyatt Shanghai hotel to get a view of the city from their free viewing area on the 87th floor.  I was concerned when I looked up at the hotel that we might not have a clear view with the clouds obstructing it and another unusual cylindrical skyscraper.

   

When we got up to the 87th floor my concerns were realized.  All that could be seen out of the window was what looked like a thick fog.  What a shame, since it would have been a great view.  I took some other photos of the skyscrapers from ground level.  We couldn’t see the tops of many of them.

Our last stop of the day was at the Orient Pearl TV Tower.  The 1,536 foot tower is currently the world’s fifth tallest TV and radio tower.  But I bet it is probably the most recognized one.  It was built in 1994.  The fog had lifted some and I was able to see all three of the balls on the tower; but not all the way to the top.

I was really impressed with the large base of the tower.  It was well supported

Since everyone was exhausted with all the walking we had done during the day, only Kelly and I walked up to the elevated area near the tower to take photos.  I was so glad that I did, since there was a beautiful floral display close to it that we were looking down on.

   

We also had a great photo of the Shanghai Tower that is under construction and almost completed.  It is currently the second tallest building in the world at 2,073 feet with 128 floors.  I hadn’t realized that it was the same circular building that I had taken a photo of when looking up into the clouds earlier.  It is the building in the middle; but it looks shorter because it is far away from the other two.

After taking lots of photos, we headed back to the Nautica for a relaxing evening.  After dinner when it got dark, I went out to take photos of the lights of the city.  The cruise terminal area and the buildings further down the river looked very nice.  The colors would regularly change making it interesting to just stand there and watch.

   

But the real show was across the river at the Pudong buildings.  Even the tourist boats were illuminated.  We were so lucky to be able to be docked where we could watch the light show.  Even if we couldn’t see to the tops of the structures.

   

Looking the other way we could see the building on the Bund that were also lit up.

   

The lights were so captivating.  I had to keep watching the ever changing kaleidoscope of colors.  It had been a great touring day.

 

Shanghai, China – Day 2
The morning was cloudy and there was a chance of rain for the day; which would be the first rain during the day of our vacation.  So I took I took my umbrella with me for the first time this trip.  At least it would be in the upper 50’s.  We were going to be going out of town for the day to the famous garden town of Souzhou and Tingli water town.  Kelly told us that in order to properly tour them, there would be a lot of walking and there would be many steps.  Accordingly, Carol decided to pass on the tour; as did Cherie and Doug.  It would have been too much for them.  They definitely made the right decision.  It was a very active day.  So I would just be touring with Margery and Gale.

The traffic was very heavy heading out of town; but nowhere near as heavy as that coming in.  We passed some interesting buildings as we were driving.

   

Our first destination was the town of Suzhou, an hour and a half drive from Shanghai.  It is known for its classical gardens, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But first we were going to visit Suzhou’s Tiger Hill.  As we entered Suzhou, we could see our destination, the Pagoda on Tiger Hill.  It was way up there, I assumed that there must be a road up the mountain to visit the pagoda.  The pagoda looked very old and was leaning.  It wasn’t a fancy pagoda, but it had a lot of significance and is the symbol of Suzhou.

When our driver parked the car in a lot at ground level, I knew that I would be getting my morning exercise.  The entrance to the park area, was adorned with a rock proclaiming the park’s UNESCO status; as well as a very nice sculptured decoration.

   

From this location, it was very obvious that the pagoda was leaning.  It is referred to as the Second Leaning Tower on earth.  Although I think there are quite a few others around.

The park also had a canal.  I liked the small bridge over it.

When Kelly purchased our tickets we were thrilled to find out that since Margery and Gale were over 70 years old, their tickets were free.  Since I was only 67, I got a senior citizen rate of 50% off.  That was a pleasant surprise.  We found the same pricing at most of the other stops that day.  Those deals weren’t available in Shanghai though.

We first walked into a building that was called the Room Leading to Seclusion.  There was some furniture and an unusually shaped stone.  It apparently had a lot of significance, so I took photos of the room.

   

We then started walking up the hill to the pagoda.  There were a lot of steps and the weather made me worry that they may be a bit slippery.

   

During the climb, there were pretty flowers to relax us and the walls on the hill were rather photogenic.

   

It was a longer climb up than I had expected; but it definitely felt good to get to the top and look down at where we had come from.

When we came to the pagoda, there was scaffolding on it.  The entire structure is masonry and designed to imitate wood construction.  The pagoda weighs 15,000,000 pounds.  It did appear to need some renovation.  But then again, it is the original construction from the year 907AD.  Concrete was pumped under the pagoda in 1957 to help stop further leaning.  It apparently helped.

   

I had thought that the reason we had climbed the hill was to see the pagoda; but the real reason seemed to be to see the lovely grounds.  It was especially nice that the plum blossoms were blooming there.

   

There was a deep chasm not far from the pagoda.  It was covered with ferns and moss.

   

It is known as the Sword Pond, a small rectangular pond, beneath which a treasure of some 3000 swords are believed to have been buried.  They have not excavated the site because the leaning pagoda's foundations rest on it.

On the walkway over it were a couple of holes that had been partially covered to prevent people from stepping into them.  The holes were there to allow buckets to be lowered through to obtain water from below in olden days.

The pathway down to the lower level was worse than the one up, since there weren’t handrails and we were walking on rocks as well as steps.

   

The view of the chasm from below was rather nice.

I followed the signs instructions.  You can see the railing they are referring to in the photo from above. 

It was quite a popular photo opp location as you can see in this photo through the moon gate of people standing at the railing.

The area was quite lovely with newly blooming flowers.  It had a very ancient feel to it as opposed to the brightly colored temples we had become accustomed to. 

   

   

I really liked the warning in the below sign.  With the uneven walkway it was most important to pay attention.  It is a message that should be adhered to most of the time while traveling.

As we were leaving we passed through a small shopping area.  On the way to the van, we had a nice view of a small river running through the town.

   

We drove over to the Lingering Gardens, which is one of the four most famous gardens in China.  Surrounded by flowers is the UNESCO World Heritage designation plaque for the location.  The gardens were built in 1593.

We first walked through a building that had many twists and turns.

When we came outside we were on a small pond surrounded by the gardens.  Even with it being a cloudy day, it was still a lovely place.

   

   

As we walked around the pond, the different angles provided for numerous photo opps.  I can’t imagine how beautiful it would be in a few weeks when everything was blooming and on a sunny day.  However, these gardens are less about flowers and more about creating a stunning natural landscape in harmony with beautiful buildings.  Rather than spring, the best time to view this garden is in the autumn when all of the maples turn red.  It is supposed to be quite a site.

   

I even liked the recycle receptacles.  The flower design seemed most appropriate.

The wingtip roofs on the old buildings had lots of character.

We then came to a beautifully decorated hall.

   

Then back out to a different section of the garden.  Kelly had picked out an excellent garden for us.

      

   

We then went through a different room which led to a another rock garden.

   

 I loved the walkway designs.  I can understand why the gardens are so popular.  The beauty is so peaceful and relaxing, especially without so many tourists visiting.  There were still plenty of tourists there; but we were lucky to be able to visit before tourist season when I would imagine we would have had to struggle just to get a view of some of the gardens.

   

I can see why Suzhou is such a popular destination.  Many people visit the area for several days to be able to see as many of the gorgeous gardens as possible.  We only had time to visit this one; but it gave us an excellent sample of what Chinese gardens are all about.

Outside the gardens were numerous shops selling souvenirs, clothing and artwork.

It was lunch time and Kelly took us to the Garden Hotel.  It was a very nice modern hotel with a large restaurant.  We discussed the menu and we chose a broccoli dish, a pork vegetable combination and a type of dumpling that is the specialty of the house.

   

Each dish was just outstanding.  It was so delicious.  I hadn’t thought about this meal until I started to write the review and look at the photos.  My mouth is watering just remembering how good the meal was.  The dumplings were different from others we had; but they were just so good.  Kelly bought some to take home to her family for later.

   

After lunch while driving to our next destination, I realized that Suzhou wasn’t just the small quaint village we had experienced.  It was a town of 1.3 million people with the large apartment buildings we had been seeing all over China.

It was only an eleven mile drive to our next stop Tongli Town.   It is considered a water town because of its many canals.  It is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the East; but so are other places and there is little resemblance to Venice.  The town is over 1,000 years old and retains the features of an ancient Chinese town.  Cars and vans are not allowed in the town, so we had to buy tickets for the tram that would take us from the parking lot.

When the tram dropped us off we were on a street that had an old world feel to it.

Kelly took us on a walk to where we would see our first canal.  It was quite different from what we had been seeing in the big cities earlier in our vacation.

   

We then walked into the main part of town where there were no canals, but lots of stores.

I like the carving above one of the shops.

After a short walk, we stopped to visit the Tuisi Garden.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was built between 1885 and 1887.  The first building we entered was similar to our first garden with a nice sitting area.

It then led out to a lovely courtyard.  An old tree in the middle of it was just starting to bud.

We moved through another courtyard and then came out to where there was a reflection pond. 

   

Tusi Garden means the garden for people to "look back and atone for past wrongdoings".  This garden is also referred to as Retreat and Reflection Garden.  It was obvious why.

It is such a lovely area with bridges, pavilions, terraces and incredibly lovely views from every angle.  I am probably putting in too many photos of this gorgeous garden, but I don’t want to forget its beauty.

   

   

When we left the garden we walked out into a city square with a small stage area.  I particularly liked the ground decorations with dragons on them.

   

Kelly then took us over to an area with more canals.  Now this was more of what I had been expecting from the descriptions I had read prior to our trip.    

   

   

It was most enjoyable just walking along the canal looking at the reflections in the water and the many shops that lined the canal.

   

It was a very charming area.  As we were leaving the main area, we walked down a canal that had lots of restaurants for the large crowds of tourists that are normally visiting.  I think it is probably much more enjoyable to visit Tongli when it is cool than in the heat of the summer. 

   

   

By the time we got in the van to head back to the ship, we were very ready to stop walking.  I was so glad that Kelly had warned Carol that she shouldn’t come with us.  She would have just sat in the van most of the day other than for lunch.  I am also so glad that we were able to visit this most unique and beautiful part of China.  It was so nice to have a break from big city tours to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the old cities and gardens.  It was also nice that it didn’t rain the whole day.  We were on a streak.

After we got back to the ship and had dinner, I went out to the open decks to see if the light show might be better.  Unfortunately, it was worse than the first night.  The fog was thicker and I couldn’t even see the top of the lowest ball on the Oriental Pearl Tower.  What a shame it was that we had come so far and we wouldn’t see the tops of the beautiful skyline, since we were leaving port the next day. 

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