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Cruising to Nagasaki, Korean-style

2012/02/25 | 1314 views |  | Permalink | Source

The Club Harmony is Korea's first cruise ship. Harmony Cruise has established two short four- to five-day tours to Nagasaki and Fukuoka from Busan. The ship embarked on its first journey to Japan on Feb. 16. Provided by Communique

Busan is one of the world's busiest ports. Every year a constant stream of ships pass through, transferring cargo and setting off toward the East or Yellow seas.

Yet while freighters and ferries have docked at the southeastern tip of the peninsula for generations, never before has a cruise line run out of the port.

As of last week, however, travelers are able to take a Harmony Cruise ship from Busan to major cities in Japan, making it the first cruise line to run out of any South Korean city.

One of the ship's seven Sky Suites. These are the largest rooms available on the Club Harmony and they have access to personal balconies.



Harmony Cruise, an affiliate of Polaris Shipping, a medium-sized shipping company, has established two short four- to five-day tours to Nagasaki and Fukuoka.

The cruise line is keeping the trips relatively brief in order to fit in with Koreans' generally limited vacation time, said director Lee Mina of Communique, the public relations company for Harmony Cruise.

"We've learned that Korean people feel too burdened to travel for a longer time period", Lee said. "The four-day cruise departing on Thursday would only require many office workers to take two days off".

 

The Cristallo Restaurant on the fifth floor, where the formal gala dinner is served. It is recommended that guests wear formal attire.

As the cruise will be the first out of Korea, the company said it expected to generate excitement among travelers, but was still surprised when the ship's cabins completely sold out within the first month.

The ship, called Club Harmony, was first constructed in Finland in 1969 as a container ship, and was remodeled into a cruise ship in 1989.

It previously operated in Italy until Polaris Shipping purchased it last year.

 

Guests can rent formal attire for dinner or photos at this shop located on the lobby floor. It costs 80,000 won to rent an outfit for dinner.

With less than a year of preparation time, Harmony Cruise worked quickly to set up the programs, hoping to make a good first impression before expanding the tours to other destinations.

The company said it is planning to develop Korean ports into major Asian cruise line hubs.

Stefan Kern, the chief manager of Club Harmony who has been working in the industry for 12 years, said he expects to see Harmony Cruise launch more routes to China and Russia.

 

The Laguna Club is the place to go at night for some drinks and dancing. K-pop group K-Girl will perform every night.

A Korean-style cruise

Club Harmony is setting the precebndent for what constitutes a truly Korean cruise ship: the buffet is full of Korean dishes, K-pop concerts are held at the Laguna Club and screen golf will be installed onboard shortly.

"I think if we keep it Korean, it should make it unique and attract both Koreans and foreigners", Kern said. "Foreigners will feel special to embark on a unique cruise that is unlike more commercial lines.

"I think the goal is to also make Koreans feel at home aboard the ship, providing all the amenities on the cruise that they have at home".

The ship is staffed with Korean and English speakers, most of whom have prior work experience on overseas cruise ships.

Harmony Cruise said it is also well aware of Korean smartphone culture, and ensured that cellphone service would be provided on board the ship by June via cooperation with KT.

Not all cruise lines have installed cellular networks, but as a pioneer of the Asian cruise line industry, Harmony Cruise knew it was a must.

"People don't want to miss anything during the cruise", Kern said. "It's something we need to offer if we want to be trendsetters here in the Asian market".

The Korea JoongAng Daily was aboard the Club Harmony on its maiden journey out of Busan. The following are tips on how to maximize the experience and enjoy the first cruise line out of Korea.



All aboard

A shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the day of departure from Busan Station to Busan International Cruise Terminal. The estimated traveling time from the train station to the port is 30 minutes.

When checking in, passengers will receive plastic boarding cards with names and room numbers. Passports, cruise tickets and credit cards will be required to get on board, and the boarding cards provided will be used for ID and financial transactions on the ship.

Boarding starts at noon and the ship sets sail at 6 p.m. The lobby is on the fourth of seven floors, and if you are prone to seasickness, medicine is provided as you enter.



A day in the life

During the day, guests can choose to either to stay onboard or travel into the cities. Group tours are available, but lone travelers can split away to explore on their own.

To sign up for the group tour, guests need to notify the ship attendant in the lobby before 8 p.m. on the day before the tour.

For those staying on the ship, there are many options to choose from including Nintendo Wii tournaments, introductory Japanese language courses and a Kids' Club that incorporates arts and crafts, English classes and various games.

The best way to stay updated on the cruise schedule onboard is to check the Harmony Daily, a leaflet that's delivered to every room during dinner time. It includes information about the weather, when to return to the ship from an excursion, the dinner menu and other entertainment activities.



Cruise casual

While attire is generally casual aboard Club Harmony, guests can dress up for formal dinners available at the Cristallo Restaurant. Don't worry about buying a dress especially for the occasion; guests can go to a rental shop on the lobby floor and rent formal attire for 80,000 won ($71).

Guests can also take advantage of the in-house photography studio to pose with family, friends or that special someone on the upper deck against a stunning view of the sea in the background. The photos are fairly cheap, costing around 10,000 won for a large print.



A sailor's tips

Washroom amenities are not fully stocked, but can be purchased from the minibar section located in every room. The only amenities that are provided for free are hand soap, shower caps and a small bottle of body lotion. Shower products are from Elemis Spa, which offers spa services onboard.

For those who take showers in the morning, waking up a bit early - 7:30 a.m. - is advised to avoid being stuck with cold water. With so many guests showering simultaneously, hot water runs out quickly.

Food is only served at specified meal times, namely breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are no convenience stores open late at night for snacks to munch on. It's advised that guests bring snacks just in case or stock up on food when boarding.

There is no limit to the amount of luggage guests can bring onboard. There are Caffe Benes on the ship and snacks are served at the Harris Bar on the sixth floor, but both are closed after midnight.

While many Koreans are not accustomed to tipping room service attendants, the cruise line charges a service gratuity of 10,000 won to each room every day.



For more information about the Harmony Cruise and Club Harmony, call (02) 2260-1234 or visit www.harmonycruise.com. To make a reservation, call 1600-1073.

From March to April, the price for all cruise packages (both three- and four-night packages) will start from 449,000 won.

By Lee Sun-min [[email protected]]

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