Four words to sum up our journey to (and from) the north. In this portion of our article series, we’ll take a quick look at our modes of transportation, the amenities, and a few tips for the cruise.
Taiheiyo Ferry will be the lucky company to transport or ragtag group of travellers to Hokkaido’s shores. Taiheiyo has three ferries in their fleet: the MS Ishikari, the MS Kiso, and the MS Kitakami. The ferries and their routes changes daily between Taiheiyo’s different routes.
On the way up to Hokkaido, we’ll be riding upon the decks of ‘the song from Stardust’, the MS Kitakami. We will be taking ‘the melody of the south Pacific Ocean’, the MS Kiso, for our return trip to Sendai. While these two ships share a few similarities, they also sport a few differences.
The MS Kitakami can house 781 guests, 150 vehicles, and has a max speed of 24.94 knots. It is the smallest of the three ferries in the fleet weighting 13,937 tonnes and measuring 192.5m. The Kitakai will depart Sendai port at 19.40 on February 6th and arrive in Tomakomai port, Hokkaido, on February 7th at 11.00.
The trip should take around 15 hours 20 minutes. On the way up to Port Tomakomai, we will be riding in a second class shared cabin. The ferry provides you with a mattress, blanket, and pillow. If you get cold easily or are particular about your pillow, you may want to consider packing warm pyjamas and your own pillow.
What is there to do on the MS Kitakami? The Kitakami is home to the restaurant ‘Grosvenor House’. The restaurant is open from 18.30 to 20.30. Grosvenor House serves a steak and sushi buffet and costs 2,000 yen (including a soft drink bar). A breakfast buffet is served at the restaurant from 7.30 to 9.00, and costs 1,000 yen.
If you are looking for lighter fare, there is a snack and cafe corner, Cafe Ferrica, which is open from 19.00 to 22.00 and 8.00 to 10.30. The cafe has a ‘morning set’ available from 8.00 to 10.00 for 700 yen. In the evening they have soba/udon (500 yen) and draft beer (600 yen).
Looking for something a little bit… different? Visit Lounge Stardust, where there is a live performance starting at 20.30. The performances change daily. There is also a mini-movie theatre, game corner, and a card room where you can play chess, mah-jong, and cards (1,000 yen rental fee).
While it is advised that you stock up with snacks at a conbini before heading on the boat, there is an on-board shop for you to buy drinks (alcoholic and non), instant noodles, snacks, omiyage, and ferry-related goods. There is also an observation room and outlook hall, complete with comfy sofas to get your relaxation on.
Maybe one of the most unique (to me) features of the ferry is a public bath, equipped with ocean-view windows and a full sauna. The bath is open until 30 minutes prior to entry in the port. Make sure to bring your towel!
On our return voyage to Sendai, we will be sailing the high seas aboard the MS Kiso. The Kiso is a bit larger, measuring 199.9m in length and weighting in at 15,795 tonnes. The Kiso can host 768 people, 113 cars, and reach 26.73 knots. We will depart Hokkaido at 19.00 and arrive in Sendai at 10.00, with the journey taking 15 hours.
On this return voyage, we will be relaxing in Deluxe Cabins (3 people to a room) so some well deserved R&R after our vacation.
Many of the facilities on the MS Kiso are comparable to the MS Kitakami. The Kiso’s restaurant, Tahiti, boasts the same opening hours, menu, and price tags as Grosvenor House. Kiso’s cafe ‘Mermaid Club’ offers a greater snack variety with morning set A (700 yen) and morning set B (500 yen) being available until 10.00, in addition to onigiri (150 yen), soba/udon (500 yen), hot cakes (300 yen), and draft beer (600 yen). The cafe is open from 18.30 to 21.30 and 8.00 to 9.30. Shows at Kiso’s combined theatre-lounge ‘Southern Cross’ start at 20.00. There is an on-board shop, game corner, relaxing viewing areas, and special seats each equipped with their own power outlet.
One of the biggest differences between the two ships is that Kiso has a karaoke room available until 23.00, costing 1,000 yen an hour to rent. Kiso’s bath is open until 30 minutes before arrival to port, and sports not only a bath and sauna but a jacuzzi tub.
Looking at these two vessels, we will be travelling in style to and from our destinations. A few quick pieces of advice to make travelling easier include:
- Bring ear plugs. We’re sharing a common space and some folks may snore. Sleep masks are also very helpful (and fashionable).
- When in doubt, bring motion sickness meds. The boats are huge and while you don’t feel every rolling wave the boat passes over, it is better to play it safe than sorry.
- Bring cards or other travel games.
- Bring snacks and drinks with you. There are options available on the boat but it can save you some money. If you bring too much, remember that you’ll have a mini-fridge in your hotel room.
- Bring toiletries– toothbrush, comb, towel, deodorant, what have you, in a small and easily accessible bag. We’ll be going all day on Friday so make sure to rest up.
- Take it easy, relax and enjoy yourself on the boat and make sure to make the most of the experience because, after all, you’re on a boat!