FOR the past couple of years, this section has brought you to familiar and unfamiliar nooks and crannies of Saipan, Tinian and Rota — from spots that you have always taken for granted to areas that you have never thought existed here.
Today, put on your sea legs and take a glimpse of what’s inside one of the luxury ocean cruise ships which has visited Saipan every year for the several past years — M.S. Asuka II which is previously known as M.S. Crystal Harmony.
A text message from Commonwealth Ports manager Mary Ann Lizama sent me flying into a frenzy and leaving everything at a moment’s notice to grab a rare chance of exploring Asuka 11 which docked at the Saipan port that morning.
An upscale medium-sized cruise ship that provides western-style luxury, Asuka II, is known as one of the biggest luxury cruise ships in Japan. Its 790-foot long frame almost occupied the whole Saipan port for another one of its regular visits.
Asuka II’s first purser Yukiko Shindo took four of us on a tour of this mighty ship which I had only seen from a distance while it was docked in the port in past years.
We started the tour at the third deck of the mighty ship where we were asked to leave our IDs in exchange for visitor ID’s. I got #004. We made our way through a narrow alley with royal blue curtains on both sides and resembling a spa and headed to a flight of stairs before riding an elevator to the sixth deck— and that’s where you forget you are on a ship.
The hallway opened into a spectacular two-deck centerpiece atrium with artfully designed furniture and sala sets in the center.
Our guide transported us to a luxurious five-star hotel with lush carpets and wide glass windows offering superb panoramic views of the sea and the island.
Time was never enough as we took photos of everything and anything while trying to take the grandeur of it all in. It was like cramming and wanting to take in everything in at once into a very short time. We wandered through a glorious haze and maze of plush carpeted hallways decorated with contemporary décor and an exquisite art collection emphasizing 20th century western works.
We went past designer shops featuring fashion items, jewelry, and upscale items, to coffee shops and restaurants, elegant lounges and high-end bars.
- MS Asuka 11 at the Saipan dock
We waltzed through the Hollywood Theater, which can seat 260 persons, dance halls and conference rooms, a library with huge glass windows offering panoramic views of the ocean, an internet cafe and computer shop, more shops than I can remember. Whew! If only I had one day to fully explore the ship and take photos at my own leisure.
From the 6th deck, we rode the elevator to the 11th deck and wandered into the poolside area. There, a Seahorse Pool sat at the center of the area, its clear blue waters reflecting the blue of the skies above and the ocean around. Beside the pool and up six wooden steps with neatly arranged planks a circular Jacuzzi bubbled merrily, overlooking luxurious sun beds that provide passengers a place for relaxation.
Outside the pool a door lead to the Wimbledon Courts. We picked our way toward the other end of the 11th deck past more restaurants and emerged into a wide spacious area with glass windows called the Palms Lounge. Here, wide solar panels allowed natural light to pour into the lounge.
It was not our destination. Shindo led us on until we reached the area directly above the ship’s bridge—the Vista Lounge.
It became my instant favorite and I later learned that it is one of the best features of the Asuka 11. Uniform pillars adorned the front end of the lounge while a huge blue dome occupied the center of the whole area. It was like stepping into the future. Shindo told us that when the sky is totally dark, hundreds of pin lights are seen on the dome, making one feel like he is gazing up into the skies on a starry night. We didn’t experience that because it was still 2 p.m.
We had coffee at the Vista Lounge, sampling the best latte that slid down our throats to add to memories later but I didn’t get to relish in my coffee. I was still too busy taking pictures of everything, wanting to capture it all.
Going up to the top deck of the ship was an experience beyond description. The aqua blue soft carpet stretched endlessly until your vision meets the blue of the ocean and the horizon. The view from up there was breathtaking — the whole of Lower Base spread below with Mt. Tapochao in the backdrop. A few flowering flame trees added touches of fire to the green forests and blue skies and seas.
I asked Shindo on the possibility of hiding in the ship and going down anymore but that was of course impossible. Haha!
We went back to the third deck, surrendered our visitor IDs and out the gangway and discovered we were not in Europe or any exotic part of the world. We were still at the Saipan Port with the blazing sun beating relentlessly on our unprotected skin and with it, the reality that we have deadlines to meet.
The Asuka II tour appeased our frustration for not being able to get onboard the Queen Mary 2 earlier.
This was first published HERE