Soothing Cruising

by Julian Ryall

cruisingA new generation of sleek vessels with fine food, exotic drinks and entertainment cruise Tokyo Bay and beyond for a privileged view of the city. Taking a pleasure boat onto Tokyo Bay has long been a favorite past-time for residents of the city, particularly in the hot months of the summer, when cool breezes blow in from the sea and fireworks crackle at festivals along the Sumida River.

Ukiyoe wood-block prints dating back to the 17th century show party boats known as yakatabune bobbing on the waters, with lanterns along their sides and the lights of Edo reflected in the water. Those boats still ply their trade on the bay, but a new generation of sleek, high-tech vessels serving some of the best cuisine to be had in the city has taken cruising to a new level.

“People usually take a cruise to mark a special occasion—an anniversary, party, or to propose in a romantic setting. But even for people who have lived in Tokyo all their lives, a cruise is still a luxury—something out of the ordinary,” said Taka Sasaki, general manager of Tokyo Vingt et un Cruise Co. The company’s ship sets sail from Takeshiba Pier three times a day for its two-hour cruises—although the evening dinner cruise lasts an extra 20 minutes—and takes in most of the sights for which Tokyo Bay is famous.

The Rainbow Bridge attracts immediate attention, particularly when its towering piers are lit up at night, linking the city with the relatively new Odaiba district. The beaches on the reclaimed island are often thronged with visitors and the Fuji Television building, with its shining silver sphere, stands out.

Heading south past the wharves where cranes unload ocean-going freight ships—catching glimpses of the Tokyo Tower through the sprawl of the city on the west bank—the bay broadens out and offers views of Chiba Prefecture to the east.

The ship passes under the flight path of aircraft swooping in to land at Haneda Airport.

“The Tokyo Bay area has changed a great deal in the last 20 years so even people who have taken this trip in the past can have a completely new experience again,” said Sasaki. Vingt et un Cruises prides itself on its French cuisine, including a buffet of French food prepared freshly onboard, and its wine selection. This year marks the company’s 20th anniversary and it is holding a series of special events to mark the occasion, including jazz nights and live music, as well as a club dance event with four DJs.

symphonySymphony Tokyo Bay Cruise operates two state-of-the-art ships out of Hinode Pier, the Classica and the 84-meter Moderna, with cruises up to two-and-a-half hours for the dinner journey around the bay.
The longest route goes as far south as the Aqua Line bridge and tunnel that links the opposite sides of Tokyo Bay.

“We want to give our customers a very different sense of Tokyo, one that they are unlikely to have ever experienced before,” said Masahiro Tenjin, manager of the company’s Hinode office.

“We want our customers to relax and smile as they watch the scenery go by.” The company alters its routes for different seasons throughout the year, with the most popular time the summer cruises that coincide with the huge fireworks displays on the shores of the bay.

The ships have sommeliers aboard and serve up a wide range of cocktails, including seasonal varieties. The menu, again heavily influenced by French cuisine, similarly changes with the seasons and is prepared aboard. Another Symphony service that is popular is wedding ceremonies that are carried out on the bay, with as many as 250 couples getting married aboard the company’s two ships every year.

Arguably the most eye-catching of the cruise boats on the bay is the M/S Lady Crystal, operated by the Crystal Yacht Club and designed by the renowned Italian yacht makers Studio Garroni. The shipbuilders have managed to combine grace with a stunningly contemporary design and luxury throughout the vessel.


From its private pier at Tennoz Isle, the ship operates lunch, dinner and night cruises around the waterways of the city and out beyond the Rainbow Bridge, according to Yukihiro Nishimaki, director of the club. “Cruising itself is not an everyday event for the vast majority of people and people like our ship the Lady Crystal, because she has such a gorgeous, sumptuous interior,” he said.

Priority is placed on the very highest levels of service, carefully prepared meals and fine wines from all around the world. Indeed, Nishimaki credits the quality of the meals, combined with the “romantic atmosphere” and reasonable cost of the Crystal Yacht Club’s cruises as the reason why so many people keep coming back.

The company also operates a restaurant close to the pier and can cater to weddings, private parties and other events aboard the vessel, as well as performing its own firework displays at its jetty. Another attractive touch has been the introduction of the menu that was served aboard passenger liners operated by the NYK line in the heyday of cruising in the early decades of the last century, before the advent of large-scale travel by aircraft. The Crystal Yacht Club is a subsidiary of the shipping company.

Another option for entertainment on the bay is Jicoo, the floating bar, which has vessels that are a very modern take on the old yakatabune. Similarly low to the water and with windows along the sides, there the physical similarities end. The almost space-age vessels are of gleaming and gracefully curving steel and class, their interiors sharply modern.

Drinks are similarly up to date—the New York-style cocktails include cosmopolitan, gin rickey and a shark-bite martini—although the food menu is limited to snacks designed to accompany the drinks.

silverseaoceanviewSilversea, the world’s most luxurious cruise operator, has a fleet of five ships with tastefully decorated suites offering a personal view of sea and sky, while 80% are complemented with furnished, private teak verandas—the perfect venue for breakfast or watching your next destination approach closer into view.

Cuisine is inspired by the internationally acclaimed Grand Chefs of Relais & Châteaux—the prestigious association of exquisite boutique hotels and restaurants. All packages are “all-inclusive” with even gratuities included. ❖