Travel Between Cherry Blossoms And Glaciers On This Incredible Cruise Ship Voyage

Cherry blossoms are an enduring symbol of spring in Japan, and it's a rare and felicitous thing to see it snow when they're blooming. This happened in Tokyo in 2020, but it's not the kind of weather that is generally to be expected. In most cases, your picture-perfect winter vacation in a Japanese village is going to be a few months removed from cherry blossom season. Why wait for next winter, though, when you can board a cruise ship in Japan and be in Alaska in two weeks?

That will be an option in April 2024 through Princess Cruises, which has a 15-day voyage available from Yokohama, Japan, to Whittier, Alaska. The first week will take you to ports in the Tohoku region and Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, during cherry blossom season. You'll spend the second week crossing the Pacific Ocean to Alaska. The same cruise also has an extended 22-day option, which will let you see more of Alaska and Vancouver, Canada, in the "Voyage of the Glaciers Grand Adventure."

Cherry blossoms themselves only bloom for about two weeks in each place. So, the fleeting chance to see them and glaciers on the same trip could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The only downside is that the cruise overlaps with Golden Week, the Japanese equivalent of spring break. This, coupled with peak travel for cherry blossom season, means it could be crowded. For comparison, April 2023 brought a post-pandemic record of almost two million international visitors to Japan.

Yokohama to Northern Japan

The cruise takes place aboard the Royal Princess, which departs from Japan's second-biggest city, Yokohama, on April 27, 2024. Before you leave, you can go sightseeing in Yokohama and Tokyo, another part of the same busy metropolitan area. After a day at sea, you'll have access to a more nature-oriented side of Japan when you reach the rugged coastline of Miyako. Nearby attractions include the Kitayamazaki Cliffs Observation Deck and the Taro Kanko Hotel Tsunami Remains, which commemorate the damage suffered in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

On April 30, you'll have a day in Aomori, which has ranked ahead of even Kyoto as Japan's most popular destination for festivals in domestic travel surveys. Hirosaki Castle is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot here. There's a bit of summer in this cruise, too, at venues like Aomori's Nebuta Museum or neighboring Goshogawara's Tachineputa Museum. They allow you to see the different types of beautiful, glow-in-the-dark parade floats that take to the streets in local summer festivals.

The next day will put you back in spring travel mode as you land in Hakodate. This is arguably the best time to visit, since you should be able to see the iconic tower view of Hakodate's star-shaped Fort Goryoyaku surrounded by cherry blossoms. On the cruise's final two days in Japan, you'll sail farther north to Muroran and Kushiro. The former runs excursions to the Olympic city of Sapporo, while the latter is famous for its fish market and seafood rice bowls.

Alaska to Vancouver

From May 4 to 10, the Royal Princess will be at sea, where you can enjoy buffet dining, light and water shows, and other onboard activities. On May 6, the ship will cross the international date line before it finally arrives in the fishing port of Whittier on May 11. Whittier is about 65 miles southeast of Anchorage, Alaska, where you can spend the night before flying out at the end of the 15-day voyage.

If you keep going on the 22-day voyage, then over the next two days, you can enjoy scenic views of the Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park. The former is North America's largest tidewater glacier, and the latter is part of a World Heritage Site that UNESCO recognizes as the world's largest non-polar icefield. That's not bad for a cruise that started out with spring cherry blossoms. If you get lucky, the park rangers who join the cruise in Glacier Bay may even be able to help you spot humpback whales from the ship's deck.

On May 14, the cruise continues to Sitka, where you can visit historic sites like St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The penultimate port on May 15 is Alaska's capital and one-time gold-mining center, Juneau. After another day at sea, the cruise comes to an end on May 17 and 18 in Vancouver, Canada. This port provides opportunities for additional paid excursions like a visit to Stanley Park and a bus tour of other city highlights.