Why haven’t more cyclists toured Japan? Until now, western cyclists have been deterred by Japan’s indecipherable maps and signs. Fortunately, with Santana’s GPS route guidance, enjoying expertly designed routes through prime regions of Japan is suddenly possible. No need to translate signs, fumble with paper, or wonder if you’re lost; a glance at your handlebars is all it takes to know you’re on course.
Santana’s carefully curated choice of daily routes provide interactive stops at samurai villages, feudal castles, swordsmiths, sake breweries, bamboo forests, pearl farms, sacred Shinto shrines, and ancient Buddhist temples.
Day 1: Our 11-day Odyssey begins in Kobe, where the Kobe Cruise Terminal is just outside the city center. If you care to arrive a couple of days before embark, our optional non-cycling PreTour includes shuttles from Osaka’s KIX airport (which hosts over a dozen daily nonstops to America’s West Coast), a perfectly-sited hotel and a fast-paced overview of one of Japan’s signature cities.
On embark afternoon we’ll reassemble and test our bikes (or accept an optional rental bike) at the pier.
Day 2: Is there such a thing as a perfect bicycle ride? During our series of Japanese scouting trips, dozens of Japanese guides asked if our plans included Japan’s Shimanami Kaidō bike path. From our decades of planning rides for enthusiasts, Jan and I have learned that non-enthusiasts are too-easily wowed by traffic-free facilities. We were skeptical, and didn’t find time to check out this bike path until our fifth visit.
If anything, the rave reports you’ll find through a web-search are understated. If a better day of cycling exists, Jan and I haven’t yet found it. Our list of ports was reshuffled to save this best day for last.
The preferred starting point for this ride is the coastal town of Imabari, where our ship will dock briefly to see us off for our final day of cycling. The Shimanami Kaidō hops across Japan’s Inland Sea by using seven bridges that link six stepping-stone islands. Because the 44-mile bike path is too challenging for occasional cyclists, inter-island bike ferries shorten the distance by as much as 60%
Upon reaching the finish in Onomichi, enthusiasts celebrate at a waterfront bike shop that is also a pizzeria and cyclists’ hotel. After the town’s Mayor was apprised of Santana’s cycling cruise, he invited us to dock our ship next to Japan’s most famous bike shop. On our tour’s final afternoon we’ll repack bikes during a ship-side party.
Day 3: After two years of effort, the tiny port of Hirao finally agreed to host its first cruise ship. Why did Santana continue to request a port where cruise ships aren’t wanted? Great cycling and friendly locals.
Why did officials finally relent? After careful consideration they decided that hosting a small ship filled with American bicycle riders was curiously irresistible.
Day 4: Where do the Japanese go for an island holiday? While Japanese golfers will fly to Hawaii, cyclists from Japan and Korea are more likely to travel to Tsushima, a volcanic archipelago that’s a short ferry crossing from either country.
Originally too remote for agriculture or effective foreign control, for centuries the chieftains of Tsushima used piracy to leverage beneficial trading alliances with Japan, Korea and China.
Now a Japanese national park known for beautiful coastal forests, finding an assortment of intriguing rides was too easy.
Day 5: After an overnight crossing, we’ll wake up for a one-day visit to a different country! Because our cruise ship is foreign-flagged, Japanese maritime law requires our itinerary to include a foreign port. After surveying the various alternatives, we chose the South Korean port of Ulsan for a fortuitous day of sights and cycling.
Our provisional plan is a peninsular ride through a mysterious bamboo forest where we’ll learn about pandas, an animal they hope to reintroduce.
In a port surrounded by sprawling parks and forests, we’ll stop at a traditional Korean brewery that doubles as a distillery.
On the way back to our floating hotel, a pedestrian bridge spanning rock outcroppings provides a dramatic view of the Sea of Japan.
Day 6: Another small port that rarely hosts cruise ships is Hagi. In a country filled with replicas, our ship’s tie-up is adjacent to a real Samurai castle and village.
Today’s traffic-free course follows the Abu River through a monkey-inhabited forest to reach a narrowing canyon where fishing enthusiasts watch soaring eagles to discover the best spots. At the upper end of the gorge, a fishermen’s tavern will be a worthy goal for those who want to coast back to the shore.
After a bit of refreshment, strong riders can climb through switchbacks for a longer return through a parallel valley. Either way, this is among the finest days of cycling we’ve ever scouted.
Day 7: The petite-proportions of our yacht-sized cruise ship allows our tour to include Uwajima—a famous destination for Japanese cyclists that’s rarely visited by foreigners.
By now you’ll understand that the Japanese accept foreign cyclists as quickly as they turn away from normal tourists.
Unless you’ve previously learned the language, our cycling cruise will be the best possible way to meet and interact with the Japanese.
Today’s ride hugs a winding coastline to find a small pearl plantation where we’ll be able to meet biologists, divers, and artisans.
A stop at a remote fishing village allows hikes through an amphitheater of terraced gardens tended by friendly locals.
Day 8: By this day most will be ready to tackle a longer route with a few hills. Even if you aren’t that energetic, however, you’ll still be able to reach a prime example of Japan’s “Magnificent Seven” castles—more remarkable because Kochi’s castle is the country’s oldest, and retains its original form.
Even closer to the port is Chikurinji Temple. Surrounded by the Makino botanical gardens, this Buddhist temple and active teaching center surrounds a perfectly-proportioned five-story wooden pagoda.
If you haven’t yet experienced a Buddhist temple, the monks are incredibly warm and welcoming, appreciative of respectful visitors, and will perform a blessing to help guide your continued journey of Japanese discovery.
Day 9: Following a second luxuriously restful night aboard, we arrive at Shingu, a national pilgrimage center known as the Gateway to the Heavens.
In an area famous for great cycling, we’ll have a wide range of routes. One option climbs to a hidden pagoda temple that’s incredibly picturesque.
Day 10: On the first morning of our cruise you’ll wake up in Fuji, a town at the base of Japan’s iconic volcano. Our tour was carefully timed to allow a keepsake photo of you, your bike and Mt. Fuji, all framed by cherry blossoms.
Our warm-up ride takes us through a fragrant tea plantation to a famous Shinto shrine, where we’ll obtain an introduction to Japanese spiritualism that will help us to better understand Japan and its mysterious culture.
Disembark Day: After a tenth night aboard the Star Breeze, our cruise disembarks in Tokyo, where the Yokohama Cruise terminal is near the city center. If you care to explore Tokyo with our group, our optional non-cycling Tokyo PostTour includes shuttles, a perfectly-sited hotel, and a fast-paced overview of Japan’s signature city.
MS Star Breeze
Santana has chartered Windstar’s all-suite Star Breeze for our 2023 Japan Cycling Cruise!
The Star Breeze is an ALL-SUITES motor yacht!
The smallest suite, at 277 sq.ft., is twice as large as staterooms found on other new cruise ships.
10 different suite categories, all with an exterior view, makes it easy to find one that’s right for you.
Ocean View Suite
A total of 5 gourmet restaurants provide a variety of fresh culinary options. Jan wants you to know that 24-hour room service is a no-cost extra!
The Star Breeze has a 1:1.5 crew-to-passenger ratio to provide award winning service.
Santana has worked with Windstar since 2010. Their yacht-sized fleet allows Santana’s charters to use small ports that are better suited for cycling. We’ve now worked with Windstar to create custom-for-cycling itineraries in the Mediterranean, Baltic, Tahiti, British Isles, and Australia. Santana and our participants love the intimate size of Windstar’s yachts, as does the cruising public and industry critics. Year after year, Windstar winds all the major awards for small ship cruising, and scores the highest return-client loyalty.
In 2020, the Star Breeze was withdrawn from service to take part in Windstar’s “Star Initiative Project”—a quarter billion dollar stretch of their 3 motor yachts (they’re triplets). After cutting the Star Breeze into front and rear halves, a precursor to the installation of quieter new eco-friendly motors and generators, they replaced the ship’s decor and furnishings. Before buttoning things up, they slid in a new 84-foot midsection.
The Compass Rose
The new Lounge
The new Sun Deck & Pool
The Star Breeze we’ve chartered for Japan is essentially a new ship with larger additional public areas, a tripled-size ocean-view swimming pool, new tenders, and new lifeboats.
Owner’s Suite (Living Room)
Star Balcony Suite
Star Ocean View Suite
Star Porthole Suite
Existing suites have all been completely rebuilt, now have enhanced soundproofing, and feature all-new bathrooms. Added suites include new categories at both ends of the price range.
The new Star Grill
The Yacht Club
The Veranda Cafe
The new Cuadro 44 Restaurant
After the relaunch of the Star Breeze, you not only have a wider range of staterooms to choose from, you’ll also enjoy five gourmet dining venues to provide a wider range of fresh cuisine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Week 2: Kobe to Tokyo
Q: What are the exact dates?
A: When we announced our original Japan 2020 charter, everyone’s first question was, “will there be cherry blossoms?” While Santana’s original Japan itinerary skipped Hanami (cherry blossom season), an April scouting trip opened our eyes to the wonderment of Japan’s showcase season. When Windstar allowed us to choose from a range of 2023 weeks, we hand selected the last week of Hanami for the warmest possible weather. An additional consideration was avoiding the heat, humidity, and typhoons that arrive in July and continue through October. We’re proud to have arranged the perfect dates: April 26 to May 6, 2023.
Q: What’s the cost?
A: Due to Santana’s friendship with WindStar, our per-person pricing for this 11-day event on the ALL-SUITES Star Breeze in Japan starts at $5,999. Premium suite categories cost more. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE. Our reservations page shows pricing of available staterooms.
Q: Is this a good deal?
A: Anyone who has visited Japan will tell you about expensive meals and accommodations that aren’t tailored to Western tastes. Our luxurious solution is an all-suites ship with an array of 5-star cuisine that includes local specialties.
How low? Even though our costs are considerably higher for Japan 2023, the starting price is the same as our original Japan 2020 charters that were a day shorter—both itineraries sold out within minutes. With suites for Santana’s 11-day cruise starting at only $5,999 per-person, 2023 could sell out even faster.
Q: What about tipping?
A: Santana’s cruise hosts don’t accept tips. A comprehensive “cruise extras” fee of $475 per-person includes a long list of off-ship activities, admissions, interpretive guides, site fees, ride support (SOS vans driven by pro mechanics & morning shuttles to give casual riders a head start), and non-rider support (a daily touring coach that takes non-riders or cyclists who want a day out of the saddle). Note that this is less than the average cruise passenger pays for a week of “deluxe excursions.” Government mandated Port Taxes and Facilities Fees are $375 per-person. Mandatory shipboard gratuities of $200 per-person includes valet bike handling.
Q: All Suites?!
A: Every stateroom is an exterior suite. About 40% have balconies. Pricing varies by location and floor plan (see the Stateroom Reservations section for pricing details).
Q: Are there differences between the suites?
A: Certainly. The Star Breeze features deluxe bedding and spacious floor plans. The suites have a private bathroom with a double-vanity & double-sinks, air-conditioning with adjustable thermostat, and are soundproofed. All Star Breeze staterooms are located on the exterior, and offer exquisite views or balconies. The smallest room/suite on the ship is 280 square feet—HUGE by cruise ship standards!
Q: Has anyone done this before?
A: Santana Adventures is the first company to host a Japan Cycling Cruise. The entire ship is ours, which allows a cycling-specific itinerary that makes use of the Star Breeze’s yacht-size dimensions.
Q: What’s the next step?
A: A near-immediate sell-out of this event is anticipated. Pricing listed on the Stateroom Reservations section is the current pricing. Refresh your browser to see any changes that may have occurred if you delay booking after loading this page. To lock-in availability and the lowest pricing on a RISK-FREE basis, reserve your space through our secure website. Santana’s website is open 24 hours per day, accepts all major credit cards, and automatically adjusts for remaining stateroom availability. Reserving your spot is RISK-FREE. In each category the prime location staterooms will be assigned in the same order as the time stamp of your booking.
Q: What do you mean by RISK-FREE?
A: When you use your credit card and book through our website, we’ll give you 14 risk-free days to think it over and clear your schedule. If you change your mind, send an email to Cancellations@SantanaAdventures.com within two weeks to cancel the transaction and obtain a full refund. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: What if we change our minds after 14 days?
A: Because full-boat charters are binding, non-cancelable contracts, Jan and I will only enter into this charter based on your confirmed-through-deposit commitment. In effect, we undertake a huge risk by guaranteeing full payment on your behalf. After entering into this obligation, we cannot afford for you to back out—for any reason. This is no different than the clear written policy that existed for all of Santana’s prior chartered-ship cruises. Here it is (again) in writing:
Santana’s acceptance of your registration and non-refundable deposit for this event is subsequent to your agreement to pay the remaining balance in full. While Santana allows limited refunds on rallies and tours, Santana’s cruises are non-cancelable and non-transferable. When the possibility of paying yet not attending is unacceptable, Jan and I recommend Travel Guard trip insurance. For the past 20 years hundreds of our clients have relied on Travel Guard coverage without complaint. An informative application will be mailed with your invoice; and further information is available online. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: Have you ever relaxed your refund policy?
A: Jan and I have willingly resold a number of fully prepaid staterooms for a fee of $1,500 per stateroom—which was waived when a vacating couple found someone to take their place. When there has been more than one pending resell request, those who paid-in-full earliest had their space resold next. Using this non-guaranteed method (which is grossly inferior to trip insurance) Jan and I have cheerfully refunded over $500,000 in otherwise non-refundable and non-transferable cruise fares. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: How are staterooms assigned?
A: In any category all rooms are identical. Using the payment timestamp, those who reserve earliest get staterooms closest to the center of the ship. If friends desire a pair of adjacent staterooms the timestamp of the first reservation determines the location of both rooms. In short, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Those who book early obtain prime positioning.
Q: How do we get to and from the tour?
A: Detailed info by April ’22. Those who arrive and leave on the embark and disembark days will receive FREE Airport transfers.
Q: Are rental bikes available?
A: Yes. If you own a nice bike that fits, however, bringing it with you is relatively easy and inexpensive. More info on this in Bill’s Travel Tips. Single bike rentals will be arranged: rental includes delivery to Kobe and retrieval at the end of the last ride. We will email rental info to participants about 45 days prior to the event—so there’s no need to make up your mind until then. E-bike rentals will be available.
Q: How many miles each day?
A: In addition to our daily pair of zero-mile options (remaining on the ship or exploring Japan via our panoramic-window coach), every day has multiple cycling routes. Anyone who can ride a gentle 35 miles will be able to enjoy cycling every day. If you prefer hills or want to spend additional hours in the saddle, we’ve got you covered. At each morning’s breakfast you’ll get a map charting the day’s cycling routes and recommended stops. During a brief route talk you’ll hear about each route’s grades and difficulty. Santana’s vets have learned to love and rely on their handlebar-mounted gps unit. Now available for less than $200, these touch-screen marvels prevent the age-old problem of getting lost or riding unplanned miles. Santana supplies free electronic mapping and route files. Simply select the route and follow the highlighted map.
Q: What’s the difference between a SAG-wagon and Santana’s SOS/treasure vans?
A: Most tour companies use SAG-wagons that haul luggage and “sweep” the route between overnight stops. The drivers refill water-bottles, fix flat tires, and retrieve riders who can’t manage the easiest route between the widely spaced hotels. The problem, of course, is that the roving vans tend to be annoying until you actually need help. At that point it’s common to wait for two or more hours until one shows up. Although SAG drivers can fix a flat, they don’t have the tools or know-how to handle serious mechanical problems. Instead, they drive you to a bike shop (which explains why SAG-wagons disappear for hours at a time). This tour’s SOS vans are driven by pro bike mechanics who bring tools and spares. When you phone them with the coordinates from your GPS, they’ll arrive in a flash to get you back in the saddle. Because Santana expects participants to fill their own bottles, fix their own flats, and choose a ride they can finish, our SOS drivers are underworked, and have time to retrieve your shopping treasures.
Q: Are beverages included?
A: Alcohol is not included but can be charged to your room. Soft Drinks, Coffee, Espresso Drinks, and Juice are all complimentary all day long.
Q: Which meals are included?
A: During Santana’s earlier charters of Windstar cruises the culinary staff appreciated our appetites as much as we appreciated their multi-course gourmet meals. A 5-star chef will curate a new menu for each meal which always includes a surprising selection of local fruits and produce, regional specialties, the freshest-possible seafood, vegetarian options, and grilled-to-order meats. A changing assortment of desserts and pastries are produced aboard each day. The Star Breeze has five restaurants! Breakfast and Lunch are served buffet style, perfect for active cyclists. If you get back too late for lunch, the ship offers all-day snacking and 24-hour room service. Dinner is a plated multi-course menu with plenty of gourmet options for all of our participants.
Q: Does the Star Breeze offer WiFi?
Q: Does the Star Breeze have an elevator?
Q: Will there be menu selections for vegetarians, vegans and picky eaters?
Q: What if we have more questions?
A: The quickest and easiest way to get help is to use Santana’s Contact Form. One of our team members will follow up with you as soon as possible.