In my Ovation of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Through Asia blog post, I noted that our ship stopped in Okinawa, Japan, for two days. This was hubby’s and my first time in Japan, and we were pleasantly surprised! Okinawa has a lot to offer despite being arguably less visited by tourists than the mainland. This post will cover our two days in Okinawa. We’ll review the daily itinerary we followed, fun excursions, shopping, and dining.
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For our two-day itinerary, keep in mind that we were still sleeping on the ship. Also, since food is included on the cruise, we decided to dine twice a day on the ship while in Okinawa. Our two-day itinerary at port looked like this:
- Wake up early and have a big buffet breakfast on the boat
- Depart the ship as early as possible
- Take a shuttle bus into town (provided by our cruise ship)
- Complete one big excursion for the day
- Explore town further
- Enjoy lunch and snacks off the boat
- Take the shuttle bus back to the boat
- Get cleaned up for dinner
- Dinner and nightly entertainment on the boat
- Sleep on the boat
We decided to not book our daily excursions through the cruise ship. My hubby speaks Japanese, so we felt confident that we could get around by ourselves. If we had to choose, we wouldn’t pick to be on the ship’s schedule. However, if you would feel more comfortable in a foreign country to have your day organized for you, then you should absolutely consider booking through your ship, or before you even set sail.
As I mentioned before, Royal Caribbean coordinated a shuttle bus service to ride from the desolate industrial cruise port area over to town. We hopped onto a bus and got dropped off on Kokusai Street. We began our day exploring some of the catch-all souvenir shops on this block. They literally sold everything! In general, this block has a lot of places to shop, dine, and take unique photos.
The next stop on our itinerary was the Shurijo Castle. This attraction is about a 14-minute drive, or a 28-minute public transit ride, from our starting point. We decided to take public transit, because we are New Yorkers and love seeing the train systems around the world. The above-ground Okinawa Urban Monorail (Yui Rail) Prefectural Office Station is conveniently located where the buses dropped us off in the morning, so we went upstairs, used a machine to purchase our ¥300 ($2.73 USD) tickets, and took the train eight stops towards our attraction. The train was small with only a couple of cars, but it was clean, ran smooth, and seemed well maintained. When we got off the train, we had about a 13-minute walk to the entrance of Shurijo Castle.
Shurijo Castle property is full of history. It was built as a palace for the Ryukyu Kingdom. There were years the palace was unused and neglected, then a war ended up destroying most of the property. The property was repurposed as a university campus, and the main buildings were reconstructed based off historical records. Today, Shurijo Castle Park is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. We spent hours walking through gardens and traditional buildings (even ones we had to take our shoes off to walk through). At the entrance of the park, we paid our ¥820 ($7.45 USD) entrance fee and picked up a map with an interactive stamp activity. As you walk through the park, you collect stamps from special monuments on your paper. Before you exit the park, if you have collected all the stamps, you receive a free gift. I love free stuff, so, basically, challenge accepted! In the end, we completed all the stamps and received some stickers and coloring books. It was definitely more of a kid’s activity, but ensuring we collected every stamp allowed us to not miss any of the park. There were also some interesting cultural performances and mango soft serve ice cream that we enjoyed while on the property.
After we left the castle park, we were hungry and ready for a yummy Japanese lunch! We made our way back towards Kokusai Street and ate lunch at the Suitenrou restaurant. This restaurant had no chairs, so it was more Japanese than western style of dining. When you arrive at your table, you remove your shoes, step up onto the wooden floor, then sit down to dine. The food was yummy, and the ambiance was nice. For not looking it up and just popping into one of the first places we passed, we got lucky.
After lunch, we walked down the strip towards the First Makishi Public Market. This was off the main block, but it was also a great place to check out if you were looking to dine or shop. We walked around, bought a few souvenirs, and then came across the holy grail of desserts: grandma mochi. Ok, that wasn’t the official name, but they were fresh, soft, huge, handmade mochi sold to us by this adorable older woman—hence our loving name of “grandma mochi.” They were heaven. I eat mochi all the time in NYC, and the ones in the States will never even be close to comparing in flavor or texture to our grandma mochi. We should have bought more and brought them back on the ship with us haha!
We then walked a half hour from the market to Nami-no-ue Shrine and Beach. The shrine is on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Since its origin and rebuild after wartime destruction, people have come to this shrine to pray for many things: bountiful hauls of fish for fisherman, protection of the trade ships coming into Naha Port, safe journeys over the sea, good harvests, peace and prosperity of the nation, mothers praying their sons weren’t called to war, and I’m sure this list goes on. In 1924, the site was designated the official center of religious affairs on the island. The space is super tranquil. There was tree coverage around the buildings, a ceremonial hand-washing station, the sound of water in the distance, and an incredible cliff-side ocean view. You could even see our ship in the distance. There were paths along the beach that led to picnic tables, so if you wanted to pack a lunch, then you could spend an afternoon at this beach. From the sand, the beach does have an overpass highway obstruction, making it seem more like an inlet, but it was one of the closest beaches to the ship. After our shrine visit, we made our way back to the bus pick-up area and headed back to our cruise ship for the evening. If you book the Nami-no-ue Sea and Sky Snorkeling Park excursion through Royal Caribbean, they provide snorkeling gear, guided snorkeling tours of 95 types of coral and 53 species of colorful fish, and a beach party barbecue.
We began our second day by again taking the shuttle bus into town. We then grabbed a taxi to take us to our daily excursion. Not sure if all taxis in Japan are this neat, but our taxi doors swung open without any human assistance. That was a shock at first, because NYC taxis definitely are not that high tech, but I shouldn’t be too surprised because the Japanese also have the most sophisticated toilets, so obviously their cars would be sophisticated too haha!
Okinawa World and Gyokusendo Cave is a theme park without rides. There are a few options for entrance tickets. You can buy tickets for the Cave and Kingdom Village, or you could add on the Habu Museum (snake museum). I have literally zero interest in snakes, so we skipped that portion. Our ticket for the first two areas was ¥1,240 ($11.27 USD), which was an insane deal! We had a fun day and took a bunch of pictures. The park itself is a little touristy, but the caves alone are reason enough to visit.
Kingdom Village portion of the park included many different things to do. There is a craft area where you can make your own crafts or buy handmade crafts, a garden to walk through with many different types of fruit and vegetable trees and plants, the Nanto Brewery where you can enjoy beverages on-site or buy some to go (careful, because you may not be allowed to bring them back onto the cruise ship!), Eisa dancing shows, and a restaurant to take a break and have lunch. There are also a bunch of photo opportunities. This is the first time in Asia that we had seen phone stands with a slot for your phone. You put your phone in the stand, set a timer, then pose for your photo. You no longer need an extra person to take pictures or even a selfie stick. So handy! We should bring this concept to America (and all over the world frankly).
Gyokusendo Cave was my favorite part of the park and two days in Okinawa. It’s one of the largest caves on the island, and the second-longest cave in Japan, stretching five kilometers or a little over three miles. The cave was formed over 300,000 years ago but only discovered in 1967! The cave maintains a constant temperature of 21°C or 69.8°F, so it was a nice break from the intense heat we experienced the day before. The stalactite and stalagmite rock formations and turquoise blue pools of water running through the cave are breathtaking. They found dear bones in the cave from a species that has been extinct for over 15,000 years. We also saw small troglobite long-arm prawns in the water.
We spent so many hours in the park that we took a taxi back to the bus area because it was time to get back on the ship to depart.
Okinawa is known for having gorgeous beaches. Its beaches went viral a year ago from a Buzzfeed article showing spectacular crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. Although this beach is part of the Okinawa Prefecture, Ishigaki Island is a boat ride away from Okinawa island proper. They may offer tour boats that would take you over there for the day, but we didn’t look into it. There are plenty of other beaches on Okinawa’s main island that are accessible by car: Araha Beach, Tropical Beach, Nishihara Kirakira Beach, and Ten-no-hama Beach.
- Royal Caribbean offered these combo excursions that you might be interested in booking through the ship:
- Shuri Castle and Churaumi Aquarium excursion: This aquarium is part of Ocean Expo Park and is the second-largest aquarium in the world. According to Japanese tourism websites, this is also the number-one aquarium in all of Japan. The 77 tanks with two-foot thick acrylic glass windows boast floor-to-ceiling views. They themed the aquarium with only animals that can be seen off the coast of Japan. Some of those species even include very large manta rays and whale sharks.
- Best of Okinawa excursion: Includes entrance into Shurijo Castle, time to shop on Kokusai-Dori Street, and Shikina-en Garden. This garden is located on a small hill just next to Shurijo Castle. It’s 23,000 square meters (or about 248,000 square feet) and features a heart-shaped pond.
- Shurijo Castle and Gyokusendo Cave excursion (both of which we toured on our own)
Overall, I’d say that Okinawa really surprised us. My hubby speaks Japanese, and this was our first time in Japan, so the two days we had here were special to us for several reasons: We were able to cross a country off his bucket list, see a new country to scratch off of our scratch map, be in awe of Okinawa’s beauty, and be blown away on how easy it was to go explore on our own. We investigated Royal Caribbean’s excursion offerings then created our own itinerary. In the end, we were able to see our favorite parts of these excursions and save a bit of money by organizing it ourselves and not going on a guided group tour. Even though we slept and ate breakfast and dinners on the ship, we still had plenty of time in Okinawa to explore and get a feel for the culture. I will be publishing a future post about other cities in Japan that we visited on our honeymoon (not part of our cruise), so keep an eye out for Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo posts!
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