Kobe is Japan’s fifth largest city and one of the best ways to appreciate its size and importance is to view it from the water. You do just that with harbor cruises that depart from the shore on a daily basis. The cruises typically last 90 minutes or two hours as they circle in front of Kobe’s doorstep. What can you expect to see on a Kobe harbor cruise?
Kobe is very much an industrial city and two artificial islands in the harbor emphasize the foundation of the local economy. Rokko Island is home base for the busy Kobe Airport and Port Island includes the city’s famous port. Kobe was an early keystone for foreign trade and remained prominent until the destructive 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. After that, the city slipped from being Japan’s busiest port to handling the fourth most tonnage but it is the still the country’s largest port for massive container ships.
Once the cruise ships motor beyond the islands into more open water and the Kobe Port Tower recedes from view, the entire cityscape spreads before you. To the east is Osaka Bay and framing the skyline are the stately 1000-meter Rokko Mountains. Landmarks that can be spotted on shore include the Noevir Stadium Kobe, Suma Aqualife Park and Marine Pia Kobe. Longer harbor cruises run parallel to the shore through the Akashi Strait and under the majestic Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, sailing past Awaji Island.
Two of the most poplar harbor cruises are on the Luminous Kobe 2 that sets sail near Port Tower and the Concerto that departs from Harborland. Subway lines will bring cruisers to within a ten-minute walk of both loading docks. The Concerto is a 74-meter, four-deck cruiser and the Luminous Kobe 2 stretches to 106 meters. It is one of the largest day cruise ships in Japan.
Both are restaurant ships and offer lunch, tea, and dinner cruises. The Luminous Kobe 2 specializes in Mediterranean-style French cuisine but has several culinary options, including a steak buffet and a Kobe beef course. Chef’s creations are grilled right in the dining room. In addition to its standard menu, the Concerto also offers an all-you-can-eat feast of Chinese fare. The Concerto’s chef holds the highest rank in the art of Chinese cuisine.
You can take in the sights of Kobe harbor from inside the cabin lounges or from the tables and chairs arranged on the spacious observation decks. Especially popular are the night cruises that combine dinner with the illuminated Kobe skyline and Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. Twilight cruises bring sunsets dropping directly beyond the bridge. To enhance the mood, the Concerto also offers cruisers a grand piano lounge. This is an especially popular attraction for those who book shipboard weddings and parties in Kobe harbor.
You do not have to buy the full dining package to go cruising. There are also special rates for children. Cruises operate throughout the year but schedules are subject to the vagaries of the weather and vessel maintenance. Advance reservations are often required for dinner but can be made the same day.