Honestly, I’m not big on dolphins. It was one of those things (like pink and chocolate) that all other little girls I knew growing up seemed to adore, and being the sort of child who didn’t want to be “like everybody else,” I decided quite quickly that I didn’t like dolphins. Actually, I don’t really mind them, but by the same token I’m not really bothered by them either, and as such hadn’t considered going on one of those popular ‘Dolphin Cruises’ that everyone seems to like so much. But when my family came for a visit to Japan and were enthusiastic to give it a go, that’s just what we did.
Taking the train down from Kumamoto to Misumi and then boating over to Hondo Port, we had our dolphin cruise booked for the following day. However, on our travels down to Amakusa, we noted with horror the forecast for the next day: rain, wind, storms. So on arrival in Hondo Port, we spoke to the nice gentleman at the tourist information desk (located in the one-room port terminal) who agreed that we should cancel our trip and try to get on one that afternoon.
Given that the tours are so popular, I was skeptical that we would be able to sort it out, but the tourist information man was eagerly helpful and insistent on calling around for us, and we did indeed manage to book onto a new cruise for that very afternoon.
Driving up to the tiny harbor, I was worried we’d booked ourselves onto a bit of a dud tour – the cruise company we had previously booked with was quite fancy (my family seemed so keen on the dolphin thing that I decided we should splash out and get the expensive one) and so, by comparison, I was worried that our new tour wouldn’t turn out so well. However, my fears were completely unfounded – the harbor may have had a bit of an earthy feel to it, but the service was great and we had a fantastic time.
Despite arriving late in the day and booking last minute, we had a boat to ourselves (a party of 5) and didn’t have to share with other customers. Our captain was a salty sea-dog sort of chap who didn’t speak a word of English, but that didn’t cause us any problems. Fitted up with our life jackets, we clambered abroad and off we went.
It wasn’t long before we spotted them – a school of dolphins came swimming right up to the boat, dozens of them, arching up out of the water before disappearing down again and popping up somewhere else. A few of them jumped right up out of the water, throwing themselves in front of the boats as we sailed around them.
Aside from our boat, there was half a dozen other dolphin watching tours out on the water – some small boats like ours with only a handful of passengers, and others that were full of guests. At first, I was worried that so many boats would drive the dolphins away, but it actually worked in our favor. It was wonderful to see the dolphins so close to our boat, but at such close range, it was difficult to get a good photograph. However, when the dolphins were a little further away, and swimming up close to a different cruise boat, they were much easier to see and made it all the more magnificent when they leaped up out of the water.
Our fleet of boats changed directions frequently – sometimes the dolphins wove their way between us, and other times they soared on ahead for us to catch up with. It was such fun to look all around and wonder where they would pop up next. To say that I have never been that keen on dolphins, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the cruise – there is something unmistakably satisfying about being out in a boat at sea, and to have those playful creatures surrounding us in such abundance was the cherry on the cake.
We had booked a one hour cruise, but actually spent a little longer than that out on the water – from what I could gather, Mr. Salty Sea-Dog said that it was such wonderful weather that we could stay out longer than usual. The weather was indeed fantastic – particularly compared to the almighty storm which battered the coastline all throughout the next day. It was warm and sunny, with the early evening sunset glittering across the water and twinkling as the dolphins played in the waves.
Initially, our cruise had been booked with the Sea Cruise company who also run the ferry from Misumi to Hondo, as well as other sightseeing tours. The two-hour dolphin cruise costs 4,500 yen for adults (a 500 yen discount is available if you book online, as well as group discounts and discounts if you also book a round trip on the ferry.) We probably could have rescheduled with the same company when we decided to cancel our storm-fated tour, but the Sea Cruise company is located on Kami-Amakusa and we thought it would be easier to switch to a company that was on the main Amakusa island.
As such, the company we went on our Dolphin Cruise with was aptly named Dolphin Cruise company. This one doesn’t have an English website so is a bit more difficult for foreigners to navigate, but with the help of the tourist information chap, we managed to book it easily. They list their adult price for a one hour cruise as 2,500 yen, but we were given a random discount on our adult tickets and my little brother had his cruise for free. Aside from that, we were presented with free drinks on arrival and also promotional postcards with a nice dolphin picture on it – a great service! They also do a dolphin-watching and dining set ticket.
It was one of those holidays that could have gone terribly wrong – there we were, all excited about our dolphin cruise when the mother of all storms appears, sandwiched between endless sunny days. However, good luck and perseverance paid off and it all went right in the end. For someone who doesn’t really like dolphins all that much, I had a jolly good time and would certainly recommend going on a dolphin tour to anyone visiting Amakusa.