As of January 2018 – my subjective take.
This part of the journey proved to be the most difficult, as I never found an English website to book and ended up using AFerry. This proofed to be quite straightforward even tough receiving a propper ticket took a two day’s wait as they had to be confirmed with the shipping company first.
Ironically once on board, I found a glossy brochure introducing their new English website www.panstarcruise.com which features a state of the art booking tool, comprehensive information about the ship, deck plans and directions.
Tickets for the one-way passage from Korea to Japan start with a relatively low basic fare of about 100,00€ for a berth in one of the lower end cabins in the so-called Ferry Zone. Families and groups, however, will find clean and spacious cabins which are good value for Money. You can choose between a western style bed or a more traditional tatami mattress; meals are not included in this fare.
Unfortunaltely, there are few options for travellers who do not want to share a cabin with complete strangers. The cheapest one being a so-called Junior Suite (booking class JS), a roomy outboard cabin with ensuite bath and a minbar. Dinner and breakfast buffet are included here. On top you get acces to a lounge, called enthousiastically The Paradise, which features a great view over the ship’s bow, coffee, juices, water and small snacks and aparently also free WiFi – but I could not get that to work neither on my Windows netbook nor my Apple device.
Cabins further up include even more amenities such as fast lane check- in and harbour lounges.
All in all my fare from Busan to Osaka totalled at 349,00€ with a 4.400 Won (KRW) Port Fee and a Bunker Surcharge of 17.000 KRW (about 16,50€) on top, which both have to be paid in cash at the check in counter.
Not the cheapest way to get to Japan for sure. The bunker surcharge may even be considered a little annoying, given that the oil price had been continously falling bevore my date of travel.
Busy Busan Port
The Panstar Dream leaves busy Busan late in the afternoon on Tuesday with additional sailings on Thursday and Sunday. Departures from Osaka are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Passing under Busan Harbour Bridge soon sets the mood for the whole trip, which will feature another three very impressive bridge passages – timed and displayed on a map near the front desk by the thoughtful crew.
Bridge crossing times on Passenger Ferry Panstar Dream (Busan – Osaka)
Beyond the harbour the inlet between Nam-Gu and Yeongdo-Gu peninsulas opens into the Korea Strait. Marine traffic is heavy there.
After 8pm the ferry approaches the Japanese islands of Honshu und Kyushu and passes Kanmon-Bridge at about 9:30 pm.
The journey continues on the Seto-Inlandsea, with the island of Honshu to the north and Kiyushu, later Shikoku, to the south.
Cruising on these quiet waters reminds of big freshwater lakes. The ferry keeps close to the coast on most stretches so a delectable potpourri of bays, inlets, national parks, cities, industrial areas and wind farms can be easily watched from the deck.
At 8:30am the most spectacular bridge passage under the Great-Seto-Bridge, an impressive 13 KM long combination of viaducts and suspension bridges, marks the nearing end of this pleasure cruise.
Passenger ferry Panstar Dream apporoaching the Great Seto-Bridge
At about 9:45am the first port cranes of Osaka appear on the horizon.
Ship and Operating Company
The Panstar Dream is a relatively small Ro-Pax ferry with a capacity of 545 passengers and 184 standard containers. Her maximum speed is 22,7 KNTS.
Built in 1997 the ship (IMO #9162150) is registered under the flag of South korea to KDP Capital Corp. Appart from a few one-night-cruises out of Busan it soley operates the Service between Busan and Osaka.
With unbalenced meassures of 160 x 25 M, the raised car decks, cluttered stern, bulky double-funnels and a ramp cut unbecomeingly into the bow, she is not exactly beautiful.
The ship’s disadvantageous first impression is underpinned by numerous rusty patches on the hull – which is to bad as the interiour is absolutely spotless.
The ship is operated by PanStarLine Dot Com, Ltd. which is chartering out the cargo capacities. Thus, the ship loads mainly TEU units, trailers and some trucks. As private cars seem to be few and far between, it is quite a clever move to market the free cabin capacities as „ferry cruises“. The cruise ferry standard of european ships such as the Pont Aven is not quite reached, however.
The booked Junior Suite was spacious, featured two queen size beds, a small desk, a table and two small lounge chairs and a tiny fridge. There was also an, inoperative, TV mounted to the wall.
The beds were comfortable and larger than usual berths. The bathroom was small, clean and functional. The fridge contained two water bottles and a small box with sweets and a welcome note from the captain were waiting on the bed. While the whole setup was pleasant and comfortable it was also felt little dated.
Given that the Panstar Dream is a rather small ferry, she has a surprising range of facilities – most of them located on deck 1F where two restaurants, duty free shop, reception desk, convenience store, and a small spa groupe around the atrium. Towards the stern meeting rooms and two karaoke lounges follow as well as this all time personal favourite:
Two spacious and well-appointed onsen baths are located on the same deck.
On deck 3F is a cozy watering hole called Café Yume which makes for a nice obeservation lounge day and night WIFI is free there and the staff friendly.
The design tries hard to live up to the cruise theme, sometimes even succesfully so.
The ouboard areas are a little disappointing, as they are undecorated and have too few seats.
Despite splendid late summer weather the bar on deck 2F remained closed during the entire crossing. Not a big loss thogh, as it is located between the two funnels and gets a lot of exhaust fumes.
In General, the ship has rather few open decks and many of them are cluttered with technical appliances. Only the 4F deck offers an unobstructed panoramic view and some basic benches to sit on.
Placards state that decks are closed between 10pm and 6am, however, this was not enforced by the crew.
Food and Drinks
Tickets include dinner and breakfast buffets which feature both asian and „western“ options like pasta in marinara sauce which is offered for dinner as well as for breakfast.
The dinner buffet with soups, salad, curries, vegetarian and meat dishes is quite satisfactory with the standard of a well-run youth hostel or canteen. Service was a little quirky as there were a lot of servers who would quickly clear your dishes – you practically had to eat holding firmly onto your plate – while on the other hand it was impossible to order any drinks, even thogh there was a wine list at every table. There is a water cooler and a self-service coffee machine however.
Breakfast was predominantly asian style with rice-congee and fried rice. Western bacon and egg fare was served as well. Spicy kimchi in the morning may not be for everyone but it sure got me started better than the thin instant coffee.
On this trip in the mid of September 2019 the Panstar Dream only carried a light load of about 50 passengers. Most of them middle-aged Koreans, an elderly german and two japanese twens doing lots of Titanic poses which were all over Instagram soon after making landfall.
As meals are included there is little elso to spend money on. A large beer in Café Yume will set you back about 5,00€ (3,00€ during Happy Hour). The products in the duty free shops stroke me neither as particulary expensive nor cheap. Both Korean Won and Japanese Yen are accepted; the vending machines take Yen only. Be advised that on the Busan to Osaka crossing no money is changed aboard. On the return trip Yen are changed into KWR only.
Getting to Port
Busan is well-connected to Koreas rail and roads. Superfast KTX-trains dash down from Seoul every 30 MINS and the trip takes just about 2 1/2 HRS (ca. 50,00 € one-way).
Cheaper Saemaeul-trains run less frequent and take about 4 3/4 HRS.
The trip can also be done in a more contemplative way using the Mugunghwa-ho which is a sweet throwback to the 1980s when these trains were a highly prestigous and fast option. The hibiscus-trains were made obsolete by bullet trains and reassigned to secondary routes that connect rural areas of Korea with metropolitan areas. Taking them is time-consuming (Seoul to Busan takes 5 3/4 HRS) but offers far more interessting views. At ca. 22,00€ they are also a real bargain (photos here).
If you want to connect to Busan from Seoul’s Incheon Airport take the #6770 bus to Gwangmyeon Station (57 MIN) and connect o a train there.
A good recource for planning your overland trips in Korea, and elsewhere, is www.rome2rio.com.
Busan Station is very close to the ferry terminal and there are a number of cheap hotel options along the main road such as this one.
You can walk from Busan Station to Busan International Ferry Terminal in about 15 MINS. Take the #7 Exit on the station’s eastern side, head north and cross the arterial road at the pedestrain crossing. Then follow the terminal acces road.
There is a shuttle-bus (every 30 MINS, 1.200 KRW); the taxi fare is about 6.000 KRW.
Beware, older blogs and websits recommend taking the underground to Choryang Station and walk from there. This is not the best option any more, as you have to take a long, dark and slighly creepy tunnel and cross an eight-lane arterial road without any traffic lights.
Embarkment and Disembarkment
Foot passengers are handled in an airport-like structure called Busan International Ferry Terminal. Ticket desks, offices, and check-in counters of various shipping companies can be found there as well as travel agents and a currency exchange. The coffee shop has a porch with great views of the harbour. There is also a cafeteria on the third floor which serves plain but delicious Korean fare. The staff there is delightful.
The Panstar check-in on the third floor opens two hours before departure. Have your Reservation and a Cruise Application Form ready. The latter is some sort of exit and customs declaration and is available in several languages, including English, on little desks next to the counter. You also have to pay the port and bunker fees in cash (KWR only) there.
About an hour before departure boarding is called. After passing through airport-style security (no liquid ban) and emmigration, passengers find a lofty departure lounge with a duty free shop and a well-stocked convenience store.
Boarding is via a glass gangway directly onto the ship were esacalators will take you to the reception desk on deck 1 were cabin keys (real keys indeed) are handed out.
Take some time to fill out the Japanese immigration and customs documents well before the ship pulls into Osaka Port International Ferry Terminal. They are available in the atrium on deck 1 – unfortunately in Korean and Japanese only. Translations and Information can be found here.
Also prepare for lengthy procedures when arriving in Osaka: Passengers assemble in the atrium and proceed the escalaotors down to the lowest car deck and onto the quay where they are met by a minibus.
Once inside the terminal all passengers have to walk accross disinfectant mats and slowly walk past infrared cameras. After passport control, quarantine officers question everyone about plants and foodstuff etc. followed by a pretty thorough customs inspection. Everything is conducted professionally and with utmost courtesy but takes time. Do not expect to be out of the terminal in less than an hour after arrival.
The terminal in Osaka is quite basic and there is no ATM, bank or money changer, so make sure to bring some Yens in cash.
Connection to public transport is also less convenient than in Busan and there are no buses to the nearest Underground Station. Taxis are not Always available, so you may have to walk to Cosmos Square station which is on the Chou-Line (10 MINS). Leave the terminal turning right and follow the road which runs parallel to the quay. After a few hundred meters the road swings into a gentle eastward crescent with Seaside Cosmo Park to your right. On the second set of traffic lights turn right and you will see escalators leading up to the station in an underpass ahead.
There is a 7-Eleven conbini between the first and second set of traffic lights with an ATM (my Mastercard worked; my Visa didn’t).
Trains for downtown run about every 7 MINS and reach Hommachi Station in about 15 MINS. As there is very little information in English and no maps in western characters available, so it is best to have maps of the lines and information on the ticket machines stored on your mobile device (available here). There is public WIFI but the signal is very weak.
Admittedly, there are faster and cheaper seaborne routes to get from Korea to Japan, such as the fast Beetle Line catamarans from Busan to Hakata (ca. 3 HRS; 67,00€ one-way) but with respect to the pace and sights of the journey, this just has got to be the most relaxed and beautiful way to reach Japan. From gliding through one of asia’s busiest ports with plenty of accompanying freighters, tankers and cargo carriers to passing under spectatcular bridges and cruising on the Seto Inlandssea this journey is a perfect mix of ferry crossing and pleasure cruise. The company’s sometimes a little over-the-top marketing should, however, be taken with a grain of salt as the Panstar Dream still is pretty much a working ferry and not a cruise ship.