NEW YORK -- Cruise West had big plans for Asia in 2001: It had sailed its just-acquired Spirit of Oceanus to the Asia-Pacific area and was laying the groundwork for a series of cruises to Japan.

But the exotic itineraries had to be shelved after 9/11, and though the Oceanus spent its summers sailing around Alaska with the rest of the Cruise West fleet, it was tied up in the winters.

This fall, though, the Oceanus will be back doing wintertime cruises, and it will be sailing to Japan for the first time and doing a revised version of its 2001 Pacific cruises.

This is a relaunch of the original plan, said Dick West, chairman of Cruise West, during an interview here.

Executives at Cruise West said demand for the itineraries, which opened in late 2004, is positive. The Japan cruises are about 60% sold; the Far East is about 50% sold, West said.

Were looking at expanding for 2007, he said.

The line has 12 voyages of Japan Unveiled on the books. The cruises begin in Kobe, where passengers can tour a famous Japanese garden and sit in on a tea ceremony.

Scheduled are a visit to a Shinto shrine in Miyajima and a tour of the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. The cruises stop at Kyongju and Kanazawa before passengers disembark in Niigata and take the bullet train to Tokyo.

A three-day extension in Kyoto and Nara also is offered.

Though its geographic location -- it is a group of islands -- would make Japan an auspicious cruising ground, in reality Japan is not an easy place to bring a cruise ship. And cruise executives have said consumer demand is greater for Southeast Asia and Australia.

One of the biggest challenges is getting the Japan National Tourist Office and the Japan Tourist Board and port agents [to understand] what a small ship is. They kept trying to bring us to big, industrial ports, West said. We want to be closer to the action.

The Spirit of Oceanus will spend two months in the South Pacific.

Cruise West is selling three cruises around Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands in January; a trip to Tahiti, the Cook Islands and Fiji on Feb. 4; and a Legends of the Pacific islands cruise on Feb. 16 that offers stops at World War II sites and remote places with primitive island cultures.

West said the line tweaked its South Pacific itineraries, adding, for example, the remote Marquesas.

When we did it in 2002, we had three islands in Tonga, and now this year were only doing one; we didnt do Samoa, and this time we are, he said.

West is hands-on with the product. Two years ago, he was in Japan, visiting each location to see which itineraries would be the best.

In January, West spent two weeks in French Polynesia and the Marquesas, checking out the beaches where Zodiacs would come ashore.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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