06/09/2011...5:32 pm

Does this no-frills cruise go too far?

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Launch celebrations for North Korea's first cruise ship, on a converted ferry

We Brits love a bargain. But is this a no-frills holiday too far?

Last week, the 20-year-old, 9,700-ton former ferry, Mangyongbong, set off along the coast of North Korea on the country’s first known pleasure cruise.

According to a colourful report in the Daily Mail, 130 VIP passengers were waved off from the pot-holed dock at Rajin Port, part of Rason City in the far north-east of the country, amidst a carnival atmosphere of balloons and paper fireworks.

The vessel, displaying more than a little rust in the press pictures, then departed on an overnight mini-cruise, during which passengers ate from metal trays, slept on the floor (or for the VVIPs, on wooden bunks) and enjoyed the deck and its crumbling plastic furniture. Entertainment, of course, was karaoke.

Officials, the Mail claims, are hoping to introduce a more luxurious ship next year in a bid to encourage tourism to the area, which although remote and cut off from the outside world, can nonetheless be visited without a visa, provided you’re on an organised tour. And that you leave your mobile phone behind in China, the point of entry for North Korea.

At the moment, the main market for these Korean cruises is expected to be locals and Chinese, as Rajin Port is so close to the Chinese border rather than Westerners. But don’t laugh Korea’s cruise dream off too quickly; with lines like Costa and Royal Caribbean already basing ships in China, aimed at the local market but also selling to international guests, could it only be a matter of time before North Korea is on our cruising radar?


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