It’s BYO Fro-Yo on the Panstar Ferry from Osaka to Busan

Panstar Tickets

It’s always reassuring when your booking confirmation results in tickets.

Flights between Korea and Japan can be surprisingly expensive, especially given that the countries are so close to each other. Jared and I found flights from Seoul to Osaka for 99,000 won each with budget airline Eastar Jet, but the return journey was almost three times as much.

The 18-hour overnight Panstar Ferry came to our rescue. The website was essentially useless to us because it was all in Korean, but between this website and this one, we were able to come up with a phone number that offered English services.

It took several tries to get through to someone – apparently the English line isn’t always staffed – but we booked. It was a bit of a disappointing surprise when the total came to 13,100 yen ($166USD or 188,000 won), when the price on the website had been listed as 129,000 won. Turns out that there are a lot of hidden extras, like port taxes and departure fees.

The woman explained that we’d have to pay at the terminal in Osaka, but everything was all booked. We asked for an email confirmation, just in case.

Panstar ferry terminal - Osaka

Where do we pay? Oh, right. That makes sense.

Paying for the tickets was surprisingly easy; the total was exactly as we’d been quoted. We chose to add on meal tickets, which were 1400 yen each (about $18USD) and included breakfast and dinner.

This turned out to be a great move, because the main options on the ship were ramen noodles or vending machine fried rice. Mmm…fried food from a vending machine…

Our first clue that we were headed back to Korea was the organized chaos among the passengers in the terminal. Hours before the departure gate opened, several ajummas began claiming their place in line by putting their luggage in front of the barrier. Half an hour before departure, it was madness. People were lining up all the way into the bathroom.

Suitcase lineup at the Panstar terminal - Osaka

It’s like calling shotgun, except these people are adults. Using suitcases.

Seriously, into the hallway of the bathroom, stopping just short of the women’s entrance.

I’ve never understood this phenomenon of waiting in a line when you don’t have to; the same thing happens when boarding planes. My general strategy is to sit comfortably until the line is down to a few people, then get up.

Noodle sandwich - Japan

Jared’s strategy is to eat a suspicious-looking noodle sandwich while waiting comfortably for the line to subside.

We cleared immigration and made it onto the boat, where we picked up our separate room keys.

That’s right, separate. Unless you book a family suite, you’re divided into male and female dorms. At the time of booking, you have the option of a traditional Korean room (mats lined up bumper-to-bumper on the floor) or a western-style room with 4 berths.

Guess which one I chose.

The bunks were nice, with curtains and individual reading lamps, so I was pretty happy.

The ship had a GS25 convenience store, beer in vending machines, and a café where there was allegedly WiFi. My iPad never managed to connect, though I saw plenty of other people successfully getting online.

Kirin Vending Machine - Panstar Ferry

It’s rare that I stumble upon class and convenience all in one.


Beer Romance Panstar Ferry

Is there any other kind of romance?

Dinner was a buffet affair, with plenty of rice and kimchi. There was also marinated pork and mini dessert puffs. I was satisfied, as I usually am at all-you-can-eat buffets.

Dinner on the Panstar Ferry

The ticketless people stood longingly on the other side of the barrier, slurping their ramen. It was awkward.

The ferry passes beneath Akashi-Kaikyo, the world’s largest suspension bridge, which spans a distance of 4 kilometers to connect the mainland city of Kobe to Awaji Island.

Akashi-Kaikyo bridge

I took about 85 pictures of this bridge yet never managed to get it all in the shot.

So you can sort of pretend you’re on a proper cruise, except there are none of those bottomless frozen yogurt machines I hear so much about. And believe me, the Panstar is worse off for it.

Panstar Ferry Winch pad

But you do get to hang out on this big yellow dot.

Panstar Ferry Osaka

Or sit on this chair, which in America would for sure have been prohibited. And no, I don’t know why I’m making that face.

Red sunset on the Panstar Ferry

But best of all – this sunset, which almost makes up for the lack of fro-yo. Almost.

How to use the toilet, Panstar Ferry

Also, this was in the bathroom.

On my way to my room after brushing my teeth, I was caught off guard by the evening entertainment. The stage in the dining area was lit up to showcase a Russian girl wearing spandex as she performed risqué rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon. Her performance was oddly paired with “Roxanne” by The Police.

It was incredibly disturbing, but it also explained why there had been a westerner working the dinner buffet.

I was rooted to the spot, confused by this obviously not-suitable-for-children display. Eventually I gave up and went to bed. Through the walls I heard Celine Dion followed by Diana Ross, so it was clear I’d made the right choice.

Breakfast was served at 7:00 a.m. According to the on-ship brochure, this was a ‘Western breakfast,’ which meant that the rice and kimchi were complemented by scrambled eggs, watermelon, and cornflakes.

Three hours later, the ferry docked in Busan and that was it – the sun had set on our Japanese adventure.

(See below for photo to go with cheesy clichéd ending)

Self-portrait on the Panstar Ferry

I lost my balance and thought I was going to fall over the railing. For some reason, Jared finds this funny.


11 Responses to “It’s BYO Fro-Yo on the Panstar Ferry from Osaka to Busan”

  1. Oh, ajummas! Organised chaos IS correct. When I took the ferry from Jeju to Wando, you should have SEEN the death-glares I got when I was ushered into a special foreigner queue as the ONLY non-Korean on the ferry. I mean, why should I get special treatment? THEY HAD THEIR BAGS THERE FIRST.

    Seriously though, I’ve always wondered about the ferries between Korea and Japan and this sounds pretty fun! You’re right about the prices too – the budget airlines in Korea piss me off so much, there’s always a great fare one way, and then the return is MONSTROUS (looking at you, Eastar and Air Busan!)

    • I was so relaxed after an ajumma-free week in Japan, so it came as a real ddong chim when we were surrounded by them in the ferry terminal. I bet they were SEETHING when you outfoxed them, and worse, did it purely on your status as a foreigner!
      The ferry was a good experience – the scenery was beautiful and the time went really quickly. I’d definitely do it again.

  2. Thanks for your great explanation of the ferry adventure. I am thinking of taking the ferry from Osaka to Korea with my dance team. Was the price round trip? Do you happen to know if there is an on or off season? Love your blog and happy you follow your heart ~ Aloha

    • The price we paid was one way – I think the cheapest round trip is quoted at around 199,000 won, plus taxes and fees. As far as I can tell, there aren’t seasonal prices. I’d definitely recommend it. Obviously, it’s longer than a flight but it’s comfortable and you get to see some nice scenery. Good luck and if you have any questions let me know!

  3. i am planning to do the opposite way to return back to japan, hope that everything will work out with booking. did you have to get a special permission for luggage, or can you bring ss much as you want? because internet sources have different opinions but i’d like to get sure to avoid surprises. also, did you have some locker, or do you just trust the people in the dorm room not to steal your stuff?

    • Hi Natalie – We had carryon backpacks, so didn’t have any problems with luggage. I kept mine on my bunk in my dorm room and felt pretty safe, but I always keep my passport on me. I felt the same way – did tons of online research but couldn’t come up with any conclusive information. In the end it was pretty easy, just a little chaotic at the ferry terminal! Good luck. It’s a nice journey.

  4. Hi, I’ve been scouring the web for info on this service in English and have not found much. I found a place that will book our family of 5 at 308,000 KRW round trip each (for the 4 oldest) and 50,000 for our 2 year old. This is in a family room, and includes taxes fees and the meals both ways. I want to make sure I’m not paying too much, and it sounds like based on your experience, the cost of 308,000 per person round trip in a family cabin is a decent deal right? I read somewhere else that there is a shuttle bus from the Busan train station to the ferry terminal? do you know anything about it? Thanks!

    • Hi Andre,

      Based on what I paid for a one-way ticket in 2012, that seems like a reasonable rate, especially with meals. My guess would be that the family cabins are Korean-style bedding, but it should still be comfortable. I don’t know about the shuttle bus in Busan – we stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the ferry terminal so didn’t need it. But I would imagine that there is a reasonable connection between the two points. Good luck and enjoy the scenery – it is a beautiful boat ride!

  5. Hi Lauren, preparing my trip to Japan and Korea with the family (4) I read your experience and it confirmed my impression that this ferry trip could be a lot of fun. Many thanks for sharing this.
    So I tried to plan this Tokyo-Osaka rail trip to reach-the-ferry-in-time-expedition to the smallest detail, and could’t find anywhere THE information on the tube station for the Panstar ferry terminal in Osaka. Probably hidden on their website in the Kanji letters somewhere. Google maps gives me 3 terminal ferries, one being ‘International’. … I am puzzled.
    Can you help?

    • Hi Pierre – the station you want is for the International terminal, which is Cosmosquare Station. You can take a taxi from the station to the actual terminal, but we walked – it’s about 15 minutes by foot and there are a couple of signs in the station pointing you in the right direction. This is the map we looked at, which I would think is still accurate, though the information in the text might be outdated. Hope that helps – I remember that it felt very confusing when we were figuring it out, but things went pretty smoothly in the end. Hope you & your family have fun!

  6. You have brought up a very superb points , appreciate it for the post.

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