Saipan, Mariana Islands, FEB 19 2024

Overnight we sailed from Guam to the nearby island of Saipan, the largest island in the northern Mariana Islands. The island was formed millions of years ago by an underwater volcano. The island, has a population of 44,000, is 12 miles by 5 miles. 

Saipan has been under Spanish rule, German rule, Japanese rule and then after WW2 it was put in a United Nations Trust to determine its fate. Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands have been a commonwealth of the United States since the 1980’s.

Hyatt Regency

We were told Saipan is only visited by three cruise ships a year! We were greeted by dancing ladies welcoming us to the island.

The water was several gorgeous shades of blue.

We decided to take a Holland American excursion to learn more about what happened there during WW2.  The Battle of Saipan from June 15 to July 9, 1944 was one of the major battles of WW2.  The United States Marines and United States Army landed on the beaches on the southwestern side of the island and engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese for more than three weeks before capturing the island. The American casualty was 3,426 with 10,364 wounded. The Japanese casualties were 27,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians, including 1,000 who jumped from “Suicide Cliff” rather than being taken prisoner. 

With the takeover of Saipan, the United States military was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese islands, striking distance for the United States’ B-29 bombers. The loss of Saipan was a big blow to the Japanese military, forcing the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister. 

Visible from Saipan is the island of Tinian where the US Navy had shipped the atomic bombs. The Enola Gay B-29 bomber plane took off on August 6, 1945 carrying the atomic bomb to Hiroshima, Japan.

View of Tinian Island

Our tour guide was a native Chamorro. He gave us some background on the island. At one time it was a popular place for Japanese tourists to vacation and shop. It changed some time ago as Guam became the favored destination and Saipan has fallen on hard times. At one time a huge casino was built and now stands deserted. The roads were obviously in need of repair and our guide remarked they have been waiting over 20 years for infrastructure funding. In 2018, Saipan was devastated by one of the strongest hurricane/typhoons ever to hit the island . The island sustained widespread damage and is still struggling to recover. We saw tent structures sent by the United States that are being used as schools.

Typical House

Our guide took us to several WW2 sites. First up was a former Japanese jail. Built between 1929 and 1930, it was originally surrounded by a security fence and later a concrete wall.  During WW2, two U.S. pilots were held and died here. Some people believe Amelia Earhart was held here in 1937 when she disappeared on her round the world flight. From what I have previously read, I don’t believe Earhart was ever here.

We stopped at one of the beaches where we could see the remains of American tanks in the water destroyed during the battles.

A Pillbox or Concrete Guard-post

Tank in the Water


In the distance were two unmarked US ships that our guide said were supply ships stationed with supplies in case they are quickly needed in the Pacific region.

Our guide showed us a traditional Chamorro paddling canoe he is helping to build under a large thatched structure. When finished it will be able to hold eight or more people with supplies to travel to other islands.

All around Saipan are reminders of Japan’s air power. Massive concrete vaults were used as bunkers for Japan’s aerial bombs and as air raid shelters.

In the fields are old, rusted remains of tanks.

Underground Bomb Storage

The bus took us to the Saipan airport to use the bathroom facilities. First time that has ever happened on an excursion! The men and women bathrooms were accessed from outside the main terminal building and were very clean and well supplied.

Our final stop of the day was at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center. The park is run by the National Park Service. We found out when talking to one of the rangers that they are usually closed on Monday but they opened today just for the cruise ship passengers. We thanked her for their cooperation and thoughtfulness.

When we arrived back at the pier, once again security boarded the bus to check our ship cards. They even opened and inspected the lower bus compartments.

Since it was close to the time for the ship to depart, another group of Saipan performers had already arrived to give a farewell performance. This time the group included some precious children. After the performance ended they waited until the ship pulled away from the dock so the children could wave to all those gathered at the deck railings and balconies.

The captain mentioned later in his departure announcement that the governor of Saipan deeply appreciated our visit and said Saipan is working hard to bring tourism back to the island. 

Next up : Three days at sea and Ishigaki, our first Japanese port

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