Once torn by a three-year period of sectarian violence from early 1999 to 2001 that tarnished its image and the area's tourism, the Maluku provincial capital city of Ambon is now becoming a regular port of call for foreign cruise ships.
Between January 26 and February 23, 2012, Ambon saw the arrival of two luxury American cruise ships, the MV Discovery and the MV Spirit of Adventure; later a German cruise liner, the MV Amadea, also docked at the scenic bay of Ambon.
Skippered by Captain Neil Broomhall, the MV Discovery, with 440 tourists from the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand on board, was the first to have the luxury of coming alongside the wharf at Ambon`s Yos Sudarso Port in the early morning hours of Sunday, January 26.
A week later, this was followed by the MV Spirit of Adventure with 213 tourists from various countries, which arrived in Ambon on the morning of Wednesday, February 1. The latest to dock there was the MV Amadea with 600 tourists on board on Thursday morning, Feb 23.
The arrival of the three luxury cruise ships into Ambon Bay is not the last, because they will soon be followed by the MV Orion from Australia.
Because of the arrivals of those cruise ships, Maluku Governor Karel Albert Ralahalu has said that the city was ready to become a national and international tourist destination.
In his welcoming address to greet 600 foreign tourists who arrived on the MV Amadea at Yos Sudarso Port on Thursday, Governor Ralahalu said Ambon was ready to take its place as a domestic and foreign tourist destination in Maluku.
Governor Ralahalu expressed his hope that visits to Ambon by foreign cruise ships would have a positive impact on tourism in Ambon, in particular, and in Maluku province, in general.
"The visit to Ambon by those three cruise ships caused the people in the city and the province to feel a special pride, because it has proven that the city, which was once torn by sectarian clashes, is now safe for as many foreign tourists as possible," Governor Ralahalu noted.
Meanwhile, the captain of the MV Amadea, Hurbert Flohr, said tourists on board his cruise ship were deeply impressed by the hospitality of the people of Ambon and the greetings by Governor Ralahalu.
Flohr agreed that Ambon had very interesting and beautiful scenery, unlike anything the tourists had seen during their 138-day voyage around the world.
"Our visit to Ambon will be a lasting memory and we hope we can come here again next time," said the Amadea captain.
Maluku Tourism Office spokesman Pieter Ohman said in Ambon that tourists from the United States, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany enjoyed their visit to many local tourist attractions.
Pieter said, during the welcoming ceremony at the Yos Sudarso Port, the tourists were entertained by Totobuang traditional musical instruments and the Mako-mako traditional welcoming dance.
After the ceremony, they made their way to a convoy of local buses which took them to various tourist attractions in the city and beyond so they could enjoy the natural beauty of Ambon, and be entertained by more colorful local traditional dances.
He said the tourists also visited the World Peace Gong Monument at the Ambon city center, Victoria Fort, Pattimura Park, and also saw the Martha Christina Tiahahu monument on the slopes of Karang Panjang hill, overlooking the Bay of Ambon.
Next, they tried to discover the history and culture of Ambon with a visit to the Ambon War Cemetery, where more than 1,000 Australian and 800 British soldiers had been laid to rest.
Pieter said the tourists continued through the countryside for another visit to the village of Waai, known for its crystal clear freshwater spring that is home to a population of large eels, and then on to Suitela clove farm at Suli village.
The tourists also witnessed the unique processing and traditional baking methods used for sago before tasting a little, and finally stopping at Liang Beach, where they could see the peculiar Crazy Bamboo dance as they viewed handicrafts made of wood, shells and mother-of-pearl.
According to Pieter, the visit to Ambon by foreign cruise ships was facilitated by experienced and professional tour operator PT Sandy de Lima, specializing in inbound tour and travel and also handling shore excursions for cruise ships.
Having been attracted to the traditional art and culture and the panoramic view of Ambon, Captain Neil Broomhall of MV Discovery said he, for one, enjoyed his visit to the Maluku provincial capital.
Further, Broomhall said the tourists were fully satisfied with the welcome afforded them and the beautiful scenery in Ambon.
He admitted that although Ambon was a small city, it has a beautiful bay with an array of lovely landscapes and beaches and interesting historical sites and cultural performances.
"It is expected that the visit to Ambon by the cruise ships will restore the image of Ambon city that was hit by communal conflict on September 11, 2011," Ambon Mayor Richard Louhenapessy said.
He noted that after the conflict in September last year, the number of both domestic and foreign tourists decreased dramatically, but the arrivals of the MV Discovery, the MV Spirit of Adventure, and the MV Amadea would restore the image of Ambon city and its tourism.
"The Ambon city government and the people feel proud of the arrival of foreign tourists on board those cruise ships because it will prove that Ambon can be visited again by tourists from various countries," Louhenapessy added.
He further expressed his hope that the tourists, upon returning to their respective countries, would promote the natural beauty of Ambon and it`s overall safety in the city