Friday, October 5, 2018

Cruising Around: Star Cruises Superstar Virgo

To travel around the world is every wanderlust's dream. It is always fun to see new places and experience different cultures. But one thing I absolutely hate when traveling is going through airport security. It's a pain to queue and to keep having your bag screened for security, especially when you have a laptop in your luggage. Thankfully, Star Cruises occasionally dock in Manila which gives us an opportunity to travel to different parts of Asia without having to deal with airport mayhem. And the best part... no luggage weight restrictions!

Hello, Star Cruises Superstar Virgo!
Star Cruises Superstar Virgo was back in Manila last March and with Taiwan and Japan as its destinations, R and I figured that we give this cruise another try. We boarded this cruise ship back in 2015 where its port was in Hong Kong with Sanya, China and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam as its destinations. Though our experience then was mediocre to terrible, we gave it another shot after hearing that some of R's relatives booked as well. 

R and I have been looking forward to our cruise for months as we were in dire need of a real vacation. And the lack of internet for days will finally allow us to be away from our work or at least from checking our emails. 

We initially booked Manila - Naha, Japan - Keelung, Taiwan - Manila but we got an email from Star Cruises that they had to change Naha to Miyakojima. Since we really do not know what to expect from both, we didn't really mind and went with our scheduled departure which was March 20, 2018. 

To maximize the ship, Star Cruises also offered a High Seas package for those with limited vacation leaves or budget. This though does not dock in any other country nor leave the Philippines but it allows you to experience the sweet cruise life.

Night before our departure, I decided to call Star Cruises to inquire about the plugs in the room. I actually don't remember having problems before when we boarded back in 2015 but I just wanted to make sure as the last thing I want was to have dying gadgets. And it was a good thing that I called as I was advised that boarding starts at 12:30 p.m. and not early morning. It saved us the hassle of waking up early and heading out during rush hour. 
We got to Hotel H2O, the assigned pick up point for guests, at around 12 noon and the hotel didn't exactly have a waiting area for those boarding Superstar Virgo. I could imagine R and I being grumpy and cranky if we actually got there way ahead of boarding, waiting without seats. A bus arrived after a couple of minutes later which brought us straight to the port. 
There were several guests queuing for check-in when we got to the port. Thankfully, admiral guests need not line up which saved us time. 

We were ushered to the waiting area where we met one of the Guest Services staff (Admiral guests' butler services), Maddie. She quickly briefed us on what to expect for the day and asked us which restaurant we prefer for the Gala night (the special dinner held on the last night of the cruise) as she'll make the necessary arrangements for us. We were torn between Samurai, a Japanese restaurant and Silk Road, Chinese dining. We eventually went with Silk Road as it seems to offer a better menu suitable for the gala. Note that though World Cruisers and Balcony guests could also dine at Silk Road and Samurai, they have to pay extra to dine here for the Gala Night. But these two restaurants are covered (or have been paid for) for Admiral guests. 
We skipped the whole line once again for immigration and went straight to the ship after having our passports stamped. 
There was a short line to board the ship as the staff had to scan each and every passenger's board card. And after a mini bottleneck brought by the Welcome to Super Star Virgo photo op with some performers, we giddily went to our cabin. 
Welcome to our Junior Suite ($2,030/5 nights inclusive of taxes and gratuities). 
Super Star Virgo's Junior Suite is a 40 square meter room with a dining area good for 4 and a living area which you can convert to an additional sleeping corner.
The master bedroom is equipped with a comfortable king size mattress, bedroom lights, television and ample closet space. 

It also has a spacious bathroom with Jacuzzi! 
I loved that it has double wash basins perfect for honeymooners or those who could not bear to wait for the other to finish washing up. 

Our suite also has the following:

Vanity mirror and table equip with small drawers to keep your cosmetics and other skin care products
Relatively spacious shower closet with a full-length window on one side to give you that majestic view of the vast ocean while enjoying your hot shower.
There is also a balcony where we could spoil ourselves with the freshest breeze Mother Nature has to offer. It was our favorite spot to have breakfast whenever we request for room service or when we feel like drinking coffee after lunch or dinner. 
And speaking of coffee, our cabin has a Nespresso machine! 
We were also given a complimentary bottle of wine to relax with.
After unpacking our stuff and putting it in drawers and closet, we headed down to the Grand Piazza where we enjoyed some welcome drinks. (Note: Do not get gulaman. It tastes weird borderline bad.)
Next stop was All Star Dining for our late lunch and we decided to try its Western menu over Chinese. 
Note that there are three inclusive restaurants for passengers' on board meals--All Star Dining, Pavillion and Lido. The first two serve 4-course meals for lunch and dinner and semi buffet for breakfast. Lido offers buffet for all three meals and also offers afternoon snack and late dinner till 12 midnight. There are other restaurants such as Samurai, Silk Road, Taj, Taverna and Blue Lagoon for guests who prefer other cuisines. But you have to pay for your meal in these restaurants.
The meal started well. Our appetizers and soup tasted good. But it went slightly downhill then plateaued till dessert.
We headed back to our cabin to take quick nap before heading back down for the mandatory safety drill. But I noticed that there was a scheduled tour of the ship at 3 p.m. (assembly point at Activity Center) so I decided to join thinking we'd tour the other cabins too which I was curious to see. Unfortunately, it was not included and the tour only covers the common areas which I'm already familiar with when I boarded Virgo back in 2015. I then opted out of the tour and went back to the cabin to rest. 
About an hour and half later, we were all called to proceed to Deck 7 for our safety drill which lasted for about 15 minutes. And as we were trying to put on our life jackets, the ship started to move marking the start of our journey. 
It was quite amusing to see how people were panicking to do their last minute posts and calls that some were scrambling around. And the moment of seeing "no service" hit us midway through dinner. 
And speaking of dinner, we headed back to All Star dining and went for Western again. And the whole meal was rather bland and forgettable. 
We went up to the 8th level after dinner for the first show of the night. Another perk we got to enjoy as suite guests is the reserved balcony seats every night. We had the whole area to ourselves. And even when other guests try to get in, they couldn't if they don't hold a yellow card (for Admiral guests).

The first show was all about this writer's story brought to life which had a very strange plot. Though the choreography was nice, I left confused with if there was even a story told. 
We got back to our room and were greeted with a plate of sweets.

We were just at High Seas the following day as we were still on our way to Miyakojima. We definitely lazed around and started the day with our complimentary in-room continental breakfast. 
The continental breakfast consists of toasts, assorted pastries, jam, butter, fruits and orange juice. And that was when we realized that we prefer warm breakfast. The only perk of having this is the convenience of enjoying your food at your balcony with the beautiful deep blue water as your companion. (Note that the complimentary breakfast for Admiral guests is only available until 11 a.m.. You may place your order by calling Guest Services.)
We then went to the Pantheon Pool for a quick dip. Unfortunately, the slide was closed due to the strong waves. So we decided to just try Aqua Swim which is free for Balcony and Admiral Suite guests. Make sure to reserve your slot as there are only two pools available and only one guest can use a pool for 30 minutes per day.
Aqua Swim is like your ordinary stationary bicycle but instead of biking, you swim. And if you have no plans of doing laps, this could get boring fast. But do try going near the water jet for a hydro massage. 
I headed to the girls locker room after for a much needed sauna and relaxed there for about 20 minutes while looking at the beautiful blue ocean. (It turns out that this is also exclusive for Balcony and Suite guests use only unless World Cruiser guests would like to pay extra for it.)
And by then we were able to work on our appetite and headed back to Star Dining for lunch. Again, it was mediocre but filling. 
Since there was nothing else to do, we thought of going for the mini golf which turned out to be a bad idea as it was super windy that made it close to impossible to play. After a few minutes, we decided to return our clubs and head back to our cabin.
If your cabin has a DVD player, you can borrow DVDs with a deposit of HKD200/DVD. However, we didn't swipe our card or anything when we did so I'm not so sure if the deposit is still necessary. 
We also checked out the Library and Salon. 
The Library is a great place to lounge if you want a little me time. 
Come dinner time, we headed down again to Star Dining which offered Spanish dishes. And it was a bit too salty this time for my taste.
The next show was a magic show which had its ups and downs. Some impressed me while others brought out my Kill Joy Mode. 
Excited for Japan, we went back to our cabin early to rest. 

Miyakojima is a very small island in Okinawa. Excursions available were snorkeling, visiting botanical garden or shopping centers. 

We were considering to go snorkeling but seeing the weather and R having the sniffles, we opted to just explore the town on our own. 
Another perk of Admiral guests is that we get priority disembarkation in ALL ports. This means that we get to have more time on land and get to do more things as well. 
Since Miyakojima is small, we had to ride the ship's tender to reach the island and the trip to and from is about 10-15 minutes per way. 
There was wifi in the port so I managed to get more idea on what to do in the area. R on the other hand used his pocket wifi.
It was rather sunny yet cold in Miyakojima so we decided to just walk around the area. We visited a few small shrines and shops but none really made us to stay longer.
We then opted to take a bus to Don Quijote for some serious shopping for Japanese snacks. And it turns out that every one else was there too! 
We got to talk to one of the guests who went to the botanical garden as well and told us that it was not worth the money they paid for. 
None of the food in Don Quijote looked appetizing to us so we headed to the other market and bought a tray of salmon sashimi and fresh strawberries instead. 
We headed back to the ship just in time for last call. 
We brought back our loot inside our cabin and decided to have coffee while watching Miyakojima become more and more distant from our balcony. 
We opted to have dinner at Pavillion this time and it turned out to be a good call as food tasted so much better. Service too was better as the place was smaller hence the staff could easily see you. 
The show at Zodiac Theater that night was catered to music lovers as two girls duet to popular songs with some of the dancers from the previous shows dancing to the catchy music. And we got back to our room with... more sweets!
We headed back to our cabin early again as we'll be at Keelung, Taiwan the next day. 
But we actually ended waking up late the next day and I was forced to order continental breakfast again. 
I guess it was also because we've been to Taiwan numerous times before that we were not that excited to head down. In fact, I actually went down by myself.
But when I found nothing interesting except for a nice bag, I headed back up to join R for lunch. And it was so great to (almost) have the ship all to ourselves!
We also took this as an opportunity to head to the pool while it was open. 
There was barbecue dinner that same night but it was far too windy so we opted to have dinner at... you guessed it, Pavillion. 
That night's show was another magic show but it seemed to be slightly better than the first one. 
Our last whole day was in transit back to Manila and we maximized it by relaxing inside our cabin, watching DVDs. We also went for another round of Aqua Swim. 
Dinner at Silk Road was pretty good! We started with Double Boiled Black Chicken Soup with Scallops, Conch Meat and Wild Sliced Ling Chee followed by Baked Lobster, Braised Deep Sea Shell and Roasted Chicken. To cap our meal, we had Double Boiled Sweetened Peach Gum with Sea Coconut, Red Dates and Pow Sum. 
And to end our last night, we watched Mystical Land at Zodiac Theater, a weird but captivating story of an elf helping a fairy get her shoes. It was whimsical and mixed with some impressive acrobatic moves.

Note: Our bags were collected at 10 p.m. the latest in preparation for disembarkation. It's best to have another luggage to put the clothes and other things you wish to use on the last night and the following day.

We got our statement of account after the show and noticed that we actually have on board credit of HKD1,575! It turns out the package we availed had an on board credit of HKD900 and the change from Naha to Miyakojima gave all passengers compensation of HKD675. No wonder everyone was ordering drinks here and there. 
We spent our credits at Duty Free and bought some skin care products and whiskey.
As Admiral guests, we had an option to take priority disembarkation and leave at 8 in the morning. We opted to leave on our own so that we could still take our time having breakfast.

The queue to the exit was extremely long when we got down around 10 a.m. but we still managed to get priority disembarkation upon showing our card.
Overall, this trip was far more pleasant than the first one. Though food seemed to be less impressive, service has improved a lot. Also, getting prioritized in pretty much everything on board made the trip nicer for us. Hence, despite having to pay about double for a suite, we get double the space and way better amenities and inclusions and enjoy the trip a lot more by skipping all the lines!  
So is it worth it to get a suite? I'd say, YES.

Star Cruises Superstar Virgo is docking in Manila again in time for the holiday season! Check out the tempting deals here. Click here for my Superstar Virgo video.

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