Kung fu shows, Chinese acrobats and
all-day karaoke might tip you off that SuperStar Virgo is an Asian
ship, but the bingo, line dancing and Las Vegas-style stage shows
Singapore-based, 1,960-passenger SuperStar Virgo succeeds in
offering a cruise experience that is mainstream by both North
American and Asian cruise standards. The first language onboard is
English, five of nine restaurants serve continental cuisine,
including Italian, and waiters buzz around with fruity cocktails as
they would on any megaship in the Caribbean.
The Virgo, built
in 1999, sports velveteen club chairs standard on most cruise
ships, burled wood veneers, marble accents and grandiose design
show-stoppers such as the giant sculpture of three gilded horses,
an auspicious symbol to the Chinese, in the atrium.
cruise operator in Asia and part of the deep-pocketed Genting
Berhad group, Malaysia-based Star Cruises was founded in 1993 and
is the third-largest cruise operator in the world. It has 22 ships
in service (and four more new-builds in the pipeline) under the
Star Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, NCL America, Orient Lines and
Cruise Ferries brands. Five of the Star brand ships operate in Asia
year-round, while the sixth, the SuperStar Libra, splits its time
between India and the Mediterranean.
gained over a decade ... and being the first to offer year-round
cruises in Asia has put us in good stead to better understand and
provide the best possible cruise experiences for our guests," said
Jean Teo, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Star
Star's hook has
always been its variety of short itineraries in Asia. Virgo's two-night, weekend
cruises to nowhere are popular with Singaporeans, many who return
regularly to gamble. Otherwise, the itineraries are port-intensive
rather than focused on gaming.
sailings go to Penang, Malaysia and Phuket, Thailand, or to Phuket
and Langkawi, Malaysia, and a two-nighter sails for Redang or Port
Klang/Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Anywhere from 20% to 30% of
passengers do a combined five-night sailing.
approximately 2,000 passengers on a two-night cruise to Phuket,
Penang and Port Klang/Kuala Lumpur in late June, about 700 flew in
from India and even more were Singaporeans of Chinese and Malaysian
descent. Australians rounded out the mix along with a sprinkling of
Japanese, Europeans and others.
"It's a real
challenge with so many nationalities," said Teo.
The Virgo was a
welcoming place for everyone, thanks to an international crew who
did an outstanding job providing friendly, helpful and patient
service while handling the rigors of three turnaround days a
Good food, for the most part
In the galleys,
chefs were busy running nine restaurants, including six serving
Asian fare. Dining at three main restaurants, featuring Chinese,
international and Indian/continental cuisine, is included in the
fare. Six more intimate venues are priced a la carte.
As on NCL ships,
all eateries on the Virgo operate with a dine-anytime, open-seating
system. In Chinese venue Noble House, the extensive menu included
delicacies like braised bird's nest soup for $56. The Hainanese
chicken rice dish for $6 in the Blue Lagoon cafe was excellent, and
my sons loved the $5.50 hot dog and fries. The Taj restaurant
offers an $8 lunch and dinner buffet of mostly northern Indian
food like chicken tikka masala
(boneless chicken in a tomato gravy) and vegetable biryani (rice
and mixed vegetables).
The one culinary
weak spot was the Mediterranean buffet. The dried-out fried eggs
and pancakes were nothing short of hockey pucks, and items on the
meager kid's minibuffet were often unlabeled -- and unidentifiable.
Overall, tables weren't bussed fast enough, and a feeling of chaos
sent us more than once to buy lunch in the Blue Lagoon.
Besides a 15%
service charge added to restaurant and bar bills, there's a
Passengers in the
balcony cabins and suites are entitled to perks like dining credits
for alternative restaurants ($300 per cabin for a five-night
cruise), free use of the spa pool and priority check-in. Standard
cabins are comfy and stylish but on the small side.
Charlie's Childcare Center offers welcome relief for stir-crazy
families cramped in tight cabins. For passengers ages 1 to 12,
there are supervised arts and craft projects, language classes and
free play in the room's climbing maze and ball pit.
As flexible as
you'll find at sea, the playroom operates round-the-clock from 9
a.m. till 1 a.m. It's especially convenient if parents want to
venture ashore alone.
A giant arcade
houses more than 50 video games, and just outdoors on a sequestered
patch of deck is a playground, wading pool, hot tub and a bigger
pool surrounded by a pair of water slides and a climb-on
One caveat to
this kiddy -- and parent -- paradise: the price. Unlike the
complimentary daytime children's programming on U.S.-based
megaships, this one costs $5 per hour for children ages 1 to 4, $4
for ages 5 to 12; the price rises to $8 an hour after 11:45 p.m. or
for private baby-sitting.
To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail
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