It has taken me a day shy of a month to finally write about the maiden voyage of Star Cruises’ imposing ship, the SuperStar Virgo, from the port of Manila. And I did so for a reason.
You see, had I written about the six-day/five-night Manila-Laoag-Kaoshiung-Hong Kong-Manila sojourn, all I would have reported on were the “birthing pains” that the country’s official entry to the world of cruising endured.
A chaotic scene at Pier 15 on March 19, which had excited first-time cruisers, children, and senior citizens inconveniently stuck in snail-paced queues for check-in and immigration; more waiting in line inside the ship at the food and beverage outlets; and still longer queues for check out just before the ship docked back in Manila on March 24.
Had I not waited for the next four rounds to sail on March 24, 29, and April 3 and 8, I would have done our thriving tourism scene a disservice, because as I happily and thankfully found out from friends who took these subsequent trips, they experienced the kind of R&R that draws travelers to see the world by sea in the first place.
For indeed, Manila’s inclusion as an official homeport, rather than just a port of call in the past, indicates a significant development in the country’s economic and tourism landscapes. It means that 1) the spending power of the Filipino is on a constant rise; and 2) the Philippines has undoubtedly become an important tourist destination in Asia.
As CESO 3 Director Maria Corazon Jorda-Apo of the Department of Tourism’s Market Development Group revealed to The T-Zone while cruising the high seas, “The government is aware that we still have so much to improve in terms of infrastructure for sea travel, but all the same, the Filipino traveler is such an emerging market that Star Cruises insisted for this maiden voyage to sail right away.
“What we all witnessed and experienced in this maiden trip is a learning curve,” she continued. “And given the vast opportunities being a homeport will open to the country—not just for tourism but also the potential to become a center for cruise crew training, maintenance services and ship building in the long-term—there is truly so much to look forward to as we continue to work with Star Cruises to improve the traveler’s experience.”
As such, Director Apo beamed with pride and optimism when on March 22, she represented the Philippines in its official welcome to the Asia Cruise Cooperation (ACC) by the tourism heads of Taiwan and Hong Kong while docked at the latter’s famed Harbour City.
She eagerly declared that the SuperStar Virgo had successfully made stops at Laoag in Ilocos Sur, Kaoshiung in Taiwan, and finally Hong Kong carrying a total of 2,200 passengers.
Meanwhile, on the part of the Genting Group, which operates Star Cruises, Executive Director Hui Lim expressed, “The new deployment not only paves the way for their flagship vessel’s homecoming in a city that has long been an important base, but also demonstrates the cruise line’s support for the ACC and its new triple homeport, collectively dubbed the ‘Jewels of the South China Sea’.”
‘Most popular cruise line in Asia’
Considered as the “most popular cruise line in Asia,” Star Cruises, according to its website, “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Genting Hong Kong, a leading global leisure, entertainment and hospitality corporation.”
It is “a pioneer in the Asia Pacific cruise industry… and has been operating its fleet since 1993, taking on the bold initiative to grow the region as an international cruise destination with a fleet of six vessels including SuperStar Virgo, SuperStar Libra, SuperStar Gemini, SuperStar Aquarius, Star Pisces and The Taipan.”
With the Philippines as its newest homeport, Hui Lim promised that Genting Cruise Lines will continue to help stakeholders from all sides “to pioneer and advance the cruise terminals and the overall cruise experience in the Philippines.”
“As part of Genting Cruise Lines’ ongoing and long-term commitment, this marks the beginning of a significant joint effort in creating new opportunities and to further develop best-in-class cruise infrastructures and facilities here in the Philippines.”
With so many budget airlines offering hard-to-resist deals nowadays, why would anyone want to travel by sea?
If you had this same question in mind, I give you the answer straight from the captain of SuperStar Virgo, Jan Blomqvist who hails from Finland.
He told The T-Zone: “Wouldn’t you want to see the world as if you were being cradled and gently rocking in your mother’s arms?”
Truly, it is a must to experience cruising, especially on a 13-storey vessel that is the SuperStar Virgo. Equipped with 935 cabins, including sea-view cabins and balcony suites; multiple dining options serving Chinese, international and Japanese cuisines; daily and nightly entertainment, including a two-level theater; a salon, spa, gym, library, souvenir and duty-free shops; a 100-meter waterslide and swimming pool; a mini golf course, karaoke room; children’s activity center; and—yes—wifi throughout the voyage, what more can you ask for?
With a promotional rate of $655, the moving hotel will take you to a historic town in Ilocos Sur, and two international destinations, namely Laoag; Kaoshiung, Taiwan; Kowloon in Hong Kong, with four daily meals, all in the package.
Points of interest
With the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong running on the same time, each morning in the SuperStar Virgo’s route will bring its traveler to a new destination.
Disembarking in Laog the first day you wake up on the ship, passengers may opt to explore the province on their own or sign up for one of the following tours for a fee: Laoag City Tour, Relaxation at Fort Ilocandia, Vigan Historic Town Tour, or Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure.
The same goes for stops at Kaoshiung and Hong Kong. Tours that are available for the former include the Fo Guang Shan and Love River, Tainan Highlights, Qijin and Shopping Tour, or the Kaohsiung City and Natural Landscape; while for the latter, there is the Half-Day Hong Kong Island Tour, Half-Day Ocean Park Tour, Hong Kong Disneyland Tour, Seafood Dinner at Lamma Island, Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus Tour Around Kowloon, or Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus Tour Around Kowloon with Sky 100.
With six more rounds of the SuperStar Virgo Manila voyage sailing on April 23 and 28, and May 3, 8, 13, and 23, what comes next for Star Cruises in the Philippines?
With all dates—including the six previous rounds—sold out, the company announced during the inaugural voyage that come December, another season of cruise dates will begin, whose routes will include other popular Asian destinations such as Kota Kinabalu, Brunei, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, and Okinawa (Japan).
For more information, log on to www.starcruises.com.