Last May 2017, I went on a 6-day-5-night cruise aboard Star Cruises SuperStar Virgo, the first cruise ship to homeport in Manila. Compared to my usual DIY backpacking trips, this was an amazing hassle-free vacation that I got to enjoy with my mom and nephew. Going on a luxury cruise is something I’d never thought I’d get to do. It’s a unique type of travel experience worth saving up for and ticking off your bucketlist!
Star Cruises just announced that they’ll be sailing again starting March 2018 from Manila. This time, they’ll be heading to Naha or Ishigaki in Okinawa, Japan and Keelung, Taiwan – no VISA required!
My family and I loved this cruise experience! While the rates for a cruise may seem intimidating at first glance, if you add up how much good hotel rooms cost per night, airfare for the whole family, and dining out every day during your trips, cruises actually offer very high travel value. The all-inclusive fare covers everything from accommodations, up to six complimentary meals a day, use of the recreational facilities on board, fun family activities, and live entertainment shows every night!
Plus, you wake up in a different destination everyday. We got to go around Ilocos Norte & Ilocos Sur, Taiwan and Hong Kong before heading back to Manila! Except for the taxi ride going to the port, this was the most hassle-free trip I’ve ever taken! Take note that the sailings starting March 2018 have a different route.
For those who want to spend quality time with their loved ones, and are wondering what to expect, I’m sharing some of my experiences from the May 2017 sailing below. The March 2018 sailing has a different route though. This is the schedule according to their official website:
Early Bird Rate as low as USD 540* per person (valid until December 31, 2017 only)
5N Cruise Manila → Naha → Keelung → Manila
March 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, Apr 4, 9, May 9, 14, 19 & 24, 2018
5N Cruise Manila → Ishigaki → Keelung → Manila
April 14, 19, 24, 29, May 4 & 29, 2018
Here’s my experience from the May 2017 sailing. The itineraries may change depending on the new schedule. For updates and details, please get in touch with Star Cruises directly through the following channels:
- Website: https://booking.starcruises.com/cruise-deals/phl/ssvinmanila/
- FB Page: Star Cruises
- Contact your local travel agency
- Call Star Cruises Hotline at (02) 8366080
- Email email@example.com.
In Manila, SuperStar Virgo docks in Pier 15, Muelle de San Francisco, Port Area, Manila. It’s near Manila Hotel and Hotel H20. Embarkation begins from 3:00 to 5:00 pm.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are various cabin classes on the ship, providing elegant deluxe facilities. The Executive Suites and Oceanview Staterooms with private balconies are understandably more expensive. We stayed in an Inside Stateroom (the most affordable option), a cozy cabin ideal for a group of friends or a family of up to four travelling together. There are no ocean views here, but it’s comfortable enough, near the activity center and my nephew loved the pull-down double deck bed. The room size doesn’t matter that much because you’ll want to spend most of your time outside the cabin anyway.
TIP: Once you settle in your cabin, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the ship’s layout (take a picture of the maps near the elevators on your phone) and head directly to the Mediterranean buffet area for afternoon tea before the mandatory safety drill at 6:00 pm.
WHAT TO DO:
There’s so much to do while you’re on the cruise ship. Every night, you get a copy of the Star Navigator, a handy newsletter detailing your arrival and departure time, all the ship activities, musician’s performances, schedules and reminders for the next day. There’s a separate Junior Cruiser Programme for kids aged 4-12 years old.
1. Go swimming
There are two areas with swimming pools. The shallow kid’s pool is on Deck 10 behind the Activity Center, while the deeper Parthenon Pool has a winding water slide and four jacuzzi hot tubs. The water slide is not allowed for kids aged 0-6 years old.
2. Sample all the restaurants* (see separate section on where to eat)
The ship has over 10 restaurants, serving everything from Japanese to Indian food. Three of these restaurants are inclusive, meaning you can eat here for free, while the others will incur extra charges. Only water, coffee and tea are complimentary beverages in most restaurants, with free juice available at the breakfast buffet. If you want beer, shakes, cocktails and wine, you’ll have to swipe your access cards (this can add up!).
3. Try the different activities
Aside from the pools, the ship has its own library, gym, basketball court, mini-golf area, jogging track, parlor, spa and health club, several boutiques, and various sun decks. You can borrow books from the library, play mini-golf, and borrow board games and puzzles. For smaller kids, there’s a kid’s corner with lots of toys and books. For teens, there’s a video game area with PS4 games for rent. For adults, there’s a casino, karaoke lounge and KTV, Mahjong room and private karaoke room.
4. Sign up for classes
Every day, there are various classes and activities for everyone to try out like origami, hip-hop dance classes, trivia games, charades, sushi-making, archery, etc. (some are free while others have minimal charges). We signed up my nephew for the Bridge Tour with the Captain.
5. Watch the shows
Every night, there are free shows featuring Asia’s best performers at the Lido Theatre. These are top quality production shows including Magic Shows, acrobatics, ballroom dancing, a dance performance of 1001 Nights and elaborate old Hollywood style production number. Make it a point to watch every show! There are also fun games and Bingo. There are also some free movies screened during the day.
WHERE TO EAT:
You can avail of up to six complimentary meals a day: Early Riser (5:30 am – 7:00 am), Breakfast or Brunch , Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, Supper (11:00 pm – 12:30 am). We usually just had Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.
Mediterranean Buffet – International
A large cafeteria-style buffet restaurant that serves international and Asian cuisine. There were a lot of familiar Filipino dishes throughout our stay including adobo, kaldereta and kare-kare.
My companions are very light eaters, so we ate here most of the time so that we wouldn’t waste food. I mostly went for the action stall (where they served roast beef, Hainanese chicken, prawns, etc.) My nephew loved the dessert selection and ice cream bar. There were staples like the salad bar, bread selection etc., but there was enough variety in the main courses throughout the trip. Again, only water, coffee and tea are included in the free beverage selection. For shakes, juices, beer and wine, you have to order separately.
Genting Palace – Western & Chinese Restaurant
A fine dining restaurant serving a choice of either Western or Chinese plated meals. We tried this at least once for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast is still buffet, with a plated main course option. Lunch and dinner consists of rolls, salad, soup, main course (choice of meat, fish or vegetarian option) and dessert.
I chose mostly the Western main courses over the Chinese dishes. Soups and salads were really good and the size of the main courses were always pretty generous. Expect extra friendly service from waiters here. They have a separate Kid’s Menu here with safe options (French fries as appetizer, spaghetti, chicken fingers, mini burgers, etc.).
Pavilion – Chinese Restaurant
A family-style resto that serves the same Chinese meals as Genting. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try this because the menu options didn’t really appeal to us.
Other specialty A la Carte restaurants & dining areas are:
- Noble House – Chinese Restaurant
- Palazzo – Western Restaurant
- Samurai – Japanese Restaurant
- The Taj – Indian Buffet
- Blue Lagoon – Asian Bistro
- Taverna – Bar & International Snacks
- Coffee Nook
- Private Karaoke Room
- Galaxy of the Stars
- Cafe Gelato – Ice Cream
- Diamond Club
There’s a special BBQ Pool Party on the second night.
TIP: The menus of all the restaurants are posted in a hallway every day near the Lido Theatre. You can look at the different options to decide where you want to eat. On the last day, there’s a special Gala Night dinner that requires reservations in Genting Palace and Pavilion. Book a table as early as possible, because slots are on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t have a booking, you’ll end up eating at the Mediterranean Buffet.
WHERE TO GO:
Aside from the fun activities on the ship itself, you have the destinations to look forward to. You have three options when you dock.
- Take the Packaged Shore Excursions offered by Star Cruises. Each destination has several tour options depending on the type of activity you want to do. You will be shuttled in a bus with a large group of passengers. All tours are conducted by English speaking guides. We availed of this in Taiwan, since it was all our first time there. It’s a bit pricey (ex. Ilocos tours start at 460 HKD per head), but for first-timers who want the hassle-free tour to extend on land and don’t mind spending more, this is a good option.
- Free and Easy. Do a DIY Tour of the destination. You can just walk around to nearby sights or go around on your own. This is what we did in Ilocos and Hong Kong. For Ilocos, we rented a van with 2 other couples for P3,500/van (divided by six) and went to both Vigan and Paoay. For Hong Kong, we just walked around to sights nearby.
- Stay on the Ship. If you don’t want to spend any more or have been to the destinations previously, you can just stay on the ship and enjoy the facilities with fewer people on board.
For all stops, the vessel reserves the right to depart on schedule and will not wait for late arriving passengers.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS: 5 Ways to Save While on a Cruise
- Day 1: Manila, Philippines – Departure: 6:00 pm
- Day 2: Laoag, Philippines – Arrival: 10:00 am ; Departure: 7:00 pm
- Day 3: Kaohsiung, Taiwan – Arrival: 10:00 am ; Departure: 7:00 pm
- Day 4: Hong Kong – Arrival: 1:30 pm ; Departure: 11:30 pm
- Day 5: High Seas (whole day cruising)
- Day 6: Manila, Philippines – Arrival 8:00 am
LAOAG Port address: National Highway, Currimao Ilocos Norte (Vigan is about 1.5 hrs away and Paoay is 30 minutes away)
After Manila, the first stop is the port of Currimao in Laoag. From here, we visited Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur and the Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can opt to spend more time in just one place since both are known for their historical and cultural landmarks, Spanish colonial buildings, Baroque churches and great Ilocano dishes including bagnet, longganisa and Ilocos empanada.
Tour options: Laoag City Tour, Relaxation at Fort Ilocandia Resort, Vigan Historic Tour, Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure Tour, Discover Ilocos Norte (Cape Bojeador, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation & Bangui Windmill)
TRAVEL TIP: If you want to rent a van in Ilocos to pick you up at the port in Currimao, contact Tour de Ilocos Van Rental (Van cost P3,500 for whole day). Joel B. Corpuz. Phone: (077) 677-1488. Smart: 0920-8561-062. Globe: 0927-3697-042. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Website: http://tourdeilocos.wixsite.com/mysite. According to locals, you can also just hire a tricycle from outside the port to go to Paoay and ride a bus along the national highway, but this is risky if you don’t have a sure way to get back.
TAIWAN Port address: Pier 9, Penglai Road, Gushan District, Kaohsung City 804, Taiwan (it’s not possible to go to Taipei, since it’s about 4-5 hours away by land)
The second stop is the biggest port in the south of Taiwan, Kaohsiung. Special concessions have been given so that Filipinos on the trip will not have to apply for a Taiwanese visa! Here, we tried out Taiwanese cuisine in a local restaurant, visited the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, Love River, the Pier 2 Art Center and went shopping for local treats.
Tour options: Fo Guang Shan & Love River, Tainan Highlights, Qijin & Shopping Tour, Kaoshiung City & Natural Landscape
HONG KONG Port address: Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, Tsimhatsui, HKSAR
The third stop was Hong Kong. The cruise ship docks in Victoria Harbour, which is connected to a mall with lots of shops and boutiques and is walking distance from the Avenue of the Stars (the area with the Bruce Lee statue). We just took it easy and used the free WiFi at the Hong Kong Cultural Center and watched a show at the Hong Kong Space Museum’s planetarium nearby. The sight of the skyline is pretty nice at night from the ship, which we headed back to for dinner.
Tour options: Hong Kong Island Tour, Half-day Ocean Park Tour, Seafood Dinner at Lamma Island, Hong Kong Disneyland Tour
WHAT TO WEAR:
Most of the guests were wearing casual resort wear, dresses and shorts, especially when hanging out by the pool and decks. The ship has a lot of nice areas for OOTD shoots, so you might as well take advantage and bring nice outfits especially for the last day when you’re on the ship the whole day.
For the shore excursions to Ilocos, Taiwan and Hong Kong, you can dress more casually. Wear light and airy clothing because it can get very hot. You might want to bring an umbrella or hat because you’ll mostly be going around mid-day when the sun is very harsh.
The whole ship is air-conditioned and it can get cool at night. Some of the restaurants like Genting Palace feel a bit formal, so it wouldn’t hurt to dress up a bit more at night and to watch the live shows at the theatre. People really dressed up for the Cocktail Party, Gala Night and Grand Farewell Party (which has a suggested dress code of Elegant Casual). Cocktail dresses for women, guys collared shirts and closed shoes are ok. No slippers and shorts if you’re planning to attend these.
A note for those who need to be connected to the Internet all the time. WiFi is available, but don’t expect super high speeds. You’re only given 1 hour (per person) free and then you’ll have to pay for it. The hours are counted as continuous usage. You can’t connect and disconnect from the WiFi.
- 1 hour – HKD $0
- 6 hours – HKD $30
- 24 hours – HKD $105
- 48 hours – HKD $180
- 72 hours – HKD $255
TIP: I suggest you just use a data plan while still in Manila and Ilocos. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, there’s free WiFi when you dock at the Kao Port and Ocean Terminal, Harbour City. Take advantage of these or just wait till you get back home to upload all your photos. If you buy coffee from the Coffee Nook near the reception, they have a promo that gives out free 1 hour WiFi vouchers.
The ship makes use of a cashless system for everything. You’ll be swiping your access cards for activities and other items, which you will have to settle (by cash or credit card) before disembarkation. There is a currency exchange counter on the ship, but the rate is high. Also, their standard currency is in HK dollars. If you’re converting anything (ex. US dollars to Taiwanese dollars), they’ll convert it twice (first to HKD). If you’re going on a shore excursion and want to shop there, I suggest you exchange your money the night before, because the line can get really long right before disembarkation.
WHO / WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT:
For those who want to spend quality time with their loved ones, the SuperStar Virgo offers an all-inclusive hassle-free travel experience. It’s a very comfortable way to travel, which makes it ideal for those traveling with kids and seniors, who you wouldn’t want to subject to long and uncomfortable trips.
But it’s not just for seniors and families. This is also great for couples and a bonding experience for barkadas who want a last getaway this summer. It’s not really for budget backpackers, but you do get to three different destinations including two international destinations (Taiwan and Hong Kong) without having to spend for airfare or Visa applications. Being on the ship feels very homey and comfortable. There are so many warm and friendly Filipino crew members who go the extra mile to make your stay more fun. It’s definitely a unique travel experience.
You might want to start planning your summer vacation for March – May 2018 early by availing of their promos. They will be launching the following promos:
✓ Senior Citizens Cruise 1, Take 1
✓ Kids Cruise for Free!
✓ Balcony Upgrade
✓ Suite Special Rate
For further reading check out this very informative blogpost by The Poor Traveler: SuperStar Virgo in Manila: Cruise Guide (What to Expect)