Recently, we have been invited by Star Cruises to experience sailing from Manila to Ilocos to Taiwan to Hong Kong aboard Superstar Virgo. This wasn’t our first time cruising, so we were a bit more confident this time around. On our first time a few years back, we were so intimidated by the whole cruise thing. You see, we’re used to backpacking so anything that resembles luxury feels alien to us. Preparing for it alone was unnerving. What do I pack? What should I wear? What travel documents do I need? How expensive is it gonna be? Are there hidden charges? How do I disembark?
If you’re sailing aboard Superstar Virgo soon and it’s your first time to cruise, this post is for you. This also applies to other routes of the Virgo. I hope this article be able to prepare you for this new, marvelous, and incredibly relaxing experience! Here are 10 things you can expect.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
Packing & Pre-Trip Preparations
- First things first, travel documents. If you’re joining the Manila-Laoag-Kaohsiung-Hong Kong cruise, no visas needed. You only need to bring your passport and a photocopy of its bio page.
- It’s a cruise so it wouldn’t hurt to dress up and achieve your #OOTD goals. We packed at least 2 sets of garments a day: one set of light clothes for touring, and another for the evening shows. Why two sets? It’s pretty cool inside the ship, but things change as soon as you get out of it. In our case, it’s the middle of April! Onboard, I’m clad in shorts and a t-shirt with a polo on top of it. But as soon as we go outside, I had to remove the polo because it would get too hot especially on Ilocos and Kaohsiung stops. Hong Kong was a different story. It rained so hard for a brief moment. Takeaway: check the weather in every stop and prepare accordingly.
- The rooms are also equipped with slip-on sandals, bath robes, and toiletries. You will also be provided a see-through plastic pouch wherein you can put your passport and access card (which I will explain later).
- Remember: Each passenger is allowed only one piece of check-in luggage free-of-charge. Anything more will incur additional fees.
- For the Manila season, the default currency is the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD).
- In many ways, the process is similar to that at the airport. You still need valid travel documents, check in your baggage, and pass through an immigration inspection and security checks before boarding.
- You will be given a mag card (access card). DO NOT LOSE IT. It’s the most important item as soon as you step into the ship. It serves as your keycard to your cabin and credit card when purchasing something or dining at specialty restaurants. You will also need this when disembarking to explore the ports and when returning to the ship.
- You will need to surrender your passport upon boarding. You’ll have it back after the journey.
As soon as everyone is settled, there will be a safety drill that you are required to participate in. It is extremely important that you are familiar with the ship’s geography and the directions you need to take in case of an emergency.
In Manila, the drill happens right before sunset, so as soon as it’s over, head straight to Deck 12 to have a better view. We’ve been to a lot of places around the world, but Manila offers some of the most spectacular sunsets.
Do it at every stop. Nothing is more relaxing that just watching the sun call it a day.
3 Inclusive Restaurants
“Inclusive,” meaning you can dine here free-of-charge. It’s part of what you paid for. Onboard the Virgo, there are three inclusive dining options:
- Mediterranean Buffet. The most popular, located on Deck 12, just behind the Parthenon Pool. Serves breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. No reservations needed.
- Genting Palace. Western and Chinese cuisines. Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is also where the Gala Dinner takes place. Although it is inclusive, reservation is required.
- The Pavilion Room. Family-style restaurant. In my opinion, of the three, this is the best. Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations required.
Both Genting Palace and the Pavilion offer full-course meals (appetizer, soup, main course, dessert). Drinks will be charged to your room.
Aside from these, there are specialty dining options! There’s the Taj offering Indian favorites, and Samurai serving delectable Japanese cuisine. Samurai have us our best gastronomic experience onboard. From the salmon and yellowtail (hamachi) sashimi as appetizer to teppanyaki as main course and matcha ice cream as dessert, that meal was scrumptious from start to finish.
Shore Excursions (Shorex)
This is the part where you can get off the ship and explore the city where it is docked.
In our case, it has three stops: Laoag, Kaohsiung, and Hong Kong. At every stop, they offer various pre-arranged tours called Shorex (shore excursions). For example, in Laoag, you have a choice among Laoag City Tour, Paoay Sand Dunes, Vigan Heritage Tour, and a couple more.
Other routes will have their own shorex offers, of course.
You can book a pre-arranged tour or do it on your own (DIY). It’s completely up to you.
- If you book a shorex, you will be joining the rest of the cruise passengers who booked that tour. The great thing about it is that you have everything taken care of for you. You will have a tour guide and a few members of the crew will join the group. They will make sure you’re back at the port in time for sailing. Meals are also often included.
- If you pull a DIY, you have complete control of your time and it’s going to be cheaper. However, make sure you’re back by the prescribed time because the ship will NOT wait for you.
Either way, you will be given a small sheet of paper upon disembarkation. READ IT, UNDERSTAND IT, KEEP IT. It will tell you what time you have to be back. It changes per stop. The boarding deadline in Taiwan is different from that in Hong Kong.
Room and Amenities
There are four types of accommodations onboard, from the cheapest to the fanciest: Inside Room, Ocean View Room, Balcony Room, and Suite. On our first time, we stayed in an Inside Room; this time in a Balcony Room. In both occasions, the room was always regularly maintained, with multiple cleanups within the day. Complimentary bottles of water also replenish every day.
If you have enough budget for an Inside Room, go for it. Don’t drop the idea of cruising just because you can’t afford the best rooms. In my experience, we spent most of our time outside the room — going on shore excursions, pigging out at the restaurants, and exploring other amenities.
Speaking of amenities, here are some that you can enjoy for FREE:
- Gym. We packed gym clothes but we failed to use them because we would already average 15,000 steps per day just by joining the shore excursions.
- Pool. Located on Deck 12.
- Casino. In case you’re interested. Deck 7.
There’s also Duty Free shops on Decks 7 and 8, and a small store selling chips, chocolates, and biscuits (including Filipino products) on Deck 12 just next to the bar.
Spend your evenings watching a show at the Lido Theater. Some of these performances can be enjoyed for free, while others incur additional charges, including the for-adults-only show.
Gala Night and Dinner
Happens on the fifth night. It’s an event that begins with a cocktail party at the Grand Piazza on Deck 7, where the captain introduces the senior members of the crew. There are also musical performances. Overflowing wine! Loved it!
At around 6pm, enjoy a full-course dinner at the Genting Palace as a pianist serenades you with the endless ocean in the background.
If you intend to join this, make sure you’re dressed for the occasion. Dress Code: Elegant Casual. No shorts and no open toed footwear. For guys, prepare a collared shirt or blazer.
We know how important it is to you so we created a separate section for it.
Every passenger is given 1-hour complimentary internet access. If you need more, you’re gonna have to purchase a plan.
- 24 hrs: HKS 116
- 24 hrs (Social plan): HKD 54
- Whole Cruise: HKD 505
Remember: you’re in the middle of the ocean, sharing the connection with the rest of the ship, so don’t expect lightning speeds, but it’s good enough for browsing, checking emails, social media, and even watching YouTube videos.
What we love the most about the Superstar Virgo is that it feels like home because of the staff. There are a lot of Filipinos working onboard: from the reception to the restaurants to the room services. I’m pretty sure there are more in the non-guest-facing departments, too. And it’s always wonderful to get to talk with them. They are proud of their work!
The rest of the crew is warm, friendly, and always willing to help. You don’t even need to ask for assistance. If they see you looking like you need something (info, direction, whatever), they will be the first to approach you with a smile.
- On the day before you arrive in Manila, you will be requested to proceed to Deck 12 for a health check. You will just be filling out a form and pass by a thermal imager.
- Pack your stuff before hitting the sack on your last night because they will collect your check-in baggage early in the morning of your last day. You can leave the bag or suitcase outside your door and someone will pick it up.
- Don’t forget to settle the bill before disembarking. Know that a gratuity of HKD110 PER NIGHT is charged to every guest (except infants below 2yo). HKD120 per guest staying in a suite.
I believe I’ve covered everything! Overall, it was a fantastic experience. Vins and I were kind of bummed that the Manila season would only last until May 28 because we wanted to do it again with our parents! Here’s hoping they’d return to the Philippines next year!