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5 days on Superstar Virgo’s last winter cruise

It was the first time I’d ever taken a medicine for motion sickness. Guess I was lucky to have never needed it while in transit—in a car, on a bus, on a plane— but a cruise ship was a different story altogether. Sometimes, it felt like walking on a mattress.  

5 days on Superstar Virgo’s last winter cruise
A SUPERSTAR ON THE SEA. Star Cruises' 13-story SuperStar Virgo will come back to the sea as Explorer Dream, joining Genting Cruise Lines' luxury cruise brand Dream Cruises. 
I was one of the 670 passengers aboard SuperStar Virgo’s five-day Winter Deployment cruise from Manila to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam and Sanya, China in December 2018, one of the cruise ship’s last trips prior to its rebranding as Explorer Dream—but more on that later. 

According to Captain Christian Aalbers, and some of the Filipino crew, the seas were rough on that particular cruise, hence the need for dimenhydrinate or (as some crew members suggested) green apple shake. 

Life onboard

Days onboard SS Virgo were filled with activities from morning till midnight, keeping everyone, from kids to seniors, occupied. There were fitness activities, special classes and tours, exhibits, bingo, trivia and board games, game shows, film showing, and special shows. 

5 days on Superstar Virgo’s last winter cruise
SuperStar Virgo had various outlets and facilities, most of which the passengers could use free of charge. Clockwise: The fully equipped Universal Gym fitness center, the Parthenon Pool, the Grand Piazza, and dessert served during the Captain's Gala Dinner. 
Joining these activities either made us forget the dizzy spells or made us all the more feel our lack of balance. But either way, the programs offered a great way to pass the time and explore the 13-story ship, except for the lower decks. 

SuperStar Virgo has 935 cabins, divided into four types: Inside Cabin, Oceanview Cabin, Balcony Cabin, and Suite Cabin. The sizes of the cabins, except for the suites, were modest at best. Despite the small size, the cabins were equipped with the essentials: two single beds or one double bed, sofa, writing desk and chair, flat screen TV, closet, and a toilet and bathroom. 

During the ship’s tour, we were told the cabins were small so guests would go outside. 

And outside awaited the Grand Piazza, where events and shows were held; the two-level Zodiac Theater, where the special shows were staged and films were shown; the Activity Center, where passengers can play board games among other activities; the Diamond Club lounge where the mahjong crowds were at; and the Galaxy of the Stars, bar and lounge area where band played and bingo games were held. 

5 days on Superstar Virgo’s last winter cruise
'Love Around the World' and 'Spirits' were two of the special evening shows at the Zodiac Theater. 
In addition to these facilities were the library dubbed Writing Room, Oscar’s Hair and Beauty Salon, Apollo Spa, Universal Gym, Ocean Drug cosmetics and pharmacy, and Duty Free shops and Star Boutique. On deck 12 was Parthenon Pool, popular for its 100-meter mega water slide. 

It was virtually impossible to be hungry onboard, as the cruise provided seven meals per day at inclusive restaurants Taverna, The Lido Buffet, Star Dining, and Pavilion Restaurant Chinese Cuisine. Other dining establishments on the ship were Silk Road Chinese Restaurant, Palazzo Western Restaurant, Samurai Japanese Restaurant, The Taj Indian Ala Carte and Shabu Shabu, Blue Lagoon Asian Bistro, and Coffee Nook 

Special shows on the trip I joined were “Love Around the World,” “Spirits,” “Vince Vignaud Close Up Magic,” and “Ballroom Dancing.” These nightly performances were free for all passengers. 

But one of highlights of onboard activities was the “Manila Philharmonic Orchestra Concert at Sea.” It was, according to MPO founder and music director Rodel Colmenar, the orchestra’s first time to perform on a cruise, hence he “brought with me the best musicians in our orchestra,” said Colmenar. 

An adult show, entitled “Goddess,” was open for those willing to pay a minimal fee. 

Shore excursions

On the third day of the five-day cruise we arrived in Ha Long Bay in northeastern Vietnam, home to about 2,000 limestone islands and islets, similar to those in El Nido, Palawan. 

It was a rainy day during the winter season when we docked. 

Despite the ongoing hotel and casino developments left and right Quang Ninh Province, there was a certain stillness and calm in the place. Waiting for your Vietnamese coffee to transfer from the stainless steel drip filter into your cup was almost meditative. The coffee was glorious. 

5 days on Superstar Virgo’s last winter cruise
Sanya, the southernmost city on Hainan Island in China, is home to the country's biggest Buddhism-themed tourism zone and long stretch of white sand beaches. 
The six hours we had in Ha Long Bay were spent on a bay cruise and a visit to the four-story Vincom Halong shopping mall (which sold mostly local brands) and a local products shop. 

We then stepped on the shores of Sanya in China the following day. Visa was waived for cruise/shore excursion passengers. Disembarking passengers were given seven hours to explore the “Best of Sanya,” the southernmost city on Hainan Island. 

Previously occupied only by  fishermen and navy soldiers, the city, since it has been developed in the ‘90s as a tourist destination, is now home to rich Chinese nationals, who, according to our tour guide, own villas that serve as their summer home when they want to escape the cold weather in the northern part of the country. Those who don’t own villas stay in the many international hotel chains scattered in the city. 

Our group went to Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone, China’s biggest Buddhism-themed tourism zone featuring the Nanshan Temple and a 108-meter Nanshan South Sea Kwan-yin Bodhisattva Statue; Summer Mall, one of the biggest shopping centers in Sanya; and a local products shop. 

We also spent an hour at Dadonghai Beach, where we tried some of the island’s skewered delicacies. 

Rebranding

After its Grand Finale Cruise on Jan. 3, SuperStar Virgo is now undergoing a $30-million makeover as it joins Dream Cruises’ fleet as Explorer Dream. The luxury cruise will sail out from Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand—the first time Dream Cruises will be sailing outside of Asia, according to Genting Hong Kong executive chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay. 

Explorer Dream will feature Dream Cruises’ signature The Palace, a luxurious “ship within ship” enclave that has 140 suites and private VIP facilities including its own swimming pool, spa, gym, and dining outlets. 

Photos by Bernadette Lunas

Topics: SiperStar Virgo , Grand Finale Cruise , Explorer Dream , Dream Cruises , China , Vietnam , Christian Aalbers
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