By: Shamus Sillar
Singapore is well placed for super-fast getaways to nearby destinations, but nothing is as easy as boarding a Star Cruises ship for a quick Malaysia-Thailand escape. If you’ve not been on a cruise and you want to dip your toe in the water before committing to a longer journey, the three-night trip that I took on the SuperStar Virgo is a good place to start.
1. Open Water
After a hassle-free check-in, the Virgo pulled away from Harbourfront at three o’clock on a hazy Sunday afternoon. There are 935 cabins on this colossal vessel and, as we sailed around the western edge of Sentosa and towards the Strait of Malacca, I was happy to have opted for a Stateroom with a (small) balcony. Nothing quite beats an expansive view of open water as your home – and, more importantly, your office – slides away on the horizon behind.
There are bigger rooms available (various styles of suite, for example) and cheaper ones too; the latter are on lower decks and range from rooms with windows or portholes facing the sea to the windowless Inside Staterooms. Claustrophobes will be pleased to know that an upgrade is very affordable.
Even if you have a balcony, though, it’s worth taking the lift up to the 13th deck and making your way to the viewing area at the bow. Few passengers bother with this, so it’s a mellow spot to watch ships drift by as dusk creeps in. And if that doesn’t float your boat, it’s also right next to Virgo’s most casual bar, Taverna, which has well-priced buckets of cold beer and decent pizzas and burgers.
2. Let it Slide
I was fully expecting to find pools and Jacuzzis on board the Virgo; I was less prepared for the sight of a 100-metre “mega waterslide” twisting in the air above the top deck. Okay, so it makes for a clash of aesthetics with the Ancient Greek-themed décor of the pool area but hey, it’s a waterslide – on a boat.
The list of other facilities on the Virgo includes (deep breath) a children’s centre, games arcade, library, activity centre, saunas, sundeck, jet current, exercise machine, putting green, basketball court, disco and “Neptune’s Wet and Wild”, an alternative pool area for younger guests. As you can imagine, children who find themselves fortunate enough to be brought on a Star Cruise with their families will just about hyperventilate with excitement at all the fun stuff on offer.
Meanwhile, parents can get their kicks from the casino, gym, beauty salon, jogging track or the various evening shows that take place in a theatre so big that you’ll forget you’re at sea.
3. Teppanyaki Theatrics
For many passengers, food is the main focus of a holiday on SuperStar Virgo. Not a focus, rather an obsession – just do a search of some of the blogs written by Virgo passengers and you’ll see what I mean. (Sample quote: “About 50 percent of our free time on board was spent eating.” Astonishing!)
Part of the reason is that there are three restaurants where you can take all your meals for free; they’re included in the cruise ticket. And the food is good, particularly at Bella Vista, an enormous velvet-and-chandelier eating hall with 560 seats, and at Chinese restaurant Pavilion. However, my best meal by far (aside from some of the hawker dishes I sampled during a day excursion on Penang) was at Samurai, the ship’s Japanese restaurant. It’s much smaller than the free places and, aside from the excellent quality of the dishes, we had a personal chef who pulled off some legendary tricks on the teppanyaki grill. My favourites were “Landing a raw egg on a cleaver” and “The volcanic onion”.By the way, Balcony Stateroom passengers get a swipe-card with $200 worth of credit for use in the many F&B outlets dotted around the ship, so even at the non-complimentary restaurants you might be able to eat without paying, depending on how many late-night cocktails you’ve swiped on your card already.
4. Penang & Phuket
This particular four-day cruise included two long stopovers (around seven hours each) in Malaysia (Penang) and Thailand (Phuket). Various paid excursions are available through Virgo; I ended up doing my own thing on both days, though.
In Penang (Day Two), this is simple enough, since the boat pulls up at a pier that’s pretty much in the heart of Georgetown. The weather was hot beyond compare, but I still managed to explore the town’s most prominent temples, wander around the fascinating clan jetties, take a bus to the base of Penang Hill and a train up to the summit, hike for 5km through jungle down to the Botanic Gardens, and enjoy a cold drink at a seaside food court as the sun went down over the choppy Selatan Strait. But you might want to do one or two fewer things than that, since I was required to sprint back onto the boat at 7.59pm, one minute before departure time.
In Phuket (Day Three), I decided on a complete change of pace. I joined forces with a fellow ship passenger who I knew from Singapore and we took a 30-minute taxi to Kata Beach. Our destination was Re Ká Ta, a day resort with an infinity swimming pool right next to the sand. They do a great deal where you pay 500 baht (S$20) for use of the pool, lounge chairs and change rooms, including towels, iced water and more, plus you get your 500 baht back as credit at the excellent restaurant. We arrived at 10am and rolled out of the place at 3pm, sunburnt, satisfied and reasonably sozzled on Bloody Marys.
This just left Day Four of the cruise, which was spent entirely at sea on the return leg to Singapore. Most passengers spent their time lounging around the pool (when they weren’t eating). In fact, the pool was so heaving with people that I gave it a miss and instead relaxed on my bed with a good book, my balcony door wide open to capture as much sea breeze as I could before returning to the big smoke.
SuperStar Virgo sails regularly from Singapore to destinations including Penang and Phuket, and also Langkawi, Malacca and Pulau Redang, for two to seven nights at a time. For more information and reservations, visit www.starcruises.com.
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