Story & photo by Gretchen Filart Dublin
Manila is now officially a cruise home port for Star Cruises as SuperStar Virgo fleet makes its first homeport deployment to Manila. The 13-storey cruise ship will sail from Manila’s south pier onward to Laoag, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, and Hong Kong during a six-day journey. The maiden voyage kicks off on March 19, with fifteen cruise ships voyaging from and to Manila until May 23, in time for the summer holiday.
“It’s the first time that Filipinos can cruise from your doorstep,” Star Cruises President Ang Moo Lim said in a press launch held at Resorts World Manila. “It is hassle-free, visa-free, and you don’t need to worry about documents or baggage – and at an affordable price.”
Star Cruises offers an early bird rate discount for all cabins for the entire month of March, starting at USD 490 per person on twin sharing. An additional 50 percent discount for the third and fourth guests in a quadruple sharing cabin can be enjoyed at only USD 245 per person.
Suites start at USD1,230. The rates include an all-inclusive stay in one of 935 deluxe oceanfront cabins and full-board meals (up to six a day), which they can enjoy in three non-chargeable restaurants: The Pavilion Room, Genting Palace, and the Mediterranean Buffet. A total of 11 restaurants can be found on site including specialty diners serving Indian, Western, and Japanese buffet.
Also part of the fare are guided city tours in each destination. The ship docks in the morning in each destination, allowing guests an eight to 10-hour leeway for explorations. Guests will visit historical UNESCO heritage sites and chalky beaches in Ilocos, while in Kaohsiung, they will be taken to renowned Taiwanese temples, museums, eateries, and shopping spots. Filipino passport holders need not obtain a visa for Taiwan, as such requirement is waived for those aboard the SuperStar Virgo. Next, the ship docks at Hongkong’s ocean terminal where guests can explore retail outlets, Cantonese food stalls, and futuristic skyscrapers surrounding Victoria Harbor. The ship will stay at high sea for a day before returning to Manila.
There is no idle time either in between tours as passengers will be treated to a slew of entertainment choices. “There are 1,001 things to do in our cruise ship,” Lim enthused. Among these are nightly live shows at Lido Theater and an elegant gala dinner at the Grand Piazza, where guests can dine with the ship officers. Afterwards, they can grab a drink at the Liquid Nitrogen Bar or watch musical performances at Celebrity on deck 13.
Senior Vice President Michael Goh shared that SuperStar Virgo’s entertainment decks are designed to resemble the vibrant atmosphere in Zouk, a hugely popular club in Singapore. “The whole concept is for guests to enjoy and dance under the stars.”
Children are also in for a treat with recreational activities such as basketball, cooking demos, and swimming at the Parthenon Pool, which features a 100-meter mega slide alongside four Jacuzzis. Meanwhile, customized Visita Iglesia activities await those who will be cruising during the Holy Week. Other onboard amenities include duty free shops, a salon, library, and spa that offers pampering services infused with Asian hospitality.
The first international cruise to bring holiday makers to international destinations from Manila, SuperStar Virgo’s launch is expected to boost the Philippines’ tourism appeal.
“We are confident that the inclusion of the Philippines in the itinerary of SuperStar Virgo will help strengthen the country’s position as a competitive cruise destination in the region,” said
Department of Tourism (DOT) Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. DOT Director Maria Corazon Jorda-Apo noted a 52.5 percent increase in cruise calls to the country in the five years. This year alone, foreign tourists from cruises are estimated at 117,000 – a figure that, according to DOT, is partly due to the agency’s strong partnership with Star Cruises.
“Five years ago, there were only 20 ports of call. We now have 117 calls – 30 of which are contributed by Star Cruises,” Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Maria Lourdes Japson said. She adds that “the homeporting of SuperStar Virgo here supports the DOT’s National Cruise Tourism Development Strategy, which defines our directions and plans to make the Philippines a major player in the regional cruise industry arena.”