In the past, Filipino families in Manila had to fly to Hong Kong or Singapore to hop on a cruise. Not anymore. In a press conference held this week at the Passion Restaurant at Resorts World Manila, Mr. Ang Moo Lim, president of major shipping line Star Cruises (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Genting Hong Kong), announced that SuperStar Virgo, known as the "Jewel o the South China Sea" and one of its 6 premier cruise ships for families (the others are SuperStar Libra, SuperStar Gemini, SuperStar Pisces, SuperStar Aquarius and The Taipan) has made Manila (Pier 15, South Harbor), in addition to five other Asian cities, as one of its home ports.
According to Ms. Andrea Solis Manzano, the company’s Assistant Vice-President for Sales, other cruises only have port calls in Manila. Star Cruises was the first major international cruise line to recruit Filipinos for our cruise ships and, for the past 23 years, Filipino seafarers have been a part of their company’s DNA. According to Michael Goh, Star Cruises’ Senior Vice-President for Sales, Manila, as a home port, will not only be the start and end of Superstar Virgo’s Manila-Laoag-Kaohsiung-Hong Kong route, it will also put Manila on the Asian cruising map currently dominated by Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, followed by Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan.
According to Department of Tourism (DOT) assistant secretary for tourism and development planning Ms. Maria Lourdes Japson, the announcement came just in time for the completion of the National Cruise Tourism Strategy of the Philippines and she believes this will help make the Philippines a major player in the cruising industry. She also added that, in the last five years, there has been a 52.5% increase in cruise calls in the Philippines. This year, the country expects more than 100 cruise calls and among the favorite destinations are Manila, Boracay, Puerto Princesa (Palawan), Bohol, and Siargao. To make it more cruise-friendly, the DOT, according to her, continues to improve the country’s facilities and also partners with businesses and other organizations to highlight natural and cultural attractions in more remote places in the country. “We’re confident that the Philippines will become a cruise destination all the more,” she added.
Superstar Virgo will sail from Manila and take its guests, for a 6-day, 5-night trip, to Laoag City (Ilocos Norte), Kaohsiung (Taiwan) and Hong Kong, with no visas (unless passengers plan to hop off in Taiwan and stay for an extended period), no hassles, all-inclusive, duty-free shopping and almost unlimited baggage allowance as some of its perks for Philippine passport holders. The itinerary covers accommodation, on-board meals (at least six times a day), recreational facilities and nightly entertainment culminating in a spectacular grand gala dinner ("High Seas" or "Cruising Day") at the Gran Piazza where guests get to dress up and socialize with the ship's captain and officers (guests must make reservations, in advance, to attend).
Ilocos Norte is known for its Baroque churches, Spanish colonial buildings and white-sand beaches. Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, is the island’s largest industrial center and second largest city. Besides shopping, Kaohsiung is popular for its temples, museums, street food and other culinary adventures. Hong Kong, the final stop (specifically, in the futuristic Harbour City in Victoria Harbour) is world famous for its shopping, dining, entertainment, and nightlife. Star Cruises arranges short excursions and day tours in each of these cities it will make a stop in.
The initial 15 voyages will run from March 19 to May of this year, dates in summer (the best time to have a cruise for the pleasant weather and calmer seas) that were chosen to avoid the typhoon season and coincide with school break and Holy Week, according to Mr. Goh. For the cruise, standard promotional fares start at US$490 and the highest promotional rate is at US$1,530. For cruise departures on March 19, 24 and 29, Star Cruises is offering an early bird discount of PhP24,500/person (twin sharing in an Inside Stateroom) and third and fourth persons (quad sharing) can enjoy an additional 50% discount (PhP12,250/person) off. Port and gratuity charges are not included, subject to Star Cruises terms and conditions.
The almost 20-year-old (built in 1999 in Germany) but well-maintained, 13-storey Leo Class cruise ship, the trip’s real destination, according to Mr. Goh, can accommodate a maximum of 2,400 passengers and has 935 cabins (luxurious executive suites with hot tubs, rooms with balconies, cabins with ocean vistas). It also has 13 bars and restaurants serving Chinese, Japanese and international cuisine; spa; gym; a duty-free shopping center; an outdoor swimming pool (Parthenon Pool) with a 100-meter mega water slide and view of the open sea; jacuzzi, mini golf course; library; health club and spa; basketball court; jogging track; sauna rooms; hairdressing salon; open-style karaoke lounge, observation deck and and in-house, two-level theater (Lido Theater) that plays full productions that include magic shows, ballroom dancing spectacles and acrobats.
Star Cruises Philippines: 4/ Star Cruises Centre, 100 Andrews Ave., Newport, 1309 Pasay City. Tel: (632) 836 6830 to 32. Fax: (632) 836-6835. E-mail: email@example.com. Website: www.starcruises.com. For a 360° review of SuperStar Virgo’s cabins and facilities, check out their new VR Virtual Tour at http://www.starcruises.com/virtualtour/en/index.html. For more travel and cruising information, follow Star Cruises Facebook Page