Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Does Your Cruise Overnight in Singapore?

Central Singapore at night
If you are in port overnight in Singapore you are in for a treat. There is a stunning, free, laser light and sound show that is well worth a 10-minute taxi ride from the cruise terminal to Marina Bay Sands to see. Every evening at 8 pm and again at 9.30 pm, the night sky around Marina Bay explodes in a dazzle of coloured beams of laser lights, music soundtracks and fountains. It's fantastic!
   And if you're in Singapore on the day of a festival, you can be sure of night-time fireworks as well.
  An overnight stop in Singapore is a great chance to see South-East Asia's cleanest, greenest city in all its after-dark blaze of lights and colours. I'm sure you'll be surprised.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Singapore as a Cruise Port of Call

A statue in Chinatown, Singapore
Singapore is an exciting city-state, small enough to visit the most interesting areas easily on a day in port. Cruise ships dock at the Harbourfront Terminal, right next to Sentosa Island. In fact, cable cars taking people to all the attractions on Sentosa pass directly over the ships at the wharf.
  Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are the ethnic areas, full of colours, exotic sights, attractive architecture and appetising smells. The Colonial District on the bank of the Singapore River has beautiful old buildings and gardens.
  Shopping is the national 'sport' of Singapore! Huge, airconditioned malls line Orchard Road and the newest, in the Marina Bay Sands complex, even has canals (like Venice but with sampan rides instead of gondolas) inside it. If you find the heat and humidity too much outdoors, then going to a mall is like being in a cool oasis.
  In Singapore you can choose the kind of shopping you want to do - from high-end luxury stores or roadside street stalls or a mix. And it will be only a short, cheap taxi ride back to the ship. In fact, the cruise terminal joins on to the biggest shopping mall in Singapore - VivoCity - so if spending money is your game, you mightn't get further afield than that!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

SuperStar Virgo: The Grand Piazza

The Grand Piazza on Superstar Virgo
Statues in the Grand Piazza on board
The Grand Piazza on Deck 7, is aptly named - it certainly is grand, and enormous. Colourful stained glass ceilings glowed brightly and glass-fronted elevators rimmed with lights rose and descended on one wall. Sweeping staircases led past huge statues of a man and woman dressed as in ancient Rome. There, on the landing, was a stunning centrepiece - a trio of larger-than-life carved horses, frozen in mid-gallop with manes ruffled and nostrils flared. All very dramatic.
  On boarding the SuperStar Virgo, I was escorted into the Grand Piazza by a crew member and offered a choice of a glass of champagne or fruit cocktail as a welcome drink.  He then proceeded to go through the information sheet, point by point, with me. But all I wanted to do was look around and soak up the festive atmosphere.
   Cameras flashed, passengers raced up and down the stairs to have their photos taken in front of the horses, the band was playing - all was light and noise and colour. It was great!
   Those glass-fronted elevators gave me the heebie-jeebies though. I made sure I always stood close to the door, with my back to the transparent wall so I couldn't see us going up and down. Have I told you I'm scared of heights?!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Where did, or didn't, SuperStar Virgo go?

Port Klang, Malaysia
The two night cruise I was on from Singapore to Malaysia was called the 'Malacca/Kuala Lumpur Cruise'. The itinerary said that the ship would be in Malacca from 7 - 9 a.m. then would sail on to Port Klang, the nearest port to Kuala Lumpur.
   I knew that passengers would not be allowed off the ship in Malacca but I thought that at least I'd be able to see the city from the observation deck.
   Nope! We didn't go there at all. Some passengers who had booked an all-day shore tour to Malacca and K.L. were taken off the ship by tender when we were in mid-stream. They'd rejoin SuperStar Virgo at Port Klang that night.
   We kept sailing up the Straits of Malacca; Indonesia on one side of us, Malaysia on the other. I hadn't realised how narrow this waterway is. We were in sight of land the whole way.
   Port Klang is huge; miles of wharves, hundreds of ships. This photo is of the cruise ship terminal there. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. From the terminal it's about a 40 minute drive, depending on traffic, into Kuala Lumpur.
   I didn't want to spend five or six hours on shore tours to enormous shopping malls or rush around in K.L. so decided to stay onboard, seeing the cruise was so short, and enjoy the ship's facilities for the rest of the day. But I did go ashore at one point to walk around outside the terminal, just so I could say I'd been to Malaysia!
   One woman was highly excited about the chance to shop at one of the biggest malls in Asia. She left the ship, clutching her husband in one hand and waving his credit card in the other, shouting, "Bye. I'm going to make him poor!"
   From the look of her when she arrived back onboard, carrying armloads of shopping bags, I'd say she certainly did.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Food, Food and More Food on SuperStar Virgo

Display at The Samurai Restaurant on Superstar Virgo
Food is always important on a cruise. Life seems to revolve around meal times and snack times and fancy afternoon tea times. Not to mention supper times and party food times and chocolate extravaganza times.
   On SuperStar Virgo there are 12 eateries. Three of them are free; at the others you have to pay for your meals.
   The Bella Vista is an enormous (free) restaurant, with seating for 586 people and serving European food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
   A 330 seat Chinese family-style restaurant called The Pavilion is also free for those meals. As its menu featured double-boiled pig's stomach and fish head curry for breakfast, I decided to stick to my yoghurt and muesli at the Bella Vista!
   The Mediterranean Buffet is the free, serve yourself restaurant with a wide range of dishes that are pork and lard free, catering for the religious dietary restrictions of many of the passengers.
   If you want to, you can pay a la carte and eat at more intimate venues. The Taj is an Indian, certified halal buffet. Or choose Noble House for Chinese, the Taverna for snacks, Blue Lagoon for Asian fast-food open 24 hours, or enjoy an ice-cream sundae at the Gelato Cafe. The Samurai, with this eye-catching display at the entrance, has Japanese food served by kimono-clad waitresses.
   At 11 p.m. on the first night my taste buds were tempted by the 'Choco Madness Party'. Luscious desserts were set out by the Parthenon Pool and we munched on chocolate treats while the band played at Sail Away.                                                       
At the Palazzo
   The Palazzo is a stunning, Italian, fine dining venue, done out in red and gold with a genuine Picasso painting hanging in pride of place. I got talking to the maitre d'. When he showed me the menu, I gulped at the prices. He didn't mind that I couldn't afford to eat there. "Come in and have a look anyway," he said. 'Sit down and I'll take your photo and you can pretend." So here I am, pretending to be champagne-drinking, caviar-eating rich!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Amusing Moments on SuperStar Virgo

Lots of fun on Superstar Virgo
There were 2,000 passengers on SuperStar Virgo - about 70% Asian (Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Korean), over 25% Indian and about 50 couples from Australia and South Africa - and me! As the only person travelling alone, I felt as if I stuck out like a sore thumb. Asian people kept coming up to me and asking if I was by myself. When I said I was, many of them would pat my arm in sympathy! It seemed as if they couldn't understand what it would be like to travel without being part of a family gathering.
   The next query was usually, "How old are you?" They certainly weren't shy about asking the personal questions.
   There was a large group of Herbal Life consultants from around the region as passengers. They were parading round wearing brightly coloured T shirts with 'Have you had a shake today?' emblazoned across their chests. Everytime I saw one of them I felt like shouting, "No!"
   The cruise director and his staff were called the 'Fun Bunch.' They were all very frenetic and rah, rah, rah with microphones at full volume. To warm up the audience before the evening shows they'd launch into the Chicken Dance. People rushed down the aisles to join them at the front, all flapping and wiggling and clucking. Very strange!
   And something I found even more strange -  a sign at the gangway when we were docked at Port Klang, Malaysia, said you were not allowed to bring on board nunchucks or ninja stars, but you were allowed handcuffs and night sticks. Now that's bizarre!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cruising in Asia with Star Cruises

On Superstar Virgo
Yes, I know it's not 'cruising the Pacific'! But I've been in Singapore for two weeks and while there, took the opportunity to go on a two night cruise on SuperStar Virgo. This is Star Cruises' largest ship, based all year round in Singapore. What a difference this cruise was from the other cruises I've been on.
   I think the average age of the cruisers would have been about 40. Most of the passengers were Asian and Indian, travelling in large family groups, from toddlers to grandparents. There were also many young Singaporean couples with babies and pre-schoolers. About 50 Australian and South African couples were on board - and me, on my own!
   The crew were great. Several took me under their wing, calling me 'Madam Wendy', putting me at the front of queues (despite my protests that I was happy to wait in line) and seating me by the window in the dining room. One even rushed over and gave me a hug as I was disembarking.
   The public areas of the ship were quite grand, with an enormous Grand Piazza (I'll write more about that in another post), two huge dining rooms and several themed smaller restaurants. There were the standard cruise ship features such as a show lounge that seats hundreds of people, bars and disco. But this ship also had private karaoke rooms, rows of slot machines for gambling in places other than the casino, and hardly any deckchairs. I think people in this hot and humid part of the world so close to the equator love to be inside in the cool air conditioning. Not many walked out on the promenade deck.
   I found the cruise fascinating for people-watching! Many cultural customs, family interactions, and senses of humour were different from what I am used to. I was glad I'd gone on this cruise for the experience of cruising with people from Asia and India. But would I go on one again? Probably not.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Hidden Costs of a Cruise

If you are as keen on cruising as I am, you are probably always on the lookout for your next holiday deals. But the advertised price of a cruise is just the beginning of the money to be spent on a cruise vacation. Some of the extra costs start before you walk out the door of your home.

  • Do you have pets? Add in the price of a boarding cattery or kennels for your cat or dog.
  • Does your cruise start or finish in a port away from your home town or city? Add in the cost of air fares or road travel.
  • Will you take your vehicle to a port or airport? Then allow for car parking fees for the time you're away.
  • Will you be visiting countries with different currencies? You will need to get their local money so add in exchange rates and bank fees.
  • Will you book the cruise yourself or use a travel agent? There may be agent fees to include in your budget.
  • Check carefully whether port charges and gratuities are included in the advertised fare. If they're not, these expenses can add considerably to the cost of a cruise.
  Once on the ship, you will have to pay for things over and above the standard cruise inclusions. These extras include drinks, photographs, shopping at the on-board boutiques, using the laundromat or laundry services, shore excursions and others such as wine tasting classes, cookery lessons, and speciality dining cover charges.
  Having said all that, I still believe cruise vacations are excellent value for money. When you consider the distances travelled, all the meals, great accommodation and the variety of entertainment (not to mention chocolates and a towel animal on your pillow every night!), you would be hard pressed to find a comparable land-based vacation for the same price.
  Now I'm off to Singapore with a short cruise to Malaysia. I'll report on that in my next posting.