Apr 24
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Cruising with Super Star Virgo

Author: MILA C. ESPINA
Column: Life & Entertainment

Cruising is a favorite leisure travel in Cebu. Since 10 years ago, turistas have been very bullish about it. For most of them, it is the most relaxing way to be with close friends and family. Aida Uy of the Cebu Fortune Travel said that selling cruises was difficult at the start, but after the first taste of it, travel aficionados came in bigger volumes. No wonder Aida won several accolades for being the pioneer in promoting cruising not only in Cebu but all over the country.

Once again, Aida had the Cebu Fortune Familiarization Cruise in cooperation with the Philippine Airlines onboard the Super Star Virgo on Aug. 19 to 22. The group was composed of Karen Villaluz, Cebu Fortune Travel; Cynthia Buendia of United Express with husband, Miguel; Warlita Basubas of Travel Conductors; Michelle Ozoa of Blue Wave Travel; Hazel Olais of Blue Pearl Travel; Maureen Villamero of Greenline Travel; Glenda Diaz of Jewel Skies; Ricky Tio of Cebu Holidays; Maria Josefina Araneta of Philippine Airlines; Editha Pestaño of Grand Hope; Sonny Espina and this writer.

The Philippine Airlines took us first to Manila, Aug.18, to connect to PR501 enroute to Singapore, where we spent an overnight at the Garden Hotel. The embarkation point was the Harbourfront where the procedure was swift and convenient. Our meeting with Ong Kong, general manager, Star Cruises Singapore, followed by a ship inspection was very informative.

Super Star Virgo showcases the marvels of the high seas,the myriad pleasures of luxurious sea journey. The awesome world-class megaship combines the best of classical and Mediterranean design, with eye-catching multi-hue marble and elegant rich wood finishing. Mr. Kong said that this magical creation, 76,800-grt and 13-deck structure, offers free-style delights interspersed with a certain degree of class, warmed by the grace and cordiality of the cruise’s officers and staff. There are options to enjoy your meals. You can be at your casual self at the Mediterranean buffet, or, have your favorite Chinese cuisines at the Pavillion. Bella Vista is the right place for fine dining. International dishes are in the a la carte restaurants for dining reservations. More than the food are other facilicities for sports and spa, boutique, entertainment and playhouse for children, shopping, disco at the Galaxy of Stars, music at the Bellini where the Papas Brothers from San Fernando, Cebu, sing nightly with a repertoire of Spanish and English songs, group dynamics at the deck, where Miguel and Ricky brought the house down in their gay fashion outfit, the sing-along bar where Sonny, Ricky and Marijo won their first gold medals and games like charade and the Weakest Link, where Sonny again won a gold medal. The younger ones enjoyed the disco and who can ever beat the Pinay when it comes to dancing? And speaking of the Filipinos, we found out that about 70 percent of the crew were Pinoys. No wonder, the passengers gave the crew an “A” for service and hospitality.

Our first shore excursion brought us to Penang, Malaysia, on Aug. 20. Options included a city tour with the Trishaw ride at Fort Cornwallis with a coach journey to the Clan Piers, a Chinese Water Village. The Temple tours gave glimpses of the famous Wat Chayamankalaram, which houses the third largest Buddha, measuring 33 meters in length, draped in gold-leafed saffron, reclining on a huge crematorium; the Kek Lo Si Temple, which stands atop a hill; and the Khoo Kongsi, the most celebrated historic temple in Penang. Environmentalists chose the agricultural tour to visit the Tropical Agro Farm to see some 140 species of tropical fruit. Guests savored a tasty barbeque lunch with free flow of fruit juices. Then followed the beach tours, a drive along Teluk Bahang, where the Butterfly Farm astounded the guests with its sanctuary of 120 species of rare tropical butterflies; The popular choice was the sightseeing and shopping tour. At the Batik Factory, the guests viewed the traditional technique of batik painting using wax and dyes. Amazing! The evening in Penang aboard the ship was capped by a barbecue dinner at the Parthenon Pool at Deck 2 and a colorful musicale called Beyond Broadway at the Lido performed by the crew. As usual, the Pinoys shone on centerstage. The estimated 2,000 passengers cheered the performers. We stood proud. We chanced upon some Cebuanos who occupy managerial positions, like Eddie Yap, a USJR Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate, who is one of the hrd-guests relations heads and another Cebuano as bar captain.

At 8 p.m., we sailed for Phuket and arrived at 8 a.m., Aug. 21. We took a heavy breakfast to prepare for a whole day shore excursion. We chose the Adventure Tour to experience the 30-minute elephant ride at the Adventure Safari. The group braved the rain and the wind and thrilled to the jumpy elephant ride. Wow! Ricky was the knight in shining armor who saw to it that every one of us was safe. Next stop was the Sri Burapa Cashew Nut Factory, an award-winning retailer of cashew nuts products. Oh, we had a taste of the best cashew candies, jelly and jam, and definitely bought a lot of nut varieties. The Wat Chalong is Phuket’s most important Buddhist Temple, glazed with golden glitters. The solemn ambiance demonstrated the Thai’s reverence for their god of prosperity and good health. There were souvenir shops around and as usual we didn’t lose time in buying pasalubongs. Kenneth, Glenda, Cynthia and Michelle feasted on native bags and costume jewels. Then, the Wang Talang, home of local handicraft, Thai silk, pearls and jewelry came as a surprise to most of us. Prices had become more affordable than the last time I was there. Ricky discovered a coffee shop where we had some cold coffee and tea drinks as additional amenities.

A Phuket trip will not be complete without passing by the Patong Beach. Traces of the ‘‘tsunami nightmare’’ were still there, some fallen structures and a few deserted sites. But surely Phuket recovered fast. We saw how crowded the beach was with so many tourists and traffic was rather tight. Phuket resting on about 400,000 population registered some four million tourist arrivals in 2006 and there was a large percentage increase during the first quarter of 2007. Tourists love the tropical climate where monsoon occurs in May till September. Best time to go is from November to March because it is much cooler. Festival seasons feature the Vegetarian Festival with roadside processions in October; the Loy Krathong in November and the Songkran in April. Phuket, originally a fishing village, is branded as the haven for spas, seaports and sightseeing. After a brief shopping at Wang Talang, we had lunch at the Thai Naan Restaurant where we had samplings of... hmm... spicy noodles and the nam prik goong sohd, or spicy shrimps. Another shopping spree happened at Jungceylong Mall but had no time to enjoy the biggest shopping center, the Central Festival. We had to be back to the ship for the Gala Cocktails at the Grand Piazza, then dinner at the Bella Vista. Fine dining at its best! Guests lined up for photo opportunities with the dashing captain of the ship, then had to catch up with the fantabulous farewell show at the Lido. The acrobatic stunts of the Chinese performers earned a standing ovation. For me, this event was the crowning glory of the cruise’s entertainment galore. We marveled at the variegated stage lights, fantastic costumes and powerful sound effects as singers, dancers and acrobats conquered the audience who breathlessly watched the well-paced repertoire.

Time to say goodbye. We all prepared for the trip back home, Aug. 22.We arrived in Singapore at about 7:30 p.m. and checked in at the Oxford Hotel. Some of us hardly slept because we spent time shopping again along the Orchard Road. Breakfast at 6 p.m., Aug. 23, was the prelude to Flight 502, Singapore-Manila at 9:40 a.m.,then Manila-Cebu hours later.

There were no hitches from start to finish. Kudos to Marijo Araneta of Philippine Airlines and Karen Villaluz of Cebu Fortune Travel who were steadily on their feet to see everything was in order. We thank Aida for constantly giving a chance to Cebu to experience leisure cruisings and to Philippine Airlines for being the cooperative co-sponsor. After all, tourism can only flourish if stakeholders and media work together. For me, cruising will always be the best way to unwind, pamper myself just a little bit and bond with people who matter. I have been to two Star Cruises and every single moment has always been a precious opportunity to cherish.

Source: Manila Standard Today