July 22, 2007 SuperStar LIBRA cruise calling at Ishigaki and Naha, Japan.
I was as excited as a kid going on my first cruise, leaving the gangway and stepping aboard SuperStar Libra. Star Cruises has been absent from Taiwan for too long. But they are back now and I intended to make up for lost time, which I did.
Once inside Crystal Court, which is the Lobby containing Reception, Guest Services and Shorex counters, I was overwhelmed with the big bright smiles of the staff welcoming passengers aboard. My greeting was extra special to me, as many staff/crew whom I have known for many years were there as well, with arms outstretched and waiting for our usual greeting of hugs. It truly was like coming home to family.
My sailing had about 1,650 pax which is just slightly below full capacity. After all the greetings were done, I was escorted to my cabin (more on this later) by a most charming young lady named Pinky from Guest Relations Department. After telling me about the activities that were planned for the next four days and general info about the ship, I was ready to drop my suitcase, which found its way to my cabin all on its own, (there is no check-in luggage for these cruises. It is all carry on) without my knowing it, and explore the ship.
Truthfully, I did not know what to expect onboard SuperStar Libra. I have seen all kinds of reports when the ship was the Norwegian Sea. So, with an open mind I started my tour. By the way, I already liked what I saw of the Crystal Court and Deck 8 passageways.
Obviously the dry-dock this past June certainly refreshed this ship greatly. Everything was clean, shining where it should be and really no signs of wear and tear, except perhaps in the lifts/elevators. It was hard for me to imagine that this ship was almost 20 years old.
I went to the nearest lift lobby to go up to Deck 10, which is the topmost deck on Libra. At the Deck 8 mid ship lift lobby is an indoor curved staircase with wood steps that took me directly up to the Pool on Deck 9. From here I ascended the outdoor staircases to Deck 10. Deck 10 is called the Sun Deck, and for very good reason. It is expansive and open and has fabulous sea views. This deck completely encircles the ship, and has sun loungers on both port and starboard sides. New Astroturf has been laid on this deck as well as the Pool Deck which gives this area a refreshing new look.
Let's continue exploring the rest of Deck 10. Walking forward, we come to COCONUT WILLY's which is a nice outdoor bar. To me, this is a perfect location for a bar. It overlooks the pool, has gorgeous sea views and that wonderful fresh sea air. Although the bar and stools are under an overhang, the tables and chairs are not. So if you are sun sensitive,stay at eh bar area. The bartender's are friendly as is the wait staff and the drink prices are good. I like the fact that they do not blast you away with overly loud music here. A really nice, friendly bar.
This venue was my location for the sail away party held on the Pool Deck directly below.
Further forward of Coconut Willy's is the FITNESS CENTER with gym, sauna, and Tatami style massage rooms. A good out of the way location and very well attended by pax on my cruise and it seems to have all the necessary and preferred equipment.
Going around the bow area now we are going to go aft using the starboard side of the ship, where we come to the indoor SKYLINE KTV. I love this room which is on the starboard side of the ship. There is a huge wall of glass windows that offer great views. On the inboard side of the room are very comfortable banquettes, while at the windows there are tables and chairs. There is also a nice sit up bar at the far end of the room. This is a great room for just having a nice cocktail and enjoying the views or later at night when the Karaoke singing begins. It was very popular on my cruise. It is a comfortable, intimate room no matter the time of day or night.
Next we come to the BLUE LAGOON which faces directly aft and overlooks the Mariners Buffet directly below. I had no occasion to use this venue or sample the food here, as there was more than enough food on offer all day and night at other venues which are inclusive, while Blue Lagoon is extra charge. I did see quite a few people eating here and have heard comments that the offerings were quite good. I like this room's location, which is actually on a balcony and has nice views. (on later cruises I did dine at Blue Lagoon and found the food to be wonderful. Well worth the extra charge.)
The last public room on Deck 10 is the Tai Pan a la carte' Chinese Restaurant. It is located on the port side. This is a lovely room for more upscale dining. I was too busy to try this venue, but have been to others onboard various Star Cruises ships, and know for a fact that the food is very good and great attention to detail. I hope I will have the time to try Tai Pan on my next cruise, next month. I especially like the small lounge area of this room and the main room itself. Really nice. It is a fine venue to celebrate that special occasion or to just enjoy fine food. (I did finally get to dine at Tai Pan with the Hotel Manager and Executive Assistant Manager on a later cruise. Extremely good food and presented marvelously.)
Here on this deck we find Mariners Buffet restaurant, with the connected East Side/West Side Patio, the swimming pools, Twin Hot Tubs and Lickety Splits.
Let's start aft at the MARINERS BUFFET. This is the casual buffet food eatery, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While I usually never have breakfast aboard ship (too early) and this time was no exception, I did have morning Tea, lunch, afternoon Tea and Midnight Buffet here.
The food was actually very nice and a good variety. Here I found Western favorites and Asian as well. Being in the restaurant business I can tell fresh food and quality ingredients. No problem here at all. Executive Chef Saifol Ikhsan managed to prepare, cook and present food that was very tasty, fresh and displayed nicely. This is a big task on any ship. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the steam table and hot light food containers were replaced just when they reached the half full stage. Nothing bothers me more than to see buffet table food containers still sitting there with just scraps of food left. This venue did a brisk business at all serving times.
The room itself is quite large with large slanting floor to ceiling windows with marvelous views aft. During lunch the shades had to be drawn as the sun was too intense and was making the room hot. The tables are spaced far enough apart for comfort and the chairs are quite comfortable. Although there was a "closed" sign hung on the entrance door during off hours, I never had a problem to go in and get some coffee or ice water. Speaking about coffee, let's just say that onboard Libra, the coffee is just about as horrible as on other Lines.
Another nice aspect of Mariners is that the wait staff are very efficient, smiling and non intrusive. They will always ask if they can clear plates before taking them from the table. You are never rushed to eat and get out. The Indian Management team is just wonderful. They are pleasant and truly care if the guests are enjoying their meal and the service. In my case, they went out of their way on several occasions to do something for me. Even so far as to find out the name of a certain Japanese Steak House in Naha. Between the food, most pleasant service staff and Management, Mariners was an exceptionally nice experience daily.
Just outside the entrance/exits to Mariners is the East Side and West Side Patios. These are long and narrow spaces set up with tables and chairs where the guest can bring food from inside Mariners and dine Al Fresco. They are both identical spaces on port and starboard. The only caveat here is that the outboard windows are not able to be opened, and there is no air circulation.
During the day, when there is sunshine, this can be quite oppressive. While this to me is a ship's design flaw, perhaps the addition of ceiling fans would help. At night, these areas are much better, although not perfect.as they still need better air circulation.
Making our way further forward we are now at the POOL BAR. This is a nice, large venue for a refreshing drink for a respite of baking in the sun. The bar is under an overhang which thankfully offers shade and some breeze. Order whatever you like, as the capable bartenders will most likely know how to make it. And if they don't, they will find out. Service with a smile here also.
A few feet away from the Pool Bar and we are now at the 2 pools and twin hot tubs. I really like the pool deck onboard Libra. It is spacious and laid out nicely. Plenty of loungers available and tables and chairs are plentiful by the large windows that unfortunately do not open.
There were many children on this cruise, and I was very happy to see that the pool attendant was vigilant in making sure that the kids did not use the larger adult pool. He explained to the parents that it is for the child's safety, which is very true. When older children were in the pool he asked them and their parents if they know how to swim. If they didn't, he would courteously ask them to use the smaller pool. He also made sure that the adults took a shower before entering the pool.
Truthfully I was very glad to see that these safety and health precautions are taken seriously. Every pax obeyed the rules and there were no problems, just happy people having a good time at the pool.
The Pool Deck is also the venue for many of the parties and activities that take place onboard the Libra which are a lot of fun. Let me preface this with a little background info. Boarding time for the cruise started at 1:30pm with sailing at 5:00pm. A ship's tour was arranged by the cruise staff which started at 1:45pm. At 4:10 pm the mandatory Safety Drill took place which was handled with utmost professionalism and strictness. It was painless and over within 20 to 25 minutes. During embarkation there was piano music in the Galaxy of the Stars Lounge for anyone to enjoy.
Now begins the fun which will continue right up until the end of the cruise. At 5:00pm Sunday the sail away party was held at the Pool Deck with music provided by the SuperStar Libra Canton Band and fun activities and introduction of the Cruise Staff. A lavish "Welcome Aboard" BBQ dinner was set up and served on both port and starboard sides of the pool deck. You name it and it was available. Succulent meats, fresh veggies, salads, appetizers galore and a separate dessert table which was set up in front of the Pool Bar. And is the custom with Asians, there was a huge assortment of fresh fruits available to end their meal. The SuperStar Libra Trio also played at the Pool Deck party. This was a fun, festive event which everyone enjoyed. Many pax decided to stay at the pool and enjoy an evening swim, like me, The opening hours of the pools are very convenient. Open at 7:00am and closes at 12 midnight.
The last venue on Pool Deck is Lickety Splits. Here free ices and ice cream are offered at specified times to all pax. Kids and adults as well loved it.
Being that we are still on the Pool Deck, I must tell you that on the last night of the cruise the pool deck was the venue for the "farewell Party" and "Chocolate Extravaganza" buffet. Again there was entertainment from the cruise staff and Canton Band and the Superstar Libra Trio. The place was jumping. People everywhere! Long buffet tables laden with confections of chocolate and sweets that would be a dieter's nightmare. Pax were dancing, eating, swimming, eating, looking at the entertainment, eating and so on. This was really a fantastic farewell gathering where Hotel Management, Cruise Staff and musicians were all on hand to say thanks for being aboard SuperStar Libra.
There is only one public room on this deck, and that is BOOMERS DISCO, which is located extreme aft. I really like this venue for a few reasons. One reason is that it is a perfect size. Not too big and not too small. There is nothing worse than being in a huge disco with only about 20 patrons and feeling like you are alone in a cavern. Not the case here. It's a great size and feels good whether there are 10 patrons or 100.Another reason I like Boomers is that it has good comfortable seating at tables or banquettes. The DJ knows his stuff and thankfully he plays it at a decibel that is "human friendly". This is not saying that you can't hear the music in Mariners on Deck 9 during the Midnight Buffet. Well, rather you hear the boom, boom. A welcome feature at the entrance to the disco is that there areheavy glass doors which separate the passenger passageway and the small lobby in front of the disco. I Never heard a sound filtering in to the passenger accommodation area.
Being that I just mentioned the passenger passageway on Deck 8, we might as well stay here and take a look at the cabin I occupied on this deck. As I mentioned earlier, the hallways/passageways look bright and fresh and are well lit. My outside deluxe cabin with obstructed view was portside midship. Reading all the past reports and comments about the size of the cabins onboard Libra, I was ready to expect the worst. But to my unexpected pleasant surprise, when the Guest Relations Officer opened the cabin door, instead of shock, I was most utterly pleased. While not huge, this cabin was large enough to be comfortable, spotlessly clean and did not show any wear or tear. I've read some past comments about the metal cabinets being cheap looking and feeling. I honestly did not find this true. They were perfectly fine and there are plenty of them. This cabin has great drawer and wardrobe space. Better than on some other Deluxe ships I have sailed.
Okay, the bathroom. This is the only caveat of the cabin. Yes, the bathroom is the size of a postage stamp, but it is laid out functionally which gives you the opportunity to perform various functions all at the same time if you so desire, if you get my drift. It served its purpose well and that's all I was concerned with. Good water pressure, nice hot water when I wanted it and a below sink shelf for toiletries. I don't live in the bathroom, so I could care less.
While there are no public rooms on this deck, there is an aft outdoor sports area with basketball hoop, and nearby shuffleboard. What's great about this deck is the complete wraparound promenade. It is not too often to find a promenade deck that completely circles the ship on today's ships. I could live without the bare, painted metal decking, but to be able to walk along this deck or just sit and take in the beautiful views afforded is marvelous.
The larger public rooms and casinos are located on this deck, which is devoted to pure enjoyment. We'll start aft at GALAXY of the STARS which is a great entertainment room used to showcase the Canton Band, the SuperStar Libra Trio and to host games and special events.
This is a very comfortable room with deep cushion seating and very nice decor. Also in this room is a very nice bar area with good views of the stage. It is a large venue, but can be intimate at times.
Heading forward we now are in the bright red passageway that will take us to the next public room which is the STAR CLUB. This is the general casino for all passengers. A large room, with lots of gaming tables and walls of slot machines. It is comfortable and has very good, attentive attendants.
Now we are at the circular balcony which overlooks the Crystal Court on Deck 4. The VIP Admiral Club is located in this area, as are numerous display windows. Very soon sofas, tables and a bar will be installed here to be a Balcony Lobby Bar. This is a fantastic idea as at the moment this is all wasted space in my opinion. It will be great to sit here and hear piano music from below and also be able to watch what's going on below at the Crystal Court. (Update: sofas and tables are now in place here, and there is music by the SuperStar Libra Trio) Next we are at the photo shop. This place was really doing a landslide business during my cruise.
We are now at the STARDUST LOUNGE which is the main showroom. I prefer a show lounge over a theater styled venue. And this room suits me just fine. I especially like the gentle upward slant of the floor which gives slightly better views of the stage for the audience seated in the rear of the room. Drink service is available here, but order them before the show starts, as during the performance you will not see any bar stewards/stewardesses around.
The sofas and tub chairs are comfortable, and the small round, glass topped cocktail tables with lamps are a welcome addition.
The stage is fairly large and raised which does help for viewing. I was very pleased with the moveable sets that were built for the two production shows. I will talk about the shows a little later.
Let's begin at CRYSTAL COURT which is the main lobby where you will find Reception, Guest Services and Shorex desks. In the middle of this room there was once a tubular glass fountain. This is now removed and replaced with a brilliant display of foliage which is beautiful albeit artificial. But you really must get up close to see that it is artificial. On this particular cruise, there was a group of young children who were studying music at their schools. Many of them brought their instruments with them, and were allowed to play in the Crystal Court. The Libra pianist would accompany them. It was just heart warming to see and hear these young children displaying their talents. Although these events were not announced, many pax gathered around to hear them. Seems that word of mouth spread quickly through the Libra.
Just outside the Crystal Court in a passageway is the Beauty Salon. I did not use the Salon on my cruise, but I certainly am going to on my next sailing. The stylists do good work, as I saw on customers leaving the salon. (Update: I have had my hair styled on later cruises, and was extremely happy with the stylist and cut)
Right at the Crystal Court is the entrance to the FOUR SEASONS DINING ROOM which is the smaller of the two main dining venues onboard Libra. Four Seasons serves International cuisine buffet style. This is a very comfortable room and nicely decorated. The room does not extend full beam on the port side because of a wide passageway that leads to the Ocean Palace dining room. It reminds me of an indoor promenade of days gone by. I like the faux stained glass ceiling, but to my taste, it is overly lit, making the room too bright. The only disappointment I had aboard Libra was in the dining rooms. And my disappointment was definitely not in the food, but rather in that both dining venues are now all buffet style. I sorely miss being able to sit down and have waiter service, but, Star Cruises follows what the market wants. Here in Taiwan the locals do prefer to eat quickly and not linger at the tables, and then leave and go to do their thing elsewhere. The buffet table was set up conveniently and offered a large array from which to choose. All hot foods were kept at the right temperature, which is not easy to do. All food not only looked fresh and freshly prepared, they tasted fresh and delicious. I certainly offer my compliments to Executive Chef Saifol. (Update: There is now sit down waiter service and food is ordered off a menu. Fantastic!)
The other dining venue is the OCEAN PALACE dining room, which is the Chinese cuisine venue located at the aft. To get here, you must walk through PARK AVENUE, which is a wide passageway on the port side.
Ocean Palace is a nice enough room although bland, with windows on three sides, of which the aft windows are very large and offer great sea views. Again, the food is buffet style and is presented nicely and I enjoyed the taste very much. Watching the other diners in the room, everyone seemed to be enjoying their meals. (Update: there is also waiter service and menus in this venue now)
Eating habits and styles have certainly changed here in Taiwan. I can remember the days when the Chinese food venue would be the only venue with huge crowds and long lines of pax waiting to get in. Not so today. I can honestly say that the Four Seasons dining room was extremely busy during all meal service times. This goes to show that food taste has certainly changed and the local Taiwanese are now enjoying cuisine from other countries.
Cruise Activities and Shows:
Star Cruises has always provided wide and varied cruise activities on all their ships. Libra holds true to this and more so. As I said in previous comments, the Taiwanese really like to be kept busy. The Cruise Staff, headed by the lovely Sammi Sun were tireless and full of energy. They really did their best to bring the pax into all the games and activities. The Cruise Staff is multi-national indeed and brought a nice mix of cultures for the pax to experience and enjoy. All the pool deck parties and events were made that more special by this talented and energetic group of young people. Maybe not everyone won prizes at the indoor games, but all who attended these games walked away happy and smiling due to the personalities of the cruise staff.
Production shows and Crew Show:
The days of the magician, a singer and juggler are long gone at Star Cruises. They have developed their own "in house" production shows which premiered onboard SuperStar Virgo. They have turned a mundane cruise show into an extravaganza. Although the stage onboard Libra is much smaller than that of Virgo, the production shows "Gypsy" and "Music Box" were still brilliant. I again want to mention the absolutely fantastic Acrobatic Troupe from China who performed in both shows. Their skills and perfect timing were a highlight of each show. Lavish costumes, unique moveable sets and superb lighting made these shows very enjoyable. While I enjoyed both, I give a slight edge to Gypsy, because the opening number of Music Box was a bit cumbersome and weak. But it certainly did pick up after the opening number. I am a firm believer and protector of copyrights, so I do not have any photos of the shows themselves, but I am able to show you two publicity shots.
It is just amazing to see the talents of some of the crew members. The wonderful people who keep our cabins immaculate, the people who serve us in the dining venues, the gym instructors, and the hard working crew who keep the ship moving, all have hidden talents that we would never know about if it were not for the Crew Show. I truly applaud them all for giving up their greatly deserved time off, when they should be resting or sleeping, to be in the Stardust Lounge or other room rehearsing for the Crew Show, to please us, the passenger.
Their ability at singing, dancing, comedy and group acts is marvelous. Their stage presence is so honest and sincere it would be hard to not enjoy them. But their talents just shine and you can see how proud they are that the audience is enjoying their talents and all the effort that went behind bringing this show to the passengers.
My recent cruise aboard SuperStar LIBRA was wonderful, thanks to the high energy cruise staff, the superb International staff/crew working onboard and the delectable food at all venues, and the most enjoyable shows in the Stardust.
While Libra sails ex-Taiwan, naturally there are some aspects of the cruise which are meant to cater to the local market. This is the way it should be. However, I think that any International traveler would feel right at home aboard Libra and enjoy their cruise immensely. All events, as well as ship announcements are done in Mandarin and English. With the multi national staff/crew onboard Libra, no passenger should have any language problems whatsoever.
I found my cabin to be most adequate and comfortable. There was a selection of bathroom toiletries in a Star Cruises plastic zipper bag which was welcome, as well as thick, fluffy bathrobes and slippers. The coffee/tea making facilities was also a nice touch. Cabin air temperature was easily controlled and comfortable at all times. I know that the cabins on either side of mine had passengers, but I never heard any noise from them. Sound insulation was good, at least in my cabin.
Food at all venues, both Asian and International, was always fresh, well presented and very tasty. The kitchens onboard Libra also did a fine job with the tea's and midnight suppers. There was always something to please all tastes. If you went hungry, it certainly was not for lack of good food available. As I said earlier, all passengers seemed to enjoy the wide and varied food onboard Libra. The Captain's Gala Dinner was a special event that was done very high class and gave that "special" feel to the cruise. This Gala Dinner is held on all 4D/3N cruises. Writing this, I am thinking about my next meals aboard Libra, and looking forward to them with pleasure.
I found all the entertainment to be very enjoyable. With all the activities that are going on at all hours, it was hard to choose what to do and see. As mentioned earlier, the production shows were marvelous and the crew show was especially entertaining.
Libra is scrupulously maintained and looks fresh and inviting. For those of you who knew Libra as the Norwegian Sea, you will be pleased with the ship's condition and pleasantly surprised at some new additions. I am especially looking forward to seeing the new Balcony Bar that will be added on Deck 5 above the Crystal Court Lobby. This should prove to be a popular new venue.
Libra is large enough to offer areas where one can go to relax and be alone if so desired. In particular, I find that the lift/elevator lobbies are great places to retreat to if you want a quiet conversation or to just gaze at the sea from those marvelous windows. I love the feel of Libra. This ship has a wonderful connection to the sea and truly feels like a ship.
The Hotel Management team consisting of Mr. Jeffrey Cheok who is the Hotel Manager and Mr. Alan Wong who is the Executive Assistant Hotel Manager are there to provide you with the utmost of professional care and exemplary service. Their concern for passenger satisfaction is their top priority.
At the Front Desk is the charming and personable Miss Chanel Tan who hails from Malaysia and is the Front Desk Manager. All passenger concerns are handled swiftly, promptly and with professionalism by Miss Tan and her very capable staff. Here again, passenger satisfaction is a top priority. Final check-out was a breeze thanks to this most efficient staff.
Libra has the atmosphere of a "happy ship". All staff/crew seem to really enjoy their work and it shows in their faces. Indeed, a happy crew is a happy ship.
To all you readers who hail from the four corners of this globe, I can honestly recommend SuperStar Libra to each and every one of you. You will most surely enjoy the famous Asian hospitality that is ever present onboard Libra and the sincere warmth of all personnel. I also think you will enjoy visiting Taiwan, which I consider my second home. Libra is a perfect size ship for this market and the locals seem to agree, as bookings are very good.
Disembarking your ship at the end of a cruise is usually a bittersweet moment. And mine was no different. But seeing all those smiling, cheerful faces of the cruise staff and entertainers at the bottom of the gangway brought back wonderful memories of this cruise and somehow eased the pain of leaving.
The Libra herself seemed to be saying from her "soul", in some cosmic way, "I know I'll see you again and welcome you back with open arms".