Star Cruises puts together all its shows in-house and its latest offering, "Sorpresa! - Surprise at Sea" is a real eye-boggler. Based on the Chinese philosophy of feng shui and its core elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth, this show combines beautiful costumes with haunting operatic music and gravity defying acrobatics to create a true spectacular. Artistes include China's Zhang Si Qi, who -- at 21 inches tall -- is the world's smallest man, and an astonishingly flexible team of Chinese acrobats.
I very rarely rave about cruise shows as generally I find them a bit of a yawn, but this one, which has all the color, vitality and weirdness of a medieval carnival, is well worth staying up for.
As anyone who's traveled in the Far East will know the Orientals are fond of strong colors, and this is reflected in the warm, rich tones of SuperStar Virgo's public rooms.
There is a touch of garishness about the three huge, prancing golden horses which dominate the ship's main atrium lobby -- though these are very popular backdrops for Asian passengers taking snapshots with their ubiquitous cameras.
And the atrium itself -- designed as a courtyard, with shuttered windows, a fountain and very pretty stained glass ceiling insets -- is easy on the eyes, while decor throughout the ship is perfectly tasteful. Indeed, those who've traveled on Carnival Cruise Line vessels will find this ship very restrained!
True, the gigantic Oasis Casino on Deck 7 is rather gaudy (when are casinos ever not?) and the elaborate, high-backed gold chairs in the Palazzo Restaurant may seem a mite over-the-top to Western tastes, but overall this ship provides a very pleasing environment.
Some elements -- like the blue and white, nautical-themed Blue Lagoon restaurant -- will already be familiar to those who have traveled on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Star, which were originally destined for the Star fleet but transferred over to its subsidiary.
The prettiest lounge is The Galaxy of the Stars on Deck 12, which offers 360 degree views from a large-windowed observatory area sectioned off from the main lounge by glass screens. This lounge hosts lectures, demonstrations and game shows and is a popular dance venue, having a bigger dance floor than the Celebrity Disco on Deck 13.
A spiral staircase leads down from the Galaxy of the Stars to the Captain's Bridge Viewing Gallery, where passengers can view Star Cruises memorabilia and watch the ship's officers at work on the bridge.
SuperStar Virgo's main public rooms are centered around Deck 8, which has a small cinema, two shops, meeting rooms, the Samurai and Taj restaurants, the top level of the two-deck Lido Theatre and the Bellini champagne bar. Bellini, though open plan, has quieter, enclosed wings at either side with large windows offering superb sea views.
Deck 7 holds the casino, the Blue Lagoon, Palazzo and Noble House restaurants, the Grand Plaza (site of the ship's reception desk and those horses!) and the attractive, African-themed Out of Africa karaoke club.
This serves as a patisserie/coffee shop during the day, and has separate rooms for private karaoke parties. Karaoke packages range from the Timon and Pumbaa at $68 Singapore -- which covers two hours' room hire, unlimited snacks and soft drinks -- to the Lion King, a $368 Singapore extravaganza involving two hours' room hire, unlimited snacks, one bottle of Hennessy Cognac or Chivas Royal Salute Scotch, one bottle of wine, six cans of beer and soft drinks (and if that little lot doesn't loosen your vocal chords, nothing will).
SuperStar Virgo's open decks -- particularly its classical garden-style Parthenon Pool area -- are less cluttered and more attractive than on almost any other cruise ship in the industry, with plenty of sunbathing space, a roomy pool and four large whirlpools. Sunbeds are cleverly interspersed with outdoor tables and chairs to prevent the "sardines in a can" effect of many ship's sun decks.
The most striking feature of Virgo's Roman-style Oscar's Spa is the area at its entrance containing two powerful jet pools for aquatic workouts. There is also a roomy, sea view gym and a comfortable, large-windowed relaxation area off the changing rooms and thermal suite (use of sauna, steam and Aqua Swim pools costs $12 Singapore a time, but Balcony Class passengers have free access).
Treatments range from the usual facials (from $68 Singapore) and grooming procedures (pedicures from $20 Singapore) to traditional Thai massages ($50 Singapore for half an hour, $80 Singapore for an hour). These can be enjoyed out on deck or in your cabin for a $15 Singapore surcharge. Foot and hand reflexology is also available, from $30 Singapore for 30 minutes.
Sporty types will find plenty of room to get active outdoors; the ship has a jogging track, Ping-Pong tables, golf nets, a small putting green and a basketball court, and free exercise classes in the gym include aero kick boxing, Abs Challenge and Hi-Lo aerobics. The ship has a wrap around promenade on Deck 7 that's perfect for a pre-dinner stroll. Sports equipment is available from the Activity Centre, which lies next to the well-stocked library, Internet Centre, mah jong and card rooms on Deck 12. Sports gear is free for two hours (with an $25 Singapore refundable deposit). After that, guests pay $5 Singapore per hour.
At the stern end of Deck 10 is a huge, indoor/outdoor children's activity area comprising Neptune's Wet 'n' Wild alfresco playground and pool, an imaginatively designed area with sea lion fountains, an octopus waterslide and a submarine-style climbing frame. There is also a small, kidney-shaped paddling pool for younger children.
There is more climbing and play equipment under cover and indoors in Charlie's Child Care Centre, which is dominates by a huge, multi-activity "Monkey's Cage" play center and ball pool.
There is also a substantial arts and crafts area, a computer room, a mini-theatre with tiered soft seating and a TV, and a sleeping room with three cots and six floor-level beds. For older children, the ship has a gigantic video games arcade.
Age-related activity programs are available from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. but there is a charge for these: $8 Singapore per hour for kids 1 - 4, $6 Singapore for kids 5 - 12. After 11:45 p.m., the price increases to $12 Singapore per child per hour, regardless of age. In-cabin babysitting costs the same for up to two chilren; add $3 Singapore per hour for each additional child.
Strollers are available to rent for $3 Singapore per hour (with a $180 Singapore refundable deposit).
* May require additional fees