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Finding herself with no information about what to budget or pack for her cruise on the Superstar Virgo, Anita Ryan decided to make notes to help future travellers plan for their Virgo adventures. These insider tips and advice will help you make the most of your holiday.
You don't need to check luggage before boarding if you are happy to carry your luggage all the way. The advantage of checking your luggage means that it will be delivered to your door, but the queue will cost you an hour of your time. Likewise, when disembarking you have the option to leave your bags at your door for collection, but the crush and chaos at the collection dock will send your stress levels sky-high.
If you decide to carry your own bags on board, proceed directly to the Fremantle passenger terminal. Carry your own pen for the SARS declaration forms as the terminal staff don't have spare pens.
The Virgo is very stable while stationary, but if you get queasy leaving Fremantle, the concierge can supply you with complementary sea-sickness tablets.
A metal detector is employed for scanning bags, but I got through with a bottle opener. I suppose this was ok though - as Virgo is driven by computes, it would be difficult to hold one of those hostage with a $2.99 corkscrew from Coles.
Various checks are conducted while boarding for your identification. While I didn't need to produce photo ID, I did need to show my fax booking, boarding pass and Access Card at each stage of boarding.
It is a cashless environment on the Virgo. Your Access Card (room key) doubles as a charge card, which you use to pay for anything on board. Even children are issued with one, and they cotton on very quickly they can buy whatever they want with these cards. This might include a kid cocktail at $4.60, a gelato ice-cream at $2, or 1,000 million pinball tokens at 50 cents each. This makes for quite a bill at the end of your trip, so keep an eye on their spending!
For that matter, keep an eye on your own spending - if you stand still for five seconds you will be approached by a drink waiter to take your order. After 16 sparkling wines, it can be kind of hard to keep track.
Most activities on board the Virgo are free, requiring only a deposit for two-hours' free use of equipment, after which you are charged around $5.50 per hour hire.
The kids seem to have more activities to choose from than the grown-ups! Even though I was sorely tempted to join such activities as the "Comic Napkin Folding" and the "Bearded Candy-making", they are billed as strictly NO ADULTS. They have a hectic program, with activities scheduled every 30-45 minutes from 7am until 10pm.
There is a kids' club, where older children can come and go, or use it like a day-care centre for younger children. This is a free facility until 10pm, after which you can pay $12 per child for a babysitter in your cabin.
There is a pool, jacuzzi and play area just for kids which is patrolled by a lifeguard. It is surrounded by deckchairs so you can chill out here with a book if you choose.
Throw our your preconception of pokey rooms with porthole windows. The rooms are well-appointed with climate control, television, a safe, and a telephone. A small bathroom is equipped with a hair-dryer and on-tap shampoo and soap. If you're fussy with pillows though, you may consider taking your own - I kept sliding off mine with any strong ship movements.
There is no refrigerator, so if you bring your own wine on board make sure it's red.
The rooms are serviced daily, when the housekeepers remake your bed, clean the bathroom, provide you with fresh towels, and refresh your bottled water supply.
Inner cabin card-holders will soon learn that holding a "blue card" is the equivalent of the lowest social class on board. A welcome cocktail party in the foyer that excludes blue-card holders is the first sign of an "us and them" class system.
The deck cabin inhabitants hold a "red card" that entitles them to more privileges than a private balcony. Red-card holders enjoy champagne on arrival, on-board credit that allows them to eat at the "paying" restaurants at no extra charge, priority booking for the Captain's Dinner, and priority seating at the shows.
There are three restaurants that are included in your fare. I nick-named them "the Posh", "the Trough" and "the Empty".
The Posh, aka the Bella Vista, is an a la carte fine dining establishment with a stunning outlook through enormous windows to the ship's wake. It seats over 600 guests, but even so the queues for breakfast and dinner curl along corridors and up stairwells, so get there early. Or very late if you can manage your appetite! Chef specials change daily, so you can eat there often and not get bored with the meals.
The Trough is a large buffet eatery known as the Mediterranean Terrace. I lost count of the infinite bain-maries offering six or so meal options including vegetarian. Satellite bain-marie cities house deserts and fruit nearby. Even though the indoor and outdoor eating areas seat almost 600 people, it is constantly packed at meal times. Hence, table sharing is a common thing to do, which lets you make new friends easily.
I assume the ship's older (more conservative) socio-demographic steered them away from the Chinese food served at the Pavilion, but The Empty restaurant was my favourite - both for the exquisite meals and for the relative peace and quiet compared to the first two.
Other restaurants on board received excellent reviews from my fellow cruisers. In particular the Palazzo restaurant deserves a mention, where you can dine on Versace plates under an original Van Gogh. It only seats 32 though, so if you wish to eat here, make your reservation the moment you get on board. A choice of set menus is available priced between $29 - $39 per person.
The Chinese, Indian and Japanese restaurants were also well patronised, along with the more casual cafes and snack bars. The most expensive menu is at the Teppan restaurant, at $79 per person.
If you order wine at any restaurant but can't finish it, don't worry. You can take it with you to your cabin, or have the staff put it away it so you can finish it later at any of the other licensed venues.
As a blue-card holder, I stood in a queue for an hour while red-card holders walked straight in to reserve their place at the Captain's Dinner. It is an hour of my life I will never get back, regrettably. If I'd skipped breakfast and started lining up earlier, I may have been lucky to get a place at the Bella Vista for the Captain's Dinner to dine in the presence of the Captain and officers.
Nevertheless, regardless of the venue you end up in, the Captain's Dinner offers passengers the chance to dress up in evening gowns and black tie for an elegant evening of champagne and lobster. This is definitely the most festive night on the ship, with some passengers going to extraordinary lengths to dress for the occasion.
A list of activities is delivered to your room each day in the form of the Navigator newsletter. It lists a bizarre range of activities from line dancing, to Mah-jong lessons, to "Abs of Steel" exercise classes, to wild pool parties are scheduled all throughout each day. These are usually packed, so get there early if you wish to participate.
Likewise, if your plan is to simply lounge by the pool for the day, reserve your deck chair early - there are only forty or so poolside chairs to cater for 2,000 passengers.
There is a spectacular show produced each evening in the Lido theatre, twice. An early sitting for late diners, and a late sitting for early diners. The shows consist of colourful dancers from Brazil, acrobats from Belarus and China, a guest entertainer, or even the crew themselves.
Red-card holders get priority to sit on the balcony level where you can enjoy a drink with the show, although blue card holders can sometimes enjoy this privilege if you catch the later show.
Other shows, bands and competitions are held in the Galaxy of the Stars dance lounge. The "Take It Off" game got so competitive ten male passengers did the Full Monty on the dance floor, much to the shock and delight of the crew! Seating is usually easy to get here, although as with all activities and venues, an early arrival is best.
It is possible to party on for 24 hours. Staff mentioned that on the shorter cruises, many Australians tend to party long and hard, but not so much on the longer cruises.
As part of the first night on board program, single travellers can meet the officers at 9.30pm to mix. If travelling alone, this is a great opportunity to meet other people in the same boat as you (pardon the pun).
After an early dinner, head to Out of Africa for their daily karaoke competition. It is very popular with people of all ages and singing ability. You don't need to be able to sing - just be able to laugh at yourself and you'll be fine. This is the quickest way to get to know other fun-loving passengers, so is worth a visit.
If you don't have a dance partner, don't worry. The ever-happy stud-muffin crew in the Galaxy of the Stars lounge will drag you onto the floor to make you feel like Cinderella regardless of your glass-slipper status.
More sedate entertainment includes a daily movie in the afternoon and again at midnight (usually a repeat). Or, head to the video arcade, the library, or the cards and mah-jong room for more modest pursuits.
Forget your mobile phone. You will be out of range for most of the journey. Besides, with only a handful of power adaptors to share amongst 2,000 passengers, chances are you won't be able to recharge your phone anyway. If you really need to phone someone, you can use your card-operated phone in your room.
Concierge staff are happy to mail your letters and postcards for you providing you supply the stamps.
Internet access is available in the library at 33 cents per minute.
The adults' Parthenon Pool is quite small, making lap-training an impossible dream. The four Jacuzzis are constantly full, so don't plan on spending all day parked in one. But if you can find a space to get into the pool, it is quite an adventure when the ship is in a swell - the pool becomes a series of tidal-waves!
The gym is well equipped with walking machines and cycles. Regular exercise classes are held each day so you have the chance to work off the abundance of food and alcohol!
Two walking circuits are laid out on Decks 7 and 13, although without arrows to indicate a one-way direction, jogging is made difficult. This problem has been brought to the attention of management though, so with any luck this will be addressed in time for your cruise.
A golf-driving range (into
nets but nevertheless with environment-friendly biodegradable golf balls), a mini-golf course and a basketball court and table tennis are other recreational activities you can pursue.
A wide range of tours can be booked through the Tour Desk located in the foyer. A word of warning here though - most tours offered through the Virgo can be purchased on-shore from the tour operators directly. There is a small risk of missing out on your preferred tour if you purchase your tour directly, but you will make a huge saving of up to $85 per person. However, the risk is small - even if you don't get your preferred tour, many options will be on offer when you go on-shore.
To get on-shore costs you nothing. At Broome, simply walk off the boat and mosey along the jetty to waiting taxis and hire cars. In Exmouth, the Virgo anchors in deep water so crew ferries passengers to shore via a speedboat. Here also, hire cars and tour operators await your business.
Words like Aft, Mid, Forward, Port and Starboard soon become a part of your daily language. Get used to them, as directions are given to you in this jargon. Aft is at the back of the boat where the kids pool, Lido theatre and the "Trough" and "Posh" restaurants are located. Mid and Forward are self-explanatory terms, and is where most of the grown-up entertainment happens.
Port is the left-hand side of the ship. I remembered this by recalling my rote-learned childhood rule - "Port" has the same amount of letters as "Left". It follows then, that Starboard is the right-hand side of the ship.
Images: Available from www.goddess.com.au/writer or www.starcruises.com