Star Cruises - Sailing the High Seas thru SuperStar Virgo

Hola everyone! Im trying to revive my blog. As of this writing, I'm on my way to retirement. Chos lang. After the unfortunate turn of events, I'm still pleased to share with you that I'm now working for another company. As if naman alam nyo kung saan ako nagwork previously. Haha Bakit ba, for tracking purposes ko lang so might as well write this in my blog.

Moving on, even when I was busy and depressed, I still had an exciting birthday cruise. Actually it was long overdue. I've been planning to experience a cruise for 5 years now. Finally, I ticked this off my bucket list, and the timing was just perfect.

Star Cruises - Superstar Virgo

Planning a Cruise Trip
As early as January, I had began my search for a cruise trip sometime my birthday month. For the record, I planned to experience a cruise in Thailand. However, the duration and schedule of the cruise were out of my allowed vacation leaves. I alternatively searched for the cruise which departs within the Philippines, but this cruise is only available on the months of November to January. To cut the story short, I settled for a 4D3N High Seas cruise in Hong Kong, by Star Cruises. Together with my housemate Kat, we booked (online) in advance and got the Oceanview Room with Balcony for P35,000. This includes the accommodation, buffet meals, onboard entertainment, and use of facilities. Come to think of it, the all-in rate for this cruise is not bad afterall. Of course, we have to shoulder our flights to Hong Kong.

 hello HKIA, we meet again!

on my way to Ichiran, Causeway Bay branch

Boarding the Cruise Ship
Kat and I made our way to Hong Kong's Ocean Terminal ahead of boarding time. To our dismay, we saw a very chaotic queue. A lot of Asian families were patiently waiting to check in, despite the very disorganized system. To be fair, there were lots of ushers around, but the queue still looked stressful. At this time, we started to regret that this cruise may not worth our money. We could just had a grand vacation somewhere in Palawan or Boracay - and we knew it could be less expensive than this cruise.

Luckily for us, I did an online check in. I informed one of the crews, then we were immediately assisted to an express counter. This really saved a lot of time. We gave our online tickets, surrendered our passports, and we were given our cruise cards. It's now time to board the ship.

Superstar Virgo

Onboard Superstar Virgo
All our disappointment vanished when we boarded the cruise ship. It looked awesome and grand. The cruise staff warmly welcomed all of us. The lobby caught everyone's attention, specially ours. The entertainers were singing Sitti's "Para Sa Akin". And they were just the first group of Pinoys who work in this cruise ship.

Superstar Virgo's Grand Piazza

 the entertainers welcomed the passengers, and hey they are Pinoys!

At this time, we purchased 6 drink coupons each using our credits. Passengers with oceanview state room accommodation were entitled with these credits. Anyway, these drinks can be any beer, softdrinks, and Spanish red and white wine.

Ocean View with Balcony
So obviously, this cruise could be cheaper if we settled for the most basic kind of accommodation. But since it's our first time, we thought why not spend a little more. Aside from the fact that the Ocean View with Balcony accommodation comes with credits, this also entitles the passengers to use the steam, sauna, and indoor jacuzzi pool.

cabin rooms on the 11th floor

Ocean View with Balcony

with welcome fruits

that's the balcony behind the sliding door

The Ocean View with Balcony cabin looked and smelled so nice! It's totally like a hotel room, only with smaller space. Aside from the bed, there's a television, fridge, single sofa chair, center table, and full glass mirror. Superstar Virgo also provided towels, robes, and slippers.

As for the bathroom, it is small but the water in the shower, sink, and flush worked effectively. The toiletries were provided too.

shower, sink, and toilet

basic toiletries

We could not complain for anything except for the limited food for the room service. This room is worth the extra money.

Exploring Superstar Virgo
Even before we had our 1st dinner, Kat and I couldn't contain our excitement in exploring the cruise ship. We immediately went to the upper deck to check the pool and the view from there.

 way to upper deck

the Superstar Virgo at night
Canon 60D, 16mm, F3.5, 0.8", ISO 100

Hong Kong skyline viewed from Superstar Virgo
Canon 60D, 22mm, F4.5, 2", ISO 100

Superstar Virgo with Hong Kong's skyline
  Canon 60D, 12mm, F3.5, 0.8", ISO 100

The view from the upper deck was absolutely stunning! This is the first time I've seen the skyline from this angle. And thanks to my non-shaking hands, I've got no problem in taking these night shots. Angas!

next time, I'll board my sign - the Gemini

Parthenon Pool
The pool looked so inviting even at night. The Parthenon place has a swimming pool which is 6 ft deep, 4 jacuzzi, and a mega slide.

one of the 4 jacuzzis

6 feet deep swimming pool

another jacuzzi on the roof deck

Cruise Dining
The most awaited part for us was to experience dining at this ship. Superstar Virgo has 9 restaurants which serves Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines. Actually only 2 of the restaurants are inclusive of the cruise rate we already availed - Genting Palace and Mediterranean Buffet. We set our expectations low since we read reviews that the food may not be enough or satisfying for everyone. Well, we were wrong! The food was great and enough for all. The selection was good as well. There's a lot of shrimps, fish, beef, chicken, soup, salad, bread, and even dessert.

It's not surprising that we loved the food specially when the chefs are mostly Pinoys! I can't deny we got special treatment from our kababayan.

Genting Palace - Chinese and Western cuisines

another batch of Pinoy crews in this cruise ship

 ribs, salmon, and wine

Filipino chefs at Mediterranean Buffet

overflowing good food from breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper

the area I always skip. not a fan of dessert.

Genting Palace could be classy but we love the food more at Mediterranean Buffet

Random Photos at Superstar Virgo
It's the first time I actually boarded a ship as huge as this one. The decks and endless hallways reminded me of Titanic. There's a thousand of cabins and around 2,000 passengers (not including the crews) were on it. So it's true that it's definitely not easy to find another person in a ship as huge as this. Hehe

 the reception area on the 7th floor, and Duty Free on the 8th

hallway full of restaurants

 show lounge / theater

view deck

 aquaswim / exercise pool

fitness center

pang pictorial area

library with a view

way to casino area

view from our own balcony

The Cruise Life
It was short but I must say that I really enjoyed it. Actually I'm glad that I experienced this cruise at this age since I'm not engaged with super physical activities anymore. *winks* The room, facilities, and food were all great. What we loved most? Our room! We had no activity in mind but to sleep, eat, and swim. Oh yes, we also experienced the steam and sauna areas but sleeping while cruising was just better. #LolaDiaries

the overall experience was great and I'm already looking forward to a longer cruise in the future
another handheld shot. di na uso ang tripod.

Of course, I have to mention that I loved the success stories of the Pinoys who work at this cruise ship. It made me proud that their being madiskarte brought them here. No amount of hardship can stop them from giving better lives to their families back home. Cheers to Pinoys who work at cruise ships!

cheers to the cruise life!

A Pinay's Wear Guide for a Winter Wonderland Trip

Everybody loves the warmth of the sun, but admit it - as residents of our beloved tropical Philippines (where summer is forever), many of us wish to experience the snow even once in a lifetime.

Harbin: our winter wonderland destination for the year end trip
temperature check: -25°C

Harbin's average temperature during the winter months is -20°C and it can drop to as low as -38°C. Of course, the real feel is a different story. While Harbin is already a beautiful city, the snow adds more charm to this amazing place. It becomes more magical and fairytale like. No wonder, foreign and local tourist flock the Ice and Snow Festival. But just like any other beautiful things, this comes with a consequence - the frostbite. Extreme cold burns the skin. Obviously this can get too painful.

Better stay warm (and alive) than sorry
Actually it's not my first time to experience snow but it's my first to experience this extreme cold weather. I learned from last year's experience where we came a little unprepared. Temperature dropped to -15°C. We almost had a frostbite and it was really really painful and alarming. My fingers and toes turned blue. My frozen feet got numb for almost 3 hours. Now I understand that I need to invest for some real winter outfit specially now that we're going to the Ice City of Harbin. Better stay warm (and alive) than sorry.

Where to shop for winter clothes in Manila?
Obviously, there's just a few - and these are mostly expensive. Shops which sell winter outfit include: Uniqlo, Bershka, Forever21, H&M, Terranova, Marks & Spencers, Mango, Zara, Columbia, The North Face, etc. Of course, there's Greenhills and the ever reliable ukay ukay shops which sell winter outfit as well!

ready for the -20°C to -30°C kind of winter weather

Alternatively, I also checked out Zalora for their scarves and boots. They do offer Christmas discounts that time, not to mention I dont need to battle the crowd for last minute Christmas shopping.

This love month, Zalora offers gift suggestions for Valentine's Day. Very convenient for me since I don't need to go to the malls to shop for unique gift items. #iLoveOnlineShopping!

What I wore for this winter trip?
When I did my shopping and the salesladies asked where's my destination, I'd always say Russia. Harbin is in China but they might not understand what am I really preparing for. As of this moment, Harbin's temperature is -20°C, Moscow in Russia is -8°C, Montreal in Canada is -13°C, and Beijing is -6°C. Yeah, sounds scary. That's exactly how I want the saleslady to assist me - with concern. Hehe

Harbin's comparison to Montreal and Moscow weather

Since you might think you need more clothes, you might do over-packing. Don't. In case you need more, the best winter clothes are readily available in your target destination. Anyway, for this trip, I chose to bring only the durable items. In fact, I purposely didn't get any baggage allowance to avoid over-packing. Now here are the items I wore for this winter trip:

1. HeatTech Extra Warm Base Layer from Uniqlo - P875
First and foremost, the base layer. Among the base layers in the market, Uniqlo's Extra Warm Long Sleeves shirt is the cheapest yet provides high performance. I get dizzy whenever I try this shirt at home. Haha Anyway, Extra Warm HeatTech items are not being sold in Uniqlo stores in Manila. I bought this in SG.
Feedback: This item kept me really warm. It's worth the extra price. A good buy indeed.

HeatTech Extra Warm Long Sleeves from Uniqlo - P875

2. HeatTech Fleece Turtle Neck - P490
This served as my 2nd layer. This HeatTech Fleece is locally available. I got mine in pink.
Feedback: Great that I chose a turtle neck design. It added warmth around my neck without having to add a heavy scarf. It's another good buy from Uniqlo.

HeatTech Fleece Turtle Neck from Uniqlo - P490

 3. Knitted Sweater from Ukay - P120
Knitted sweater for my 3rd layer and yes, I got this from ukay. I could have gotten the base layer from ukay but there was none. Anyway, there's so many winter sweaters to choose from for super affordable prices. Bawal lang sa maarte. After all, how many times would you be really needing this sweater?

Knitted Sweater from ukay ukay - P120
not the actual, but it's similar to this one

4. Thick military vest with hood from Ukay - P120
My 4th layer which is a thick military vest is too cute to be visible. I already used this when I went to Japan last year. It's one of my favorite items from ukay ukay. Anyway, I wore this when I feel I still need more warmth. Ex: early morning walk or night time stroll when the temperature gets (even) colder.

Military vest from ukay - P120

5. Pink Bubble Jacket from Ukay - P280
Finally the outer layer! Bubble jackets usually costs P1,800 to P3,000. Im just lucky I found this pink bubble jacket that fits me well. This is my "full metal gear" outfit on extremely cold mornings and nights - together with the thick vest of course. I actually like this more than the Bershka bubble jackets which are sold for P2,000. Seriously.
Pink bubble jacket from ukay - P280
5-layer outfit

6. Purple Outer Jacket from Ukay - P280
Another good find, specially this jacket has the furry hood that I wanted! I usually wore this in Beijing where the temperature is more tolerable. I wish I had more jackets but the pink and purple jackets are already heavy and bulky. Wala na space sa trolley ko.

 Purple bubble jacket from Ukay - P280
4-layer outfit

7. HeatTech Knitted Leggings from Uniqlo - P525
Our lower body needs base layer too. This HeatTech Knitted Leggings from Uniqlo is a good buy. This goes along with my denim pants.
Feedback: My legs are fine the whole time with just wearing the leggings + my denim pants.

HeatTech Knitted Leggings from Uniqlo - P535

8. HeatTech Gloves from Uniqlo - P490
Now we go to the items that will make or ruin your winter trip: the gloves and the shoes. Frostbite attacks to the parts of the body farthest from the heart. Fingers and toes are the most exposed to cold. That's why whenever I look at photos in FB or IG, I check if the people wear gloves. If not, it's probably not that cold.

Let's start with the gloves. I wore 2 pairs, the inner fleece + the thick outer gloves. 
Feedback: My fingers still froze. My buddy Magnet and I need to thaw ourselves every other 20 minutes because of our frozen fingers. Maybe we should be wearing 3 or 4 gloves? I don't know if it's possible. Or maybe our tolerance to the cold was low. FYI, Magnet wore an Omni Heat gloves from Columbia - but still her fingers froze. I'm not saying these gloves are not effective. I believe they are but not that enough for the -20°C temperature.

HeatTech Gloves from Uniqlo - P490
inner layer

Thick and Waterproof Gloves from Uniqlo - gift ni Remay
outer layer

Special Note: Since both gloves do not have fingerprints, I realized I cannot use my mobile phone anymore for taking photos. Obviously my fingers will die if I take off my gloves when the average temperature is -20°C. What I did is assemble a super gadget so that I can just use my DSLR and transfer the photos right away to my phone.

Here's my ultimate gadget for our freezing winter trip. Thank you CDR-King for the super sulit gadget, only for P45! I've got to upload quality photos for the entire trip. Bongga!

 card reader + on the go cable = as good as having a gloves with fingerprints!

9. Wool Socks from Smart Wool - c/o Magnet + HeatTech Fleece Socks from Uniqlo - P350
Thanks to Magnet for lending me her other Smart Wool pair of socks. This became my 1st layer. We then used the HeatTech Fleece socks for the second layer. 
Feedback: Both socks are thin and breathable. Our feet stayed warm all the time. No need for thick and bulky socks.

Wool Socks from Smart Wool - c/o Magnet
1st layer

HeatTech Fleece Socks from Uniqlo - P350
2nd layer

10. Omni Heat Boots from Columbia - P7,000
Another crucial item when you travel to a winter destination. Since we already experienced our toes to freeze from last year, Magnet and I decided to  have a real winter boots this time. Columbia's Omni Heat boots are waterproof, light weight, and have 200 gram of insulation. Insulation rate is -32°C. This is the most expensive footwear I have ever bought.

Feedback: Good thing that these boots are really warm, comfortable, and efficient. Yes they are waterproof and my feet didn't freeze as we walked on the 3-4inches snow. This is the only footwear I used for 8 days and I have no problems with it. A good buy specially we got this for half the price. Thanks Dom for the discount card.

Omni Heat Winter Boots from Columbia - P7,000

11. Beanies, EarMuff, Loop Scarf, Face Mask / Neck Warmer
These add protection for more body warmth. They complete the "full metal gear" look. I got the beanie and earmuff in China, and the scarf from Terranova and H&M on sale.

accessories which complete the "full-metal-gear" look

Say Freeze!
Whenever I get asked how's our winter trip, here's what I always say: 
"Imagine you're playing a game and you've only got 20mins to play. Timer starts as soon as you step outdoors. After 20mins, you need to rush to the nearest indoor establishment to thaw. If you don't make it on time, you will die and that's game over..." 

That's exactly the story of my life in Harbin - despite wearing these winter clothes all at the same time.
So did we have fun in the snow? Absolutely!

Ice and Snow Festival

Zhongyang Dajie

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating!" - John Ruskin

Now you know how we prepared and why we survived the -25°C temperature.
Next post: Year End Trip in Harbin

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