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Since 1st March, 1999
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A dream voyage

It’s a journey that began in slow motion as the gigantic 13-storey ship pulled away in a stately fashion from the dockside. I was on the sixth-deck watching people scurrying about.

The Superstar Virgo would be home to me and about 2,000 other passengers for the next four days. The Cruise Centre where we checked in for the journey looked like a very crowded United Nations with people from all around the globe.

All cruise ships believe in feeding you, so we started out with a quick lunch at the Bella Vista, a restaurant that offers Western cuisine, where I had a sweet lime soda with a salmon dish. Then we joined the other passengers for the emergency security drill and figured out which lifeboat to head to if the worst ever came to the worst.

Our first stop after that was the bridge, for a meeting with the captain, Jan Blomqvist, from Finland, who’s an old seadog. The bridge was busy but it was oddly silent.

It was just as well we had our walking shoes on, because from the bridge we set off for an inspection of the ship — and believe me, there’s a lot to inspect. The ship is almost a mini-township with 1,100 cabins and 13 decks. We peeped into the sprawling and luxurious Executive Suite with its Jacuzzi and balcony.

All kinds of people come on cruises so there’s a well-stocked library for bibliophiles and a gym to work off those calories after the large meals served on board. There’s also an activity centre for lovers of indoor games, a reading room, salon, spas and a card room for those who’d like to keep an eye on their kings and queens. There’s even a day care centre where the ship’s crew can take care of the kids while the parents can enjoy, perhaps, a trip to the casino. And, if they are taking the kids along, there’s even a gelato parlour.

What caught my attention was a huge water slide on the 13th-floor deck. I’m a sucker for rides, and immediately made a note that I would be back for this particular thrill. It never happened finally, as I’d forgotten my swimsuit.

Food, is a major part of any cruise, and the Superstar Virgo doesn’t disappoint die-hard foodies. There are nine restaurants on the ship, one full-fledged bar (apart from the drinks served in the restaurants) and the aforementioned gelato bar.

So if you love your sushi, you could check out the Samurai on Deck 8. Alternatively, there’s the Mediterranean on the 12th deck where I headed for most meals. The deck area right next to the Mediterranean is towards the ship’s rear and it’s lovely looking out to the sea from there.

Those who love their Italian fare can check out the Palazzo on Deck 7 and anyone who can’t live without dal makhni or biryani, there’s the Taj too. If you want a drink, there’s the Bellini on Deck 8, overlooking the Grand Piazza.

The Piazza deserves mention. It’s a huge atrium with stained glass ceilings and a broad staircase leading down to where all the action is taking place. At the centre, there are three large bronze horses that gives the place an Italian look.

Everyone has to visit the Piazza at some point or another, whether to settle bills or to get foreign exchange before getting off at one of the ports of call. It’s worth visiting because this is one of the places where the ship’s musicians perform. Also, this is where you can engage in serious retail therapy as the shops offer everything from souvenirs to designer clothes and chocolates and wine.

By evening, as the sun set in the western sky, the mood onboard began to get peppier. I decided that the spot to be was the glass-walled observatory on the 12th deck, called the Galaxy of Stars, from where you can see the blue ocean all around. Next door, there’s a large hall where salsa lessons are held during the day. In the evening, it’s the venue for various competitions like Murder Mystery Game and The Weakest Link. I decided to move up to the upper deck to catch the setting sun all the way till it finally vanished, and sat down with a cola.

The Taverna, on the upper deck, was possibly the best place to be at that time of the day. Overlooking the sea, this upper deck bar is where most people congregate to soak in the sun. There are deck chairs all around. Wherever one turns, there’s the blue sea.

Just below Taverna is the Parthenon Pool. This is the only pool in the ship, except for the one for kids. There are two Jacuzzis here. This is also the place from where you go up to the slide. The entire place was gearing up for an evening of fun and frolic, with people going for a swim or Jacuzzi. Several others had already gathered for an evening snack, with a mug of beer in hand.

Later that night we headed for The Lido, the huge auditorium where shows are held every night. We watched The Musicians of Bremen, a musical, followed by a brilliant acrobatics show.

Bright sunshine acted as my alarm bell the next morning. From my cabin window, I could see the sun rising over the sea, spreading a warm glow all around. We reached Penang at noon by boats as the water was too shallow for the ship to go up to the port.

There was plenty to do for those who decided to stay onboard. One could choose from any of the Port Stay activities like yoga, cardio, kickboxing lessons, movies, art classes and the like. There’s a mini-golf course too to check out.

The last boat got back to the ship at around 7pm and then it was time to set sail, this time to Phuket in Thailand, about 12 hours away. For us, it was time to laze around on the deck. It was Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, and a group of Iranians burst into an impromptu jig.

We were up early next morning and even though it was cloudy, we had a string of places to visit and activities to do in Phuket — including an elephant ride. But we had to hurry back to the ship by 5pm. Later that night it was time for the ‘Gala Captain’s Dinner’, a gourmet’s delight. Then came a dazzling performance by the staff who sang for us. It was followed by the much-awaited Las Vegas-style topless show, Passion.

Before we even realised it, our three nights on the ship were over. The ship was rushing towards Singapore and sitting on the deck the last night and watching the lights on the shore getting dimmer every second, I wished the holiday would never end.

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