Star Cruises SuperStar Leo Far East / Orient March 3, 2002
I was on Star Cruises' SuperStar Leo in March 2002 for a four-day sailing from Hong Kong. The ports were Zhenjiang and Halong Bay. Overall, it was not a pleasant experience. In fact, I'd say it was the worst cruise of my life--and I have taken 26 cruises to date on Princess, Radisson, Cunard, Celebrity, P&O, Renaissance and others.
Boarding: Very quick at Hong Kong's Ocean Terminal...assuming that you booked a Balcony Class cabin. Otherwise, expect lines.
Balcony Class: If you must sail on Leo, book a Balcony Class cabin. The benefits include priority boarding, priority reservations at the many extra-tariff restaurants (and priority seating at the main restaurants), opportunity to dine for free at an extra-tariff restaurant on Captain's Night, and a separate area in the show lounge. Also, depending on your cruise rate, you may get an onboard credit (which you will need at the restaurants).
Ports: Zhenjiang is a rather plain Chinese port. There's nothing special to see, particularly if you have been to the main cities of China. The ship's buses (fort a fee--Star is the master of nickel-and-diming) will drop you off at a shopping center with prices averaging more than twice those in Hong Kong.
Halong Bay has some breathtaking scenic beauty. Star offers numerous tours, but forget them! All are overpriced by huge multiples. Instead, pay for the short tender ride (Star is so cheap that it charges for the tender ride, about US$5 or so) to town. The ship docks at a separate town, but you won't miss anything as the sights are in the bay itself. Ask one of the many local guides (they all wear "Saigon Tourism" caps) to rent a boat for you, and you'll get a private tour at a rate far lower than Star's. The only downside is that the tenders only run when they are completely full. I had to wait 40 minutes in the tender for the return trip.
Food: Cuisine on the Leo is so plain it's unbelievable. Restaurants include a fight-the-crowd buffet, a decent Chinese restaurant and a Western restaurant serving chicken-a-la-king type entrees. If you are expecting filet mignon and fresh seafood, you are in for a surprise. The extra-tariff restaurants are very expensive. You will get fancier fare, but you will pay through the nose. We had a special occasion (grandmother's 80th birthday) one night and we wanted to celebrate in the extra-tariff Taipan Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant was empty, but I still had to beg three different managers to let me book one of the private rooms (we had a group of 12). They cited some rule about no advance reservations for private rooms, only for the restaurant. As it turned out, none of the other private rooms was occupied. The food in Taipan was good, but a lot more expensive than comparable land-based establishments. I tried the Japanese/pan-Asian restaurant on Captain's Night. It served decent sashimi, a few other forgettable courses and a stone-hard lobster that caused most guests to scratch their heads in amazement. At the end of the meal, they dimmed the lights and paraded the traditional baked alaskas with sizzling sparklers. After 15 minutes, I asked where my portion was. The waitress explained that the baked alaskas were just for the parade, not for consumption.
Cabins: We had a balcony cabin on the top deck, decorated in a strange color scheme of yellow, orange and dark formica made to look like fake wood. I had to use the facilities every day with my nose three inches from a huge poster, in three languages, advising me of a HK$1000 fine if I flush things I'm not supposed to and a plumber has to come fix it. Also in the bathroom are delightful amenity kits. But look carefully and you'll see a placard on your dressing table advising a HK$30 charge per kit if you decide to use it. The cabin was kept clean, except at embarkation when I discovered strange bones (chicken, I think) on my balcony. The beds are tiny and the space under the bed can't be used for luggage storage (there are bars). Thus bags were stored on sofas, or in corridors, cluttering up the room. The ship's construction, including the bathroom fixtures, seems sound. Everything else was decorated in unbelievably poor taste. This inferior atmosphere covers all the public rooms as well.
Crew: We had decent service considering that Star includes gratuities in the cruise rate. The ship is brimming with crewmembers; in fact, the Leo boasts the highest number of crew on any cruise ship. Service is no better than any other ship I have been on, though. During the Captain's cocktail party, balcony-cabin residents were supposed to enter at a special time. That did not happen. When I decided to pass up the bubbly for a regular drink, it took me a long time to find out from a very rude bartender that I would have to pay for it.
Bars: Bars were always empty. I tried all of them, and all the bartenders and barmaids have no clue what they are doing. Stick with non-mixed drinks.
Entertainment: Strange is all I can say. I am a native of Hong Kong, so it's not a cultural thing. The tackiest shows you will ever see.
Overall arrangement: With the ship barely 60 percent full, the crew still had trouble arranging the debarkation. Much roping was used to make passengers feel like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse. These fixed lines even went up and down staircases. None of the staff could answer any questions about the arrangement.
Conclusion: I will never cruise on Star again because of the very poor food, rigid procedures (it reminded me of Singapore with all the rules and regulations, although I did observe gum-chewing on board), tasteless and strange decor and even stranger fellow passengers. It's nothing more than a gambling ferryboat. If you decide to go, lower your expectations drastically and make sure you are paying a reasonable fare for Balcony Class.