IT WAS a cruise of “Titanic” proportions.

For five days, home was aboard the Star Cruises Superstar Leo, the first and largest megaship in the Asia-Pacific.

Organized for our Tour and Travel Operations and Management course, the international cruise to China, Vietnam and Hong Kong aimed to prepare us for our future roles as professionals, to apply principles and concepts of the course and to gain first-hand experience of the luxury cruise industry.

Day 1: Aboard the Superstar Leo

In sheer excitement, my parents brought me to school at the dawn of September 8. In front of the UST hospital were buses that were to take us to the airport. It was the first time that I would be away from home. My mom even cried. After goodbyes and assuring hugs, we left for NAIA.

An hour and 45 minutes later, we landed in Hong Kong. Huge airport terminals, the easy flow of traffic on the way to the city, and the absence of jeepneys, pedicabs and calesas told me that this was real; we were already on the tour, hours away from boarding the ship.

Located in the city, the Hong Kong port conveniently had a mall and duty free shop, where we strolled while waiting for the Superstar Leo to enter the bay.

When the cruise dropped anchor, all of the passengers drew near it for boarding. We had a hard time boarding because 1,900 passengers wanted to go inside the ship simultaneously.

I was eager to explore the Superstar Leo. But, tiring as the boarding process was, the first thing we did was to eat at Ruffles Buffet, a 24-hour restaurant serving a variety of foods such as Chinese and American. After the sumptuous treat, we called it a day and slept early in preparation for the next day’s activity.

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Day 2: Seminar and satisfying services

Our breakfast at the Ruffles Buffet offered the best variety of food. After taking a bath, we proceeded to a mini- conference room where we had a seminar on Star Cruises’ operations plus a brief history of the cruise industry.

Love Reyes, a Filipino in the staff, told us about the ship.

“The Superstar Leo, based in Hong Kong, was inspired by the cruise ships of times past and this is reflected in its old-world elegance and comforts. The magnificent 75,338-ton, 13-deck Superstar Leo was created for the modern holiday-maker, so there’s never a dull moment on board with unbelievably comprehensives facilities, entertainment, recreation, activities, and services options. Superstar Leo also offers the informality, flexibility and choice of freestyle cruising coupled with warm Asian hospitality which have become the hallmarks of Star Cruises,” she said.

Free time came next and the first thing we did was take a dip in the relaxing and bubbling jacuzzi. Fr. Roy Rodriguez O.P., our regent, joined us and we sang a duet on a videoke machine.

A wide array of cuisine was available during lunch and dinner. Meanwhile, Windows Restaurant was tops when it came to formal dining, while Garden Restaurant catered to the Chinese passengers.

Galaxy of the Star provided the perfect place for hip rhythms at night. The RJ Band and Friends, a taste of Manila’s best, performed great hits. Ramon “RJ” Jacinto, a 60s rock icon and father of retro in the Philippines, entertained the passengers on board.

The cruise also had the revolving stage of the Moulin Rouge which presented “The Terry Parade One-Man Show”, a comedic pseudo-circus act, and a performance of unique and authentic Brazilian rhythmic movements. Truly, a passenger had his senses full on this ship.

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Day 3: Into the mouth of the descending dragon

SuperStar Leo anchored at the port of Vietnam’s Halong Bay on our third day. Yu Wan, our Vietnamese tour guide, said that Halong Bay was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, with some 3,000 islands of dolomite and limestone forming one of the most beautiful places in the world and an unforgettable destination.

Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most fascinating attractions and ranks as one of the natural wonders of the world. Local boats picked up the passengers at the Superstar Leo for a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a cruise around the spectacular Halong Bay.

Ha Long means “descending dragon” and legend has it that the limestone formations dotting the bay are the remnants of the tail and fins of a huge mother dragon and her offspring, after they descended from the sky. These tiny islands are dotted with innumerable beaches and grottoes created by the wind and waves.

If dried mango is famous here in the Philippines, the Vietnamese have their dried jackfruit (langka), which we bought as “pasalubong” together with the porcelain pots and figurines.

That night, we felt like high-class people in the Captain Gala Cocktail, where we rubbed elbows with the ship’s prestigious personalities, such as Captain Lars Bengtsson of Sweden as well as the senior officers and management of the SuperStar Leo.

Day 4: The journey back

When we were on the way back to Hong Kong, the Superstar Leo was forced to return to Vietnam due to a typhoon. After nine hours of being rocked by the tumultuous waves, we finally arrived in Hong Kong.

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The one night stay at the Royal Pacific Hotel in Hong Kong turned out to be the most memorable and remarkable part of our cruise. As expected, we shopped until we dropped.

After a tiring spending spree, it was time to go back. We touched down Philippines at around 9:30 p.m. and my parents were waiting for me at UST. It was like being lost for a year and they were so thankful that I was safe. It was home sweet home for all of us.

Veronica Salvador, a member of the tour’s organizing committee, said, “Being a Tourism student, this international cruise was a very good experience, not only because we were the first university (to be so treated), but also because of the lessons that we have learned which can enhance our skills and abilities so we can be competitive tourism professional in the future”.

Indeed, the cruise itself was enjoyable, and provided a good preparatory activity for our future life as professionals. Marichelle O. Balay

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