Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Star Pisces Hong Kong- overnight Cruise Experience

I had never been on a cruise and it was on my bucket list for long. There aren't many cruises from India and nearest options were Singapore, Malaysia etc- whenever I checked I had to abandon the idea as costs were prohibitive. I once seriously considered booking a night on Amet Cruises, who had announced sailing from Kochi and Chennai. One night sail was costing Rs 6500 but that didn't work out- the ship was too small and old, customer care was not responsive and eventually they seemed to have shut business.
Last month while I was planning my Macau and Hong Kong trip itinerary and accidentally came across Star Cruises. They had a one night sailing, for a ticket price of Rs 12100 per person, with a sail date that suited my itinerary. Thus without much hesitation I booked a night's cruise. The cheapest rate I have seen is about 7500 per person, week day sails when booked several weeks in advance. I booked little late and on a weekend departure, thus it costed me a lot more. Rates differ from country to country- if I select my citizenship of a country other than India, rate will differ as their promotions are country specific.

A multi day cruise (on Star Cruise Virgo/Gemini etc) would have given us more time to explore the ship at leisure and visit multiple countries and come back to ship. A 3/4 day cruise would have easily costed about Rs 40k to 50k per person which was way beyond my budget. Thus I had to settle for one night cruise.

As we entered Hong Kong from Macau on a speed boat, I could see only SuperStar Virgo and not Pisces. For a moment I wondered if our entire ship has got upgraded. But unfortunately that was not the case. Pisces was docked in the adjacent birth on the other side.

Star Pisces is not a big ship- It is half the size of Harmony of the seas (biggest cruise ship as of now) and can hold about 2000 people, which is one third the capacity of Harmony of the Seas. Star Pisces is a 26 year old ship built in Finland for Viking line eventually purchased by Star Cruises. Thus, while Star Pisces does offer a decent cruise experience, it has its limitations too.

After booking, one week before sail date, I could do web check-in. This saved lots of time while boarding the ship as the queue for those who've not done web check in was huge. Because it was my first visit to HK and I wasn't very familiar with location, I kept lots of buffer and reached check-in  point 2 hours prior to its opening, so had to go back to the mall and check out Jaguar cars. 5 PM was when check-in was supposed to begin and 7.30 PM was the sailing time. When we came back at 4.30 PM people had already lined up. Upon check-in we had to go through immigration again- though it was one night sail and we were scheduled to come back to HK. May be going to international water is same as going out of country.

Upon boarding our passports were taken away,we were given an access card with room no, activity catalog, which explained various activities and its timing and venue. One of the staff marked items that are free vs items that are chargeable.

Ours was an inside room in Level 6. Star Cruise Pisces had 11 levels, Level 4 and below not accessible to passengers, top levels housed more premium cabins (Admiral class etc)-Our inside room was the cheapest one on offer. No windows, not enough space, bunker beds and a cramped bathroom. But that it fine. You get what you pay for.

Just before sailing, an army of smartly dressed young men and women boarded the ship. I understood that they are the support staff for various casinos on the ship.

A safety drill was supposed to happen at 7 AM, but it was limited only for an announcement. No one moved an inch.

Guided tour of the ship was one of the activities. But the guide was only interested in showing us where we can shop what. No access to technical areas (engine room/bridge etc). The ship left the dock on time and we slowly pulled out of Hong Kong harbor. On this ship there was no difference in access based on cabin category. Some bigger ships will have exclusive areas for premium category cabins- such as pools etc out of bounds of humble economy passengers.

There was a membership desk. I was told if I become a member, I will start receiving points for every spend, which can be exchanged for purchases or future bookings. I was told I can get up to 40% discount on next booking- this sounded tempting to me as 40% of 2 lakh rupee is huge amount. But when asked "how much I should spend to get enough points that can get me 40% off", she didn't give a direct answer. She gave some generic gyan that it depends on how much I spend in casino, shopping etc. In essence, her interest was to make me spend more n more inside the ship but my intention was to see if I can get some huge discount with near zero spending, which was not going to happen. So abandoned the idea.

Food was great. They new our nationalities and readily served good Indian veg food, we weren't offered an ala carte menu to chose from, but 2-3 items served for dinner- Roti, Mixed veg curry, rice, curd and pickle etc were pretty authentic.Basic meals is included in ticket price, which was a relief but there are many bars and specialty restaurants serving more/better food for a fee.

The 26 year old ship Star Piesces is showing signs of aging. One of the glass panels was broken and covered with curtain, the columns are showing signs of stress. May be it has active life of another 5 years or so, after which it needs a complete overhaul or scrapping. Because it is a very old ship, it doesn't have features available in modern ships, so our experience was also limited to what this old ship could offer. Because it is relatively small and aged, Star cruise is deploying Pisces only for short cruises.
Swimming pool on the Star Cruise Pisces is small n namesake- It was probably added as an after thought as swimming pool's location and design doesn't seem inherent to the ships design. It is little larger than a bath rub, open from 8 AM to 10 PM, dress code applies. Check this post to see swimming pool on Superstar Virgo.

There was a helipad but there was a wire with hanging lights across the ship over the helipad (refer picture)- unless this is removed, helicopter can't land, so emergency evacuation is tricky. After some night walk, we went to bed. Some music show by a Chinese singer was on the cards, for an extra fee, which we skipped.

Next day, got up early at 5 AM to catch sunrise (manual said sunrise at 5.34 AM).

During early morning noticed that ship was standing motionless in the middle of ocean. (instead of going further deep into the sea, they preferred to stay still and save some diesel). The ocean was calm as if it is just a lake- no waves, no show of strength. Then went for breakfast which was again nice with poha, upma and other Indian veg options.

There was supposed to be a Yoga session and breathing exercises- Even after 10 minutes of scheduled time, no instructor showed up. Eventually we left. I went to the side of the ship where lifeboats were kept. Took a close look at the instructions mentioned and felt good that adequate life saving mechanisms exist.

By 10.30 check out activities started. Though 11 AM is the scheduled check out time, it seems guests can stay in the ship till 2 PM. On week days, this extra stay is chargeable, on weekends it is free. (You read it right, I couldn't get the logic). But what to do in a stationery ship for 3 more hours? We came out at about 11.30 AM, after proving that we don't have anything overdue and collecting our passports back.

A memorable experience came to and end, while making us lighter by quarter of a lakh rupees.

All your Cruise Vacation FAQs answered here.


Jyotirmoy Sarkar said...

Awesome shots.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Jyotirmoy

The wild said...

Good to see Indian food onboard as standard feature.The rooms are standard -this is the typical rooms you can expect -infact depending on the layout -typically there are 2 bunk beds on each side - so as the bathroom which is compact -compare it to economy in the flight -you will get the standard minimum.

First time i am hearing a ship standing still on a cruise -its definetly to save fuel and burn time.Average efficient age of cruise ships is 25-30.

The only reason for immigration is when you cross a border,anything beyond 12 nautical miles is considered beyond territorial waters of a country.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


D.Nambiar said...

Oh so Pieces is smaller than the other ships of the Star Cruises fleet, eh! Thank you for giving me a look inside it too. It was nice to read your honest review. A long time ago, I used to work for a travel trad publication and I remember some stuff from the press releases and pics and all and thinking I must do a Star Cruise cruise someday. :D
I haven't been on a cruise as yet. But now it will have to wait for several reasons. :)

It was really interesting to go through this post, Shrinidhi.