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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman

SuperStar Leo
March 2002

by Timothy Lam

I was on the Leo this past March (2002). The ports of call were Zhenjiang and Halong Bay. Overall, it was not at all a pleasant experience and by far the absolute worst cruise of my life (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 - It is a must that you book a Balcony Class cabin. The benefits include priority boarding, priority reservations at the many many extra tariff restaurants (+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, they may include an on board credit (which you will need at the restaurants).

Zhenjiang - a rather plain Chinese port. Nothing special to see, particularly if you have been to the main cities of China. The ship’s buses, for a fee (Star is the master of nickel and diming), will drop you off at a shopping center with prices averaging more than double those of Hong Kong.

Halong Bay - breathtaking beauty. Star offers numerous tours. Forget them! All overpriced by huge multiples. Instead, pay for the short tender (yes, Star is so cheap that they charge for the tender ride, I forget how much but about US$5 or so) to town (they dock at a separate town, but don't worry 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. Voila! Private tour at a rate lower than Star's by far. The only downside is that their tenders (even though you have to pay) only run when they are completely full. I had to wait 40 minutes in the tender for the return trip.

Food - so plain it’s unbelievable. The included 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 mignons, 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 your nose for it. We had a special occasion (grandmother’s 80th birthday) one night that we wanted to celebrate in the Taipan Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant was empty as it is an extra tariff one, but I had to literally beg with 3 different managers before they would let me book one of the private rooms (we had a group of 12)… some rule about no advance reservations for private rooms (yes, they allow advance reservations for the restaurant, just not private rooms). As it turned out, none of the other private rooms were occupied. The food in Taipan was good and uniform but a lot more expensive than comparable land-based establishments. I also tried the Japanese/pan-Asian restaurant on Captain's night. They 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 with the traditional baked Alaska with sizzling firework thingies. After 15 minutes, I asked where my portion was. The waitress politely explained that the baked Alaska was just for the parade and not for consumption...

Cabin - we had a balcony cabin on the top deck. It was decorated in a most strange color scheme of yellow, orange and dark Formica that was made to look like fake wood. I had to use the facilities every day with my nose 3 inches from a 20" by 30" poster advising me that there will be a HK$1000 fine if I flush things I'm not supposed to and a plumber has to come fix it... in 3 languages. Also in the bathroom, you will find delightful amenity kits. Look carefully and you will 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. Last thing, the beds are tiny and you can't use under the bed for luggage storage (there are bars). This resulted in luggage stalled on sofas, corridors, and cluttering up the room you paid dearly for. The ship’s construction, including the bathroom fixtures, seems sound. Everything else was decorated in unbelievably poor tastes. This general inferior atmosphere spills over to cover all the public rooms as well. 

Crew - decent service considering Star includes gratuities in the cruise rate. The ship is brimming with crewmembers, in fact the Leo boasts to have the highest number of crew on board any cruise ship. Service is no better than any other ship I have been on though. During the Captain’s Cocktail Party, balcony 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’ll have to pay for that non-standard drink.

Bars - 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 only barely 60% full, they had trouble arranging the debarkation procedures. Much roping was used to make you feel like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse. These fixed lines even go up and down staircases. None of the staff could answer any question about the arrangement.

Conclusion - I will never cruise Star again because of the very poor food, rigid procedures (reminds me of Singapore with all the rules and regulations, albeit I did observe gum-chewing on board), tasteless and strange decor and even stranger fellow passengers. Its nothing more than a gambling ferry boat. If you decide to go, just lower your expectations drastically and make sure you are paying a reasonable fare for Balcony Class.

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