We Chose the cruise because it leaves departs 1 hour away from where we live, so we save a lot from not having to buy Airtickets to go on a cruise, which sometimes is half or same price as the actual cruise.
Originally it was Manila-Naha-Keelung-Manila, but because of some problems with the top speed of the ship, it was changed to Manila-Miako jima-Keelung-Manila, which wasn't to our liking, so we rebooked for Ishigaki instead.
Our family has cruised with RCL before, and that is the standard that we base other cruises on. Our kids are really vocal about comparing ships and cruiselines.
1. Pier 15 Manila Port terminal, it was surprisingly straightforward to check in at the port, they ask passengers to go to Hotel H20 and they have a Bus to bring passengers to the Terminal. However some with private cars have the option to go directly to the terminal, but that can quickly change if the port gets congested, my suggestion is if it does, just walk from the port gate to the terminal, it's not that far.
I said Straightforward, but still meant a lot of queue time for checkin and immigration, baggage check in was a breeze.
2. Cabins, once we were on the ship, it was nice that at least this time, we were able to actually go directly to the cabin, most cruises would ask you to have a meal first as the crew are still cleaning the cabins. Not sure if this is normal for all SSVirgo cruises, but it's nice.
Cabins were really quite clean, and our cabin had a "seaview" the window was quite big, kids were happy about it. We had to move around the Sofa bed in order for us to have our preferred sleeping positions (Sofa bed was in the middle of the two beds, the table was transferred elsewhere). Bunk (top) bed was mine, it was comfortable enough. Toilet (The head) was spacious, the Toilet and Bath is separated. Toiletries like Toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo were all provided.
3. Ship sports amenities, only one of my kids was able to go swimming, and she didnt get to use the slide, The slide, does not end in the main pool, so it is a water slide all on its own, which I guess is nice to prevent Sliders hitting people on the bottom. Golf was nice, was able to teach my eldest basics of a golf swing, not many people use it, mini golf isn't full 18 holes, might not even be 9 holes I forget, but kids had fun. Basketball court is probably one of the most used sports facility there. NO Table Tennis was observed by the way, but I didn't really check. I imagine if there actually was I should have seen other cruisers playing them. Boardgames were nice enough, some games have missing pieces. Gym was okay according to my wife, she at least got to burn some calories which are always in excess when you cruise.
Shuffleboard, on this cruise I wanted to learn how to play shuffleboard and the kids were game, but unfortunately turns out the ships' suffleboard set is incomplete and some are broken. They never even bothered taking away the broken cues (sticks) from the cabinet. Most of the crew does not also actually know how to play it. There were 2 sets of disks, but they were too small for the cues, and quite light. There were heavier disks (the standard pucks) but only 5 of them are left, and of different colors. We still ended up learning how to play, buy searching in the internet and modified the rules using only 4 pucks.
There are also swimming pools at the aft of the ship, but almost no one uses them, this area is where the Foam parties are held at night, a bit difficult to get to though.
4. Meals- 3 complementary dining areas were Star dining, Pavilion and the Lido. The last one is a buffet. From time to time they would offer Complementary BBQ at the Pool deck, for some reason we only stumble on these by chance, not really announced or in the ship's Newletter.
One of the biggest complaint the family had with this cruise, is that they have made restrictions on how we can eat. First they only will allow cruisers to eat at one of the dining areas per meal schedule, you can't eat lunch at Star Dining and go up to Lido (buffet) if you want the dessert there. You will get charged a fee if you do this. At the fine dining restaurants, you only get to choose 1 of the main dishes, and heck only 1 dessert. We were disappointed to learn this the first day, but then someone explained to us, that if we finish our first main course, we can order a second one which is will be complimentary. I imagine you can do this for dessert and appetizers as well, but we never tried.
They do not understand that not all the food they serve is good, the first night we all ordered the beef medallion which looked good on paper, but actually it looked like it came from a can and tasted like it did, the winner was my kid who ordered vegetarian pasta, and that was really good. At the end of the meal most of us were disappointed, but it could have made a big difference if we were allowed to at least go to the Lido buffet or to reorder something else. My Family do not Waste food, as long as it is edible.
So at the end of the day, most of us would end up eating at the buffet, at least there you can see the food that you are going to have. Oh, the buffet, the kids commented, felt like a Canteen or cafeteria, complete with Trays and Metal Rails.
Star Dining by the way has the worse vibration/noise in the whole ship, it's right above the propellers I think.
In Lido, if you sit at the Starboard side, try not to stay at the back (near where the egg stations are), it is right below the basketball court, so you can hear them running around up there.
5. Entertainment, here the whole family agreed that the entertainment was quite good. Magician, Dancers, production were all nice and the kids were awake the whole time :)
I read a review from a fellow cruise critic that he felt there were some areas of the show that were inappropriate, my kids agreed that the guy in Red Spikey suit (Slack rope performer) could do without the really long spike from his groin area. People laugh at that bit, but awkwardly. I mean gosh they offer a Topless show for a fee and for adults only, which made me raise my eyebrows (realizing this isn't really a wholesome cruise after all), so they should leave inappropriate things like that in those shows and not the main shows. I'm am not a Prude, but the show is open to all ages.
The activities however like learn to zumba, learn to ballroom dance, etc. though fun, would only last 30 minutes, it felt like they just wanted to make an activity for the sake of it. They could be more flexible and adjust/extend if the participants are still willing.
6. Shore Excursion- we booked our own Shorex, we were with our Japanese business partner and he arranged for a bus at Ishigaki to take us around, in Keelung we arrange for a bus as well, we were 18 in the group, so shore ex from the cruise would have been really expensive. Shore Ex were all fun, but the details for that I will review separately :)
7. Kids activities- This is also a disappointment, they should change their mindset about cruising kids. First though the parents decide when and which cruise to take, the kids are very vocal about their likes and dislikes, plus parents will also choose a cruise based on their children's needs as well.
So, first after you checkin, parents will be offered an activity list for kids, but most of them have a $ sign with it. They would offer a package which is less than total if you paid for each of the activities. We opted for the package for our youngest, she loves Kids club activities, and we thought by signing her up, We'd be rid of her for an hour or so :) In our other cruises, we would not see her for 3 to 4 hours, she'd make friends and will talk about her activities during dinner. In SSVirgo? Not only did we have to pay, they also require to have a parent or a guardian present during the activities! Sheesh!
So, basically in SSVirgo, if you have kids who are 7 yrs old and below, you will need to consider that he/she will need to be constantly with you during the whole cruise. There are some families who brought their own Nannies with them.
8. Service was Very good, overall. Unfortunately I might sound racist here and I am of course Generalizing, some of the Chinese crew (specially in the restaurants) are either rude, or just not trained well, or does not know how to communicate and turns out rude.
My wife likes her bread warm, but she wanted croissants, when she placed her bread in the toaster, a Chinese waitress with tongs just suddenly took the bread out and placed it back on her plate, without even saying anything. No apology or explanation, there were also no signs, but realized after talking to a supervisor, that the toaster is only for sliced bread, as other bread can get stuck and burn (fire hazard), this is all understood, but this does not excuse a girl with tongs on hand just taking off bread and putting them back on cruiser's plates without saying anything.
We have had Chinese waiters that were entertaining and helpful in other cruise lines, so I think SSVirgo just needs to train their Chinese crew some more with regards to customer service.
It's too bad that we would experience these with some of the crew members when in general the rest of the crew of the SSVirgo were really nice and accommodating, including the performers.
Would we go on SSVirgo again?
Probably, but with adjusted expectations already.
Usually I would suggest a cabin near aft because it has less pitching motion during rough seas. However in SSVirgo we were forward and it was quite nice and we realized that AFT there was a lot of vibration. So choose Forward cabins if possible for SSVirgo for less vibrations.