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Cruise Views

Horoscope Says More Ships Are in the Stars


While some cruise lines seem to be disappearing at a rapid clip--Royal Viking, Regency and Royal Cruise Line all have gone under in the last couple of years--a little-known Singapore-based company called Star Cruise claims to be the eighth largest cruise line in the world with its 5,000 berths.

The line was founded 2 1/2 years ago by a Malaysian businessman named Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong and his associate, Eddy Lee, who bought five cruise ships and ordered two new ones to be delivered in 1998. The latter, to be named SuperStar Leo and SuperStar Virgo, will be built at Germany's Meyer Werft yard for $700 million.

The company also plans to acquire existing vessels at the rate of one per year, and expects by 2000 to be the fifth largest cruise line with a fleet of 10 vessels.

According to president and CEO Lee, his chairman, Lim, had been searching for a new investment that would help him be remembered for something other than a flourishing casino business in Genting Highlands in Singapore. He considered buying a hotel chain, then an airline, but ultimately chose a cruise line. He sent Lee to Scandinavia to purchase two relatively new ferries, the Athena and Kalypso, and introduced them in late 1993 as Star Aquarius and Star Pisces, the former cruising on two-night voyages from Singapore, the latter from Hong Kong.

Soon afterward, the line acquired the elegant, little Aurora I and II, previously operating for Classical Cruises on upscale expeditions in Europe and North America, and turned them into luxury charter vessels called the MegaStar Taurus and the Megastar Aries. (When we went aboard the MegaStar Taurus in Singapore in March, it was preparing for one of a series of two-night specialty charters for honeymooning Koreans.)

Initially, the company targeted Asian travelers. But when it acquired its next ship, the former Cunard Crown Jewel, introduced in 1995 as the SuperStar Gemini, Star Cruise broadened its scope. The SuperStar label aims at the international market, with passengers primarily from Australia and the United Kingdom, who spend from $700 to $2,100 to take an exotic five-day cruise round trip from Singapore to Malaysia, Sumatra and Phuket, supplemented by land packages in Singapore.

The entire fleet is exceptionally clean and well operated, with a wide variety of food options, especially on the Star vessels, where passengers get three daily meal coupons that can be used at a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet featuring six or eight Asian main dishes and a comparable number of Western specialties, or at a 24-hour snack bar. If passengers wish to dine in one of the three specialty restaurants--Japanese, Italian or Chinese seafood--they apply their coupon toward the a la carte menu and pay a surcharge. (The Ocean Palace on the Star Aquarius boasts the only live fish tank that we've ever seen on a cruise ship.)

The SuperStar Gemini also offers a choice of Asian or Western menus with both a European and a Chinese chef aboard. Besides the Ocean Palace restaurant with its three meals a day, the Mariner's Buffet serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snacks and a late-night supper from 2 to 6 a.m.

Entertainment aboard includes production musicals and variety shows, disco, and sing-alongs in the piano or karaoke bars.

Cabins are spacious and prettily decorated, ranging from inside standards with two, three or four berths to executive suites with separate sitting and bedroom and mini-refrigerators.

All the ships have casinos, located in the Star Club on the larger vessels, plus an elite Admiral's Club high-stakes casino on the Star Pisces.

The Admiral's Club is an optional membership club that accords special privileges to members, similar to airline lounges or hotel concierge floors.

To get a copy of Star Cruise's brochure for the SuperStar Gemini, write Star Cruise, 391 B Orchard Road, No. 13-01 Ngee Ann City, Tower B, Singapore 238874.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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