Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Star Cruise from Penang to Thailand

Back in April we took a cruise from Penang to Thailand, with stops including Krabi and Phuket. It has taken me some time to post my experience as I wasn't quite sure how to write it. We sailed aboard the Star Libra on a 4 day cruise departing from Penang on Sunday, stopping in Krabi and Phuket, Thailand and then returning to Penang on Wednesday. This was by far the strangest cruise I have ever taken. The entire crew of the Star Libra were extremely gracious, professional and attentive in every way.  The passengers, however, were the the oddest group of people I have ever observed.

The first thing that I noticed was while waiting in line to board the ship, the passengers, instead of being in the usual festive mood for a cruise, seemed to be a bit apprehensive and not too friendly.  The second thing I noticed was that a number of people were bringing their own food, such as loaves of bread, instant noodles, fruit and other types of prepared food. Mind you meals on board were included in the package.

Each cabin was given  3 complimentary bottles of water. People could purchase soft drinks and juices at a very reasonable price, as well as liquor, beer and wine, by the glass. There were specials on alcohol, where passengers could purchase a bottle of wine or liquor or a small keg of beer. I must point out that there were only a very small number of Caucasians on board, and they along with only a couple of locals purchased any alcohol. There were some shows and other types of entertainment, which were sparsely attended. On the whole people did not mingle with others, choosing to sit almost like zombies and just watching. Kevin and I fortunately met a few Australians, who were very friendly and fun loving. We were one of only 3 groups who were drinking alcohol and seemingly enjoying ourselves. What really surprised me was that a majority of the people, even though they did not drink alcohol, did not order juice of soft drinks. They brought the 3 bottles of the free water with them and left when this was gone. There were outlets that served ice cream and candy for children, but I only say the few Westerners buying anything for their kids.

On the first night, which happened to be Easter, there was a welcoming buffet at poolside, which included Thai and Chinese food , as well as some Western food. This is where we bought our  small keg of beer that was offered at a special price and where the majority of passengers brought their free water or beverages they had brought on board. At the main table the waiters had brought out 2 large over sized bowls full of aluminum foil wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. I was shocked at how fast a number of people whipped out some plastic shopping bags and filled them with the chocolates to take home. In a few minutes the bowls were refilled, but were soon emptied in the same manner. Luckily we managed to get a couple to eat before the starving masses vacuumed them up.

Passengers had the choice of eating in the formal dining area, which served Western style food and wine or in the informal dining areas serving Chinese or Halal food. The food at the dinner with the captain was excellent. We ate one breakfast in this dining area and it was quite nice. On one occasion we had the breakfast buffet in the informal dining area. This proved to be quite an experience. The food was good and it was plentiful, which is why I couldn't understand why people had to push in front of me to grab a pastry with their bare hands instead of using utensils. I also wasn't quite used to having people burp in my face as they cut in line in front of me. I think this breakfast was the worst experience I had on board the cruise.

The stops in Krabi and Phuket were quite enjoyable. Not all of the passengers chose to disembark. Many opted to stay in the casino and gamble. Perhaps that is why they didn't want to waste their money on drinks and ice cream.  We hung around our newly found Aussie friends and had a great time shopping, target shooting, driving go-carts and having a few beers. Belonging to this group really made the rest of the cruise more enjoyable. When I returned from the cruise I  noticed I didn't have that same post cruise feeling that cruisers usually get. But all in all the cruise staff did a great job trying to get people to enjoy themselves. My suggestion to anyone thinking about taking one of these cruises, is to go in a group of friends and bring your own fun.

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