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January 2004

Pacific cruise heaven on Superstar Leo.

By Colin Johanson.

Recently my wife and I went on a cruise ship called the Superstar Leo to the Pacific Islands of Fiji, Vanuatu and Noumea from Sydney. As a ten night escape from the hectic life we lead, it was the most relaxing holiday and we would recommend it to anyone, especially those who use a wheelchair both manual and electric. By the way, I'm a C6 quadriplegic from a sporting accident 26 years ago and use a manual chair all the time, so I was not sure how well I'd cope access-wise in the "disabled access room". Now I know it was so easy I wanted to spread the word to those who may not have considered a cruise for a holiday. Superstar Leo is cruising from the East Coast of Australia and the sister ship Superstar Virgo is cruising from Perth. Other ships I cannot vouch for but these two are certainly fully accessible.

The ship was by far the most accessible location at which we have ever stayed. It was definitely five-star or more in service quality and we were very impressed by the interest and attention of the staff on board. The staff were fantastic - always greeting you with a smile and excellent service skills. We have stayed in quite a few hotels both here in Australia and overseas, but the service on board Superstar Leo surpassed them all. There were over 2000 tourists, all types of ages and backgrounds, on the ship with us as we travelled to the Pacific Island cruise destinations.

Although there were four people in our cabin in single beds it was not too crowded for a wheelchair to enter and exit the bathroom that had ample room for a manual wheelchair to turn around in. There was an easily accessed toilet (good transfer height) and roll in shower with a seat for those who needed it. I just showered on the toilet with the hand-shower provided even having a thermostat! We would recommend a maximum of three people in the disabled cabin, when a wheelchair is used by one person. The beds were two single beds with a Pullman above one and a trundle bed under the other. There was adequate space to move and turn with plenty of wardrobe space but without the forth bed on the floor it would have been much better. The door was quite wide but the beds were not. At only 850 mm wide the beds were narrow but plenty long enough. I found the mattress a little hard but others found the firmness quite comfortable. The bed heights were quite suitable to transfer with space below for a hoist if you required it.

The ship's décor was impressive to say the least. There were exotic timber finishes everywhere, with the timberwork in the restaurants exquisitely tasteful and very detailed. All the furniture was beautiful and the view of the fountains, 'yes fountains', in the central foyer with its three transparent lifts visible as they travelled from level 7 to level 13! Wow most of the classic cruise ships of old wouldn't have matched the visual impact of this only five year old ship.

The food, I must talk about the food. The most impressive feature of the cruise would have to be the quality of the meals, of which there were up to 6 a day! Two restaurants and one buffet style restaurant were included in the fare. The buffet was also open for morning, afternoon tea and a supper after eleven thirty PM, so even the largest hunger was satisfied. The two free restaurants and four others, that charged a nominal fee, on the ship were of an incredibly high standard in both the service, food preparation and presentation. The cuisine was predominantly Asian but international dishes were also available from both the free and charging restaurants. (The hamburgers from one restaurant, at under $8, were excellent by the way.)

We left from Sydney on a Tuesday afternoon, after heavy rain all day, but by the next morning the sun was up and the temperature was already a comfortable 20+ degrees. The seas during the night had been moderately rough with four to six meter swells that left quite a few passengers very ill. Although we had four people in our one disabled access cabin (my sister and brother in-law joined us) we all enjoyed the rolling action of the decks and our beds finding the movement very relaxing. For the first 3 days it remained rough but the sheer size of the ship minimised the rolling and the weather kept improving day by day with the humidity increasing to 98% with a temperature in the high twenties.

Our first stop was Lautoka, near Nadi, in Fiji where the trip in from the reef was lovely to watch from the outside decks of the ship. We docked and were able to disembark from the ship by a slightly steep ramp with carpet covering the rough treads of the gangway. The crew assisted this disembarkation with plenty of willing hands happy to assist my travel down to the dock. On the dock was a small market that we walked through to catch a taxi to the larger city of Nadi, where we cruised the shops looking for bargains but buying very little. The temperature was hot and very humid and we decided to head back to the ship before the rush. Back on board with a minimum of fuss we were then able to settle back and wait for the ship to leave. Taxis were of any type of sedan that they could keep running or small vans provided a sort of bus service. No disabled vans were seen and the kerbs rarely had kerb cuts, so you need to be able to transfer into a car and I'd advise using a manual chair for all the shore visits. Most shops have steps at their entry and beware, the paths are rough. The friendliness of the locals was a feature with everyone wishing us "Bulla" or hello from shopkeepers to just mothers with prams in the street. Shop keepers also assisted by lifting me up their steps, always with a smile.

Mind you, many people stayed on board where the entertainment crew kept them entertained and the pools were open (it had been too rough most days). The ship had so much to do that I'd possibly not bother either now. Those who remained on board reported having a great time, especially the kids.

We sailed that night and after sailing for another day we arrived in Vanuatu the following morning. Another breathtaking trip through the surrounding Islands with picture postcard scenery. The dock had an extensive market set up for our arrival and we grabbed a beat up taxi from there to the nearby city where, after touring the duty free shopping, we went to the Rossi's restaurant by the side of the lagoon, with a view of the ship in the distance, surrounded by tropical scenery. There we ate an incredible meal of the local delicacy of coconut crab along with cray, prawns and every other imaginable seafood of the area. The seafood platter was supposed to be for two people but fed our group to ample sufficiency. The coconut crab was, as promoted, beautiful with the flavour of coconut that permeated the flesh of the local delicacy large land crab. The crabs only eat coconut and spend their lives in the forest away from water until they need to breed again. They are the largest land-based crustacean in the world.

Another night departure followed by a full day of sailing in bright sunshine led us to arrive in New Caledonia the following morning where we were greeted on the docks by local native dancers and musicians who entertained us on the ship while the first people went to their buses and relevant tours. Because the ship was too large for the passenger terminal, we had tied up at the container docks where buses then transported us to the passenger terminal. The buses had wide enough doors that I was able to be lifted onto the bus, wheelchair and all, with the help again of the ship's crew. After wandering around the town of Vila, with its French speaking population, we grabbed the bus back to the ship to sail again just after dusk.

Two more full days of sailing bought us back to Sydney on a bright and sunny morning on the eleventh day of the cruise after ten nights. We all reluctantly left the ship to return to our lives on shore. Many of us would gladly have stayed on board for another cruise as we had all too easily become accustomed to the luxury of cruising where the only decisions you have had to make have been: what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, and when to sleep! Luxury can be very addictive and most of us on the cruise had made a bunch of friends and enjoyed the relaxation of being on board a luxury ocean liner with very friendly and courteous staff to assist us at every turn.

We all agreed that cruising was a lifestyle we could all become accustomed to and most were looking forward to cruising somewhere, anywhere, sometime in the future. We can heartily recommend cruising on the Superstar Leo as a trip of a lifetime where you are able to move around the ship with ease, using the 9 passenger lifts and the easily accessed decks and open areas that surround the ship at level 7, 10, 11, 12 and 13. The only place on the ship that I couldn't move to on my own, in the passenger areas, was an observation deck for the Bridge! I could access all the 9 restaurants and bars around the ship without my companions and where assistance was needed the staff were always happy to assist with ramps and doorways.

I cannot praise the superstar Leo staff highly enough as they were always willing to assist and very pleasant mannered to all passengers at all times.

Entertainment on board was very well organized for those interested in games for children and adults both around the pools and in the bars where everything from karaoke to adult games and juggling classes were conducted by an extensive entertainment crew. If you didn't want to join in the games there were plenty of other places on board to escape to. For those who enjoyed gambling, there was a casino that operated 24 hours a day when out of Port. There you could play roulette, card games, or an array of machines. Children were able to play a huge array of video game machines in an area that equalled the size of a normal home. Two pools catered to those who wanted a swim, water slide, Spa or just lying on the lounges in the sun. At night there were free performances in the 970 seat theatre where cabaret acts, fun nights and crew and passenger talent nights were put on.

There was never any pressure to do anything, but you were kept up to date with everything by the daily ship's paper that was delivered each night by you cabin attendant. There were formal dinners with the Captain for those who wanted to dress up or you could be as casual as you desired.

The only thing that was not working properly yet was the televisions due to the Satellite link not being fully functional. There were movies screened at the on board cinema throughout the day and these were transmitted to each room television.

If you didn't smoke or drink you would only have to pay your one fare for all the food you could eat (not a holiday for dieters), accommodation and entertainment. The ship is cashless where each passenger is issued with a magnetic swipe card that opens their cabin door, pays for any extra food or drink, and is settled at the end of the cruise. Tipping is not encouraged either. Cash is only required for the Casino and for shopping in the ports.

If you do smoke or want alcohol in your room, I'd advise you buying duty free from a city store before departure, as the cigarettes for sale on board are Malaysian and all alcohol from the overseas ports is put into bond until Australia, following most cruising company policy. The ship has some shops but their stock is limited and their duty free shop only opens on the last day. Make sure you bring all the suncare etc as the onboard shop has only a very limited range and it is three days before you land. The cheapest duty free was Vanauatu by far with huge cues forming as people had to surrender their alcohol purchases into bond till Sydney.

A couple of suggestions:

Hope to meet you on a cruise sometime.

More information

Information about accessible facilities onboard the cruise ship are difficult to find and there is very little on the Star Cruises web site. However, there are a few details about access on the facilities page - select the link titled "What else do I need to know for my cruise?" then scroll down to the section titled "Facilities for the physcially challenged"

Google links

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