Star Legend Cruise Review by CruiseOrLand
- Sail Date: October 2018
- Destination: Asia
- Cabin Type: Balcony Suite
The title suggest that there is more “China” than there was, even before one port was deleted. But we certainly hit a lot of countries on the trip. (Note that you should get the 10-year “Multi-Entry” visa from China if you go on such a trip. It costs the same as a “Single-Entry” visa, and uses the same annoying application form.) This itinerary is part of a long sweep of Star Legend cruises from Southeast Alaska to Malaysia and beyond. This may be the one with the most sea days, and it would be hard to market without Beijing and Hong Kong. But I would suggest that they reduce the total mileage covered. It was just too many sea days and too many lines for immigration. But if you stayed several days in Beijing before the cruise (which we did not, having been on the previous cruise), you might feel differently about the title!
We booked fairly close to the trip, because of a Windstar sale announcement in their weekly specials. We had to pay the full amount at the time of booking. It was interesting to note that the Windstar proprietary "travel insurance" product is priced on the total actually spent, so it was an especially good value when the cruise has been discounted.
Number of ports: 6
159 Guests of 212 possible, 161 Crew
If starting here, please read my description of Embarkation from Beijing/Tianjin in the other review. I also (at the end of the linked review) make some general comments about Windstar cruising and about Star Legend in 2018:
Now that I understand the CC system, I'm entering the port descriptions separately as designed. I hope you can see how the itinerary required so many sea days. That's our only disappointment with the trip.
At the reception for repeaters, the couple that "won" the bottle of Champagne had been on more than 20 Windstar cruises. Our Captain had just reported to the Star Legend on the immediately preceding cruise leg. On this, his second, we did not notice a Captain's Table at a dinner. We did notice two nights when the ship's senior officers each hosted a table at dinner, providing wine for their guests. Because we had been invited to the Captain's table on the previous leg, we didn't mind not being invited (or however it was that the officer tables were created) to any of these. I think we had been invited because, with 8 cruises, we had the high number on the previous leg.
We had booked Back2Back, and the second Embarkation was Tianjin, China. The second cruise had two independent groups, about 14 that may have been “Scientific American”, and 44 from a Seattle boutique travel agent The first group had many private activities, and dined together. The larger group mixed freely with us, the opposite of stand-offish. They were going to meet up with "Alan" at Disembarkation.
I'm repeating some of my description of Tianjin from my previous review, because it's the Embarkation point for this cruise. Tianjin, China (for Beijing). It takes two sea days to get to Tianjin, China, the port for Beijing. There may be a high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin city, but it seemed that the Windstar embarkation transfers were by three-hour bus from Beijing.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Tianjin City TourTianjin, China (for Beijing). There may be a high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin city, but it seemed that the Windstar embarkation transfers were by three-hour bus from Beijing.View All 3 Tianjin City Tour Reviews
Those of us taking the back-to-back cruises that bookend in Tianjin, did NOT have the option to visit Beijing. (We had previously been, on a Viking Yangtze River trip.) Tianjin city was still an hour by bus from the ship. It seemed wise to get off, but with nothing to do within many miles (and new passengers boarding from 1 PM to 5PM), we paid for Windstar's Tianjin tour. Much of our visit was free time on the "Ancient culture street scenic area pedestrian", which was neither ancient nor cultural! We did manage to find a more remote local flea market area where used books, stamps, old bank notes, army insignia, and the like were browsed by a mainly male audience. Many of the escalators (on the "Ancient street!") were broken, but the frequent public restrooms were perfectly satisfactory. Most of the merchandise was regional snacks and sweets prepared under questionable conditions, plus a vast array of (opinion!) fake jade, porcelain, and mineral specimens. This was better than sitting in our cabins while the ship was cleaned, but not a memorable outing. There was a misunderstanding about lunch being included, although I could see there was no time for it, or need to include it. (That's because the ship had lunch from 1-5 for new passenger arrivals. Everyone on the tour got a $50 credit back to their account, although I would not have filed a complaint.)
Hong KongThere's a sea day for the 500 miles to Hong Kong. We had a deck burger bar option for lunch, and the officers' farewell reception before dinner. It's another spectacular harbor, with the docking at 9:00AM so you don't miss the view sailing in. The ship has a full day and night in Hong Kong before you disembark from the cruise. A startling 60 passengers were on a double ("Star Collector") cruise with this port between them.View All 314 Hong Kong Cruise Port Reviews
We had the best berth at the International Port. ( https://goo.gl/maps/jGfEih8xFLK2 ) Our starboard side faced the open harbor and the massive towers of Hong Kong island. A good pitcher might have been able to hit a Star Ferry with a baseball. On the minus side, the exit from the ship requires a very, very long walk through a soulless new shopping mall with all the same-old international luxury brands. The cruise ship access seems to be about 1% of the mall's square footage, but the developer got to make you walk by an entire floor of shops to get to Tsim Sha Tsui. And then you have to walk two blocks back to the Star Ferry terminal, if that's where you're going. My estimate is 1/4-mile to the Tsim Shat Tsui Metro subway stop. With all the Cartier and Miu Miu outlets, it feels like forever.
I was last in Hong Kong in 1990. While it's still wonderful, much of it has been redeveloped, cleaned, and sanitized for mass consumption. For example, the Bird Market "street" is now a purpose-built sweep of pavement without residences, with drainage trenches, and multiple spotless covered dumpsters for recycling and, er ... bird debris. There are custom-welded pipe frames to hang up bird cages. The adjacent Flower Market has a little more charm.
The Disembarkation cruise-taxi line moved slowly during disembarkation, with single red cabs pulling up (far from the main streets) two minutes apart. But we got a cheerful driver who graciously took us from Airport Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 when I found that (excellent) Vietnam Airways was in the latter building. (It was hard to use their website on my elderly Iphone 5.)
View Cruise Critic's Hong Kong Cruise Port Review
Seoul (Incheon)Incheon, Korea, (substituted for the advertised Quingdao, China, because of sudden Chinese immigration rulings, or "cabotage". We got a refund of port charges. ) It's a full sea day from Tianjin to the first travel-port. Incheon has three cruise ports. Ours was the excellent https://goo.gl/maps/NqHgX4wrWhJ2, which requires a time-consuming but interesting lock transit, and leaves you within a 700-meter walk to downtown. (We were told that Gen. MacArthur's invasion here depended on predicting the very large tideal range here.) The port provided an hourly shuttle bus to a major shopping area even farther downtown. Because there was no cruise terminal building, the local tourism agency set up a tent with TI maps and brochures, right beside the ships's own gangway.View All 12,794 Seoul (Incheon) Cruise Port Reviews
We took the ship's full-day tour of nearby Seoul, but highway traffic required 90 minutes to get there and 75 minutes to get back. Having been to Seoul in 1990 (when it was much less modern than it is today), I am going to say that doing the bustling, high-rise, prosperous port city of Incheon on your own is the best possible use of a 7AM to 5 PM day at Incheon port. The Seoul tour was perfectly nice, but the "Changing of the Guard" at Gyeongbokgung Palace and the schlocky Insadong "shopping street" (plus excellent Bukchon Hanok Village and the Gwanghwamun Plaza/Cheonggycheon Stream area) were not the best use of a day. OTOH, the very special UNESCO World Heritage Site palace of Changdeokgung and historic surroundings is (today) seen only by prearranged proprietary guided tour and has strict daily limits that book up well in advance. I question whether ANY ship can provide this among their offerings. Ours did not. If you can figure out the train to Seoul and dare to do this independently, you could skip the rest of Seoul because Changdeokgung is ( ... I remember ... ) so good.
View Cruise Critic's Seoul (Incheon) Cruise Port Review
Culinary TourShanghai, China also requires a full day at sea. We despise sea days, but ours was softened by 1-1/2 hours in the gym, and a wine reception for all the back-to-back (two-itineraries) cruisers (The marketing name for this is "Star Collector", and features unlimited free laundry. ) Last-minute Chinese change/indecision/extortion? held us in the river until we docked 5 hours late, at noon. This wreaked havoc with the full-day excursions. We walked independently to The Bund, maybe a mile, seeing tiny alleys not as old as Beijings hutongs, but equally crowded with low budget lodgings, without full modern plumbing. We continued to the busy but famous Yueyang garden, and took the inexpensive subway back to the ship. Except for immigration, we never entered the modern port building. Instead, we used a subtle and anonymous slanted driveway at. ( (31.2470704,121.4958417) https://goo.gl/maps/rwpTA7B35mR2 ). This is an easy walk from International Cruise Terminal stop of Subway Line 12, Exit 3. Use the office plaza you come up in, swinging left around the W Hotel, and walk downhill to the traffic light. Do not enter the big mall with the word “Cruise” in its name, it's useless for getting to the ship. Turn right along the busy boulevard, past the COSCO shipping company office tower and turn left just before the decorative “scholar's rock” in front of another office building that has a Starbucks in the base. (Have to give a phone number to get WiFi there.) The pier security booth is about 300' from the scholar's rock.View All 1 Culinary Tour Reviews
This pierage is a million-dollar location. I mean, just stunning! Our starboard cabin faced the pier, but the port cabins faced across the river to the ultra-modern Pudong area, with skyscapers and the trademark TV tower. (River traffic was so heavy, I don't know if you can know in advance just when the ship will turn end-for-end to depart.) The ship's decks had a clear view of the equally famous "Bund", with landmark 1930's buildings renovated for contemporary banking and investment.
We took the 6PM-10:30PM Local Food Crawl tour, which they sent out even though only two couples booked it. The restaurants ranged from superb to so-so, but the local guide was superb. He described the food (NOT "fine dining", but "local food") as "the food of my childhood", and he relished sharing it with us. There was a lot of walking, including many stairs for pedestrian overpasses.
Taipei (Keelung)The ship actually docks in Keelung, Taiwan, which is 45 minutes by train from Taipei. Even on (our) Sunday, the trains were often as frequent as 4 per hour, and cheap. We got small paper tickets that were to be inserted into the turnstiles (entry and also exit) and were returned to you both times. We docked at 7:00 AM; The immigration officers had rubber-stamped color copies of our (held by the ship) passports, which we carried off the ship. Our ship had the spot farthest from the Keelung rail station, about 1/4 mile around the rectangular port basin. The first station-like building you come to is the bus station, which has a long passage to the almost new South Rail station. (Returning to the ship, you may prefer to exit the train station platform at the "-> Bus Station" end.) Getting off at the Main Taipei Train Station (there are two other downtown stops), we bought one-day Metro passes.View All 49 Taipei (Keelung) Cruise Port Reviews
Our main interest was the Jianguo Holiday (i.e. weekend) Flower Market, under the elevated highway one block from the Daan Park (R06) Metro station. It was huge, about 500 meters long, with two aisles. We were particularly interested in their abundant and incrediby cheap orchids, even though they can't be imported individually by Americans. While scoping out the adjacent Jade Market (also very large, but hard to judge quality), we found a rather Western competitor of Starbucks (Lu.Coffee, ) where we had coffee and fresh panini for lunch. More daring diners can get NT$80 hot noodles with the additions of your choice, right inside the Flower Market. We later had tea at the lavish, theatrical Grand Hotel, because I stayed there on business in 1990. It's surrounded by a large, steeply forested park, with paved stairways and hiking, with a few shrines (and squatter's shacks.) The two subway stops nearest to the hotel (Red line) go to the main train station without needing to change.
View Cruise Critic's Taipei (Keelung) Cruise Port Review
Ishigaki, Japan. It takes two nights and one full day at 12 knots to get back to the southernmost part of Japan, Okinawa Prefecture. MV Star Legend docked (for once, entirely on its own, with no tugboats standing by), at Ishigaki Island (quite far from the island of Okinawa.) This is a 50,000-population resort community in "tropical Japan." Vegetation and climate are similar to the greener small Caribbean islands, and there are many beaches (and beach hotels.) The cruise pier is off on its own peninsula, and looked to be about two miles from downtown. The local TI had a tent on the pier for maps and advice. The port provided a shuttle bus every 30-40 minutes, which dropped you at the ferry terminal, close to shopping and dining. There are multiple islands served by the ferry terminal, but it seemed smartest to (independently ... ) visit the closest island to Ishigaki.
We bought round-trip ferry tickets (around 1600 Yen p/p) to the nearest island, Taketomi (15-minutes, 30-60 minutes between boats, multiple companies-we rode with Anei Kanko). It's only about 1 mile square. Most local homeowners have pledged to maintain the size and appearance of there homes to approximate historical Ryūkyū culture. There are town busses and private cars, but most traffic consists of bicycles. We found a small rental company (less choice of bike size, maybe. GPS: (24.335278, 124.092361) ) just behind the massive nature-park orientation building (worthwhile visit), a few steps from the northeast ferry terminal. ( https://goo.gl/maps/9ATRLgFKo6q ). We paid the same price ("touring" bikes, one gear, hand brakes) we found around the island, 300 Yen per hour. It was a sweaty but rewarding self-tour. There are a few cafes, but there is little retail on Taketomi. You are asked to carry out your own trash, including at public toilets. We liked the tea towels and tee shirts at the Taketomi ferry terminal. We encountered the ship's tour taking their oxcart (!) ride on Taketomi. It was very hot and humid. You get to the next destination overnight.