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Cruise Views : Ah, the Sagafjord--and Alaska, Too

September 08, 1985|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

AT SEA — The famous TV producer is playing shuffleboard with his kids on the top deck against a backdrop of glacier-clad mountains glinting in the sun. The exercisers are just back from the Golden Door at Sea aerobics and stretch-and-flex classes; the photographers and wildlife watchers have seen whales sounding off the bow. A sense of well-being pervades the deck.

The chef is setting out a special buffet brunch with German sausages and sauerkraut, roast suckling pig, freshly baked rye breads and imported mustards to supplement the regular daily buffet fare of cold lobster, shrimp, crab meat, salads and meats, while bar waiters scurry around with trays of complimentary chilled aquavit and cold beer.

This is about as pleasurable as life can get, sitting on the sunny deck of the Sagafjord on a warm Alaska day. While this much-praised ship isn't perfect, it comes close enough to please even the most discriminating passenger.

The Sagafjord is not going to be everybody's dream ship. If you want a big casino and a splashy, slick floor show, better look elsewhere. Don't count on a lot of late-night singles action or honeyed words and lingering smoldering glances from Latin lovers; officers and staff are northern European, friendly and correct but not given to hyperbole.

Mostly Low Key

The decor is mostly low-key Scandinavian, with a welcome shot of chic new suites and a sophisticated two-level Club Polaris in glass, gray and chrome with gleaming white piano. But even with this sleek new overlay, there's still a homey, clubby feeling about the Sagafjord.

Cunard acquired Norwegian American Cruises, parent company for Sagafjord and the newer Vistafjord, in late 1983, merging to become Cunard/NAC. Cunard put in the Golden Door at Sea spa, with saunas, gym and exercise rooms; installed windows in the dining room; added 25 luxury suites high atop the ship, each with its own balcony, sitting room, mini-refrigerator, color TV and video cassette player, built-in bookcase stocked with reading material, and bathroom with tub and shower, and created the glamorous Club Polaris.

Ship personnel, many of them veterans of the prestigious Swedish American vessels, provide smooth, high-quality service, working together as a harmonious team. The cooking is excellent, probably the best of the mid-to-large cruise ships, adding respect rather than overwrought sauces to dishes like fresh grilled Alaska salmon. The kitchen makes its own bread and pastries, sorbets and pretty little chocolates; orange juice is fresh-squeezed, and espresso and cappuccino are there for the asking after dinner. There is, of course, only one meal sitting.

The Sagafjord carries a maximum of 589 passengers with 352 crew, a much higher-than-average service ratio. Scandinavian stewardesses, cheerful and friendly, keep the cabins spotless and turn down the beds each evening, leaving a gold-wrapped chocolate on your pillow. A steward call button brings room service 24 hours a day.

54 Single Rooms

Of the ship's 321 staterooms, 54 are singles and only 34 inside. All are spacious enough; most have bathtubs. While the new suites are in pastel tones of rose or blue with pale blond cabinetry, some of the cabins on lower decks are more subdued and conservative. Average costs per person per day range from just over $200 to a Christmas high of $926 for the top luxury suites (bedroom, living room, two balconies and two full baths).

It's possible to promenade on deck completely around the ship, but be careful on wet mornings because the varnished decking gets slippery.

Outdoor tables and chairs are grouped around the Lido deck swimming pool, and just inside the glass doors is the bright veranda cafe, where buffet breakfasts and lunches are served. A large ballroom is used for evening lounge shows, daytime bingo and port lectures, and beyond it are gift shops and casino, a card room and library (open all the time with plenty of books), movie theater, the intimate North Cape Bar, and the circular, glass-windowed, green-and-white Garden Lounge, where tea is served every afternoon.

The best testimonial, of course, is the fact that as many as 50% to 70% of those on board on any cruise have sailed with the Sagafjord before. For anyone who appreciates quiet elegance and enjoys cruises, it is a ship to aspire to.

But there's still another element at work here, the Golden Door Spa at Sea. Smart travelers know they would pay around $2,700 a week at the spa itself, but they can get the same exercise program and guidance free on board from spa instructors. Depending on ports of call, as many as eight classes a day are offered--early morning wake-ups with stretching and a brisk one-mile walk around the deck, stretch-and-flex, gentle aerobics, exercises for strengthening back and abdominal muscles, seated exercise, water exercise, spot toning and advanced aerobics.

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