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AFLOAT : Ships and Suites

October 20, 1985|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

If you've always secretly wished for your own coat of arms, engraved with the slogan "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," and if you can spot the difference between beluga and Sevruga caviar through a Baccarat decanter of iced vodka at 20 paces, then you're a likely candidate for the suite life at sea.

Cruise ships, like grand hotels, have their own royal, presidential and penthouse suites--lavish apartments that might include a personal butler, a bar fully stocked with your favorite brands, an in-tub whirlpool bath, a videocassette player, a private veranda above the sea for romantic breakfasts a deux and serious sunbathing. In at least one instance, a suite has a private kitchen--in case you bring along your own chef.

Always in demand, such super-suites are spoken for a year or more in advance on around-the-world cruises (Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus won't go aboard the QE2 unless he has the Queen Mary suite). On shorter sailings, rich and famous suite occupants range from Jerry Lewis (in the presidential suite of the Norway) to Gavin MacLeod (in the royal suite of the Royal Princess).

Perhaps the most charismatic of all the suites currently at sea is one that has hardly changed in 54 years--the Marjorie Merriweather Post bedroom and bath on the four-masted sailing yacht Sea Cloud. The yacht, built in Kiel, Germany, in 1931, now sails on summer voyages in the Mediterranean and winter journeys in the Caribbean under the Heritage Cruises banner.

Actress Dina Merrill, Post's daughter, remembers magical childhood days when the family spent as long as six months aboard the Sea Cloud in some exotic corner of the world; even now she takes the ship out occasionally for a private cruise with a group of friends.

Except for the fact that the marble fireplace is no longer used for wood-burning fires and that the original oil paintings and rare pieces of Sevres (the latter glued to mantel and table tops) and the softly glowing lamp shades of sunfish and iguana skin have all been replaced with more prosaic counterparts, the suite looks much as it did when Post and her then-husband, Joseph E. Davies, invited the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for a cruise.

The Louis XVI master suite is said to have caused Queen Maud of Norway to murmur that her hostess "lives like a queen, or at least as queens are supposed to live."

It's easy to imagine yourself being wakened in the morning by a European stewardess bringing your breakfast tray to the silk damask and satin brocade bedroom in its cream, gold and pale-green sumptuousness. You can visualize yourself drawing a bath in the inlaid-marble bathroom with gold-finished fixtures and Baccarat crystal wall sconces, seeing your reflection in flower-etched mirrors framed in richly embellished wallmoldings. The price? About $5,000 per person for seven days.

Champagne, satin slippers and ribbon-bright streamers tangling from the rail evoke the timelessness of ocean travel on such classic ships as Holland America's Rotterdam, which will sail on her 25th world cruise in January.

For Victor and Adrea Carter (he's a retired chairman of the board of Republic Corp.), it will mean coming back home to their Rotterdam suite. Yes, for the entire winter. The Carters have added many of their own furnishings, such as a long desk-table in the sitting room that doubles as Victor's office, where telephone and telex allow him to keep in touch with Los Angeles. Adrea enjoys a separate wardrobe room with space for 35 to 40 evening gowns.

The exquisite, two-story, wood- paneled Ritz Carlton nightclub on board the Rotterdam is the setting for the Carters' annual Valentine's Day party. Invitations to that affair are most sought after, even considering the great number of envelopes that are slipped discreetly under cabin doors almost daily. Guests receive heart-shape mementos of the Carter party and can add them to the barrage of souvenirs that Holland America provides to its prized and pampered world-cruise customers. Rotterdam's deluxe staterooms for the 83-day world cruise, incidentally, cost $49,490 per person, double occupancy.

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