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Cruise Views

Smooth Sailing on Short First Trip

September 07, 1986|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

Many people planning their first cruise vacation feel that they want to test the water first with a short sailing, just to be sure. Even when faced with the choice between going out for three or four days, they choose three, because they cannot imagine spending four whole days on a ship.

Those are the same people who, at the end of the holiday, can't imagine that the time went so quickly, and that they had so much fun. On the Azure Seas, for example, on all the year-round three- and four-day cruises out of Los Angeles, the most typical comment from passengers at the end of their first cruise is, "Now I want to go out again, but for a week or so. Where do I sign up?"

Azure Seas cruise director Bill Gentry once described the situation this way: "We're like a school for cruise passengers. They sail with us for a few times, then graduate to longer cruises."

Longer Cruises Eyed

The Azure Seas and its East Coast affiliate Emerald Seas have been doing very well, thank you, selling three- and four-day cruises to first-timers (an estimated 70% of Azure Seas passengers are taking their first cruise), but began to realize they would do even better with a seven-day cruise available at comparable prices to offer the graduates instead of letting them go over to another cruise line.

And that's where an Admiral comes into the picture.

Effective Oct. 1, Admiral Cruise Line is the name of a new company formed by the merger of Western Cruise Lines (the Azure Seas), Eastern Cruise Lines (Emerald Seas) and Sundance Cruises (Stardancer).

Although two of the three ships are based in Los Angeles, Admiral will have its headquarters in Miami, with Eastern's Bernard Chabot serving as president and chief executive officer. Sundance's president, Stanley B. McDonald, a pioneer of West Coast cruising and the founder of Princess Cruises, will serve as co-chairman of the board along with Richard Fain of Gotaas-Larsen Shipping Co. of Oslo, the Norwegian parent company for Eastern and Western.

Stardancer fits the bill nicely as a complement to the other two ships. Its seven-day round-trip sailings from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera are priced as low as $745 a person, double occupancy, between Oct. 10 and Dec. 12, and it offers one-week Alaska cruises out of Vancouver during the summer.

Spa, Gym Facilities

Young couples in particular have been drawn to the Stardancer for its excellent spa and gym facilities, top deck running track and vehicle-carrying capability.

Meanwhile, for first-time cruisers, the Azure Seas four-day midweek sailing makes a better sampler of the total cruise experience than the fun-but-frenetic three-day weekend sailing. As acting cruise director Don Fluke said to the assembled passengers the first night, "Everything you'd do on a seven-day cruise, we're going to do on this four-day cruise."

So on the four-day cruise, passengers get a taste of everything from a full day at sea to Mexican shore excursions in Ensenada, from time to mix and mingle with the entertainers on board to a chance at getting lucky with bingo, roulette, blackjack or slots.

There's time to meet Capt. Dimitrios Mylonas at his welcome aboard cocktail party and dinner, as well as to say bittersweet good-bys at a farewell dinner of lobster and baked Alaska to table companions one has gotten to know.

Shows and Movies

On the four-day cruise one could see four recent movies, including "Hannah and Her Sisters," as well as musical variety shows, spotlight cabaret shows in the late evening, disco until 2 or 3 a.m., and a superb Mexican folkloric company that came aboard in Ensenada.

You can start with the early morning mile walk-a-thon or jogging and work your way through aerobics classes to games and trivia quizzes with lots of prizes, to backgammon classes and dance instruction. You can enter the talent contest, go dancing at cocktail time, tour the ship's navigational bridge and sign up for skeet shooting or shuffleboard competitions.

You could have a long conversation with a new-found friend (we saw several of those) or bid on somebody else's white elephants at an auction. You can even sit in a deck chair and read, or sunbathe by the pool with a pina colada close at hand, or go to Sea World or the San Diego Zoo during a Tuesday call at San Diego.

The Azure Seas was christened in 1954 by Queen Elizabeth as the Southern Cross to make the run between Australia/New Zealand and Great Britain, and first sailed under the Western Cruise Lines banner in November, 1980. By the time you read this she will have made more than 570 sailings between Los Angeles and Mexico.

Smooth, Steady Ride

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