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Cruise Views

Toasting a Pearl of a Ship in the Far East

May 17, 1987|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

SEMERANG, Indonesia — First came the strains of a Dixieland band playing "When the Saints Go Marching In." Could this really be Indonesia ?

Then the sight of Filipino stewards and waiters lined up on the pier clapping their hands and smiling, while behind them a rainbow of bright balloons adorned the gangway.

The Pearl of Scandinavia was welcoming its passengers home at the end of their arduous all-day tour to the temple of Borobudur in the countryside of central Java.

The Pearl's style--warm and genuinely friendly, with enough sense of fun to lighten the serious sightseeing program--had been a main drawing card of this one-ship line from its beginning back in 1982, when the first China luxury sailings were introduced. Many of the 400 loyal passengers have come back for their second, third or fourth outing with the company.

But only a few days after the Semerang welcome, passengers were told that Pearl Cruises of Scandinavia had been sold by J. Lauritzen A/S of Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale-based Ocean Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of the 2000 Corp., which is headquartered in Switzerland.

No Changes Expected

The two companies are expected to continue as independent entities, at least for the time being, Ocean with its Florida offices and European, Caribbean and South American sailings, and Pearl with a San Francisco base and Far East itineraries. No changes are anticipated for the remainder of Pearl's 1987 cruise schedule.

"The two companies are regarded as compatible," Ocean Cruises spokeswoman Karen Kopta said in New York. "All three ships (Ocean Princess, Ocean Islander and Pearl of Scandinavia) are registered in the Bahamas and all attract a similar kind of passenger--someone looking for destinations off the beaten path."

The 430-passenger Pearl is comparable in size to the 460-passenger Ocean Princess, while the Ocean Islander carries 250.

Pearl's marketing director, Donna Remillard, says both companies will benefit from the joint marketing ability of the two offices.

Plans call for a dry-docking in January and February and a $5.4-million refurbishment of the Pearl, formerly the Finnstar, which was built in Finland by Wartsila in 1967, with two earlier extensive renovations since its days as a ferry.

As a destination ship, the Pearl is hard to beat. Ports of call are exotic, and the ship is small enough to go into areas off limits to larger vessels.

Shore excursions are moderately priced and operated smoothly and efficiently by Ornulf Johannesen and his wife Ilse; his port talks are funny, frank and informative, the best of their genre.

Additional lecturers are always on board to delve into the history, economics, art and politics of a region.

As a deluxe cruise ship, the Pearl, despite a certain dearth of glamour in its main lounge decor, seems to please its passengers virtually all the time. We certainly never heard a discouraging word during the cruise, except about the hot weather on shore. One woman, fanning herself in Bangkok's torrid April temperatures, said: "My word, this is almost as hot as Memphis, Tenn.!"

One of the Pearl's luxuries is cabin space. Every stateroom, even the lowest-priced inside double, has plenty of room for two people and the clothes they carry for a two- to three-week itineraries into China or the exotic cities and islands of Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea.

Many cabins have bathtubs and mini-refrigerators, and all are attractively decorated in pale blue, rose and beige.

Suites on the top deck have huge picture windows and sitting areas, while main deck suites, slightly more expensive, have smaller windows and separate sitting rooms.

Prices are from $195 per person a day, double occupancy, for a standard inside double--fairly spacious, with two lower beds--to $475 for main deck suites.

Getting Around

The physical layout of the ship is confusing at first--only the forward stairway, for example, reaches all the public decks--and because access is frequently broken up by stairs, we would hesitate to recommend it for disabled passengers, especially those in wheelchairs, although a few cabins are designated for the handicapped.

However, on our cruise a blind woman and her companion were making their second trip aboard the Pearl and a cheerful, elderly woman in a wheelchair was pushed by her 6-foot son. Both had a grand time and no major problems.

Stewards and waiters are quick to learn passenger names and use them on every possible occasion. Performers double as cruise staff, and cruise director Alan Armsby, a championship ballroom dancer, patiently and successfully teaches passengers the intricacies of the samba and cha-cha.

Capt. Helmuth Klostermann, a decidedly unmelancholy Dane, and his fellow officers mix and mingle with the passengers, dancing under the stars one evening while the ship was anchored off Bali.

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