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Cruise Views

Luxurious Astor Offers a Music Festival at Sea

June 12, 1988|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

Luxury is a word that is bandied about far too freely. The word seems to have become linked with everything that floats.

Considering that, it is a pleasure to point out a "genuinely" luxurious vessel that is unfamiliar to most Americans--Astor Cruises' Astor, built in 1986 in Kiel, West Germany.

It is the second vessel of that name to be built this decade. The almost-identical first Astor, launched in 1981, was later sold to an East German company and renamed the Arkona.

Russians Seek Ship

The current Astor may also be headed east, because negotiations have been under way for some time to sell the vessel to the Soviet Ministry of Shipping.

The Russians want a ship to replace the 550-passenger Mikhail Lermontov, which ran aground and sank off Australia two years ago. If the sale goes through, the ship will be delivered sometime between October and next May.

Meanwhile, New York City-based Astor Cruises, which has been marketing the ship in North America for about six months, has released a revised schedule of European sailings through early October. They include a 20-day musical festival leaving June 28 and featuring such guest artists as Montserrat Caballe, Rudolf Firkusny, Eugene Fodor, Elinor Ross and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Octet.

The Astor's atmosphere is subdued, the clientele mainly European. Our Caribbean sailing carried only a handful of Americans but 250 British, 140 Germans and 80 other Europeans.

The 600-passenger ship is modern and spotlessly clean. Our deluxe outside cabin was compact but contained twin beds, a TV set, two wooden closets with a full-length mirror between, a built-in hair dryer in the bathroom and a good shower. The ship has 32 suites, 167 outside cabins and 96 inside cabins.

Most of the service staff is from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, where the ship is registered. Officers are German and British, the cruise staff international.

Protection Offered

Publican Larry Jackson, the best bartender we've come across in a decade of cruising, is in charge of the Albany Pub, a charming, wood-paneled bit of Old Britain, complete with draft beer, frosted windows and ship models.

Special features include automatic protection under a special policy that includes trip cancellation and accident insurance. Joggers and walkers will find springy, non-slip, rubberized mats on deck surfaces, which are otherwise slippery after being hosed down.

Duty-free whiskey, vodka and gin at $3.50 a pint can be ordered from cabin stewardesses while the ship is at sea; it is delivered with a smile, two glasses and a bucket of ice.

Most of the British passengers gravitated to the pub for pre-dinner cocktails, while the Germans headed for the elegant Hansa Lounge where a German quartet played bouncy, kitschy, European pop music from the 1950s.

Dining was equally cosmopolitan, with a menu printed in three languages and enough courses to satisfy a veteran of the grand old days of steamships.

Elaborate Fitness Center

There's a bright children's play area with slide and merry-go-round, toys and games, and a giant chess set on deck to supplement deck croquet, shuffleboard, quoits, table tennis, volleyball and paddle tennis.

The fitness center provides an indoor pool, a solarium with two tanning machines, two rowing machines, two stationary bikes, a treadmill, massage rooms and all sorts of facial and body treatments.

Artwork through the ship is top quality, from period prints to innovative, contemporary three-dimensional framed works. Beveled mirrors with etched designs are hung like pictures.

Although there is no casino, 10 slot machines are adjacent to the veranda, which doubles as a lunchtime cafe and evening disco.

On the down side, the entertainment is very traditional, which means a pair of xylophonists, a ballroom dance team, a male singer and some chorus women ( girls is not the right term).

Very few areas were set aside for nonsmokers; most of the passengers smoked a great many cigarettes and some pipes and cigars as well.

Soviet Ballet

Ports of call for the special Opus XXX Music Festival at Sea, sailing round trip from Harwich for London, include Hamburg, Copenhagen, Leningrad, Helsinki, Stockholm and Gdansk.

Special shore-side events are set in several cities, including a performance of the Kirov Ballet in the Soviet Union. Fares for this special cruise range from $4,660 per person for an inside twin-bed cabin to $8,440 per person double for a deluxe suite with private lounge. Rates include round-trip air fare from New York to Europe.

Get a free color brochure from Astor Cruises, 500 Fifth Ave., New York 10110, or call toll-free (800) 221-1666.

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