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Cruise Views

Taking the Legendary 'Love Boat' to Morocco

July 24, 1988|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Play it again, Capt. Stubing.

Here we are, aboard a legendary ship, the Pacific Princess, the original "Love Boat," sailing into the legendary city of Casablanca.

The only place in this bustling, modern Moroccan city of high-rises to recall Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in "Casablanca" is the Hyatt Regency bar, where some stills from the Warner Brothers' film classic are displayed. The movie was shot on the studio's back lot, which apparently looked nothing like Casablanca.

The real road to Morocco leads to the rose-colored parapets of Marrakech, a long day's journey into delight. Marrakech more than makes up for Casablanca; it's satisfyingly romantic from the lavish Arabian Nights fantasy of the palatial Hotel Mamounia to the winding alleyways, importuning merchants, snake charmers and brightly garbed water sellers of the souk.

Just as movie fans can relate more to Marrakech than Casablanca, TV fans are immediately at home with the Pacific Princess, even if, like us, it's their first cruise with her. (Visitors find seemingly familiar ground in Djemaa-el-F'na Square where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the opening scenes of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and the adjacent smaller market square where Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman wreaked havoc in "Ishtar.")

A smiling, gregarious captain in white shorts and knee socks--in this case, Capt. David Brown--is very much in evidence greeting passengers on his daily rounds of the ship and hosting a table nightly in the dining room. The pool area with its sea sprite sculpture on the Lido Deck and the Aloha Deck spiral staircase into the purser's square also strike a familiar note from the tube.

But there's a lot more to the Pacific Princess than what has met the eye of even the most devoted viewer. You have to travel aboard this ship to really appreciate the high level of quality and professionalism at work.

Maintenance and housekeeping are superb on the 18-year-old vessel, and the level of service from cabin stewards and stewardesses to dining room and bar waiters is equal to any ship anywhere.

It's a pleasure to see a solicitous Italian dining room captain who has been with the ship for years offering his arm to escort a woman to her table, or hear a crisp British voice report from the bridge on the ship's noon position.

The food is good, too, especially at lunchtime in the dining room, where one day we feasted on light and delicate cannelloni, a fine-flavored green minestrone and a cioppino (fish stew) with garlic toast. Another evening, by special order, we had a sublime risotto made with porcini mushrooms. Pasta dishes, soups and salads were outstanding.

Fresh Pasta Dish

The buffet lunch on the Lido Deck, on the other hand, was quite ordinary except for a daily fresh pasta dish prepared and served by the maitre d'hotel from a portable flambe cart.

Because there are more British passengers in the Mediterranean, teatime in the dining room is a major production, with waiters offering silver trays of hot scones with strawberry jam, tea sandwiches, pastries and cakes.

Some Shortcomings

The 600-passenger ship can boast of just about every facility its big sister, Royal Princess, has. However, the gymnasium and the slot-machine areas are tucked into corners like afterthoughts, and there's no full promenade deck around the ship.

Paul O'Laughlin and his cruise staff double on entertainment, which is up to the Princess' usual level of excellence.

While standard cabins on the Pacific Princess are small to compact, nothing comparable to their TV counterparts, some deluxe suites and doubles are spacious.

The lowest-priced cabins are inside twins that average $240 per person, double occupancy, a day in the Mediterranean, while outside twins with windows instead of portholes average $341.

Larger are the outside deluxe cabins with sitting area and bathtubs, $430, and deluxe suites with separate sitting area, refrigerator, TV set, bathtub and shower, $555. Prices include round-trip air fare.

The cost of a third and fourth person in a cabin is half the minimum rate, while single occupants of a double cabin pay 25% more over the per person double occupancy rate. Early booking discounts are sometimes available.

Virtual Sellout

Because this Mediterranean season has been a virtual sellout--half the people on our cruise had sailed with Princess or parent company P&O before--Princess' 1,200-passenger flagship Royal Princess will be positioned here next summer on 12- and 14-night itineraries, providing twice as much passenger capacity as the Pacific Princess.

Two of the 1989 cruises will call at Casablanca, a May 19 sailing from Barcelona to London, and an Aug. 1 positioning from London to Barcelona. Bookings are coming in for next season from the Los Angeles and London offices.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Princess will return west in mid-November with a transatlantic crossing from Naples to San Juan that includes a three-night London stopover and theater package, as well as a call at the island of Madeira.

The 14-night package costs $1,959 per person double occupancy, with round-trip air fare from 71 U.S. gateways and first-class London hotel included.

This winter the ship will make a series of nine-night sailings between San Juan and Miami with calls at St. Maarten, Martinique, Mayreau, Barbados, Antigua and St. Thomas.

Princess also is in discussion with several shipyards about building a ship similar to the Royal Princess to enter service in 1991.

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