Sun Line's flagship Stella Solaris will make its maiden call in Los Angeles next Jan. 21, which will also signal the start of another first: a 71-day grand voyage around South America.
This expanded itinerary supplants Sun's longtime series of Rio Carnival sailings.
The schedule is irresistible for anyone who wants to see much of South America in one comfortable journey, including optional excursions to Machu Picchu, Iguacu Falls, the Galapagos Islands, the Chilean lakes and the Amazon jungle.
The ship will call at Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Salvador de Bahia, Punta del Este, Guayaquil, Callao, remote Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego, and Puerto Madryn for an excursion to see the penguins and sea lions of Argentina's Valdez Peninsula, as well as transiting the Strait of Magellan.
Taking the Full Cruise
The full cruise, which ends in Ft. Lauderdale April 2, costs $15,065 to $32,565 per person, double occupancy, including air fare; passengers booking before Sept. 1 get a $1,250 discount.
Five segments, 12 to 15 days each, are also available, with early booking discounts of $200 per person. Round-trip international air fare is included on all the segments, which are priced from $3,365.
The Stella Solaris is one of those ships that changes personality by season. The longer winter voyages attract older, more affluent passengers than the seven-day summer sailings.
Some of the winter passengers, says cruise director Irene Randall, come back every year, stay on board 40 or 45 days, and may not get off the ship. "They don't care where the ship goes," Randall says, "they want to travel with their favorite steward."
In contrast, the ship's Greek Islands and Turkey sailing we took this summer is the perfect answer for people who worry that there's "nothing to do" on a cruise.
With eight ports of call in seven days, it has to be the most active, information-packed trip imaginable. If your stamina and curiosity hold up, you can see incomparable treasures--from the barbaric splendor of Topkapi's gold and emerald daggers to the luminous marble sculptures of Praxiteles and the awesome ancient cities of Ephesus, Delos and Pergamum.
Our weeklong cruise ($1,230 to $2,540 per person, double occupancy) sailed round-trip from Piraeus and took us to the unspoiled fishing village of Dikili in Turkey for an excursion to Pergamum; Istanbul and its 4,000-shop covered bazaar; Kusadasi and Ephesus on Turkey's Turquoise Coast; the broad sandy beaches of Rhodes; Crete, home of Zorba the Greek creator Nikos Kazantzakis; the whitewashed village atop Santorini's steep cliffs; the uninhabited sacred island of Delos, covered with scarlet poppies, and the sidewalk cafes and chic boutiques of Mykonos.
Reason to Stay Up
While most of the entertainment acts were routine, the gifted Steve and Bonnie Cole were always worth staying up for. She has a splendid big, melted-honey voice that combines the best of South American singer Yma Sumac and Sarah Vaughan; he orchestrates and stages their turns with drama, wit and style.
These Aegean cruises are casual by day, somewhat dressy by evening. The passengers are usually a cosmopolitan lot, but the major language groups are sorted out on the first evening by cruise director Randall, a petite blonde with a Melina Mercouri voice who speaks five languages fluently. Multilingual guides travel with each group, which take shore excursions in their own language.
Actress Eva Marie Saint, who first traveled on the Stella Solaris in Greece to film an episode of "Love Boat" several years ago, was along with her husband, director Jeffrey Hayden, and their daughter and son-in-law.
Cabins aboard are spacious and comfortable; two-thirds have both tub and shower. Among the best buys are the Category 8 inside cabins; there are 39 of them, including some connecting pairs, all with two upper and two lower beds. Figure around $245 per person per day, double occupancy, less with quad occupancy.
The bottom cabin per diem of around $175 per person, double occupancy, buys a standard inside with two lower beds or an upper and lower. A splurge of $363 per person, double occupancy, snares one of the top suites, with walk-in closets, TV set, separate sitting area and big bathroom with tub and shower.
The service aboard is excellent--Sun Line has under 5% crew turnover a year, very low for the industry--and the food is good, especially the heavenly hot homemade potato chips in the bars and a thick, creamy homemade yogurt at breakfast.
An appealing deck buffet offers Greek salad, cold meats, hamburgers, moussaka, batter-dipped fried zucchini, fruit and cheese, so you can get an early start on an afternoon ashore.