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An Experience on the High Seas Bears Repeating

September 11, 1988|JAY CLARKE | Clarke is travel editor of the Miami Herald .

Marse Young has been on 54 cruises since 1975. "I've become a cruise-a-holic," she said.

Chuck Wideen will go on his 41st voyage on Princess Cruises since 1979. "I like their dining room," he says.

Thirty years ago Tobe Berler used to wonder if she'd ever get to sail on a cruise ship. Now she is about to sail on her 50th cruise. "I love to see the world, and you meet so many people," she said.

Young, Wideen and Berler, along with a growing number of Americans, not only like cruising but have become addicted to it. "I'm a widow, so what else is there to do?" asks Young, 69, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who takes most of her cruises on Cunard's Sagafjord. "I don't like to go out alone at night. But on a ship I feel like I'm among friends. I can dress up and go out at night and feel safe."

Wideen, 57, of Southern California, believes cruises to be a good getaway. "I used to live in Las Vegas," he said. "Wouldn't you like to get away if you lived in Las Vegas?"

Berler, a bubbly resident of Margate, Fla., got her first taste of cruising in New York City. "I used to work on 12th Avenue next to the docks. I'd look at all the big cruise ships there and say to myself, 'Will I ever get on one of those?' " One day she did, and since then Berler has sailed almost everywhere.

Varied Clientele

What is it about cruising that turns passengers into addicts?

For Jack Gier, 43, a Boca Raton, Fla., broker who takes several cruises a year, cruising is break time. "It's like going on a seven-day party," Gier said. "I love to dress up. You don't get the chance to do that here (on shore). I like to be away from the phone and newspapers. I like gambling and I like to meet new people.

"I've been going on cruises since high school. It's everything I like to do rolled into one."

Berler likes the variety of activities. "I go to shows. I've done needlepoint, taken exercises, gone to art classes, listened to lectures. I'm a pool person. Something's going on all the time."

A Miami couple who have taken many cruises, Roland and Dorothy Howell also like to keep active. "We go on every shore excursion," Roland Howell says.

On their most recent voyage, an 80-day cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2, the Howells went on 31 shore tours. "We take tours to get the feel of the country, to see how the people live."

"Cruising in itself is great," Frank Meyers of Miami, who has sailed nearly a dozen times on Royal Viking Line ships, said. "I like being at sea and not seeing land."

Wideen agrees: "I love those positioning cruises; they don't stop anywhere."

People Dress Up

Dressing up--and having to pack and unpack only once--appeals to many veteran cruisers.

"Women like to wear new gowns and new clothes," Roland Howell says. "Going to dinner is kind of like a fashion show."

Many men also enjoy the touch of elegance that cruising offers. "There's a formality that unfortunately has mostly passed out of our life style," Charles Leader, a retired Ohio manufacturer who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., said.

"I like to dress up. On our last cruise there were at least three formal nights, and practically every man wore a tuxedo. I also like not having to live out of a suitcase."

Repeat passengers tend to form more likes and dislikes and gain the savvy to get what they want.

For a specific cabin that she may want, Berler works closely with her travel agent. "I make reservations at least nine months to a year in advance. I like the lowest passenger deck; if you hit bad weather, it rolls the least."

Leader also makes reservations far ahead of time, but prefers cabins on a high deck with windows rather than portholes. "We like to be as far away from the engines as possible, and away from the dining areas. Rooms are larger, and you may get better stewards."

Cruise lines, particularly the more upscale ones, have long recognized the value of repeat business. Nearly all have special clubs for past passengers. Members of Sitmar's Circolo del Comandante club, for example, are offered opportunities to sail at discounted prices and given a members-only cocktail party aboard. Also, they receive gifts.

Michener Signs Books

"In July when we had James Michener on board on an Alaska cruise, we gave each Circolo member a signed copy of one of his books," Sitmar spokeswoman Julie Benson, said. About 35% of Sitmar's passengers are repeaters.

Royal Cruise Line offers its Odyssey Club members a shipboard credit (deducted from their bar/boutique bill) and a wait-list priority, as well as the usual special cocktail party on board and savings on fares.

Royal Viking Line has so many repeat passengers (sailings average about 50%) that the special cocktail party for Skald Club members almost fills the main lounge on some cruises. Most other cruise lines have similar clubs.

As taking several cruises a year is expensive, most repeat passengers tend to be affluent. But some aren't.

Tina Langmeyer, a waitress in Ashland, Mass., has sailed 40 times in her 41 years and never gets tired of hearing her friends say, "Bon voyage."

"I work a lot of double shifts to save money for cruises," Langmeyer said. "I love it. Once I had such a good time on the Fairsea that I stayed on an extra 14 days." She took another Sitmar cruise to Alaska, and she's booked on a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas holiday.

Langmeyer has increased the frequency of her sailings in recent years.

Perhaps all cruise liners should be required to post a notice in a prominent place on board: "Warning: This cruise may be habit-forming."

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