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West Coast Cruise Ship That Takes Cars and RVs

September 11, 1988|ELSA DITMARS | Ditmars is a Pales Verdes free-lance writer

VANCOUVER, Canada — Stardancer stands out among cruise ships as the only luxury liner to carry passengers' cars and RVs.

If you've a yen to drive the back roads of Alaska in the summer months or explore Mexico's Baja Peninsula during winter, this ship is for you.

In June we left Los Angeles on a five-night coastal cruise that repositions Stardancer to the port of Vancouver for her summer itineraries. (We drove our car off the ship in Vancouver and began a spectacular 1,400-mile tour down the Washington, Oregon and California coasts.)

A sunrise entrance into San Francisco Bay rivals the world's most breathtaking landfalls: Venice's domes and towers, Miss Liberty holding her torch high in New York and Rio's sky-high Christus. At 6:15 a.m., with a cup of hot coffee in one hand, binoculars in the other and a camera slung over a shoulder, I stood in awe on the top deck.

Excursion Boats

The huge ship glided silently under the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun suddenly lit up the city's steep-hilled profile, a setting as theatrical as any Broadway extravaganza.

Insatiable seagoers, enthralled by one of the world's greatest natural harbors, spent part of the day on excursion boats getting a narrated close-up of Fisherman's Wharf, Sausalito, Alcatraz, Angel's Island, Berkeley and Oakland.

You'll want to take your own map for the memorable eight-hour inland passage to the port of Seattle. On a course north into Canadian waters the ship rounds Cape Flattery, turns southeast through the Strait of Juan de Fuca--with Washington's snow-capped Olympic mountains to starboard and British Columbia's Vancouver Island to port--then below the San Juan Islands chain through Admiralty Inlet into Puget Sound and Seattle.

On a clear morning this green-forested landscape looks as virginal as when Sir Francis Drake sailed the Golden Hind into Puget Sound in 1578. Between the cobalt sea and the white peaks the whole scene has the sparkle and purity of newly discovered territory. And fresh, sweetly astringent air to match.

Join In, or Sit Out

Days and nights can be as quiet or as active as you choose. The casino, dance bands, shows, poolside and deck games, tournaments and, of course, the endless supply of tempting meals can keep one busy till the wee hours.

But on a ship this large, it's not hard to find quiet and privacy inside or out to contemplate the sea, sky and slowly passing landscape.

Early-morning trucks crawl across the high span of Lion's Head Bridge as Stardancer coasts into Vancouver. The Canadian maple leaf now flies from the ship's foremast alongside the five-starred blue and white owner's flag and the square red and white harbor pilot's signal.

This is a working port--tankers and bulk carriers, ore boats loading, barges waiting at anchor and fleets of tugs. It's a colorful scene against Expo's domed stadium and space-age silhouette that dominates the waterfront.

It's also a fittingly muscular and contemporary port city for Alaska departures, held in check by the mountains, hundreds of evergreen islands and glistening inlets.

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Admiral Cruise Line offers two annual repositioning cruises. On Friday an eight-night southbound coastal cruise departs from Vancouver. Including one-way air fare from Los Angeles to Vancouver, the price is $760 per person, double occupancy.

A six-night northbound cruise is scheduled to leave next May 27, Los Angeles to Vancouver, with stops in San Francisco and Victoria. The fare is $545 per person, including one-way air from Vancouver to Los Angeles.

For more information and reservations for these cruises, contact your travel agent or Admiral Cruises, 1220 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fla. 33101; (305) 374-1611.

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