ABOARD THE SEABOURN PRIDE — In a season of so many new ships it is a pleasure to sail on the the Seabourn Pride, which provides a superbly satisfying cruise experience.
Day after day we agreed that there was nowhere we would rather be than listening to the incomparable Page Cavenaugh at the piano playing "Rainy Day" at cocktail time in the understated elegance of The Club, the handsomest lounge since the Angelo Donghia-designed Club Internationale on the Norway.
Or dining splendidly on Chef Johannes Moser's sophisticated cuisine.
Many passengers are longtime Royal Viking Line regulars anxious to see what sort of ship had enticed Warren Titus, the former chief of Royal Viking and now Seabourn president, back into the cruise business.
Although Titus does not think Seabourn ships should be compared to Cunard's Sea Goddess ships, which are considerably smaller, the comparison is inevitable, as both charge the top price range of the market.
Both, however, offer suite-type accommodations, restaurant-style cuisine and service, and no tipping.
The Seabourn Pride carries 212 passengers, the Sea Goddess 116. Seabourn Pride is 439 feet long and 63 feet wide, compared to Sea Goddess' 340-foot length and 47-foot beam.
The Sea Goddess, unlike the Seabourn, includes wine and alcoholic beverages in the basic cost. The cruise experience, however, is somewhat more traditional aboard the Seabourn Pride, which offers more entertainment and exotic shore excursions.
At least once a week the Seabourn Pride schedules a port experience, from a 1930s fiesta and luncheon at the Punta del Este mansion of Prince Rodrigo d'Arenberg to fishing for piranha in the Amazon.
Bar prices are low. Most drinks from $1 to $2, mineral water and soft drinks free, and wine mark-ups are modest. In addition, each cabin has a fully stocked bar and bottle of chilled champagne awaiting passengers at embarkation.
On the rainy mid-December morning of the christening in San Francisco the ship's godmother--Shirley Temple Black--smashed the customary bottle of champagne against the bow.
Several California travel agents on quick tours through the vessel said that ceilings in the reception hall seemed low, that the artificial greenery behind the deck Jacuzzis should be replaced by a sculpture or something and that the main showroom, the Magellan Lounge, is not as attractive as the rest of the vessel.
But a walk-through of this ship reveals only the hardware. It is necessary to sail on it to see the software.
The ship displayed the finest service we've seen in a long time. Attendants aboard this Norwegian-registed ship are Scandinavian, officers are Norwegian and chefs and waiters are European, altogether a gracious and well-trained service cadre.
"Our people will be couples from under 40 to those in their 60s or 70s" who will pay fares of approximately $600 a day per person, double occupancy, Titus said.
In each 277-square-foot suite there is plenty of cabinetry, a large window low enough for a view of the sea from the bed, a walk-in closet, a small refrigerator, a color TV, a VCR and a combination safe, plus other amenities from sewing kits with needles already threaded to flowers, fresh fruits and, on our holiday sailing, a tray of freshly baked Christmas cookies.
White-marble bathrooms offer plenty of room, two sinks instead of one, deep-pile towels in peach and pewter, a fragrant soap that smells of almonds, a deep, comfortable tub with shower, terry-cloth robes and plenty of storage.
The large sitting area near the window contains a sofa, two chairs, two stools and a coffee table that can be raised to dining height. A 24-hour room service menu lists everything from snacks to steaks.
In the bright and airy veranda, ostensibly the ship's buffet restaurant, you do not need to take plate in hand and wait in line. A waiter will bring you anything, including freshly grilled hamburgers cooked to order or breakfast eggs any way you like.
A fully equipped beauty salon and spa with a staff of five offers regular and herbal massages, sauna and steam baths, weight-training classes, exercise equipment, and advanced and low-impact aerobics classes daily.
As on all the vessels that debuted in 1988, the Seabourn Pride carries a bunch of novel design features, some of which work while others seem specious at best.
The most popular during our voyage were in the Constellation Lounge, high up and forward. There a computerized map showed the itinerary while printout displays provided up-to-the minute information from the bridge. A nearby radar scope and a computerized speed and location display let passengers play captain.
Looming above the midships deck is a flying saucer-like device called the Star Observatory, in which passengers can lie back on cushy leather seats to stargaze through a telescope and open hatch.
On the bottom deck a carpeted exercise room with Nautilus equipment looks down into the sea like a plush glass-bottomed boat.