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Cruise Views

Travelers Can Choose From Glamorous Ships

March 05, 1989|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

The cruise passenger in the coming months should be in the catbird seat, able to choose the perfect cruise from a fleet of glamorous ships.

Last year brought us not only a glut of new and remodeled vessels, but also a mind-boggling series of mergers and consolidations that left even the most blase industry-watchers gaping.

Also, just over the horizon, three Japanese-owned cruise companies are preparing to sail into the North American market in the next 18 months--Oceanic, Mitsui and Crystal Cruises.

Concern About Quality

First to feel the squeeze, however, will probably be the small lines that have older mid-size ships that handle 500 to 800 passengers.

Most cruise companies seem to be concentrating on the "biggest, brightest or most expensive ships" ever. However, most passengers don't care much one way or the other about the newest design trends; the major concern we hear is about the declining quality of service.

Aloha Pacific's U.S.-flag Monterey, still in operation although under a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for financial reorganization, made a first-class try when it began seven-day sailings around Hawaii in October. It was hampered, however, by having to train attractive young Americans who looked like movie starlets and who were not that enthusiastic about making beds and cleaning toilets.

So we should all cheer the splendid new Seabourn Pride, a 10,000-ton vessel that made its debut in late December with a perfect staff of Europeans and flawless food and service, something rare in a banner year of new ships.

Fares average about $600 a day per person, double, including tips; a sister ship, Seabourn Spirit, is due next November with the same follow-the-sun itinerary.

The brand-new Royal Viking Sun provides plenty of room to roam with the highest passenger space ratio of any of the new crop of ships. It's the first new vessel for that prestigious company in 15 years.

Crowning a Princess

The first big new ship due in 1989 is Princess' 1,600-passenger Star Princess, scheduled to sail March 24 from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for a series of 10-day Caribbean cruises before heading north to Alaska. Crown Cruise Line's Crown del Mar, a 486-passenger vessel due last November, made its inaugural two-night sailing from Palm Beach at the end of January.

Carnival's Fantasy, set to make its inaugural cruise Dec. 11 from Miami to the Bahamas on three- and four-day sailings, is the most striking endorsement yet for the future of the mini-cruise; this 2,600-passenger vessel is supposed to be the most expensive cruise ship ever built.

Next January, Carnival will move the 1,022-passenger Tropicale from its longtime Los Angeles base to San Juan, Puerto Rico, replacing it with the newer 1,500-passenger Jubilee, which will assume the same seven-day Mexican Riviera itinerary on April 8, 1990.

Club Med Cruises' five-masted, 416-passenger computerized sailing ship, Club Med I, originally expected to arrive in time for Christmas, will make its first sailing in mid-January 1990, with fares around $1,250 to $2,500 for a seven-day cruise.

Ocean Quest's Ocean Spirit, the former Sunward I, a 320-passenger dive-cruise vessel sailing from New Orleans to Belize, Cozumel and Cancun, was scheduled to set out on its first cruise March 4.

Yacht-Size Luxury

The yacht-size Oceanic Grace from Oceanic Cruises and the 600-passenger Fuji Maru from Mitsui are both due in April, while Crystal Cruises' super-deluxe 49,000-ton luxury Crystal Harmony is due in July, 1990, as is a second Mitsui vessel.

Oceanic Grace says its San Francisco-based representative, Guynell Kryzak at SMI Group (toll-free (800) 545-5778), begins cruises April 22 with seven-day sailings in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea from $3,395 per person, double occupancy.

We'll also see more small luxury vessels in '89.

Norwegian-based Fearnley & Eger, owner of Starship Explorer and North Star, both operated until recently by Exploration, are bringing out a series of eight 116-passenger ships from an Italian shipyard between the fall of 1989 and the summer of 1991.

And two 80-passenger Dutch-owned vessels, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, are both due in December from Goliath Transport.

Windsor Cruises will introduce two new 70-passenger, 270-foot British-registry yachts, Lady Diana and Lady Sarah, this summer that are expected to be the most expensive yet at a minimum of $1,000 a day per person, double occupancy.

he Lady Diana will be first on line, due July 1 for a series of Mediterranean sailings before a Caribbean winter season.

Another super-luxurious option: West Coast passengers for a 1989 QE2 transatlantic crossing between New York City and Southampton can add an MGM Grand Air Los Angeles-New York City flight for $695 extra.

Rates for the five-day crossings are $1,330 to $8,010 per person, double occupancy, which includes return to the East Coast via British Airways or, for an additional $995 per person, British Airways Concorde.

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