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Not Really Ships but Fantasy Islands

October 01, 1989|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

HELSINKI, Finland — Don't be surprised if tomorrow's cruise ships look more like adult amusement parks than ocean liners.

According to Joe Farcus, a Miami-based architect for Carnival Cruise Lines, his design for Fantasy--the first of three mega-ships being built by Wartsila Marine shipyards in Finland--is intended to make it an "entertainment facility (with) an environment different from anything they (passengers) experience in their normal life."

For example, aboard the Fantasy, Farcus is creating a bar called Cats, inspired by the set from the hit theatrical musical. Patrons will enter through a round doorway that looks like a gigantic overturned evaporated milk can, then sit on banquette seats resembling old rubber tires or soda-pop cans.

Another shipboard bar, Cleopatra's, will give passengers the chance to puzzle over hieroglyphics on Egyptian temple columns while surrounded by mummy cases and statues of Egyptian gods and Pharaohs.

Or you can check out some reading material by going through a door flanked by two granite lions (but made from a granite-resin compound) like those in front of the New York Public Library.

The ship will be ready for its first cruise in early January, sailing on three- and four-day itineraries to the Bahamas out of Miami. Carrying 2,600 passengers, the 70,000-ton Fantasy will be second in size to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Sovereign of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever built.

While Farcus concentrates on the inside of the ship, Kai Levander and his design development team at Wartsila have been devising revolutionary ideas for ship shapes for almost a decade. Their Windcruiser concept for a computerized sailing ship, for example, was the prototype for the Windstar Sail Cruises vessels and the upcoming Club Med I.

"There is more and more interest in providing a ship that sticks out of the crowd," Levander said. He visualizes a multiple-appeal ship carrying 3,000 people that will offer, among other things: sporting events for participants and spectators; full-scale stage shows with well-known stars; large marinas for water sports; a multitude of restaurants; windows and private balconies for all cabins, and a full range of shops comparable to a major shopping mall. The ship itself would be the traveler's destination.

Some of Levander's concept sketches show floating 10-story resort hotels, self-contained islands in themselves, with huge swimming pools surrounded by palm trees and fountains thrust out on all four sides of the ship, or vast apartment towers that would look at home in Manhattan.

On the Fantasy, Farcus is working with colored light in the largest single installation of neon in the world--12 miles of red, blue and green tubing, most of it concealed behind diffuser panels. Computers will control color changes.

"You won't be able to just sit and watch it happen," he said, "because the color changes are subtle. One evening during dinner the dining room may be red, another evening, blue."

Lights will also help create a sense of motion along the double-width walkway called Century Boulevard, which stretches 450 feet past the casino, cafe, bars and shops.

Stationary trams along the roadway are seats that will resemble "futuristic cars floating on the road," with floor-mounted strobe lights that make them look as if they're moving.

Not far away, the disco, called Electricity, will be vivid with dazzling neon streaks and strobe lights bouncing off a glass dance floor with copper strips and shiny gray tile floors.

Passengers seeking quiet can retreat to the nearby Majestic Bar, a "subdued and highly elegant" area, according to Farcus, with its own pianist playing before-dinner melodies.

The heart of the ship is a six-deck atrium called the Grand Spectrum, a vast open space that will twinkle with Tivoli lights, ever-changing colored light and two glass elevators.

Also reflecting new trends in ship amenities is the 12,000-square-foot Nautica spa, with gymnasium, sauna, steam rooms, beauty salon, aerobics and massage rooms.

Between shows on the quick-change, state-of-the-art stage in the main lounge, mirrored walls and ceiling will slide into place to create a romantic dance floor sparkling with tiny lights.

Farcus said he has made no special design concessions for the three- and four-day Fantasy cruises. Still, the frenetic sense of brightness and motion in the public rooms would seem more appropriate to short-term sailings than long cruises.

Prices will range from $475 to $1,125 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from most U.S. cities. Ports of call for the four-day cruises are Freeport and Nassau; only Nassau will be visited on the three-day sailing.

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