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Sailing Around With the Bad and the Beautiful

December 30, 1990|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

In a year when a record number of cruise passengers boarded more ships than ever, it seems fitting to look back at the highs and lows of cruising in 1990 and hand out our annual champagne and keelhaul awards.

--A magnum of champagne to Crystal Cruises for the class act of the year.

When an engine-room fire disabled the Crystal Harmony in October, 7 days into a 10-day Panama Canal cruise, the ship drifted without power for nearly 16 hours before limping into Panama to discharge passengers.

Art Rodney, Crystal's president, flew to Panama with full refund checks for every passenger, plus a $500 credit on a future cruise. Staff members presented each departing guest with a bottle of Evian water and $1 for rental of a luggage cart at the airport.

--Keelhauls to those cruise lines that announce the impending arrival of their new ships with great fanfare, but whose ships never show up.

Notable this year was Seawind Cruises, whose Seawind Crown never made its advertised Caribbean debut Dec. 2.

This wasn't the first aborted inaugural for Seawind's chairman, Anastasios Kyriakides, whose advertised 1988 Sea Venture sailings to Alaska and Tahiti also never left the dock.

--A bottle of the best champagne for Sea Goddess, whose white-jacketed waiters wade into the Caribbean surf to bring passengers caviar and champagne, just like in the magazine ads. Talk about the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

--A keelhaul to Norwegian Cruise Line for charging $2 for any in-cabin room service. While the Club Med 1 pioneered the cabin surcharge earlier in 1990, its gaffe could be overlooked since it was only one small ship from a huge resort chain not noted for room service.

It is shameful, however, to see a major cruise line nickel-and-dime passengers who are paying for a full-service luxury vacation.

The same sentiment holds true for the coin-operated, self-service washers and dryers on Holland America's renovated Westerdam.

--Champagne (the best budget brand) to Carnival Cruise Lines, holding steady to its 1990 prices for the 1991 season, and to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for developing a new economy price category for some spring and fall sailings.

--And a Capt. Bligh double keelhaul to American Star Lines President Dimitri Anninos, who was found guilty Oct. 3 by a Federal Maritime Commission judge of booking cruises in 1987 on the Betsy Ross without having proved financial responsibility.

U.S. law requires foreign-flag lines to post a performance bond showing that they have the financial resources to make refunds on tickets if the line goes out of business. Otherwise they are not permitted to sell tickets or accept payments for cruises.

Somehow, Anninos applied for the bond but never proved financial responsibility, according to commission records. He not only advertised cruises, according to the commission, but sold $140,000 worth of tickets. Anninos' whereabouts are unknown, and American Star Lines' U.S. offices have been closed for some time.

The Betsy Ross never showed up for its maiden voyage from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Manaus, Brazil, in February, 1987, and some irate passengers and travel agents are still waiting for refunds. The vessel's previous name, perhaps appropriately, was Albatross.

--Hurrahs and a bottle of bubbly to Holland America Westours for its innovative Soviet Far East add-on excursions for this summer's Alaska cruises.

Now you can take an optional side trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway or tour a former gulag, a forced-labor prison, from the days of Stalin. The excursions set out by plane from Anchorage, June through August, and can be added to existing cruises or booked as land/sea packages.

--A keelhaul to every ship's photographer who yells out "Smile!" and snaps pictures during lifeboat drills, and to every passenger chatting mindlessly with his or her neighbor when information critical to passenger safety is being disseminated.

--And a champagne toast to Salen Lindblad for generously settling with passengers after its new Frontier Spirit ran aground during a typhoon off Fiji in late November, at the end of its second voyage.

Disembarking passengers had already been taken off, and the passengers scheduled to board in Fiji for a cruise to New Zealand had their full fares refunded, received a 50% discount on spring voyages to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and a credit of $500 against any 1991 cruise.

--A keelhaul for confusion to the most-named ship currently in service, Commodore Cruise Line's Enchanted Seas.

Just prior to that newest name change, she was heralded to become the Enchanted Odyssey, but that name was changed even before being painted on her stern because marketing minds thought it sounded too much like Royal Cruise Line's Crown Odyssey and Golden Odyssey.

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