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Windward Plans L.A. Visit En Route to Alaska : Norwegian Cruise Lines' new luxury ship is big on comfort and style.


After being christened in Los Angeles in June by former First Lady Barbara Bush, Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, the 1,246-passenger Windward, headed back through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean and its home port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

But that's not the last time California will see the ship. NCL President Douglas Falk said the Windward will return to the West Coast in 1994 as the first NCL ship ever to cruise Alaska. (However, both Royal Viking Line and Royal Cruise Line, also owned by NCL's parent company Kloster Cruises, have sailed frequently in Alaska.)

The Windward's Alaska cruises will begin May 8, 1994, with an eight-day positioning sailing from Los Angeles to Vancouver, followed by a series of seven-day sailings round trip from Vancouver. An "Alaska Glacier Bay" series visiting Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau will alternate with an "Alaska Gold Rush" series calling at Skagway, Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan and cruising Tracy Arm and Misty Fjord.

Fares for the cruises will range from $1,099 to $3,395 per person, double occupancy, with air add-ons available.

Debuting only six months after its sister ship Dreamward, the Windward offers the same larger-than-usual cabins, four diverse restaurants and the Sports Bar & Grill, with its big screen showing live ESPN sports events.

Perhaps most important, they are mid-sized vessels tailored to a human scale in contrast to the huge megaships that are cropping up at Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.

Since the Windward and Dreamward threaten to make the others in the fleet look shabby, Falk also announced a five-week dry-dock this fall to refurbish the line's 31-year-old flagship, Norway.

Entertainment gets high priority with a new "Sea Legs Circus at Sea" revue featuring former Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas and a full production of the Broadway musical "George M!" presented on every sailing.

Three of the four dining rooms aboard are available to individual passengers (the fourth, and smallest, is reserved for group meals). The 190-seat Sun Terrace restaurant has three steep tiers of tables that look down toward the amidships pool through full-length glass windows. But the handsome teak floor and the expanse of glass make the room noisy, and it can be too bright for a breakfast venue.

The largest dining room, The Terraces, seats 282 passengers on gently tiered levels overlooking the swimming pool astern.

In the one-level, 256-seat Four Seasons dining room, one side opens like a sidewalk cafe to face into the ship, while the other side's wide windows look out to sea. Here a buffet area is set up for breakfast and lunch, since the tiny snack bar off the Sports Bar & Grill is inadequate for anything more than a quick continental breakfast or sandwich.

A terraced sunbathing area above the amidships pool turns a usually cluttered deck space into a handsome design feature. Only steps away are two Jacuzzis, each housed in a mesh gazebo, with an ice cream bar between them.

Sports-minded cruisers should particularly enjoy the Windward, both for the Sports Bar & Grill and for a spacious fitness center with mirrored and window walls and the latest in gym equipment, plus a separate aerobics room. There's also a basketball/volleyball area, golf driving range, Ping-Pong, an exercise course, NCL's popular Dive-In snorkeling program, and current or former NFL players as guests on board each week.

Elsewhere around the ship are a video arcade, the Kid's Corner playroom, a large conference room, shopping arcade and a two-level casino.

Cabins are larger than on most NCL ships. The smallest inside accommodations measure 140 square feet, with outside cabins 160 square feet and suites 175 to 350 square feet.

Four 200-square-foot inside cabins and two 260-square-foot outside cabins are designated for disabled passengers and are wheelchair-accessible.

All cabins contain two lower beds, many of which can be rearranged as a queen-sized bed, as well as a sitting area, color TV and personal safe.

Most outside cabins have outsized picture windows, except for those on the Caribbean deck and some forward cabins on the Biscayne and Atlantic decks, which have two portholes. Until it heads for Alaska next spring, the Windward will offer alternating southern and eastern Caribbean seven-day sailings from San Juan. One week the ship calls in Aruba, Curacao, Tortola (for Virgin Gorda), St. John and St. Thomas, and the following week it visits Barbados, Martinique, Sint Maarten, Antigua and St. Thomas.

Fares range from $1,275 to $2,995 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from Los Angeles.

For a free color brochure, ask a travel agent or call (800) 327-7030.

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