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Cruise Views

Best of the Best in the Caribbean

March 20, 1994|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

Each of the nearly 100 cruise ships sailing in the Caribbean has its own special way of showing off the islands--from beach days at private islands to shore excursions with helicopters, scuba diving or submarines. Here are some of the best ways to see the Caribbean.

Best whole family experience: American Family Cruises' American Adventure and its two-day Dominican Republic stopover at Casa de Campo resort, where kids have their own shore excursions--from horseback riding to donkey polo, baseball to snorkeling. Parents, in the meantime, can tackle the Pete Dye "Teeth of the Dog" golf course.

Best private island beach day: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Coco Cay in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas, with a day of exploration and water sports on every cruise--snorkeling with underwater cameras, diving, rides on watercycles, rocket rafts and pedal boats, underwater caves and nature trails to explore, native straw markets for shopping, steel drum bands and a lavish barbecue buffet for lunch.

Most elegant beach barbecue: Cunard's Sea Goddess I sends waiters in white mess jackets and swim trunks to serve passengers chilled champagne and caviar while they sunbathe or wade in the surf at Jost van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, followed by a grilled lunch of fresh Caribbean lobster, steaks, even plebeian hot dogs and hamburgers.

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Most photogenic port: Panama's San Blas Islands, where Cuna Indian women clad in bright red applique molas and gold nose-rings pose for pictures for a fixed fee per click. Get there aboard American Canadian Caribbean Cruises' Mayan Prince; Clipper Cruises' Yorktown Clipper; Holland America's Maasdam, Noordam and Westerdam on April repositioning cruises to Alaska; Princess Cruises' Crown Princess on an April repositioning cruise; Royal Cruise Line's Golden Odyssey, and Special Expeditions' Polaris.

Best onboard entertainment: The stylish and handsome Ballet Folklorique of Martinique, who come aboard to perform on many cruise ships calling at Fort-de-France.

Most elegant adventure: Sail the distinctive four-masted sailing yacht Sea Cloud and spend days doing Special Expeditions' diligent shore excursions in search of rare flora and fauna. Once owned by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the Sea Cloud maintains its 1930s ambience, complete with marble fireplaces (non-working) and gold bath faucets in the grandest suites.

Best fantasy beach: The Baths at Virgin Gorda, where passengers may arrive by bow-landing tender, rubberized landing craft or overland by bus, then swim in the grottoes among the boulders, snorkel offshore or explore the trails around the beach.

Most casual cruise: Aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' tall ships, you can spend your entire cruise barefoot if you like, even opting to sleep on deck under the stars. Certain sailings during the winter are targeted for singles only, and promise an equal number of males and females on board.

Biggest sand-and-sea casino combination: If your arm and cash hold up, you could play all 212 slot machines, 22 blackjack tables, four roulette and four dice tables on Carnival's dazzling Fantasy or Ecstasy en route to Nassau, then take a shuttle shoreside to Carnival's 30,000-square-foot casino at the Crystal Palace, which adds baccarat to the 750 slots, 51 blackjack tables, seven craps tables and nine roulette wheels.

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Most riveting sightseeing: Passengers line the rails for Panama Canal transits as guest lecturers tell the story of the building and operation of the canal. Lines that transit the canal frequently during the year include American Canadian Caribbean, Clipper, Cunard Crown, Cunard, Crystal, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Royal, Seabourn and Special Expeditions. To go partway into the canal and back into the Caribbean on a shorter, less expensive sailing, check Regency Cruises or Dolphin Cruise Line.

Best island-spotting: Two swivel telescopes are bolted to the handsome teak decks aboard the Club Med I for spotting distant islands or identifying ships that pass in the night (or day).

Best floating history exhibit: The arts and antiques aboard any Holland America ship, which tell the story of the Dutch West Indian Co. and early explorers from the Netherlands through the use of ancient maps, compasses and cannon rescued from watery graves.

Best sailings with cartoon characters: Walt Disney characters depart Premier's Big Red Boats at the end of March, to be replaced by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other Looney Tunes characters from Warner Bros. Other good bets: Norwegian Cruise Line's Universal theme sailings (Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda) or Dolphin/ Majestic's Hanna Barbera cruises with Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear and the Jetsons aboard.

Best wildlife sightings: Special Expeditions' Polaris takes passengers in motorized rubber landing craft in search of red-footed boobies and black howler monkeys in Belize; green turtles and three-toed sloths in Costa Rica, and toucans and parrots in Honduras.

Best swimming pool: It happens when the posh Seabourn Pride anchors and lowers its big steel-mesh collapsible pool into the sea, then unfolds the teak decking around for sunbathers.

Busiest port: Hands down, no contest, it's Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The port greets four to six cruise ships a day in winter season, with midweek traffic heaviest and Sundays (when shops are closed) quietest. Four vessels are usually tied up at the West Indian Dock main port, two others at Crown Bay, and the Norway on Wednesdays is always anchored out in the bay.

Rarest ports of call: If you want to avoid cruise ship passengers altogether, your best bets are the following islands, where ships rarely, if ever, call: Anguilla, Saba, Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis, Marie-Galante and Canouan.

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