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Cruise Views

Technology on the Menu for Passengers

February 04, 1996|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

If Celebrity Cruises' brand-new Century is the ship of tomorrow, passengers shouldn't even need to leave their cabins to participate in the cruise experience. With their TV remote control in hand, they can order room service food or shore excursions, buy a bottle of wine for dinner, browse through the shipboard boutiques, watch a pay-per-view film or wager on a few hands of video poker.

At least that's the theory, but such technological efficiency was lagging on one of the early cruises that we were on. We called up the interactive cabin TV service developed for Celebrity by Sony Corp. of America with a simple request--a pot of hot tea for two at 2:20 p.m. The TV screen promised it would arrive in 20 minutes, but it never showed up, perhaps because of a communication lapse between the computer and the cabin steward.

(Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Sovereign of the Seas on its maiden voyage in 1988 briefly ballyhooed an interactive TV cabin service but quietly abandoned it when it failed to work properly.)

While 16 of the planned 25 technological features created for the ship have been installed, Sony will continue to introduce one or two new services a month, according to Matt Mazer, senior vice president of Sony New Technologies.

At a passenger briefing on sailing day, the cruise director introduced "Larry and Dave, the Sony ambassadors, who will help you with your electronic needs," and the ubiquitous pair seemed to be everywhere, offering video camera tips, doing daily video demos for passengers, operating the digital photo concession and the Sony electronics boutique shop on board.

From the popular little cafe bar called Tastings, you can sip a cappuccino while you watch the lighted dome above the three-deck grand foyer change colors from dawn to midday to twilight, or take your children to the Fun Factory playroom to interact with multilingual CD-ROMs on "My First Sony" kiddie computers.

A lot of the public space aboard strives mightily for a sort-of Tomorrowland, especially a lounge called Images that combines elements of video games and sports bars with a massive video wall and intimate high-backed booths with game screens inset into the tabletops.

But the most beautiful areas on the ship are those that pay homage to the past, particularly a glorious two-deck dining room more than a little reminiscent of the 1930s Normandie and a sleek Art Deco nightclub called the Crystal Room, both designed by New York hotel designer Birch Coffey in his first shipboard commission.

You could also savor a Cuban-style hand-rolled cigar from a resident cigar-maker, along with a glass of cognac, in the Georgian-style, wood-paneled Michael's Club, make a glamorous entrance down the dining room staircase at dinner and meet in a quiet corner of the Crystal Club for champagne and caviar for two.

Comparison between the 70,000-ton, 1,750-passenger Century and Princess Cruises' 77,000-ton, 1,950-passenger Sun Princess, which debuted a month earlier, are inevitable. The Princess ship, although larger, appears to be smaller and less crowded, perhaps because there is a higher proportion of cabins with private verandas (more than 400 compared to Century's 61), which could mean that Princess passengers spend more time in their cabins.

Cabins on the Century range from the lowest-priced inside doubles, averaging 175 square feet and listed in the brochure at $1,675 per person, double occupancy (including air fare) for the seven-night sailing, to two lavish penthouse suites, 1,219 square feet each, with private verandas and outdoor hot tubs, listed at $5,795 per person, double occupancy, with air fare in economy season (mid-April through mid-June and in the late summer and fall).

On our cruise, the ship's third sailing, the usually excellent Celebrity food and service was sometimes disappointing--both kitchen and dining room staffs seemed to be in a state of agitation--however service elsewhere throughout the ship was at the usual excellent standard. The music on deck, in the public rooms and in the show lounge was deafening until someone reduced the volume.

The Century sails on alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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