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Cruise Views

Dawn Is Breaking on Another Princess

June 01, 1997|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

The debut of Princess Cruises' new Dawn Princess in Fort Lauderdale in early May had a lot of passengers seeing double. Fifty sets of identical twins sailed as guests of the cruise line, including the original Doublemint chewing gum twins, 77-year-olds Edna Reeke Kearns and Eileen Reeke Nevins, and the first Toni Home Permanent Twins on TV, 60-year-olds Ardelle Dame and Arlene Wolf.

The twins theme echoed the fact that the new vessel is a twin to the Sun Princess, which debuted in late 1995. The twins eventually will become quadruplets when two additional ships are added to the fleet, Sea Princess in late 1998 and Ocean Princess in 1999.

The Dawn Princess made its maiden visit to Los Angeles May 28 en route to Alaska for the summer. The 77,000-ton, 1,950-passenger vessel is one of the largest ships ever to transit the Panama Canal.

One of the most popular areas on board is the top-deck Horizon Court, a 24-hour food court that serves buffet breakfasts and lunches all day, then offers waiter service and a bistro menu nightly from 7:30 to 4 a.m., along with live music and a big dance floor. Some passengers really embraced the bistro's casual dress code on the captain's welcome-aboard formal night, making for a confusing blend of passenger apparel around the ship. Tuxedos and long beaded gowns mixed with shorts and T-shirts late in the evening.

Other meal spots include an elegant pizzeria and a small snack bar on deck that is open throughout the midday and afternoon and offers hot dogs and hamburgers. An intimate caviar and champagne bar was not heavily used on our sailing. An ice cream bar on deck sells Haagen-Dazs products for $1.90 to $3.75 apiece. (Similar ice cream bars on Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line serve free ice cream.)

The Venetian and the Florentine dining rooms, each with a full kitchen, are decorated with murals of Italian scenes reminiscent of Canaletto. The menus have been lightened considerably lately, and offer a tempting array of contemporary offerings in addition to Princess' classic table-side preparations of steak Diane, pasta, Caesar salad and cre^pes desserts.

Topping the evening entertainment roster aboard the inaugural cruise was veteran actor/comedian Red Buttons, whose one-man show delighted passengers. Buttons will be appearing aboard Dawn Princess on other selected cruises throughout the summer. Marine historian and author John Maxtone-Graham was the major daytime star with his lively series of lectures on the Panama Canal and the history of ocean liners.

Less satisfying for us was the debut of an original musical production called "Pirates--Hijinks on the High Seas" that managed to mix all the current cruise-show cliches from adagio dancers to Chinese acrobats in a leaden (and apparently very expensive) show without an iota of charm. A far more enjoyable family pirate musical is the rambunctious but melodic "Pirates of Penzance" playing on Norwegian Cruise Line's Leeward.

The performances were held in the 500-seat Princess Theatre, a magnificent state-of-the-art venue with comfortable theater-style seats and perfect sight lines. No smoking is permitted inside and no drinks are served.

A favorite gathering spot before and after dinner is the Wheelhouse Bar, a clubby room with wood paneling, rich red and green upholstered chairs and sofas, a musical group playing for dancers and a collection of P&O ship models in plexiglass cases around the room.

Standard cabin amenities throughout the ship include two lower beds, terry-cloth robes, fresh fruit, complimentary toiletries, mini-refrigerators and combination safes. Nineteen of the cabins, seven outsides and 12 insides, are designated wheelchair accessible.

Nearly half the cabins--all the six suites and 32 mini-suites plus 372 of the outside double cabins--have private verandas.

Perhaps not as exciting but unique are the cabins with third and fourth berths that fold down from the ceiling rather than the side walls, as is traditional.

Five swimming pools, including one for the crew, are aboard, as is the expansive Oasis Spa with swimming pool, whirlpools, gym, aerobics room, treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms and a beauty salon.

Princess Links offers computerized golf games for $20 per half an hour; reservations are recommended. A 6,333-square-foot casino contains more than 150 slot machines, craps, blackjack and roulette tables.

Some of the children aboard our sailing burst into oohs and aahs at their first glimpse of the lollipop-bright Fun Zone with its splash pool, playhouse castle, children's theater, kids' computers and ball jump. Teens have their own Fast Lane with disco, video games and refreshment bar.

The Gulf of Alaska cruises aboard Dawn Princess depart alternate Saturdays from Vancouver, Canada, and Seward, Alaska, (for Anchorage), now to Sept. 13, and call in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, in addition to cruising Glacier Bay and College Fjord. Prices range from $1,599 to $4,799 per person, double occupancy, plus air add-ons.

Beginning in October, the Dawn Princess will be based in San Juan for seven-day southern Caribbean sailings.

For more information or a free color brochure, contact a travel agent or call (800) PRINCESS.

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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