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Cruise Views

World's Largest Liner--at Least for a While

March 22, 1998|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

On Valentine's Day, an appropriate date for a cruise line synonymous with "Love Boat," Los Angeles-based Princess Cruises previewed its newest vessel in the last stages of construction at Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy.

The third Princess ship to be built in this yard, the 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger Grand Princess will be the world's largest cruise ship when it sets sail later this spring. Four more Princess vessels, a pair of 109,000-ton ships and a pair of 77,000-ton ships, are also in the works as part of a $3.5 billion contract.

In contrast to the 101,000-ton Carnival Destiny, the largest cruise ship currently in service, the Grand Princess will not flaunt its size with a soaring nine-deck atrium and three-deck showroom. Instead, the designers, architect Giacomo Mortola and interior designer Teresa Anderson, have endeavored to break large areas into smaller, more intimate spaces to create the feeling of a smaller ship, similar to the way they handled the 77,000-ton Sun Princess and Dawn Princess. A more subdued three-deck atrium adheres to the new maritime safety standards.

Still, the $450-million Grand Princess is going to wow its passengers with its size--the ship would tower over Niagara Falls or the Statue of Liberty--and its razzle-dazzle devices. It has a virtual reality center with an 18-seat motion-based ride simulator, a swimming pool with waves and a glass-walled disco 155 feet above the sea, reached by a moving skywalk. You can make your own video postcards in the blue-screen studio with your choice of background images that put you in the picture.

Seagoing gourmets will welcome the first floating Southwestern restaurant, the Painted Desert, with dance floor and country and western band. Romantics can sigh over a flower-filled wedding chapel, another seagoing first, where the captain of this Liberian-registry vessel can perform a legal wedding ceremony at sea under Liberian Maritime Law once the ship is 12 or more miles from shore.

Because 710 of the 1,300 cabins on board have private balconies, a couple of moderate spenders can enjoy many of the same luxuries as the big spenders in the penthouse suites.

Dining goes on around the clock, with meals served in a 24-hour bistro, an Italian trattoria, the Southwestern cafe, a pizzeria, a pool-deck grill and three dining rooms: Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, named for and decorated in the style of these Italian Renaissance artists.

Three high-tech showrooms will offer nightly performances that range from big-name stars and full-scale production shows with a cast of 27 (in the massive Princess Theater), to continuous cabaret and lounge acts (in an Africa-themed Explorers Lounge), to Big Band dancing (in the Vista Lounge).

The 13,000-square-foot Atlantis Casino, biggest at sea, will be under a sky dome that changes lighting from sunrise to sunset, similar to that in the Forum Shopping Center in Las Vegas' Caesars Palace. The outer walls are holograms with underwater scenes of dolphins splashing and tropical fish swimming past.

Five swimming pools, one of them covered and one set aside just for crew, are on the ship, along with nine whirlpool spas. The 17,000-square-foot Plantation Spa includes a beauty salon, weight training center, a raised aerobics center, juice bar, sauna, massage and treatment rooms for 28 salon specialties.

A 1,200-square-foot art gallery is located off the Grand Plaza lobby with some examples of the $3 million worth of art commissioned for the ship and offered for sale to passengers. Children and teens will find parts of two decks dedicated exclusively to them, and disabled passengers, for whom 28 cabins have been designated wheelchair-accessible, will be able to use all the ship's public rooms. There's even a quiet area off the main lobby for a library, card room and writing room.

Princess promises no long lines because of two embarkation stations, one forward on Deck 5, serving those passengers with forward cabins, and one aft on Deck 6 serving the other half. Baggage handling, too, will be directed to two loading areas instead of one. Three exits will facilitate orderly disembarking for shore excursions.

This summer, the Grand Princess is scheduled to sail 12-day itineraries in the Mediterranean between Barcelona and Istanbul. These cruises, according to Princess Cruises' senior vice president of sales Rick James, are already sold out. It then repositions to Fort Lauderdale, via New York, for a winter series of seven-day Caribbean cruises calling at St. Thomas, St. Maarten and the private island of Princess Cays. The ship will probably return to Europe for the summer of 1999. At 159 feet across the beam, the ship is 43 feet wider than the Panama Canal, so it will not be calling on West Coast or Asian ports.

Published brochure prices for the European 12-day cruises range from $4,180 to $10,780 per person, double occupancy, including air fare from the East Coast, while the Caribbean seven-day sailings are listed from $1,338 to $5,972 per person, double occupancy, plus air add-ons.

For free color brochures about the new Grand Princess, ask a travel agent or call Princess at (800) PRINCESS.

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.

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