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CRUISE VIEWS

Luxury on Ice in Penguin Territory

November 15, 1998|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

Who says you have to suffer just because you're going to extremes? You don't have to opt for those masochistic expeditions borrowed from the spartan polar explorers. Cruisers on the 184-passenger Hanseatic can get the same comfort and style as visitors to the Mediterranean or Caribbean.

The luxury vessel has been marketed in North America for several years by Radisson Seven Seas. Built in 1993 as an environment-friendly exploration vessel, it plies the icy Antarctic, the coast of Greenland and the Northwest Passage.

Cabins are spacious, with windows or portholes, depending on deck location. They have separate sleeping and sitting areas, hair dryers, color TV with VCR, mini-refrigerator stocked with complimentary nonalcoholic beverages and in-room safe. Bathrooms offer tub/shower combinations with marble counters and floors.

Service is superb, with most of the young hotel staff able to recognize and call each passenger by name soon after embarkation. Big spenders who book one of the 12 deluxe cabins or suites on Bridge Deck can look forward to some of the best butler service at sea, which includes pressing, shoeshines, frequent between-meals fruit plates and appetizers, and solicitous concern for a passenger's happiness and welfare. When we prepared to disembark one cold, wet morning in Nova Scotia wearing only lightweight jackets, our butler materialized with two of the ship's stock of waterproof Windbreakers and an umbrella for us.

Breakfasts and lunches are served in both the Marco Polo Restaurant and the upper-deck Columbia Restaurant, while dinners are at assigned tables for anywhere from two to 10 people in the Marco Polo. Most evenings, the upper-deck Columbus Lounge is turned into an alternative Asian restaurant seating 50 patrons by advance reservation. During our 10-day sailing, two different menus were offered, a Thai evening and a mixed Asian dinner.

A typical dinner menu in the Marco Polo offers three appetizers, two soups, a salad, a pasta, a sorbet, a vegetarian dish, a light menu, three main courses (such as beef tenderloin topped with marrow crust, broiled halibut in brown caper butter or roast boneless rack of hare with rosemary gravy), plus simple grilled dishes such as steak, chicken and fish, and a separate dessert menu.

(In August, the ship received a sanitation score of 62 out of 100--a score of 85 or below is considered unsatisfactory--from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it was reinspected Oct. 5 and received a 95.)

There are a number of spontaneous celebrations, depending on weather and schedule. One lunchtime there was an enormous Bavarian buffet with goulash soup, roast pork, sausages, sauerkraut, freshly baked pretzels, pork knuckles and cheese dumplings, plus copious complimentary servings of draft beer and schnapps. Another day, a Viennese teatime celebrated the famous desserts of Austria--Linzer torte and various fruit strudels--while the ship's band played Viennese waltzes.

After-dinner entertainment includes a five-piece dance band, a singing-dancing duo and occasional light classical concerts.

Passengers are welcome on the open navigation bridge at any time during the cruise, and also can enjoy a glass-walled observation lounge and library high atop the ship, as well as a health club, sauna and glass-walled Jacuzzi, swimming pool, show lounge with dancing before and after dinner, and a lecture hall/cinema combination with both educational and entertainment programs.

The Hanseatic, like its luxury expedition rival Bremen, is owned and operated by the century-old passenger line Hapag-Lloyd, based in Hamburg, Germany, and attracts English-speaking and German-speaking passengers for Antarctic cruises. Officers and crew aboard are all fluent in English.

While most of the Hanseatic's 1998-99 Antarctic season cruises are already booked, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises says there's still some space available aboard the Jan. 27 sailing. Passengers fly to and from Buenos Aires, stay overnight in a luxury hotel, then transfer by air to Ushuaia, Argentina.

The 11-night round-trip cruise calls in the Falklands, sails the Drake Passage, visits the South Shetland Islands and polar research stations and penguin rookeries on the Antarctic Peninsula. Expect to see recently hatched Adelie, chin-strap and gentoo penguins, elephant and leopard seals, humpback whales and numerous seabirds. Fares range from $7,885 to $14,925 per person, double occupancy, including air fare from Los Angeles and 78 other North American gateways, transfers and Buenos Aires hotel stay. Tips also are included.

For the millennium Antarctic season, the Hanseatic offers a 17-night sailing departing Jan. 17, 2000, and a 16-night sailing scheduled for Feb. 3, 2000. Both visit Antarctica, the Falklands and the South Georgia Islands.

For more information or a free color brochure, contact a travel agent or call Radisson Seven Seas Cruises at (800) 333-3333.

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