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One Trip, Many Ports on Speedy Ship

April 01, 2001|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month

The 836-passenger Olympic Voyager from Royal Olympic Cruises is the first of a pair of passenger ships that can claim to be the world's fastest, at a cruising speed of 27 to 28 knots and a maximum speed of 33 knots, achieved in sea trials before Voyager's debut last June.

For vacationers with limited time, the Olympic Voyager offers the highlights of the eastern Mediterranean in only a week. Four countries and three continents are on the itinerary for the ship, which sets out Saturdays between May 7 and Nov. 17 from Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece. From there it sails to Santorini, Greece; Alexandria and Port Said for Cairo, Egypt; Ashdod, Israel, for Jerusalem; Rhodes, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; and Kusadasi, Turkey, for Ephesus. There's a Friday evening stop at Mykonos, Greece, before returning to Piraeus.

Although some travelers who love leisurely days at sea would hate this if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium schedule, others feel that since they're flying so far, they may as well see as much as they can.

Brochure fares begin at $2,250 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin and go up to $5,440 per person, double, for a deluxe suite with private veranda. Bookings made 120 days before departure knock 25% to 40% off some autumn sailings, depending on the date. Air add-ons ($945 from the West Coast) and pre-and post-cruise hotel stays in Athens (from $99 per person, double, for one night) also can be booked.

The bad news for travelers with weak sea legs is that this ship really moves when it's cruising at 27 knots in heavy seas. That was our experience sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Puerto Rico and St. Martin in February in some stormy weather. The vibration we felt while we were passing the crest of waves was explained by Capt. Georgios Apistolas as a "shake."

But passengers, many of them retirees, some in wheelchairs or with canes or walkers, did not seem unduly inconvenienced by the motion, except when the elevators were shut down for several hours at a time for safety reasons. The topmost deck also was closed to passengers while the ship was underway.

Royal Olympic's passengers are usually not first-time sailors looking for fun and games but seasoned cruise veterans. They travel with this line in winter for its adventurous itineraries and lecture programs.

The public rooms are handsomely decorated and have rich wood-toned walls and marble floors.

Cabins, except for the dozen top-priced sky suites with butler service, do not have private balconies. Bathtubs and sitting areas also are restricted to the sky suites and the 16 bay window suites. Most passengers will occupy a small cabin-about 140 square feet, with window or portholes, twin beds that can be converted into queen size, a chair and corner desk/dresser, a second chair and a small round table, hair dryer, safe and mini-refrigerator, plus adequate hanging and drawer storage for a fairly long cruise. TV sets play feature films and documentaries throughout the day and evening.

Breakfasts and lunches are open seating in the dining room or available in the buffet restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating. Dress code aboard follows tradition, with one or two formal nights a week, several informal and several casual evenings.

The Jade Spa, operated by a Greek company, offers treatment packages priced from $90 to $185. The infirmary on board is well equipped for a ship this size, with examining room, operating room, patient ward, X-ray room and pharmacy.

Sister ship Olympic Explorer, expected to enter service May 14, will have a different but equally expansive seven-day itinerary. It will sail from Piraeus on Saturdays, calling in Corfu, Greece; Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Greece again, for Mycenae and Epidaurus; Istanbul; and back to Greece for Mykonos and Santorini. Passengers can embark and disembark in Piraeus (Athens) or Venice.

Brochure fares range from $2,550 to $5,440 per person, double occupancy, with 25% to 40% discount for booking 120 days before sailing.

Both ships will spend summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Americas.

To get free color brochures, contact a travel agent, call (800) 872-6400 or log onto http://www.royal

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