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CRUISE VIEWS

On Ecstasy, Short Sailings for the Younger Set

March 04, 2001|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month

On May 14, Carnival Cruise Lines' 2,052-passenger Ecstasy will replace the smaller Holiday for year-round three- and four-day Ensenada sailings. With room for 600 more passengers and prices that begin as low as $329 for early bookings, this offers a good opportunity for anyone who has considered a cruise vacation.

The Ecstasy, inaugurated in 1991, was the second in the Fantasy-class series of 70,000-ton vessels intended to dazzle the cruising public with sparkling surfaces, miles of neon tubing that changed colors and twinkling Tivoli lights. Designer Joe Farcus, a big pop culture fan, compared the ship to Superman's Metropolis, lining the enclosed promenade deck called City Lights Boulevard with cutout skyscraper panels that change colors throughout the day.

The heart of the ship is a seven-deck atrium, a vast open space with a clear skylight, animated by two glass elevators outlined in blue neon. One bar is a replica of a street in any city's Chinatown; another is a stark yellow and black disco called Stripes, which buzzes with pulsating neon chasing patterns and strobe lights synchronized to the music; and a third, the Neon Bar, has vintage neon signs blinking on the walls and a piano bar that is a circular piano.

The entertainment is Vegas-style too, with two splashy production shows: "Oba Oba," with African and Latin musical themes, and "Dream Voyage," a fantasy journey with New Age sounds.

If this doesn't sound restful, you're right. These ships and their short itineraries are aimed at a younger audience who might take a cruise like this instead of a weekend in Las Vegas. Carnival has no intention of lulling you to sleep on the gently rocking ship when you could be out in the casino, bars and showrooms having fun and spending money.

At the same time, the line is aware of new cruisers' demands-eating any time, spa facilities, taking the kids, sending and retrieving e-mail. When we visited, workmen were installing a new Digital Seas Internet Cafe that will have 12 terminals and cost 75 cents a minute. In 1990 Carnival pioneered a 24-hour pizzeria with five pizza flavors, calzone and chicken Caesar salad on these ships. It also offers 24-hour room service as well as casual dinners in the Panorama Bar and Grill.

The 12,000-square-foot Nautica Spa, operated by Steiner of London, has nearly every beauty and spa service imaginable, plus a full gym with treadmills facing floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea, daily exercise classes, a spa menu in the dining rooms and a jogging track on the top deck.

For children, Camp Carnival is in session on every sailing, with supervised games and activities for ages 2 through 15.

But even traditional cruise passengers who want a short getaway will find quiet spots on the Ecstasy. Furnished with leather chairs and tapestry sofas, the handsome Society Bar has a domed mural overhead peopled with what designer Farcus calls "high-society types of the 1930s and 1940s gathered at a ship's rail." They stare down at today's very different cruise passengers. The Explorers Club library is another great escape because few people on these short sailings are looking for books.

In contrast to the bright public areas, the cabins are quiet, clean and comfortable but not so cushy that passengers will want to stay there all the time. Most offer a choice of twin beds or a king-size bed, as well as color TV, a small safe, radio and telephone in 190 square feet. There is hanging space, and a built-in desk/dresser offers drawer storage. All cabins provide brand-name amenities, and all outside cabins have robes for passengers' use. Some cabins are modified for the physically challenged, and many offer upper berths for third and fourth passengers at a reduced rate.

The lowest fares are off-season sailings booked well in advance. Designated off-season sailings include those of May 18 and 25 and June 1, and the months of September, October, November and early December. The advertised specials of $329 for three days and $339 for four days are for an inside cabin with two lower beds.

The midweek four-day sailing visits Catalina Island as well as Ensenada. For a brochure, see a travel agent or call Carnival at (800) CARNIVAL, Internet www .carnival.com.

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