AFLOAT : Ships and Suites

Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

If you've always secretly wished for your own coat of arms, engraved with the slogan "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," and if you can spot the difference between beluga and Sevruga caviar through a Baccarat decanter of iced vodka at 20 paces, then you're a likely candidate for the suite life at sea.

Cruise ships, like grand hotels, have their own royal, presidential and penthouse suites--lavish apartments that might include a personal butler, a bar fully stocked with your favorite brands, an in-tub whirlpool bath, a videocassette player, a private veranda above the sea for romantic breakfasts a deux and serious sunbathing. In at least one instance, a suite has a private kitchen--in case you bring along your own chef.

Always in demand, such super-suites are spoken for a year or more in advance on around-the-world cruises (Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus won't go aboard the QE2 unless he has the Queen Mary suite). On shorter sailings, rich and famous suite occupants range from Jerry Lewis (in the presidential suite of the Norway) to Gavin MacLeod (in the royal suite of the Royal Princess).

Perhaps the most charismatic of all the suites currently at sea is one that has hardly changed in 54 years--the Marjorie Merriweather Post bedroom and bath on the four-masted sailing yacht Sea Cloud. The yacht, built in Kiel, Germany, in 1931, now sails on summer voyages in the Mediterranean and winter journeys in the Caribbean under the Heritage Cruises banner.

Actress Dina Merrill, Post's daughter, remembers magical childhood days when the family spent as long as six months aboard the Sea Cloud in some exotic corner of the world; even now she takes the ship out occasionally for a private cruise with a group of friends.

Except for the fact that the marble fireplace is no longer used for wood-burning fires and that the original oil paintings and rare pieces of Sevres (the latter glued to mantel and table tops) and the softly glowing lamp shades of sunfish and iguana skin have all been replaced with more prosaic counterparts, the suite looks much as it did when Post and her then-husband, Joseph E. Davies, invited the Duke and Duchess of Windsor for a cruise.

The Louis XVI master suite is said to have caused Queen Maud of Norway to murmur that her hostess "lives like a queen, or at least as queens are supposed to live."

It's easy to imagine yourself being wakened in the morning by a European stewardess bringing your breakfast tray to the silk damask and satin brocade bedroom in its cream, gold and pale-green sumptuousness. You can visualize yourself drawing a bath in the inlaid-marble bathroom with gold-finished fixtures and Baccarat crystal wall sconces, seeing your reflection in flower-etched mirrors framed in richly embellished wallmoldings. The price? About $5,000 per person for seven days.

Champagne, satin slippers and ribbon-bright streamers tangling from the rail evoke the timelessness of ocean travel on such classic ships as Holland America's Rotterdam, which will sail on her 25th world cruise in January.

For Victor and Adrea Carter (he's a retired chairman of the board of Republic Corp.), it will mean coming back home to their Rotterdam suite. Yes, for the entire winter. The Carters have added many of their own furnishings, such as a long desk-table in the sitting room that doubles as Victor's office, where telephone and telex allow him to keep in touch with Los Angeles. Adrea enjoys a separate wardrobe room with space for 35 to 40 evening gowns.

The exquisite, two-story, wood- paneled Ritz Carlton nightclub on board the Rotterdam is the setting for the Carters' annual Valentine's Day party. Invitations to that affair are most sought after, even considering the great number of envelopes that are slipped discreetly under cabin doors almost daily. Guests receive heart-shape mementos of the Carter party and can add them to the barrage of souvenirs that Holland America provides to its prized and pampered world-cruise customers. Rotterdam's deluxe staterooms for the 83-day world cruise, incidentally, cost $49,490 per person, double occupancy.

We've lived in New York apartments smaller than the new two-room suites onNAC's Sagafjord. An enormous living room--with sofas, chairs and built-in wooden cabinets and shelves the length of the room--opens with sliding glass doors to a private deck veranda. A bedroom with a king-size bed contains plenty of closets. There are two bathrooms with his and hers bathrobes and an assortment of Lancome toiletries. Videocassette players in each room, bookshelves stocked with travel books and guidebooks, a mini-refrigerator and a welcoming bottle of chilled champagne with a crystal dish of fresh strawberries almost make staying in more appealing than going out. There are five of these suites, with sleekly modern furniture and subdued color schemes in blue and gray or rose and gray. The tariff? For Sagafjord's 105-day world cruise, departing Los Angeles on Jan. 20, it's $87,790 per person, double occupancy.

The legendary Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth suites aboard the QE2 attract the cognoscenti, and everyone is anxiously awaiting the unveiling of the newest decor before the Cunard flagship's 1986 world cruise departs in January from New York City. It's a mere $325,090 for the suite, which can accommodate up to four people for the 95-day cruise, but look at all you get: a split-level penthouse suite with two bedrooms, two baths, a sitting room and a private patio with a captain's-eye view of the sea. Needless to say, you'll dine in the Queen's Grill with beluga caviar available at every meal, and your suite's bar will be fully stocked with your favorite brands--daily.

Other magnificent penthouses are quite in demand on Royal Viking's three prestigious ships. On its around-the-world trip this winter, Royal Viking Sea will feature understated Scandinavian elegance--suites with private terraces.

Having your own butler and a fully stocked bar are other enticements. Sitting rooms are light and airy; you can choose between twin or double beds. And there's enough closet space on the 100-day cruise to hold nearly everything at Saks. The price tag: $84,900 per person, double occupancy.

Norwegian Caribbean Lines' Norway, born the France, is now the world's largest cruise ship, and its presidential suite and royal suite still bathe in an aura of power and privilege. The former has a kitchen and full dining room--features retained from the days when a head of state always traveled with his own chef.

The royal suite is turquoise, with brass bed, curved walls, cove lighting and tile mosaics in the bath. The presidential suite features a sumptuous bedroom, two baths, a dining room with polished mahogany table and chairs, a splendid living room, a bar, a built-in vanity and huge closets. You can book yourself onto the Norway's seven-day Caribbean cruises for $4,975 per person, double occupancy, which figures out to about $1,400 a day per couple.

An egalitarian hedonist would find comfort on Sea Goddess I or Sea Goddess II, where everybody lives the suite life and all suites are about the same size. On these yacht-size vessels--one debuted last year, the other this summer when Princess Caroline of Monaco christened it in Monte Carlo--every passenger is treated as a special guest. Nothing so crass as money is ever handled on board, mind you; your fare of about $4,000 per person, double occupancy, takes care of all the costs--everything--including your bar bills and tips for seven days.

In your sitting room, a table is set with linen cloth and candles on any night you choose to dine in; your videocassette player shows first-run films; current books and magazines are delivered in an instant, along with a full bar and whatever comestibles you might request.

Princess Cruises' Royal Princess was christened last winter in London by Princess Diana. It features the royal and the princess suites, with plush, glove-leather sofas and chairs (blue in the royal and rose in the princess), Oriental rugs lying atop pale wall-to-wall carpeting, onyx tables and richly tiled bathrooms with round tubs and built-in whirlpool baths. Each suite has a private terrace facing the ocean, contains original art works and provides the services of a personal steward. For a 14-night event around Christmas, a passenger will write out a check for $9,842. That's per person, double occupancy.

There are others: the suite on American Hawaii's Constitution that the late Princess Grace of Monaco often booked; the newly refurbished suites aboard Society Expeditions' World Discoverer that famed designer Carleton Varney fitted with all-cotton Pratesi sheets, built-in hair dryers and silk-lined lamp shades (the only way to visit the Antarctic for discerning explorers), and last, the legendary and soon-to-return United States (scheduled for late summer of 1987) with several 1,700-square-foot luxury suites with private verandas already on the drawing board. She's being readied for seven-day cruises between California and Hawaii. The Aloha life . . . the suite life. All it takes is money.

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