It's that time of year again, when every ship buff who isn't out on a Christmas cruise is planning to sail south in January or February for Mexican or Caribbean sunshine.
It's also a time for handing out our annual Champagne and Keelhaul Awards for the highs and lows of cruising in 1987.
Cheers and a bottle of the best to Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas, the first and biggest of 1988's crop of new ships, set to debut Jan. 16.
A Captain Bligh keelhaul to the Los Angeles travel agent who confused Windstar Sail Cruises with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises and last winter booked a woman in search of singles action aboard the elegant Wind Star in the midst of 75 romantic couples.
Champagne to Norwegian Caribbean Lines for Voyages, its 1988 catalogue of cruises--colorful, classy and easy-to-read--and to Royal Viking Line's new brochure for finally getting the prices on the same page with the itineraries.
A keelhaul to those lines that tout a very low minimum cruise price, but only have two or three cabins in that category, already booked when you call.
Salute to Mr. Toga
A bon voyage bottle of bubbly to departing Costa president Howard Fine, who brought "Cruising Italian Style" into the mainstream and introduced toga night as a fresh change from masquerades.
A keelhaul to those staff members and passengers who treat the lifeboat drill as a joke; it's not funny if your life depends on knowing what to do in an emergency.
A Champagne toast to Holland America, the first to demonstrate that a no-tipping-required policy did not result in a loss of service, and to those newer lines--Sea Goddess, Windstar and Signet--which opted to eliminate the complicated question of tipping.
A keelhaul to every guide in every tropical port who rushed his sightseers past points of interest, then dropped them at a relative's shop in the middle of nowhere for an hour.
Champagne to Cunard for maintaining high quality aboard the Sea Goddess ships, contrary to what the naysayers thought would happen.
After the Face Lift
But, alas, keelhauls, too, to Cunard for rushing the debut of the renovated QE2 last spring; it should have realized that ladies of a certain age need more time to meet their public after a massive face lift.
Champagne to Society Expeditions for providing top-quality cruising in the most remote corners of the world, and for lowering its prices for 1988 when company restructuring eliminated leasing costs.
A keelhaul for those lines that do not enforce the no-smoking areas on their ships, or, worse still, to those that fail to specify smoking and no-smoking areas in their public rooms.
A Champagne salute to Royal Cruise Line, which, in a time when wooing younger passengers is on everyone's mind, shows a continuing sensitivity toward older passengers, especially women traveling alone.
Looking forward to a terrific '88, here are some more salutes:
To Astor Cruises and American Star Lines for innovative itineraries around the world at reasonable prices.
To Joe Farcus, designer of Carnival's glittering superships, for bringing verve and imagination, if not subtlety, into cruising.
To Princess' Sea Princess, for the best pasta afloat, and Sitmar, for taking pizzerias to sea.
To Admiral's Azure Seas for adding a Catalina stopover instead of spending all that time in Ensenada.
To Royal Viking Line for designing a bigger ship for fewer passengers per square foot.
And a Champagne toast to Aloha Pacific for bringing back the Monterey, scheduled to return to Hawaii Sept. 10 for seven-day, year-round island cruises after a massive refit in Finland.