Royal Line Sports Its New Crown

Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

Finally someone has built a ship that puts passenger pleasure ahead of world records, corporate balance sheets or mega-glitz.

It's as if Royal Cruise Line's chairman, Pericles Panogopoulis, signed a blank check and ordered nothing but the best from top to bottom and stem to stern--marble, polished granite, hand-rubbed wood, gleaming brass, beveled mirrors, buttery leather and suede, and gold-rimmed bone china from Royal Doulton.

Royal's hands-on operating policy, attention to detail and almost obsessive concentration on what its passengers like and dislike has paid off gloriously in the new Crown Odyssey, as close to perfect as any vessel afloat. It carries about 1,000 passengers and is 40,000 gross registered tons, comfortably mid-size when measured against the giants.

During this smooth-as-silk shakedown cruise in early June, only five out of 526 cabins had any complaints of technical problems, a minor miracle for a first sailing.

Launched First Ship

Almost 25 years ago this San Francisco-based company launched its first ship, the 460-passenger Golden Odyssey, followed in 1982 by the 816-passenger Royal Odyssey (sold to Regency Cruises as of this November).

Much more familiar on the West Coast than in the East and Midwest (more than half the line's passengers come from California), Royal has always been characterized by the accessibility of its upper echelon management to passengers and travel agents with comments or complaints, and the speed with which they respond to correct any problems.

They have also been responsible for such innovations in the cruise industry as the "host program," in which older men are recruited to dance and socialize with older women traveling alone; a full range of low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol meals created in conjunction with the American Heart Assn., and the New Beginnings series of enrichment lectures, classes and fitness programs. The latter programs are designed for emotional and physical revitalization of people such as those adjusting to retirement, recently widowed or recovering from illness.

Design innovations on the Crown Odyssey include big glass bay windows in 60 cabins and suites on the Riviera deck with electrical-controlled shades; a lavish cinema with cushy suede armchair seats, Dolby sound and big-screen projection; automatic doors for easy deck access from the breakfast and lunch buffet area, and self-service ice dispensers built into the hallways.

Among the fresh technical features are a "father and son" engine system providing high fuel efficiency and minimal engine deterioration at running speeds that can vary from 8 to 22 knots; electronic security devices for the bridge and engine control room; a wide provisioning corridor below decks, nicknamed "Fifth Avenue," enabling the crew to move materials on electric forklifts from the huge loading bays, and an auxiliary power system to allow the ship in an emergency to continue sailing another two hours before having to stop.

Cabins are of generous size, with even the crew cabins as large as some of the new ship passenger cabins. The lowest-priced inside doubles have more than 150 square feet and two lower beds, built-in dresser, two chairs, two large closets, ceramic tile and marble bathroom with shower, and 110 and 220 outlets in cabins and bathrooms.

All 17 cabins in this category, priced from $182 to $250 double occupancy, per person a day, depending on the cruise, are triples (which sleep three people) or quads (which sleep four), so a budget-conscious traveler with like-minded friends could cut the basic price still further.

The top-of-the-line accommodations are penthouse apartments, each with its own wide veranda, individual decor themed to the suite's name, separate sitting room, dining area, French twin or parallel beds, marble bathroom with whirlpool tub, mini-refrigerators, TV sets with VCR and butler service.

Per diem rates this year in these 440-to-600-square-foot apartments range from $420 to $475 per person double. (A company spokesman said most of these luxury digs are booked through October.)

Wheelchair Access

Among the other 16 design and price categories aboard are four well-planned cabins for the disabled, with good wheelchair access into the bathroom, a seat in the big open shower, tilt-down mirror and a location near elevators. These C2 category deluxe outside cabins average $325 to $385 per person double a day.

From top to bottom the Crown Odyssey shines. A stunning all-glass lounge forward on the top deck offers views on all four sides, plus a glass skylight over the dance floor for a look at the stars.

Five aft decks of teak provide ample sunbathing space; on one a lunchtime grill sizzles not only hamburgers and hot dogs to order, but spit-roasted Greek lamb gyros on pita bread as well.

And if a 30-by-16-foot outdoor pool isn't enough, there's also a 23-by-15-foot indoor pool surrounded by a full health and beauty center with whirlpools, saunas, Life Cycles and rowing machines, even a ballet barre with mirrored wall and a lavish beauty salon in rose marble.

While it may seem petty to cavil amid so much splendor, we could wish the casino were a little more removed from the traffic flow, that the production shows in the main lounge were more skillfully produced, that the wine service was more prompt in the dining room, that the comfortable library had more new books, that the lifeboat drill were a little more organized among the boat captains, and that the much-vaunted Theo's Bar wasn't so wide open to the show lounge that it loses its intimacy.

Exceptional Space

Except for the penthouse apartments there is no cabin TV and the ship has no self-service laundry room or children's facilities. All are deliberate choices that reflect management philosophy about luxury and social atmosphere.

On the other hand the food is the finest yet from Royal; the closet and storage space in the cabins is exceptional; the ever-popular Fernando de Oliviera is cruise director, and there's live music somewhere almost every waking hour.

Best of all, the Crown Odyssey rides so smoothly, one engineer says, "We may need the stabilizers only in a hurricane."

Sailings will include a 12-day "High Society" transatlantic cruise Sept. 4, with two hotel nights in London plus a theater package, $2,578 to $5,698 per person double occupancy including air fare; four seven-day Canada/New England autumn cruises, $1,798 to $4,448 including air, and four Mexican Riviera nine-day round trips from Los Angeles to Acapulco in November, $1,998 to $4,978 per person with air. Some early booking discounts are available.

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The newest cruise line is Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises, operated by veterans of Princess Cruises and Royal Viking. It's headed by Arthur A. Rodney, former Princess president. The company's unnamed first ship of 49,000 tons, due for delivery in June, 1990, is being built at Mitsubishi Shipyard, Nagasaki, by Japan's NYK Line at a cost of $200 million.

The ship is expected to carry 960 passengers. Features planned include a 3,000-square-foot shopping area, a spa, more private verandas than any other ship and 800-square-foot luxury suites, plus balconies.

Destinations are expected to be Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Pacific Ocean and the Orient, including China and Southeast Asia.

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