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Travelers Can Choose From Glamorous Ships

<i> Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers</i>

The cruise passenger in the coming months should be in the catbird seat, able to choose the perfect cruise from a fleet of glamorous ships.

Last year brought us not only a glut of new and remodeled vessels, but also a mind-boggling series of mergers and consolidations that left even the most blase industry-watchers gaping.

Also, just over the horizon, three Japanese-owned cruise companies are preparing to sail into the North American market in the next 18 months--Oceanic, Mitsui and Crystal Cruises.

Concern About Quality

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First to feel the squeeze, however, will probably be the small lines that have older mid-size ships that handle 500 to 800 passengers.

Most cruise companies seem to be concentrating on the “biggest, brightest or most expensive ships” ever. However, most passengers don’t care much one way or the other about the newest design trends; the major concern we hear is about the declining quality of service.

Aloha Pacific’s U.S.-flag Monterey, still in operation although under a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for financial reorganization, made a first-class try when it began seven-day sailings around Hawaii in October. It was hampered, however, by having to train attractive young Americans who looked like movie starlets and who were not that enthusiastic about making beds and cleaning toilets.

So we should all cheer the splendid new Seabourn Pride, a 10,000-ton vessel that made its debut in late December with a perfect staff of Europeans and flawless food and service, something rare in a banner year of new ships.

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Fares average about $600 a day per person, double, including tips; a sister ship, Seabourn Spirit, is due next November with the same follow-the-sun itinerary.

The brand-new Royal Viking Sun provides plenty of room to roam with the highest passenger space ratio of any of the new crop of ships. It’s the first new vessel for that prestigious company in 15 years.

Crowning a Princess

The first big new ship due in 1989 is Princess’ 1,600-passenger Star Princess, scheduled to sail March 24 from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for a series of 10-day Caribbean cruises before heading north to Alaska. Crown Cruise Line’s Crown del Mar, a 486-passenger vessel due last November, made its inaugural two-night sailing from Palm Beach at the end of January.

Carnival’s Fantasy, set to make its inaugural cruise Dec. 11 from Miami to the Bahamas on three- and four-day sailings, is the most striking endorsement yet for the future of the mini-cruise; this 2,600-passenger vessel is supposed to be the most expensive cruise ship ever built.

Next January, Carnival will move the 1,022-passenger Tropicale from its longtime Los Angeles base to San Juan, Puerto Rico, replacing it with the newer 1,500-passenger Jubilee, which will assume the same seven-day Mexican Riviera itinerary on April 8, 1990.

Club Med Cruises’ five-masted, 416-passenger computerized sailing ship, Club Med I, originally expected to arrive in time for Christmas, will make its first sailing in mid-January 1990, with fares around $1,250 to $2,500 for a seven-day cruise.

Ocean Quest’s Ocean Spirit, the former Sunward I, a 320-passenger dive-cruise vessel sailing from New Orleans to Belize, Cozumel and Cancun, was scheduled to set out on its first cruise March 4.

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Yacht-Size Luxury

The yacht-size Oceanic Grace from Oceanic Cruises and the 600-passenger Fuji Maru from Mitsui are both due in April, while Crystal Cruises’ super-deluxe 49,000-ton luxury Crystal Harmony is due in July, 1990, as is a second Mitsui vessel.

Oceanic Grace says its San Francisco-based representative, Guynell Kryzak at SMI Group (toll-free (800) 545-5778), begins cruises April 22 with seven-day sailings in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea from $3,395 per person, double occupancy.

We’ll also see more small luxury vessels in ’89.

Norwegian-based Fearnley & Eger, owner of Starship Explorer and North Star, both operated until recently by Exploration, are bringing out a series of eight 116-passenger ships from an Italian shipyard between the fall of 1989 and the summer of 1991.

And two 80-passenger Dutch-owned vessels, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, are both due in December from Goliath Transport.

Windsor Cruises will introduce two new 70-passenger, 270-foot British-registry yachts, Lady Diana and Lady Sarah, this summer that are expected to be the most expensive yet at a minimum of $1,000 a day per person, double occupancy.

he Lady Diana will be first on line, due July 1 for a series of Mediterranean sailings before a Caribbean winter season.

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Another super-luxurious option: West Coast passengers for a 1989 QE2 transatlantic crossing between New York City and Southampton can add an MGM Grand Air Los Angeles-New York City flight for $695 extra.

Rates for the five-day crossings are $1,330 to $8,010 per person, double occupancy, which includes return to the East Coast via British Airways or, for an additional $995 per person, British Airways Concorde.

For passengers who read the right-hand side of the menu first, there’s also good news: Cunard’s lower fares on the Cunard Princess, already seen this fall and winter on Mexican Riviera sailings, and the Cunard Countess, starting next September in the Caribbean, are both pegged at $495 per person, double occupancy, for some seven-day sailings.

Careful cruise shoppers should keep an eye on three areas--Alaska, Bermuda and the Mediterranean--for potential spring and summer discounting.

Scheduled traffic to Alaska this summer is down somewhat, only 16 or so ships compared to last season’s 23.

Savings on Bookings

The intense competition between Princess, with a record five ships in Alaska, and Holland America with four, also should produce some early booking and advance-payment savings for careful cruise shoppers.

Bermuda, which prunes its visiting ships as carefully as its well-kept gardens, has always limited the number of ships that call in a season. For the first time in three decades the familiar yellow-and-blue stacks of now-defunct Home Lines will be missing, but Royal Caribbean’s Nordic Prince will be back along with Chandris’ Amerikanis and Galileo.

New faces there this season will be Cunard’s Sagafjord and the Cunard Princess, along with the Royal Viking Star, making a first-ever full season of New York City-Bermuda seven-day round-trip cruises.

The Chandris vessels and Cunard Princess will vie for lowest prices--from $799 and $845, respectively, per person, double occupancy during low season. The Galileo will sail to Bermuda from Port Canaveral April 8 and 15, then move gradually north on subsequent sailings scheduled from Charleston, Wilmington, N.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. The Cunard Princess will intersperse some three- and four-day cruises with its seven-day series.

Newest Hot Spots

Hottest destination for the spring and summer is Europe and the Mediterranean, with 36 ships set to sail part or all of the summer there. While the French Riviera remains a favored itinerary, the newest hot spots are Turkey’s Turquoise Coast (all three Sun Line vessels will sail there this spring) and the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, where Windstar’s Wind Spirit will cruise in midsummer.

Next winter the Cunard Princess will reposition to Malaga, Spain, for seven- and 14-day cruises to the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco; prices for the two-week itineraries are priced from $2,295, including air fare from New York.

The little country of Belize, lying south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peminsula on the Caribbean, is a new destination for both Ocean Quest and American Canadian Caribbean, whose 80-passenger New Shoreham II sold out its first winter season of 12-day cruises round trip out of Belize City along the coasts of Belize and Guatemala, further proof that new destinations attract passengers.

In the Orient, the always-imaginative Ocean Pearl offers a new China Dynasty program scheduled April through October that will add a cruise along part of the Yangtze River and calls in Xiamen and Nanjing to Beijing, Dalian, Qingdao and Shanghai.


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