The brand-new Horizon from Chandris' Celebrity Cruises is a glamorous 1,354-passenger ship with high-quality food and dining-room service comparable to Princess Cruises or Royal Viking Line.
Prices are in the Carnival Cruise Line range, $995 to $2,595 for seven days, including air fare on sailings from San Juan. The Horizon delivers a surprisingly high-quality product at a moderate price.
Standard cabins, compact but comfortable, are just about identical throughout the ship, making it possible to book an outside double with a big window on the lowest passenger deck, which offers a smoother, stabler ride, for only $189 to $199 per person, double occupancy, per day, depending on season or area cruised.
For passengers who don't object to portholes, there is an even less-expensive outside double cabin for $179 per person, double occupancy, per day. Inside cabins are $142 to $185 per person, double occupancy, per day, and children under 12 sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults pay $295 (cruise only) each.
Four cabins have been designed for the disabled. They have plenty of floor space in the bedroom and bathroom, a big shower with fold-down seat, extra-wide doors and ramp access over the bathroom sill. Closet shelves and hanging racks, however, are too high to be reached by a person seated in a wheelchair.
The ship also has two presidential suites (two rooms and a Jacuzzi tub in the marble bathroom) for $355 to $370 per person, double occupancy, per day, and 18 Horizon suites (large cabins with separate sitting area and marble bathroom with tub) for $303 to $313 a day per person, double occupancy.
Specify in advance if you want a double bed, because the twin beds in the cabins cannot be moved together. Also, avoid Category 4 cabins on Bermuda deck if you want a view, since many have windows obstructed fully or partially by hanging lifeboats.
Horizon cruises round-trip from New York City to Bermuda through October and from San Juan to Martinique, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Thomas in winter. These are seven-day sailings departing on Saturdays. Air fare for the Caribbean cruises is included from major U.S. cities, while the Bermuda sailings carry a $200 air add-on.
It's a fairly dressy ship with two formal nights scheduled during each seven-day cruise and the quality of food and service is good for a large cruise ship in this price range. The menus were created by Michel Roux, a Michelin-starred chef from England's Waterside Inn, who trained the Horizon's executive chef, Walter Feurstein, in the restaurant's kitchen, then followed up by sending his sous chef from England to sail with the ship during its first voyage. In addition, many of the meats and fish used on board are fresh rather than frozen.
While some dishes are more successful than others, we particularly liked the tender tournedos Rossini topped with truffled goose liver.
The kitchen already is altering some recipes to please passengers who don't know Michel Roux from the Rue de la Paix. A lunchtime pasta the menu described as "prepared with olive oil, garlic, anchovies and Parmesan cheese" came topped with tomato sauce because some guests the previous week had insisted pasta wasn't complete without tomato sauce.
While the dining room and Coral Seas Cafe are fastidiously divided into smoking and nonsmoking areas, there is a dearth of "no smoking" signs for the public lounges, causing many passengers sitting at a bare table top to simply fetch an ashtray from another table and proceed to light up in a nonsmoking area.
This was particularly annoying in the beautiful forward observation lounge, America's Cup Club, perhaps the prettiest shipboard bar of the year, with its snappy nautical navy-blue-and-white decor. The figure-8 bar in the center could easily be divided into smoking and nonsmoking halves so people who like sitting on bar stools could do so without inhaling secondhand smoke.
On Bermuda sailings from New York City, the company is attracting a large number of former Home Line passengers--that company went out of business two years ago--along with a sprinkling of young families with children, some teen-agers, young singles and many honeymooners.
The ship is registered in Liberia and carries Greek officers, American cruise staff, European chefs and waiters, and European and Filipino cabin stewards.
A couple of years ago Chandris announced it was building two 46,000-ton vessels in a West German shipyard. The family-owned company, founded in Greece in 1915 and in the passenger business since 1922, however, had never built and operated a brand-new vessel before.
In fact, until the debut of its $185-million Horizon at the end of May, the average age of its six-ship fleet was 41 1/4 years. The fleet includes Britanis, oldest major cruise ship afloat and first launched in 1932 as Matson Line's Monterey. It became the Matsonia in 1956 and the Lurline in 1963 before being acquired by Chandris in 1970.
As an alternative to its budget-priced Fantasy Cruises division, the company formed a new up-market label called Celebrity Cruises. The first ship to sail under the new name was the 1,106-passenger Meridian, a $55-million refurbishment of its 27-year-old Galileo, introduced earlier this spring.