ASIA-PACIFIC ISSUE: ENCHANTMENTS OF THE FAR EAST : A Few Ideas for Sailings in Asia and the Pacific

When the Caribbean seems plebeian, the Mediterranean mundane and Alaska lackluster, perhaps it's time for a change.

Here are some fresh cruise ideas for Asia and the Pacific, with many cabins priced under $300 per person, per day.

Salen-Lindblad's new ship, the Frontier Spirit, sails in May to offbeat ports along the coast of China and through Japan's remote Ryuku Islands.

In China, passengers will be able to cruise the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River to Nanjing and Zhenjiang, as well as visit Xiamen (formerly Amoy) and nearby Gulangyu Island. The area has been open to tourists since 1980.

Also off the beaten track is Changzhou, a friendly canal town with an interesting mix of old and new China.

Japan's 400-mile Ryuku archipelago lies between Taipei and Nagasaki in the East China Sea and consists of 55 islands, including Okinawa. Activities may include shopping for black pearls in the town of Shika on Ishigaki Island, snorkeling, bird watching and dolphin spotting.

The 164-passenger Frontier Spirit carries 12 inflatable Zodiac launches for close-up explorations and island landings.

Each cabin has windows or portholes, a twin or double bed, a sitting area, a mini-refrigerator and a TV set; 18 cabins also include private verandas. The bottom price is $288 a day per person, double occupancy.

Meals are served at a single seating, with passengers sitting where and with whom they choose. Waiters and chefs are European.

Salen-Lindblad's The Great Orient Voyage can be booked as a single 20-day cruise, from $5,750 to $9,900 per person, double occupancy, or as two separate voyages.

On the China itinerary, May 7-18, the ship sails from Tientsin, near Beijing, to Hong Kong, with calls at Tsingtao, Nanjing, Zhenjiang, Shanghai and Xiamen, and a cruise along the Yangtze. Prices per person, double occupancy, are $3,500 to $5,900.

The Ryuku Islands cruise sails May 18 from Hong Kong and calls at Keelung for Taipei, Ishigaki and the Iriomote Islands, Naha in Okinawa and Yaku Island before arriving in Kobe May 26. Prices from $2,675 to $4,500.

Air fare is additional on all sailings.

Any island-collector would consider it a windfall to pick up 14 South Pacific destinations on one cruise, especially when it includes rarely visited Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands; Rarotonga, Cook Islands, and Christmas Island, a territory of Australia.

Holland America's 1,200-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam will make its first-ever long cruise, a Grand Circle South Pacific sailing departing Los Angeles Sept. 27. The 35-day trip calls at Ensenada, three Hawaii ports, Christmas Island, American and Western Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Tahiti and Society Islands and Marquesas.

Prices begin at $6,745 per person, double occupancy, including air fare, which works out to $190 a day. Call (800) 626-9900 for a brochure.

One of the prettiest mid-size ships in service since its renovation in 1988 is Pearl Cruises' 480-passenger Ocean Pearl, an old Asia hand that has been based year-round in the Orient for about a decade.

On three summer sailings, the Ocean Pearl is including free round-trip air fare from West Coast cities, including Los Angeles.

On June 19 and July 15, the Ocean Pearl will sail between Hong Kong and Singapore, with calls at Canton, China; Manila, Philippines; Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There are three-day land packages in Bangkok, Thailand, and Hong Kong, with plenty of shopping and sightseeing time. Seven countries are visited during this "Great Cities of Asia" cruise.

The "Spice Islands" itinerary July 1 calls at the remote and rarely visited islands of Indonesia, including the stone-age island of Nias and lush, green Sumatra, as well as more familiar spots such as Bali, Jakarta and Phuket in Thailand, and Penang, Malaysia.

The three sailings are from $3,150 to $6,750 per person, double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from Los Angeles, which means the per-diem prices per person are from $157 for an inside cabin with upper and lower berths to $289 for a superior deluxe outside double cabin. Suites are higher. Single cabins are also available at $4,750 for an inside single and $5,695 for an outside single.

Passengers booking the July 15 cruise will receive a $200-per-person shipboard credit that can be applied at any time anywhere on the ship. For a free brochure, call (800) 426-3588.

Earlier this month, Carnival Cruise Lines signed an agreement with Dial Corp. and two minority shareholders to acquire 100% of Premier Cruise Lines.

Premier's three ships--the Majestic, Atlantic and Oceanic--carry a maximum of 3,812 passengers and feature family-oriented three- and four-day sailings from Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas, combined with tours of Walt Disney World in Orlando. The company is designated as the "official cruise line of Walt Disney World."

Carnival President Micky Arison says Premier will continue to operate under its current name and management and will remain headquartered in Port Canaveral. Premier is also rumored to be in discussion with Disneyland officials about the possibility of basing a vessel in Los Angeles for West Coast Disney/cruise packages.

Carnival also owns Holland America and Windstar Cruises.

The Port of Los Angeles has announced free harbor boat tours May 11-12 to mark the observance of World Trade Week. The hourlong tours will begin at 10 a.m. on both days from Berth 84 adjacent to the Maritime Museum, which is at the foot of Sixth Street in San Pedro. For more information, call the Los Angeles Harbor Dept. at (213) 519-3508.

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