Isn't It Romantic?

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

We've been sailing on cruise ships for so long that we sometimes forget the cautions that should be directed to first-time passengers whose only knowledge of shipboard romances comes from TV fantasies such as "The Love Boat" or romantic movies such as "An Affair to Remember." Romances on a cruise ship aren't nearly so fast and simple.

Nevertheless, it happened right before our eyes recently on the Queen Elizabeth 2. A New York artist from our dinner table, taking her very first cruise, met one of the ship's entertainers on the first night out at sea, and they fell in love--at least for the duration of the transpacific crossing. We don't know where love story went from there, but five days later in the Honolulu airport, we saw her catching a flight home alone.

Sailing ships--some more than others--are intrinsically romantic. But if you know where to look, you can find plenty of romantic hideaways on large cruise ships, as well.

Aboard the newly renovated QE2, for example, the new Chart Room, which replaces the Midships Bar, is a charming spot for an after-dinner drink while listening to Cole Porter or George and Ira Gershwin melodies warbled by one of the ship's singer-pianists.

From an on-board flower shop called the Greenery, you can order a dozen long-stemmed red roses for $48 for a birthday or anniversary.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway has romance built in at the Club Internationale, still one of the most glamorous rooms at sea with its Art Deco ambience and ballroom dancing. It's the sort of a place that makes you think of ordering bone-dry martinis and trying the tango.

On that same line's Dreamward and Windward, the three-tiered glass-walled restaurant called Sun Terrace is especially romantic at dinner with the lights glinting off the windows and highlighting the frothy white wake of the ship in the sea below.

The most exquisitely detailed little jewel of a bar we've ever seen on land or sea is aboard Holland America Line's Maasdam. Called the Piano Bar, it is a piano and bar lacquered in burgundy, the latter edged in gold-braided raffia; tiny gold-leaf tiles lining niches framing backlit pieces of Venetian glass; banquettes arranged against a starry, starry night background of velvety black; rich gold and crimson curtains swagged from the ceiling like a pasha's tent. It is pure romance!

The 10 veranda suites aboard Costa Cruises' CostaRomantica, most particularly No. 1003, named Figaro (all are named after operas), are the most romantic suites at sea. While many ships have bigger and grander suites, these spare, clean, Italian-designed accommodations are the essence of understated chic. A living room with slender blond furniture and a separate bedroom are all in pale shades of beige, with floor-to-ceiling white fabric shades, gauzy under curtains and draperies, and a teak-floored private deck with sun loungers outside.

Holding hands at midnight in the mezzanine seats of the Coronet Theatre aboard Royal Cruise Line's flagship Crown Odyssey is perfect for movie fans, who'll love this room's soft and cushy suede seats, Dolby sound and big screen. The walls are painted dusty rose, mulberry and burgundy, and the entry foyer is rose marble with brass handrails and beveled glass doors with pink marble trim.

A romantic evening of dancing isn't limited to women with partners. Several cruise lines, including Royal, Regency, Crystal and Cunard, staff their lounges with gentlemen hosts who dance with single women.

We could imagine a wedding set against the crystal waterfall in the Centrum on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Nordic Empress. The five-deck waterfall is enclosed in Plexiglass for much of its course but spills occasionally into open pools with a soothing splash. Over the stairway is a crystal drop sculpture with a silver ship's prow, and the stairs are framed with lots of white marble and bright begonias.

Another potential wedding spot, quieter and even more appropriate, is on Seawind Cruise Line's Seawind Crown, in the former first-class chapel on what had been the Portuguese ocean liner, Vasco de Gama. It has a wall of beautiful carved wood murals near the entrance and a hushed sense of calm inside.

A late-night stroll around the deck on any ship is ideal for romance because most passengers are caught up in the show lounge, casino, disco or midnight buffet and don't think of heading outside.

After all, isn't that what cruising is all about?

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