A trio of musicians swung into "New York, New York" as we walked into the brightly lighted five-deck, marble-floored atrium with its glass elevators and circular staircases. Italian waiters served oversize cups of foaming cappuccino and pastries at Princess Cruises' signature lobby, Patisserie.
A gala welcome at the start of a cruise? No. We were in Italy's Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone near Trieste, and the Sun Princess, still under construction, is two months away from its November delivery. But large portions of the 77,000-ton vessel, which will be the largest cruise ship in the world when it debuts in early December, were nearly finished, and the line had invited 18 cruise writers for a daylong tour.
The Sun Princess has so much marble, brass and wood paneling, it's a wonder the ship can float. But its intimate spaces are scaled down, which make it seem manageable.
The 1,950 passengers will embark and disembark on two separate gangways instead of the usual one. This procedure will dramatically cut down on lines, according to Rick James, vice president of sales and marketing for Princess. The vessel's Fort Lauderdale terminal is being remodeled to accommodate the double gangways.
Other innovations include two theaters with shows running simultaneously.
More than 400 cabins have private balconies. And for passengers leery of sailing on brand-new ships, we can attest to the fact that at least a few of the plumbing facilities were in working order.
The company is once more targeting families with children by adding expansive child and teen centers. Other design perks include leather "listening chairs"--that cost a whopping $8,000 apiece--in the library for playing audiotapes; large shops filling 4,500 square feet; a 24-hour international food court, and an elegant pizzeria. In May, many of the same cruise writers toured the other new ship due to debut in December, Celebrity Cruises' 70,000-ton Century. It will carry 1,750 passengers and is being built in Germany's Joseph L. Meyer shipyard in Papenburg.
Designers have planned spas with the first mud baths at sea and public rooms with "video wallpaper," which is what multimedia designer Robin Silvestri calls hundreds of changeable, custom-designed backgrounds that can be punched up on a wall-size video display system that switches instantly from tropical scenery to a jazz club, from a sports bar to a wine cellar, depending on the activity scheduled for the room.
Sony is creating some interactive guest services with touch-screen information kiosks, telephonic video service and special teleconferencing equipment.
But that doesn't mean everything aboard the Century is cutting edge. If you like snug, traditional ship bars, Michael's Club with its wood-paneled walls and ornamental fireplace is quiet and clubby.
Both the Century and the Sun Princess will be followed by one or more sister ships within the next several years.
The Sun Princess makes its first cruise Dec. 2 from Fort Lauderdale into the western Caribbean, with fares for the seven-day sailing ranging from $1,298 to $3,648 per person, double occupancy, including air fare.
Celebrity's Century will sail from New York Dec. 20 on its inaugural voyages for Christmas and New Year, picking up additional passengers in Fort Lauderdale Dec. 23. Regular seven-night cruises begin Jan. 6 from Fort Lauderdale with alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries. Fares on the latter range from $1,675 to $5,995 per person, including air fare. The latter price is for a penthouse suite with sliding doors to a veranda and hot tub.
To get more information about either ship or a full-color brochure, call Princess Cruises at (800) LOVE-BOAT, or Celebrity Cruises at (800) 437-3111.
Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.