When Deals Are in Season

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

Along with two dozen other Southern California cruise ship aficionados, we boarded Cunard's Sagafjord in Vancouver, Canada, recently for a three-day sailing down the coast to Los Angeles. These short, relatively inexpensive cruises are collector's items, available only twice a year, once in spring and once in fall, when the ship repositions for its Alaska summer season.

Repositioning, in fact, is a good word for bargain hunters to remember, because when a ship has to move from one cruising area to another seasonally--whether through the Panama Canal between the Caribbean and Alaska or across the Atlantic between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean--prices are often lower or special deals are offered because the ship has to move whether there are any passengers aboard or not.

The majority of our fellow passengers were from Europe and were staying on board after Los Angeles, cruising south along the coast of Mexico and through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale.

Traditional mid-size ships such as the Sagafjord and its recently renovated partner, the Vistafjord, hark back to earlier days of cruising, when entertainment was more on the scale of La Habra than Las Vegas.

There is an inescapable comparison to the original trio of Royal Viking ships, which were competitive with the Sagafjord and Vistafjord in the 1980s--the same single meal seatings, leisurely tea service, and caring European waiters and officers.

Big spenders will love the two brand-new penthouse suites, each of them 872 square feet with bedroom, marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and roomy Roman tile shower, sitting area, a carpeted spiral staircase leading up to a huge living room with wet bar, private veranda with its own outdoor hot tub and sauna, state-of-the-art entertainment center and a treadmill for exercising. Figure on about $1,000 a day per person, double occupancy, but if you can afford it, there's nothing comparable at sea.

Ordinary mortals will find the ship's other cabins quite handsome with their new beige and blue furnishings, and many have private balconies.

An intimate alternative Italian restaurant called Tivoli is available at no extra charge most nights, and its tables for two with candlelight overlook a dramatic two-deck-high window facing aft.

The Vistafjord has some deals on its transatlantic crossings in 1996, with the second passenger in any cabin going for $1,595 for the 15-day passage. First passengers pay $4,980 to $9,060, depending on the accommodations. The eastbound departure leaves Fort Lauderdale April 16 and arrives in Genoa May 1, while the westbound departure leaves Malaga Nov. 21 and arrives in Fort Lauderdale Dec. 6.

The Alaska spring and fall repositioning cruises aboard Sagafjord for 1996 are scheduled for June 10 and Sept. 5, and are priced from $1,120 to $2,930 per person, double occupancy, including air fare. For information and brochures, call Cunard at (800) 221-4770.

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