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Cruises: Tops of the Liners

Think Sea Cruises Are Strictly Cattle Cars? Check Out These Ocean-Going Limousines
Heidi Sarna
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

(continued from page 1)

The cruise experience at its most sublime offers adventure even while all the trappings of epicurean decadence are close at hand. You're tracing the sea routes used by swashbuckling explorers centuries before, but you're doing it like a king. No need to plan itineraries, book hotel rooms, lug suitcases--the ship is your porter, destination and transport, all in one. If you like the idea of nothaving to continually open your wallet on vacation, paying for dinners, drinks and entertainment, a cruise is undoubtedly convenient.  

Accommodations, meals and entertainment are included in one rate; and some top lines even throw in unlimited wine and spirits, gratuities, and port charges. Guests sign for the extras and pay at the end of the cruise. Expect to spend at least $3,000 a person (and as much as $10,500) for a week on a high-end ship. Airfare, day tours when in port and, of course, shopping (on board and in port) are additional.  

Among the newest and swankiest liners in the high-end market are the elegant Silversea Cruises twins, the five-year-old, 296-passenger Silver Cloud and Silver Wind. These ships sail worldwide, from Semarang to Silicy to Oahu and Maui. Most cabins have private verandas. Chat with new friends at high tea or browse for gold watches and silk scarves in the ships' exclusive Bulgari boutique. Cabin bathrooms are stocked with Bulgari's rich green-tea bath products. Overall, service is superb, and elegant dining in the delicately decorated pale pink-and-gold main restaurant rivals that of Manhattan's best. While on formal nights passengers are in tuxedos and sequins, on all other nights ties are optional.

For a change of pace, the Terrace Café, serving breakfast and lunch buffet-style by day, is transformed into the cozy and candlelit, reservations-only Cucina Italiana several nights a week. After-dinner entertainment includes a piano bar, a nightclub for dancing and drinks, and a two-story show lounge featuring musicals, magic shows and cabaret. You can have a cigar along with a glass of Port or a smooth Cognac at the ships' weekly "Cigar Nights," held poolside in warm weather or in the windowed observation lounge during chillier nights. And unlimited top-shelf liquors and wines are included in the cruise price, as are all gratuities.  

The clubby Seabourn ships are smaller and even more high-toned. The Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend each carry 208 passengers to the far corners of the world, including Africa's Seychelles islands, the French Riviera, Norway fjords, India, the Suez Canal and the less frequented islands of the Caribbean. A mini marina unfolds from the ships' aft belly, allowing guests direct access to the water for waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing and swimming. The ships also have some of the best positioned hot tubs at sea. Each is located at the bow on a stretch of isolated teak deck, where soakers can watch their cruise unfold before them. In addition to the formal dining restaurant, casual dining is offered in the Veranda Café.

There are no elaborate entertainment productions, but instead quiet evenings conversing with new friends and listening to music in the ocean-view observation lounge, an ideal setting for an after-dinner single malt and a good smoke. The newly refurbished and renamed 758-passenger Seabourn Sun is a golf lover's paradise boasting a pro shop, as well as a putting green and golf simulator. The Sun's smokers are welcomed at the Oak Room bar. Tipping is not allowed and wine and spirits are included in the price.  

The line's yacht-like Seabourn Goddess I and Seabourn Goddess II are hedonistic havens--and small enough to make you feel that your needs and desires are the only ones that matter. A staff of 89 caters to just 116 passengers. Champagne and caviar are served all day long. After dinner, enjoy a cigar in the Main Salon and hobnob with your fellow shipmates, who undoubtedly are among the world's movers and shakers. The ships have a retractable water sports marina. Among its worldwide itineraries, the Sea Goddesses visit the French and Italian Rivieras and the Caribbean's off-the-beaten-track glam hideaways like St. Barths and Virgin Gorda. On all Seabourn ships tipping is not required and wine is included at lunch and dinner.  

Radisson's posh 350-passenger Radisson Diamond has a catamaran-like twin-hull design, giving its passengers one of the most stable trips at sea, and more than half of its staterooms have private verandas. With its gilded chairs and burnished bronze and silver pillars, the graceful Grand Dining Room is considered by many the most romantic at sea. There's also a more casual, reservations-only Italian trattoria for dinner. The Diamond, which has a retractable water sports marina, spends half the year in European waters and half in the Caribbean. Wine is complimentary with dinner, and tipping is not accepted.  

A sexy newcomer, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises' two-year-old, 320-passenger Paul Gauguin, has verandas on half of its cabins, a chi-chi French spa (Carita of Paris), and an exotic year-round itinerary that it sails in sheer luxury, from Tahiti to Bora Bora and the other islands of French Polynesia. Luxurious, yes, but casual as well--leave the suits at home, there's a no-jackets-required policy throughout the cruise. Like the Radisson Diamond, the Paul Gauguin has a retractable marina for water sports. With its prominent humidor, crystal ashtrays and extensive menu of Cognacs, the refined Connoisseur Club is the ship's cigar lounge, a wonderful room with ocean views. The Club is conveniently connected via a spiral staircase to the intimate 80-seat, reservations-only La Veranda restaurant below.

A more formal atmosphere (jackets required in the dining room) reigns on board the line's new 490-passenger Navigator. Plying the seas from the Mediterranean to South America, the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, the ship has private verandas on nearly all cabins and a Connoisseur Club lounge of its own. There's a no-tipping policy and wine is complimentary at lunch and dinner.  

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