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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 2)

You can pretend you're at the helm of your own private yacht when you sail on one of Windstar Cruises' three 148-passenger, motorized sailing ships--the Wind Star, Wind Spirit and Wind Song--or its 312-passenger Wind Surf. These sleek ships are modern versions of classic sailing vessels, with towering masts and yards of white sails that can be unfurled in minutes at the touch of a button, as well as state-of-the-art conveniences like retractable water sports marinas. These are the most casual of the "best" ships, but still a pampered cruises.

On board, brass details and caramel-colored wood lend a traditional nautical feel, but CD players keep you from forgetting you're in the modern world. Passengers can borrow from the ship's extensive library of music and movies. Cruising the French Riviera, Greek isles, British Virgin Islands and Costa Rica, these stylish ships are sporty and cool in an Armani-and-Martini sort of way. As on the Paul Gauguin, jackets are not required at any time.

After dinner on the open pool decks, unwind with a cigar and a Cognac.   Crystal Cruises' 940-passenger Crystal Symphony and Crystal Harmony are the biggest players in the high-end cruise ship league. Each has the space for a large casino, a show lounge plus several other entertainment venues, two pools (one with a sliding glass roof for inclement weather), a putting green, golf driving nets, a paddle tennis court, and a large gym and spa. In addition to a formal dining room, each ship has two alternative restaurants, seating 50 to 70 guests. Both have an Italian restaurant called Prego, while the Harmony has a Japanese restaurant, Kyoto (serving the best Asian food at sea), and the Symphony has a pan-Asian eatery, Jade.

The ships circle the globe, visiting far-flung places such as Sydney and Auckland, Hong Kong and Singapore. On the Symphony, cigars may be enjoyed in the Connoisseurs Club. On the Harmony, cigar smoking is welcomed in the top-deck lounge, a plush place featuring floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views of the sea, and a pianist or jazz trio during the evenings. On both ships, passengers choose from what is among the most extensive cigar menus of any cruise line--some 50 brands--and top-of-the-line Cognacs: Rémy Martin Louis XIII or Reserve Lafite Rothschild.  

Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2, better known as the QE2, is in a class by itself. Built in 1969, the very British 1,778-passenger grand dame envelops passengers in an Old World grace and charm, with the long sweeping hull and tiered decks of a classic ocean liner. The QE2 is the only ship that makes an annual series of six-daytransatlantic crossings between New York City and Southampton, England. On these cruises, tradition comes alive. Passengers are assigned to one of five dining rooms according to their cabin category. Those staying in the most expensive rooms may dine in what some say is the best restaurant at sea: the regal Queen's Grill.

Cooking is tableside and the choice virtually unlimited: guests can also order items not on the menu. The Chart Room lounge and the woody Golden Lion Pub welcome cigar lovers. The QE2 is well known for its annual theme cruises, including programs and onboard lectures focused on topics like classic cars, food and wine, and nautical history. The 677-passenger Caronia, newly refurbished and renamed is the third Cunard vessel to bear its hallowed name. The traditional ocean liner offers a genteel British-flavored cruise.  

For their size and mainstream appeal, Celebrity Cruises' 1,850-passenger ships, the Century, Galaxy and Mercury, are the most elegant megaships at sea, and half the price of the high-end variety. Book yourself into one of the 40 royal suites, or better yet the sprawling penthouse, and wallow on huge verandas (the penthouse veranda even has a whirlpool tub) and doting service by your personal butler while sailing the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or the fjords of southeast Alaska. The ships' interiors are dressed in an avant-garde art collection featuring originals from Sol LeWitt and Peter Halley. The spas on these ships are by far the best at sea.

The Galaxy's has a Japanese bathhouse design, with cool gray stone and bamboo, while the hand-painted tile mosaics of the spa on the Mercury follow a Moroccan motif. All three feature a 15,000-gallon Thalassotherapy pool, a bubbling caldron of warm seawater with all manner of therapeutic water jets to sooth aching bodies. The fitness centers are nearly as impressive, featuring the latest workout equipment like virtual-reality stationary bikes and a roller-blading machine. There's even a high-tech golf simulator on each ship. The spacious, elegantly designed cigar lounge, called Michael's Club, has thick velvet and rich leather armchairs. Each evening, an artisan demonstrates the art of hand-rolling cigars.  

While Holland America's entire fleet invites cigar smokers to gather on deck after dinner, the new 1,440-passenger Volendam and 1,316-passenger Rotterdam, the sixth incarnation of the 125-year-old company's famed ocean liner, offer the line's most elegant and pampered setting. Stay in one of the Rotterdam's 40 suites and enjoy a special concierge service. Avoid the bustling main dining room, and dine in the ships' intimate, reservations-only 88-seat restaurants.

The Rotterdam's has rich tapestried walls, marble floors and Venetian glass. After dinner, officers mingle with guests on deck as waiters serve Cognac and cordials. Each ship has a large gym and aerobics room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a movie theater, a disco and mellow lounges, featuring piano, jazz or big-band music. The Rotterdam spends much of the year cruising the British Isles, Scandinavia, Greek Isles, Turkey and Italy, and winters in the Caribbean. The Volendam winters in the Caribbean and spends the summer in Alaska.  

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