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Your Ship Has Come In:
Finding the Right Cruise

Sunday, February 1, 1998; Page E08


If you're new to cruising, you're probably bewildered by the number of lines, ships and types of cruises in this noisy and growing marketplace. Below we try to create some order from the madness. We've listed the major (and many of the minor) cruise lines courting U.S. travelers. In an attempt to characterize each, we've matched cruise "brands" to hotels and cars likely to appeal to a similar demographic. Subjective? Sure. But also likely to help you find yourself in the right deck chair when the whistle blows. With the exception of Cunard, we've presented information for an entire line, but be aware that each line offers a variety of itineraries, ship sizes, amenities and prices under its banner. Cunard operates such a diverse group of ships that we've listed most as separate entries. Listings are in order from least to most expensive. See notes below. For more information, call a travel agent specializing in cruises.

Carnival | Premier | Costa | Holland America | Norwegian
Royal Caribbean | Disney | Celebrity | Princess | Orient | Windstar
Cunard: QE2; Vistafjord; Royal Viking Sun; Sea Goddess | Silversea | Seabourn


If your hotel of choice is: Any high-action Las Vegas resort: MGM Grand, Excalibur, Hard Rock Hotel
Or you drive a: Mustang convertible, Plymouth Neon; any minivan
Try: Carnival Cruise Lines
Why? With the introduction of Fantasy Class ships -- eight 2,600-passenger mega liners -- Carnival is changing from a Vegas-style par-ty cruise line to one aimed at a wider swath of vacationing America (like Vegas itself!). Its greatest strength is value, delivering a quality experience at affordable prices. New in '98: 80,000-ton sisters, Elation and Paradise, cruisedom's first smoke-free ship.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Hawaii, Panama Canal
The Fleet: Celebration, Destiny, Ecstasy, Elation, Fantasy, Fascination, Holiday, Imagination, Inspiration Jubilee, Paradise, Sensation, Tropicale
Avg. Per Diem: $95
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 1,022-2,642; 53,991 tons
Space Ratio: 34.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1


If your hotel of choice is: Low-priced independent hotels at Ocean City or Myrtle Beach
Or you drive a: Chevy Cavalier, Ford Escort, any Hyundai
Try: Premier Cruise Lines
Why? Premier sails a fleet of value-priced fixer-uppers -- ships retired by other lines and renovated for "vintage" cruising. Newest aquisition: the Rembrandt (Holland America's old Rotterdam), positioned for Mediterranean itineraries. Though a lower-priced line, Premier offers no early booking discounts; consequently, Carn-ival's ships often offer better value. Big Red Boat targets families.
Itineraries: Panama Canal, Caribbean, Bahamas, Mediterranean
The Fleet: OceanBreeze, IslandBreeze, SeaBreeze, Seawind Crown, Big Red Boat, Rembrandt
Avg. Per Diem: $125
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 768-1,146; 29,175 tons
Space Ratio: 30.3
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1


If your hotel of choice is: Funky, chic, moderately priced boutique hotels like New York's Paramount and San Francisco's Monaco
Or you drive a: VW Passat or Cabrio, Nissan Infiniti, Mazda Miata
Try: Costa Cruise Lines
Why? Italy-based Costa offers an exotic international ambiance at a mid-market price. PA announcements are made in four languages and the layout is stark, modern and Milanese. Service and amenities are more consistent with mass-market competition than with high-toned, high-cost European vessels. Meat-and-potato Americans may be happier elsewhere.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Mediterranean, Greece, Holy Land, Black Sea, N. Europe, Norwegian fiords, Baltics, Russia, S. America, transatlantic
The Fleet: CoastaAllegra, CostaClassica, CostaMarina, CostaRiviera, CostaRomanica, CostaVictoria
Avg. Per Diem: $133
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 770-1,950; 41,067 tons
Space Ratio: 37.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1

Holland America

If your hotel of choice is: Park Hyatt
Or you drive a: Lincoln Town Car
Try: Holland America Line
Why? One of the oldest cruise lines (est. 1873), Holland America has had a while to work out the kinks. It gets top marks for value; its ships are arty and elegant and offer a sophisticated experience at middlebrow prices. The line is unpretentiously ambitious, a good choice for folks who have graduated from Days Inn but haven't yet made it to Relais & Chateaux.
Itineraries: Caribbean, New England/ Canada, Mediterranean, Panama, Orient/S. Pacific, Asia, S. America, Alaska, N. Europe, Hawaii, transatlantic, world
The Fleet: Maasdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam, Rotterdam VI, Ryndam, Statendam, Veendam, Westerdam
Avg. Per Diem: $155
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 1,214-1,494; 48,769 tons
Space Ratio: 37.6
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2.1:1


If your hotel of choice is: Holiday Inn
Or you drive a: Ford Taurus
Try: Norwegian Cruise Lines
Why? Except for its trophy ship, the Norway, NCL is a solid, middle-of-the-market cruise line that's neither as frantically fun as Carnival nor as dynamic as Royal Caribbean. It's most notable for its high quality entertainment. New for '98: The Dreamward and Windward will be stretched, increasing capacity by 40 percent, becoming Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind.
Itineraries: Bahamas, S. Caribbean, Calif., Mexican Riviera, S. America, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada/New England, Bermuda, Panama Canal, Mediterranean, Scandin-avia, Russia, transatlantic
The Fleet: Crown, Dream, Dynasty, Majesty, Sea, Star, Wind (all "Norwegian"); Leeward, Norway
Avg. Per Diem: $172
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 752-1,758; 43,522 tons
Space Ratio: 29.7
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2.4:1

Royal Caribbean

If your hotel of choice is: Grand Hyatt
Or you drive a: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus
Try: Royal Caribbean International
Why? More reserved than Vegas, more festive than a Hyatt, Royal Caribbean offers big ships that emphasize quality food, service and activities. RCCL, like Carnival, has upgraded its ships, creating an inoffensive, contemporary "brass and glass" look. Founded in 1969 to ply the Caribbean, it has now branched into Bermuda, Europe and Alaska. New for '98: the 78,491-ton Vision of the Sea.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, Far East, Bermuda, Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, Panama Canal
The Fleet: Enchantment, Grandeur, Legend, Majesty, Monarch, Rhapsody, Sovereign, Splendor, Vision (all "of the Sea"); Sun Viking, Viking, Serenade, Nordic Empress, Song of America
Avg. Per Diem: $186
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 714-2,354; 52,877 tons
Space Ratio: 33.5
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2.4:1


If your hotel of choice is: An Aspen ski resort
Or you drive a: Volvo station wagon
Try: Disney Magic
Why? Disney launches Magic, the media conglomerate's first cruise ship, in late April. Its sister ship, the Disney Wonder, sails in March 1999. Both will offer three- and four-day voyages to the company's private Bahama island, with optional Disney World add-ons. Disney promises separate decks, dining rooms and facilities for those cruising kidless.
Itineraries: Bahamas
The Fleet: Disney Magic
Avg. Per Diem: $189
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 1,760; 85,000 tons
Space Ratio: 48.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1


If your hotel of choice is: Westin hotels
Or you drive a: Mercury Sable, Buick LeSabre
Try: Celebrity
Why? Celebrity, now owned by Royal Caribbean, was launched in 1989 aiming at the sophisticated but value-conscious niche. The ships are contemporary in style and sleekly designed, but the hype about its upscale aspirations is slightly overwrought. Celebrity is a step above the Marriott, but not true luxury.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Alaska, Panama Canal, Bermuda
The Fleet: Century, Galaxy, Horizon, Mercury, Zenith
Avg. Per Diem: $197
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 1,354-1,870; 63,156 tons
Space Ratio: 37.8
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2.1:1


If your hotel of choice is: Sheraton hotels
Or you drive a: Honda Accord
Try: Princess Cruises
Why? Princess is known as a consistent, above-average line geared to a broad audience, successfully blending cruise traditions with '90s conveniences. It also stands out for its broad variety of itineraries. New in '98: The Grand Princess launches in May; the Sea Princess, sister ship to the Sun Princess and Dawn Princess, in November.
Itineraries: Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico, S. America, Orient/Asia, India, Holy Land, Canada/New England, Mediterranean, Baltic, Black Sea, Russia, Africa, British Isles, Scandinavia
The Fleet: Crown Princess, Dawn Princess, Grand Princess, Island Princess, Ocean Princess, Pacific Princess, Regal Princess, Royal Princess, Sea Princess, Sky Princess, Sun Princess
Avg. Per Diem: $200
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 640-2,600; 59,300 tons
Space Ratio: 38.5
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1


If your hotel of choice is: Classic small hotels with chic '90s refits like the Algonquin in New York
Or you drive a: Saab, 1957 T-Bird
Try: Orient Lines
Why? The Marco Polo was built in 1965 for the Soviets, who intended to sail it in the Arctic: Its extraordinarily stable hull was designed for icy waters. Orient was founded around its acquisition in 1991. It's been refurbished in a way that recalls ships of yore, yet it delivers today's amenities. While comfortable, it's best known for exotic ports and adventurous land-sea packages.
Itineraries: Mediterranean, Africa, Antarctic, S. Pacific, Red Sea, Southeast Asia/India
The Fleet: Marco Polo
Avg. Per Diem: $250
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 800; 22,080 tons
Space Ratio: 27.6
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2.4:1


If your hotel of choice is: Deluxe spas (Canyon Ranch) or pricey, of-the-moment boutiques (Delano in South Miami Beach)
Or you drive a: Range Rover
Try: Windstar
Why? Windstar is the only boutique ship to operate under sail (don't worry, this isn't the Windjammer and you don't have to work). Windstar has the great cuisine and the white-glove service of other boutique lines but is far less formal, attracting a casually elegant, knowingly hip crowd. Wind Surf, the former Club Med 1, joins the fleet May 2.
Itineraries: French Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean, transatlantic, Panama Canal
The Fleet: Wind Song, Wind Spirit, Wind Star, Wind Surf
Avg. Per Diem: $357
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 148-312; 7,699 tons
Space Ratio: 41.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.7:1


If your hotel of choice is: The Four Seasons
Or you drive a: Jaguar
Try: Crystal Cruises
Why? The premier line for the cruiser who wants the amenities of a big ship with the high service standards of a small one. Both ships are elegant and contemporary; the food, service, pampering and ambiance get consistently high marks. But note the considerably higher per diem you'll pay for that higher quality service and extra personal space.
Itineraries: Mediterranean, Baltic, South America, Alaska, Mexican Riviera, Hawaii, Panama Canal, New England/Canada, Bermuda, Caribbean, SE Asia, N. Europe
The Fleet: Crystal Harmony, Crystal Symphony
Avg. Per Diem: $400
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 940; 50,000 tons
Space Ratio: 53.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 2:1


If your hotel of choice is: Elegant, expensive yet relaxed hotels, like the Inn at Perry Cabin
Or you drive an: Alfa Romeo, Lexus
Try: Radisson Seven Sea Cruises
Why? This line was created in 1995 with the acquisition of three ships, all distinctive: the twin-hulled Radisson Diamond; the Song of Flower, blessed with the finest cuisine afloat; and the Paul Gauguin, launched in December. All three are elegant, understated and comfortable. The line also owns the Bremen and Hanseatic, adventure-expedition vessels.
Itineraries: South and Central America, Panama Canal, Antarctica, Bering Sea, Mediterranean, Canary Is., N. Europe, Caribbean, India, SE Asia, French Polynesia
The Fleet: Radisson Diamond, Song of Flower, Paul Gauguin
Avg. Per Diem: $475
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 170-354; 15,792 tons
Space Ratio: 55.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.4:1

Cunard QE2

If your hotel of choice is: The Greenbrier
Or you drive a: Bentley (1st class); Mercedes (2nd class); Volvo (3rd class)
Try: Cunard's QE2
Why? The only three-class ship still in existence, the QE2, born in 1969, is the industry's grande dame. Like the Greenbrier, it's elegant and stuffy, yet faded and worn. The class system seems offensive today, but perhaps no more so than the cookie-cutter similarity of modern ships. The only cruiser with regular transatlantic itineraries.
Itineraries: New England/Canada, Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama Canal, Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Baltic, Europe, Scandinavia, transatlantic, world
The Fleet: Queen Elizabeth 2
Avg. Per Diem: $498
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 1,500; 70,327 tons
Space Ratio: 36.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.5:1

Cunard Vistafjord

If your hotel of choice is: The Hay Adams, Waldorf-Astoria
Or you drive a: Cadillac
Try: Cunard's Vistafjord
Why? More elegant and intimate than the QE2 -- and also more staid -- the Vistafjord is quiet old money, a little rumpled around the edges, but nobody cares. This is cruising at its most traditional.
Itineraries: Greece, Mediterranean, Europe, Scandinavia, Holy Land, U.K., Canary Is., transatlantic, Caribbean, S. America, Panama Canal, Hawaii, S. Pacific, Mexico
The Fleet: Vistafjord
Avg. Per Diem: $500
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 736; 24,492 tons
Space Ratio: 35.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.8:1

Cunard Royal Viking Sun

If your hotel of choice is: Ritz-Carlton Hotels, The Plaza in New York
Or you drive a: Mercedes sedan
Try: Cunard's Royal Viking Sun
Why? The Royal Viking Sun, built in 1988, is known for its big-ship elegance, spacious cabins and single-seating dinners.
Itineraries: Mediterranean, India, SE Asia, S. Pacific, Hawaii, Mexican Riviera, Bermuda, Scandinavia, S. Amer-ica, Carib., S. Atlantic U.S., Baltic, Holy Land, transatlantic, world
The Fleet: Royal Viking Sun
Avg. Per Diem: $561
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 740; 38,000 tons
Space Ratio: 51.3
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.5:1

Cunard Sea Goddesses

If your hotel of choice is: Relais & Chateaux
Or you drive a: Rolls-Royce
Try: Cunard's Sea Goddess I & II
Why? Sea Goddess I and II offer luxury on a grand scale in a cozy setting -- perfect for those who patronize Relais & Chateaux French-palaces-turned-high-priced-inns. Generally attracts the staid traditionalist with older money and lots of it, as well as plenty of those who want to hobnob with CEOs.
Itineraries: Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Caribbean, transatlantic, Africa, SE Asia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Europe
The Fleet: Sea Goddess I & II
Avg. Per Diem: $640
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 116; 4,250 tons
Space Ratio: 37.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.6:1


If your hotel of choice is: The Inn at Little Washington; Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur
Or you drive a: Lexus, Acura, BMW Convertible
Try: Silversea Cruises
Why? Silversea's got the top-notch thing down, but it's less pretentious than Seabourn and more casual, without losing the high-quality edge -- which means it's attracting those younger cruisers without having to cut its prices. Note: Silversea's high tab is deceptive because, unlike others, it includes air fare, pre-cruise hotel stay.
Itineraries: New England/Canada, Caribbean, S. America, Africa, Mediterranean, N. Europe, Baltic, SE Asia, Australia/New Zealand, India, transatlantic
The Fleet: Silver Cloud, Silver Wind
Avg. Per Diem: $722
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 296; 16,800 tons
Space Ratio: 56.8
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.3:1


If your hotel of choice is: The Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas, the St. Regis in New York
Or you drive a: Mercedes sedan
Try: Seabourn Cruise Line
Why? Stuffy but top-notch, Seabourn -- which recently slashed its prices to attract a "younger" audience (read 45-60) -- is the line for you if your idea of a great cruise is an extended power breakfast at the Hay Adams. Clubby, cozy and grand.
Itineraries: SE Asia, S. Pacific, Mediterran-ean, New England/Canada, Carib-bean, Panama Canal, S. America, W. Europe, N. Europe, Africa/ Seychelles, India, transatlantic
The Fleet: Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit
Avg. Per Diem: $723
Passenger Range & Avg. Size: 204; 10,000 tons
Space Ratio: 49.0
Passenger: Crew Ratio: 1.5:1

Notes: Per-diem figures are offered as illustrative price comparisons between lines only; they reflect prices for cruise-only, per-person double occupancy, seven-day voyages with an early-booking discount. Actual prices for any sailing booked on that line will vary widely. Note that smaller lines offer minimal discounts (5 to 10 percent) and their early-booking criterion is six months to a year; mass-market ships tend to be more generous, offering 30 to 50 percent off brochure prices for cruises booked at least three months out.
Capacity and tonnage averages are based on each line's entire fleet. For lines like Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean (which have the youngest fleets among big lines), the ships generally fall into two categories: the 70,000- to 80,000-ton variety and the 100,000-ton-plus ships. Currently, only Carnival and Princess have megas afloat.
Space ratio, which we calculated using a common industry formula dividing tonnage by number of passengers, may help identify which ships feel relatively spacious -- both in terms of public areas and in cabins. Twenty-two cubic feet per passenger is considered cramped; most of the mass-market ships have ratios in the 30s, while the high-priced ships usually are in the 45-and-up range.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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