Cruising for the perfect cruise
The "Top Ten" critical list

By Toby Saltzman

The cruise industry has launched new standards with the recent wave of new and refurbished ships. Commonplace now are holistic spas, Internet cafes, en suite satellite connections, dedicated conference rooms and wheel-chair accessible cabins with roll-in showers. And cruise lines have raised the culinary bar. The mega-star lines (Crystal, Radisson Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea) serve gourmet meals with complimentary wines in main and alternative dining rooms. The premium lines offer tasty, dining room presentations along with "optional gourmet" restaurants (read: surcharge, usually US$25). If you have not yet ventured to sea, now is a prime time to test the waters.

Check this discriminating list for the ship that suits your style.

Magnate escapists: Silversea Silver Shadow
Deluxe diversions aboard the all-suite, 388-passenger Silver Shadow (sister of the Silver Whisper) engage even meticulous magnates. Ample amenities for those craving personal space include fitness equipment with personal TVs and headphones, an indulgent spa, a cushy champagne bar with adjoining private dining room and spaces galore for disappearing. The cuisine is delicious; the service deferential, yet not "in your face." Customized shore excursions offer privileged access to restricted sites. If you're inclined to hibernate in your suite, with its complimentary bar, all lectures and programs are televised. Silversea's flexible embarkation /debarkation program facilitates tight-schedule getaways.

Sophisticated adults: Crystal Serenity
Launched in July 2003, the luxurious Crystal Serenity boasts two indoor/outdoor pools, a lap pool, a paddle tennis court, lavish Feng Shui spa facilities, a piano-filled "Studio" for music lessons and many veranda suites. Programming for 1,080 urbane passengers - like Tai Chi, wine-tasting, Chinese brush painting, fundraising - invites mingling. Shore excursions include privileged access to restricted sites. For singles, there are genteel dance hosts. Meals are memorable in the two-seating dining room and six alternative restaurants, including two Japanese-inspired by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Crystal offers kosher meats.

Cultured couples: Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend
Impeccable service is the hallmark of Seabourn's "yachts" - the 204-guest Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend. Built in the 1990s, refurbished in 2000, the vessels feature deluxe suites, some with French balconies. Indulged passengers receive personalized stationery, a complimentary bar and excellent cuisine. Forget faux-Broadway: classy entertainment includes a pianist, singer or tasteful comedian. Programs include lectures, culinary-wine festivals. Port visits include exclusive excursions and golf at prestigious private clubs. The outdoor pools, though small, accommodate laps. In serene bays, the ships drop a flip-out marina with a swimming cage, banana boats and kayaks.

Gourmet getaway: Radisson Seven Seas Voyager
The luxurious 700-passenger, all-suite, all-balcony Radisson Seven Seas Voyager, launched in 2003, has lavish facilities typical of larger ships, including four distinct restaurants (one with an open kitchen, singing chefs and waiters). In a culinary coup, RSSC aligned the Seven Seas Voyager (and her sister, Seven Seas Mariner) with the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute of Paris. The piece de resistance is the classic French "signature" restaurant - aptly named Signatures - where the Institute's celebrated Executive Chef Frederic Filliodeau oversees menus. On culinary cruises, serious gourmands get hands-on instruction at workshops taught by master Cordon Bleu chefs, many from Michelin-starred establishments.

Blissful oblivion: Radisson Seven Seas Cruises Paul Gauguin
Cruising the French Polynesian islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea aboard the Paul Gauguin is sybaritic bliss. Staterooms on the 320-passenger "yacht" are swathed with native woods and mirrors reflecting the opalescent sea. Polynesian hostesses beguile you to Tahiti's "Haere maru" - take it easy mantra. In tranquil lagoons, the ship lowers a marina with windsurfs, kayaks and outriggers. Lounge obliviously on a motu beach with flutes of champagne, motorbike to an island peak or chase dolphins over waves. Though casually elegant, the ship provides formal service. Expect sumptuous meals whether dining alfresco, in the dining room or in a restaurant inspired by Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato.

Adventure seekers: Explorer II
The Explorer II is a reinforced icebreaker chartered by Radisson Seven Seas Cruises for "refined" expeditions to Antartica. Besides a wide viewing deck, the vessel (built for 300 but carrying 198) has cozy accommodations with showers, a pool, gym, sauna, cinema, library, lounge and two bars. After embarking from the world's southernmost city - Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina - the hardy ship provides an awesome entree to pristine nature. The expedition crew - naturalists, geologists, zoologists, historians, ornithologists - brief passengers and escort forays on rubber Zodiacs to view icebergs and colonies of penguins and seals.

Sports buffs: Royal Caribbean International Serenade of the Seas
Launched in August 2003, the 2,110-passenger Serenade of Seas is a ship-load of fun. Besides RCI's signature rock-climbing wall, inline skating track, miniature golf course, full-size basketball court, golf cage, massive spa/fitness complex and tiered theatre, there's Studio B - a 900-seat ice skating rink cum entertainment arena. Accommodations range from inside cabins to wheelchair-accessible cabins and balcony suites. Excursions include scuba diving, horseback riding, hiking and the "Golf Ahoy!" program. Take the Canada/New England itinerary. It offers: in Quebec City, cycling to Montmorency Falls; in Saint John, nature kayaking; in Nova Scotia, sailing on the Bras d'Or Lakes; in Halifax, rafting on the tidal bore. The ship's hearty meals boost your energy.

Intergenerational reunion: Holland America's Zuiderdam and Oosterdam
The just-launched, 1,848-passenger Oosterdam and her sister, Zuiderdam (2002) - the newest in HAL's premium, 12-ship fleet - feature exterior, ocean-view elevators, two show lounges, two outdoor pools (one with a retractable dome) and extensive fitness and spa facilities. Accommodations range from inside cabins to spacious, balcony suites. Cutting-edge facilities for the physically-challenged include a wheelchair elevator, two tenders with wheelchair platforms and medical facilities for dialysis. For peace of mind, HAL's cancellation program returns cash after cancelling for any reason prior to 24 hours before departure. Expect something for everyone, including excursions for all levels of agility. Meals in the dining rooms and alternative steak-and-seafood restaurant are tasty. Lest togetherness gets cloying, kids (5-17) can attend Club HAL programs while seniors play Bingo, learn bridge or attend lectures.

Family travel: Celebrity Constellation
Launched in 2002, the 1,950-passenger Constellation (sister of Infinity, Millennium, Summit) boasts a lavish theatre, spa and charming intimate spaces, including a two-level book and music library. Kids of all ages cluster at the sports deck's full-sized basketball and volleyball courts and compact football arena. Facilities are amenable for disabled guests. Parents relax while kids participate in camp programs (tailored to four age groups) or attend slumber parties (10 p.m. to 1 a.m.). They visit ports hassle-free while kids join special excursions. And while parents dine stylishly in the optional "Ocean Liners" restaurant or on meals inspired by Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux, kids can munch on pizza or abundant buffets.

Temperamental teens in tow: Carnival Glory
Teens on the just-launched Carnival Glory are sailing in fun heaven. With its upscale traits (notably outstanding: the optional "supper club"), the 2,974-passenger superliner (sister of Conquest) has boosted the "Fun Ship" brand's image. Designed with kaleidoscopic hues, the ship houses four pools (one with a towering water slide; one with a retractable dome), cutting-edge gym and a golf cage. Accommodations range from inside cabins to balcony suites. While youngsters join Camp Carnival, discreetly supervised older teens "hang out" at the teen centre (themed around board games) or in the dance club (a cacophonic scene with flashing dance floor and video-studded walls) and graze en group at the abundant buffets, pizzeria and deli. As for alcoholic drinks, parents can rest easy: Carnival's "legal drinking age" starts at 21. As the Carnival Glory sails from Port Canaveral, parents can dazzle teens with a pre- or post-cruise jaunt to Cape Canaveral.

Cruise Contacts

Carnival Cruise Lines: Tel: (800) 438-6744 / 1-888-carnival;

Celebrity Cruises: Tel: (800) 646-1456 / (305) 539-6000;

Crystal Cruises: Tel: (310) 785-9300;

Holland America Line (HAL): Tel: (206) 281-3535 / (877) SAIL HAL;

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC): Tel: (954) 776-6123 / (800) 477-7500 / (800) 285-1835;

Royal Caribbean International (RCI): Tel: (305) 539-6000 / (800) 659-7225;

Seabourn Cruise Line: Tel: (305) 463-3000 / (800) 929-9391;

Silversea Cruises: Tel: (954) 522-4477 / (800) 722-6655;

Copyright Toby Saltzman 2003




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