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Guidebooks answer questions of where, when and on which ship to go cruising

THE BALTIMORE SUN

So you want to take a cruise. But, oh, the decisions! Just how do you figure out where, when and on which ship?

One way is to work with a reputable and knowledgeable travel agent who can help match you to your cruise vacation dream. But even the best agent won't be thoroughly familiar with the more than 250 ships floating around out there.

Another way to wade through the sea of information is to go by the book -- not necessarily the cruise lines' brochures (which clearly are intended to seduce you), but by any of the many

guidebooks available that focus on cruise travel. Here's a sampling of what's available:

* "Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships," by Douglas Ward (Berlitz Publishing, $17.95): This comprehensive resource provides information on numerous vessels, including ships that sail light-adventure cruises and barges that ply rivers.

* "Fodor's 1994 Cruises and Ports of Call," by Daniel and Sally Grotta (Fodor's Travel Publications, $18): This compendium includes evaluations of cruise lines and ships, though it doesn't actually rate them.

* "Frommer's Comprehensive Travel Guide/Cruises '93-'94," by

Marylyn Springer and Donald Schultz (Prentice Hall, $19): In typical breezy Frommer style, this book informatively describes ships and cruise lines, and emphasizes cost-conscious travel.

* "Fielding's Cruises 1994," by Anne Campbell (Fielding Worldwide, $16.95): Published annually since 1981, this is the only book that rates ships relative to each other. It also includes the author's recommendations based on interests and lifestyles of potential passengers.

* "The Total Traveler by Ship," by Ethel Blum (Graphic Arts Publishing, $16.95): An industry bible -- and almost as long -- this recently updated book provides ratings and evaluations of ships by a panel of travel writers.

Don't want to spring for a book? You can get a free 20-page booklet called "Answers to Your Most Asked Questions," published by Cruise Lines International Association. It includes charts showing worldwide cruise destinations, and it also notes ship services for children, fitness-minded adults and honeymooners. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope (with 52-cents postage) to CLIA, 500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1407, New York, N.Y. 10110.

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