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Long cruises not the only way through Panama Canal

Q: Are there any boats that one can take locally to transit the Panama Canal? I truly want to make a canal passage but do not want to be involved in a seven- or 10-day cruise.

A: The company that runs such trips, Argo Tours of Panama City, will soon be increasing their number from two to six a year.

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Starting Jan. 28 the 100-foot-long Islamorada, which holds up to 125 passengers, and the 500-passenger Fantasia del Mar will be operating every other month from Dock 17 in Balboa, on the Pacific, to Cristobal, on the Atlantic. Passengers are taken back to Balboa, a distance of about 45 miles, on an air-conditioned bus.

The trip, which takes anywhere from six hours to eight hours or more, depending on canal traffic, costs $90, children 12 and under $69. The price includes continental breakfast, a buffet lunch and dinner and an open bar serving Panamanian rum, beer and soda free of charge. A charge is made for non-Panamanian beer and liquor.

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The two ships also make partial transits of the canal.

Every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. starting Jan. 7 one of the ships will leave Balboa and sail through the Miraflores Locks. It will then cruise the Miraflores Lake up to, but won't enter, Pedro Miguel Locks. It will turn around and go back past Balboa to beyond the breakwater outside the harbor. After cruising off the coast, giving passengers a view of the Panama City skyline, it will head back to Dock 17, arriving at about 11:30 a.m.

The cost of the partial transits is $45 a person, $25 for children 12 and under. The price includes brunch-- as well as the services of a bilingual guide and informational brochures about the canal.

Both boats are also available for charters along the canal and for cruises around Panama Bay. They also make daily trips to Panama Bay's Taboga Island, which offers lush vegetation and two hotels. The fare is $3 each way, $2 for children 12 and under.

More information: Argo Tours, Apartado 9662, Panama 4, Republic of Panama; telephone 011 (507) 28-6069, fax 011 (507) 28-1234.

Q: My husband and I will be spending a month in Paris and are in the habit of working out at a gym on a regular basis. Do you know of any fitness centers there that issue daily or monthly memberships?

A: Health clubs in Paris range from companies like the Gymnase Club chain to small, family-run outfits.

Gymnase Club has 19 branches in Paris and nearby suburbs and offers a variety of classes and training equipment. One of the branches is off the Champs-Elysees at 26 Rue de Berri, Paris 8, 43.59.04.58 (the dialing code for France is 33, the code for Paris is 1). For general information about all branches call (33 1) 44.37.24.24. A monthly pass costing $160, calculated at 5.6 francs to the dollar, gives access to all branches. Use of all facilities for a day, including steam bath and sauna, is $25.

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Espace Vit'Halles, 48 Rue Rambuteau, Paris 3, 42.77.21.71, fax 42.77.50.25, bills itself as one of the avant-garde fitness clubs in Europe, offering the most innovative equipment and classes of every kind. A monthly pass is $142; the cost of any single class is $14.25.

Club Quartier Latin, 19 Rue de Pontoise, Paris 5, 43.54.82.45, was created several years ago around a 1930s swimming pool and offers aerobics classes, training equipment, squash and other activities. Passes for a day ($10.70) and a month ($107) include access to the swimming pool.

Gymnasium has five centers in Paris, one of which is at 129 Boulevard Haussman, Paris 8, 42.89.89.14. Training program and classes focus on weight loss and include "aqua-gym" in a small pool. A monthly pass is $214; no daily passes.

Body Gym, 157 Faubourg St.-Antoine, Paris 11, 43.42.42.33, offers day passes for $14 and monthly passes for $71. Classes alternate in one room and training equipment is available in the other.


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