Cruise industry's big event is a thing called Destiny Vacation: Carnival is about to launch the world's largest cruise ship, and other lines are readying newer, larger vessels as well.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Is bigger better?

That is a question the cruise world will soon find out. Next month, the world's largest cruise ship, the 102,000-ton Carnival Destiny, takes to the seas. It will sail the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean on its way to the Caribbean. It is too large to fit through the Panama Canal.

Passengers on the Destiny probably won't be thinking about the Panama Canal, however, because this ship will be a wonder in itself. The Destiny will also have many innovative design features -- features that just may help attract more vacationers to the sea because it will appeal to those who think a cruise is too confining or sedentary. The new Destiny offers more to do, more space to do it in and more activities. In 1995, the cruise industry had a somewhat flat year: For the first time in years, it did not have double-digit increases in first-time cruisers.

The size and the features of the Destiny should also provide vacationers with a more focused opinion about the options and differences between cruise lines and their ships. At 102,000 tons, the Destiny is the equal to almost five of Royal Caribbean's Song of Norway (22,945 tons; 1,004 passengers), almost three of Carnival's Tropicale (36,674), and it tops Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway -- still the longest at 1,050 feet vs. the Destiny's 892 feet -- by some 25,000 tons; and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 by some 32,000 tons. It would make about 10 Seabourn ships, which run 10,000 tons each. (On ships, a ton is a measure of size.)

Princess Cruises currently holds the "world's-biggest" title with its Sun Princess at some 77,000 tons.

Next fall, Princess Cruise Lines will add to the race for the biggest with the introduction of its 104,000-ton Grand Princess. All the major cruise lines seem to be on a building spree. Royal Caribbean, which recently introduced the Splendour of the Seas, has three ships in construction -- the Rhapsody of the Seas at 75,000 tons due out next year, the Grandeur of the Seas at 74,000 tons this fall, and the Vision of the Seas in two years. Princess has the Dawn Princess coming next spring and the Sea Princess in three years. Celebrity will have the Galaxy, sister to the current Century, out this fall, followed by the Mercury next year. Holland America has the Rotterdam VI coming next year, and two additional vessels in '99. And the Disney Cruise Line will have the Disney Magic in '98, followed by the Disney Wonder later that year. All these ships are in the 65,000- to 77,000-ton category, and Silversea will have two additional vessels at 22,000 tons each.

At an average cost of $358 million each, these vessels will add an additional 37,000 berths. Obviously, with this investment the cruise industry sees a healthy future.

Take your pick

With all the construction, cruise fans will have some distinct differences in ships -- and the style of cruising -- to choose from. Do you want a megaliner that is more like a floating resort than a seagoing experience? Do you want to share your experience with 2,599 other passengers or fewer than 200? Do you prefer Las Vegas-style shows to a quiet evening of music?

The new Destiny, which will carry 2,600 passengers, is going to be more like a floating resort and, like a resort, should also provide a cruise experience that can be shared by vacationers with varied interests. Among innovations on the Destiny will be the location of public rooms. Instead of being grouped at the top of the ship, indoor activities will be centered almost in the middle. There will be two decks of accommodations, followed by three public-area decks, then five decks of accommodations.

This makes the public areas even more accessible and easier to reach for all passengers. The design also allows for more balconied staterooms and suites with unobstructed views of the seas. More than 60 percent of the guest accommodations will feature ocean views.

Private balconies are one of the most popular features of modern cruise ships. Time was when staterooms were tiny, the idea being that passengers would spend little time in their cabins. Times change, and more and more passengers enjoy having a private balcony on the ocean. The Destiny will add to this pleasure by having balconies with solid side panels for privacy (many ships just have panels, which do allow your neighbors to see onto your balcony).

For families, specially designed large cabins, many of them connecting with others, will be offered. These will be located convenient to the children's facilities. Instead of balconies, the staterooms will have floor-to-ceiling windows.

While dining service has always been one of the lures of a cruise, the Carnival ship will offer many additional options to the main two-level dining rooms and the Lido, a casual dining area. There will be specialty restaurants featuring Italian and Chinese food, and others featuring hot dogs and hamburgers as well as a pastry shop and a 24-hour pizzeria. All these dining options are at no additional cost.

Sports fans will appreciate the bar with multiple television monitors. There will be a two-level dance floor, a huge spa facility, a children's area with its own pool. In all, there will be four pools, including a slide pool with a three-deck-high, heart-pounding plummet into the water. There also will be a three-deck-high showroom -- the largest at sea -- a 9,000-square-foot casino and a game center called Virtual World.

Carnival is even updating and improving its food service beyond just dining room choices. Breakfasts will offer a great selection, even salad offerings at that time of day; salad offerings will also be greater during the day; pasta lovers will find made-to-order pasta stations in the Lido area; the Lido will also offer more waiter service; and the main dining room will offer "fresh catch of the day" items-- no, fishing lines will not be hanging overboard, but the line will buy fresh seafood at ports of call; and there will be added "healthy" selections at all meals.

Packing them in

Whether all this will appeal to a greater number of vacationers is unknown, but one thing that is known is that Carnival has been packing in travelers and running its ships at up to 110 percent of capacity (by using upper berths in some cabins). The Fun Ships' idea of taking a cruise seems to be working, but there are other seagoing styles, too.

Among cruise ships being built are two more for Silversea Cruises. Neither is very large in comparison to the Destiny. These vessels will accommodate only 390 passengers, who will travel in ultra luxury. Silversea cruises have all-inclusive pricing, covering all beverages throughout the ship, all gratuities, port charges and a shore event -- items not usually covered by other lines.

One can also sail away on vacation. Windstar Cruises, for example, offers computer-operated sailing experiences with luxurious facilities. The atmosphere is casual.

Each of the line's four-masted schooners provides for a more active vacation through the facilities on board. For instance, passengers can enjoy water sports off a deck that is lowered when the boat is at anchor.

One can also find adventure on the seas by taking a cruise to a destination such as Antarctica aboard the luxury Hanseatic or the Marco Polo. Both vessels travel to exotic destinations and are designed for expedition-type cruising but provide luxurious facilities and dining on board.

Small still available

Small boats, such as the Clipper Yorktown, which has only 69 cabins, offer a new view of the Caribbean. Instead of heading to crowded ports, this small vessel seeks out the hidden islands of the Grenadines, the Windwards and the Leewards.

Sailing on America's rivers is an experience to savor. The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. has three boats that sail these waters and provide passengers with a unique look at America.

Next year, the company will introduce Cajun Culture Steamboatin' Vacations, which will not only offer tempting Cajun foods on board but also cruise through the serene Louisiana bayou country wilderness into America's largest freshwater swamp, the Atchafalaya Basin, and into the heart of Cajun culture. Passengers will have the opportunity to meet the Cajuns and learn of their history and music.

For the traveler, the choices for a cruise vacation are greater than ever. And as the new Destiny testifies, there are ships sailing now and coming along that should satisfy every vacation style, from active to relaxing.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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