Ships entice seniors with dancing and discounts Cruise: Lessons and bargains lure older travelers into filling cabins before peak season starts.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If I could pick a perfect cruise, I would ask for smooth seas, bargain rates, good food and Charles Rittenhouse dance lessons.

Rittenhouse, who lives in New York between sailings, has made 39 cruises in his 60-some years, 25 of them as a dance instructor aboard Costa, Norwegian, Celebrity and other cruise lines. A recent memorable voyage was on Celebrity's Meridian, sailing through Hurricane Bertha on the way home from Bermuda.

As the ship tossed in mountainous waves, Rittenhouse held his Saturday-morning dance class as usual, running through the rumba, cha-cha, Lindy, reggae. "Twenty hardy souls turned out for the lesson," he says. "As the ship lurched, they would be in front of me one minute and the next minute, 5 or 10 feet away. They all said it was fun and they would never forget that dance class."

For many seniors, a cruise is the most stress-free of vacations. Costs are all-inclusive and known in advance. You visit many ports without the hassle of packing and unpacking, and you can usually find a cruise that specializes in your favorite hobby, be it bridge, bingo or big-band dancing.

And the good news is the hurricane season is almost over, although it doesn't officially end until Nov. 30. Some cruise lines offer senior specials to fill their ships before the peak season begins about Dec. 15. Veteran travel consultant Jens Jurgens cautions, however, that "Pricing is all over the place." He tells of a senior who was able to get a $699 outside cabin rate ($978 including airfare) for a November cruise listed in the brochure at $2,149, including air. Jurgens suggests working through a travel agent who is knowledgeable about cruises.

Royal Caribbean is going after the low-season trade with three- to 10-night Caribbean senior specials. You qualify if one of the two in a cabin is at least 55.

Bahamas for $249

A three-night cruise on the Nordic Empress to the Bahamas starts at $249 for an inside cabin, double occupancy, $299 for an outside cabin. A four-night cruise is $299 inside, $349 outside. The company also offers seven nights on the Monarch of the Seas to Puerto Rico, starting at $599 until Dec. 15. Best bargain, according to spokesman Rich Speck, is 10 nights on the Song of Norway, Miami to San Juan, starting at $699. This senior rate continues through January, Speck says.

Premier Cruise Lines is also wooing seniors with low-season specials on its Big Red Boats. A three-night cruise from Port Canaveral, Fla., to Nassau and Port Lucaya, Bahamas, starts at $239; four-night cruises start at $289.

Besides the discount, Premier offers a host of senior enhancements: big-band music, financial-planning seminars, bridge tournaments, bingo, water aerobics, a "grandmother's tea and grandfather's beer bash" -- and grandchildren can come along for $99 each.

And perhaps the biggest draw for single women who outnumber senior men on any cruise: "Gentleman hosts will be available as dance partners."

The practice is spreading. Norwegian Cruise Lines has lined up six gentlemen dance hosts for its Nov. 23 Big Band at Sea theme cruise on the Norway. The Norway sails out of Miami for seven-day voyages to the Caribbean. Cruise-only fares start at $699 per person, double.

Commodore is the latest cruise line to add hosts -- on the Enchanted Isle sailing every Saturday from New Orleans. The dance hosts have to be single, over 50, retired or semi-retired businessmen who love to dance. They "break the ice" by being first on the dance floor when no else wants to be first. They dance with single women and women with non-dancing husbands. They are for dancing, not romancing. Rates for the seven-night cruise start at $498.

Other lines such as Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean have no dance hosts but most offer dance lessons.

Single supplement

Still, the single supplement on most lines is a gnawing nuisance. Some lines offer creative solutions. On Royal Caribbean, for example, the solo passenger has three choices. You can ask for a guaranteed share and be assigned a roommate of the same sex and smoking preference. You can pick your cabin and pay the single supplement, usually 150 percent of the double occupancy rate, or you can pay a set price and "We will assign you the best available leftover cabin," Speck says.

Another option recommended by Jurgens is to seek a companion through membership in his Travel Companions Exchange in Amityville, N.Y., at (516) 454-0880.

If you're confused about how to pick the right ship, you might call for a "Seniors' Guide to Cruising," a free booklet offered by the Cruise Line Inc., a Miami-based cruise center, (800) 777-0707.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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