-- By Marvin Perton

There are cruise ships that offer passengers every possible amenity, and then some. Virtual golf. Ice skating. Bowling. Tennis. Rock climbing. You name it and there's probably a cruise ship where you can find it. Tomorrow's vessels promise to tantalize its passengers with an even wider array of shipboard fantasies. And then there's the QE2. Decidedly different from all the others, this grand lady, who made her debut way back in 1967, makes a dazzling statement that is uniquely her own.

Built as an ocean liner when the cruise industry was still in its infancy, this "legend in her own time" never joined the pack to become something she wasn't. And for 35 years she's proclaimed what she was: one of the most elegant vessels afloat. She still is.

I boarded "The Queen" on January 9th as she set sail from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on the first leg (12 days) of her annual World Cruise. Fellow passengers included some 400 celebrants who were booked for the entire 108-day cruise. Although this number is down from past years, occupancy on most of the segments will be relatively high. Of course, with lower numbers, passengers benefit from a better staff/passenger ratio.

Although the passengers, regardless of their booked category, are free to roam the ship as they please - more or less - the QE2 maintains a separation of the classes according to assigned dining room. But even those who are relegated to the Mauretania, enjoy fine cuisine, superlative service and a memorable dining experience. In fact, the basic menu for all of the restaurants is the same. The only difference is the number of choices which increase as you go up the dining ladder. In the Grills, you can also order something special that doesn't appear on the menu. The Mauretania is the only dining room aboard the ship where you can opt for main or late seating. All of the others, the Caronia, the Britannia Grill, the Princess Grill, and the ultimate, Queens Grill, offer one-seating service. I was assigned to the Caronia which allowed me to enjoy dinner any time from 6:45 to 9:00 pm - at the same table and with the same waiter/bus boy. The Lido, which offers a dazzling buffet, was my choice for breakfast an The QE2 offers a very civilized way to cruise: few announcements on the P.A. system; an upscale (and very English) afternoon tea service (complete with a tasty array of finger sandwiches, scones and pastries); terry robes for all Caronia and up passengers; daytime and evening concerts; tasteful entertainment; a library touted as the largest one afloat (and it really is, so don't weigh down your luggage with heavy reading matter - the QE2's library is more than adequate); and broad wooden decks for a classic promenade or a good read 'n snooze on a sea-bleached wooden lounge chair right out of the 30's. I could have done without four formal nights out of twelve, but many passengers enjoy dressing up. The dress code, even on non-formal nights, is jacket and tie for the guys. But that's my taste - I go for a more casual dress code. But even on formal nights, you could get by with a dark suit or blazer. And if you really don't choose to dress up, you could dine in the Lido - but that, I feel, would be a downe Although the QE2 is getting up there age wise, with some tell-tale dowager wrinkles she wears with pride, she's still a perky and vibrant lady who promises an unforgettable cruise experience every time. And although there are lots of newer, more streamlined and glitzier ships to choose from, most of them who deliver an excellent product, my money is on the Queen Elizabeth II. Who knows, when the new Queen Mary II hits the high seas in 2004, I may switch. But for now, this Queen gets very high marks - and my continued loyalty.