THE SEA PRINCESS


By Laura Q. Hughes
Princess Cruisesprovides the latest proof that multiple births are on the rise. The Sea Princess, triplet ship to the Sun Princessand Dawn Princess, made its debut sailing from Fort Lauderdale Dec. 19. More than simply siblings, this trio of 1,950-passenger vessels (to become a quartet when the Ocean Princess is delivered in 2000) features virtually identical ship design and similar onboard decor. "I arrived onboard last month after working on the Sun Princess, and had a case of deja vu," says one crew member who works in the spa.

The following is an inspection based on a seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale. During the summer, the Sea Princess will reposition to Alaska to offer seven-night Gulf of Alaska itineraries.

Target Passenger: The ship appeals to a wide variety of travelers. Passengers included families with newborn babies, older families with teens, honeymooners, baby boomer couples and retired groups. While many passengers explored the Caribbean during days in port, others stayed onboard to participate in shipboard activities, or soak up sun from the pool decks and private balconies.

Accommodations: The ship's 975 cabins include six suites, 32 mini-suites, 565 outside cabins and 372 inside cabins. Nearly 70 percent of outside staterooms offer private balconies, and 19 cabins are wheelchair accessible.

Standard cabins range from 135 to 173 square feet and each include twin beds that can convert into a queen-size bed; a color TV with satellite reception, movies and four music channels; card-key cabin access; safe; minibar; robes; and phone with voice mail.

Suites and mini-suites offer additional features, including sitting areas, larger private balconies, whirlpool bathtubs, walk-in closets and two televisions, plus sofabeds, double sinks and wet bars.

Public Areas: Whether passengers are looking for a large-ship entertainment venue or a smaller place to mingle, Sea Princess provides plenty of options.

The largest public room is the Princess Theater, which accommodates 550 people. The theater's rich red decor, opera-themed murals and unobstructed views (no pillars) make it suitable for Broadway-style revues and movie screenings. Auditorium-style seating and folding tabletops at each chair are useful for group meetings. The Vista Lounge, which holds 480, hosts cabaret acts and dancing. The room is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and features tiered seating at cocktail tables, plus a longer bar. Other gathering spots include a central atrium, with two glass elevators; the Riviera Deck's two large pools and whirlpools; the Grand Casino, with more than 150 slot machines and game tables; Rocky's Disco; and the Seaview Spa, which features a window-surrounded gym, fitness studio, treatment rooms and beauty salon.

Facilities for kids are abundant. The Fun Zone entertains young children with a covered pool, indoor playroom and plastic-ball room. Teens find their own refreshment bar, video games and disco, called Wired. Children of all ages can tee off in a golf simulator ($20 per half hour).

Dining: The Sicilian and Neapolitan dining rooms seat 552 passengers each for formal breakfasts, lunches and dinners in two seatings. The rooms are nearly identical, with murals reflecting their different namesake regions. Elegant touches include Frette linens, wood paneling, tiered seating and round tables. The mainly Italian waitstaff is fast and friendly, but there are no wine stewards. Dinners include healthy, vegetarian and "Always Available" options; favorites such as lobster, prime rib and sea bass; plus such innovative fare as crayfish and game hens.

Alternative Dining options include the 24- hour buffet in the Horizon Court, burgers at the poolside Riviera Grill, and made-to-order pizzas in Lago's Pizzeria. The 24-hour room service is another quick and easy option. The only prepared food item passengers pay extra for is ice cream from Sundae's by the pools, where servings range from $1.90 to $3.75.

Service: Bar service is efficient and friendly. Cabins are cleaned twice a day, with turndown service at night. Although the Sea Princess is one of Princess' "Grand Class" ships, Grand Class butler service was I not yet available in the suites and mini-suites. Thanks to card keys, preboarding credit card registration and automatic check-out, the purser's desk was rarely overrun with passengers.

Strongest Selling Point: Sea Princess offers a layout that won't overwhelm its nearly 2,000 passengers. Cruisers who enjoyed the Sun and Dawn Princess ships can expect a similar experience on the newest addition.

Shore Excursions: The ship's western Caribbean itinerary future watersports, including scuba training. Other tours include mountain biking near Ocho Rios, Jamaica; visiting Maya ruins on Cozumel Mexico; and sportfishing from Grand Cayman.

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