Caribbean cruise ship takes on the St. Lawrence

For several months Julio del Valle, president of the Bahama Cruise Line, and Dominique Cappezza, were mildly at odds. They agreed that something new was needed in the cruise industry and that the St. Lawrence Seaway should provide that something. But they disagreed on whether the SS Veracruz should sail out of New York or Montreal. Finally a compromise was struck, and the result is probably better than either man had originally envisaged: The Veracruz will sail from both ports on seven-day, one-way cruises, reviving the once-thriving sea and rail voyages linking the US East Coast with Canada's Altantic provinces and Quebec.

For a mere $20, Amtrak's "boat train" service (the Montrealer or the Adirondack) linking the two cities will complete the round trip on either end of the sea voyage. In other words, a New York passenger has the option of taking the ship out of New York and returning from Montreal by train, or of taking the train to Montreal and returning by ship. Canadians have the same option in reverse. For passengers from other cities, fly-sail options are available.

An experienced passenger recently described the Veracruz as having "a German body with an Italian soul." It was his way of saying that the dazzlingly white ship with yacthlike lines combines the thorough, no-nonsense efficiency of German builders with the flair for beauty and style of the Italians who outfitted her. It is this very ancestry, too, that makes the Veracruz ideally suited to reviving the New York-to-Montreal run.

She was built originally in 1957 as a passenger ship for the North Atlantic, where the seas are made of sterner stuff than in the playground of the Caribbean. Later Denny Brown stabilizers were added to provide even smoother riding in rough weather. Then in 1975 she was given to the Italians, who turned her into a pleasure ship.

Since then she has made her home in the Caribbean and taken occasional trips to Alaska. Then, when it seemed a sound idea to Mr. del Valle and Mr. Capezza that the St. Lawrence Seaway add a much-needed option to the summer cruise season, they realized they had the very ship they needed. The Veracruz would make a comfortable run of it between New York City and Nova Scotia before cutting through the Strait of Canso and the relatively sheltered waters thereafter. Many cruise ships are so light they would bounce like a top on all but mild North Atlantic seas. Not so the Veracruz.

The 7-day cruise from New york starts with 3 days at sea, with all the shipboard pleasures and entertainment offered by a modern cruise ship -- two orchestras, an open air disco, film showings, gala evenings, dancing, lectures, and demonstrations of an almost infinite variety of talents. You might even learn the art of napkin folding while at sea. And always there is the most enviable variety on the menu. Thereafter these same shipboard delights remain with the addition of the scenic grandeur of Canada's mighty St. Lawrence Seaway slipping by on either side of the ship.

The Veracruz will visit the very English Prince Edward Island, also known as Canada's garden province, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; the rugged Gaspe Peninsula, farther north, where whales come to feed and where granite cliffs and mountains, towering 1,500 feet and more, rise straight up out of the water; and finally on to the distinctly French flavors of the cities of Quebec and Montreal. An additional option to the cruise includes a weekend hotel package at Montreal or quebec.

Information on the 18 St. Lawrence summer cruises is available from travel agents or by calling (212) 371-6464.

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