New York — The restaurants are starting to fill with fashionably dressed ladies and gentlemen. Intense, hard-breathing joggers are circling happy-go-lucky strollers. In more-isolated nooks, people are playing shuffleboard; many more are window- shopping for pearls and diamonds the price of which they usually wouldn't dare to ask.
A typical late fall afternoon day in the New York?
Yes -- and no.
For in a just a few minutes, the strollers, the joggers, and the shoppers will be heading down the Hudson River -- bound east for Southampton, England, aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, the world's last regularly scheduled transatlantic passenger liner.
"The rise in the number of passengers embarking at US ports on cruises has grown from about 590,000 in 1970 to over 1 million in 1978," says a US Maritime Administration report.
The cruise business is up substantially in Florida, California, Hawaii, and, suprisingly, New York.
The number of people leaving New York on the British-registry ship has increased about 15 percent this year, a spokesman for Cunard Lines, owner of the QE2, says. The reasons are varied: special-rate packages (which include complimentary return plane tickets), recent airfare hikes, and "a renewed interest in traveling transatlantic for itw own sake and not as just another way to get to Europe," he says.
Smiling, loquacious Homer S. Toms of Cincinnati, a retired auto dealer, was one of the many passengers happily awaiting his QE2 voyage to Southampton recently. "It was 50 years ago that I took my first voyage to Great Britain aboard the Carmania," he bellowed.
Mr. Toms was one of the nearly 1,800 pasengers milling around the four swimming pools, gymnasium, jogging track, four dining rooms, "theater-at-sea," kennel, shopping arcade, and photo shop. You name it, the last of the "great Atlantic greyhounds" seemed to have it. Do you want to go to church, synagogue -- or disco? Do you need a car garage, children's playroom, bank, or printing press? The floating city has all of these.
The lowest price (which includes the return trip air ticket) for the five-night voyage this year is $999. Top price: $5,000 per person for a duplex suite with its own private deck space.
Excellent food has been a prime selling point of ocean liners almost from their coal-propelled beginnings. But one new attraction is food for thought. For Instance, the QE2 offers what it calls a "Festival of Life" program which includes lectures and discussions by experts and celebrities from many walks of life. Pollster george Gallup Jr. and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov have been past participants