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Caribbean

By Curtis J. SitomerSpecial sections editor of The Christian Science Monitor / October 22, 1982



On board SS Norway in the Caribbean

Perhaps your time is limited and you need to keep an eye on the checkbook, but you're looking for a family vacation with a hint of the elegant - not a scrimping and saving, camping-out, doing-it-in-the-rough sort of venture. For our family, the occasion was the conjunction of a silver anniversary with a teen-ager going away to college. Somehow a trip abroad or to a seaside resort just didn't seem to be what was called for.

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How about a cruise, a one-week luxury ocean-liner spin into the Caribbean? we said. For two teen-age daughters, a working wife yearning for relief from a particularly chilling New England winter, and good ol' Dad who believes there must be something redemptive about a family who sails together, this was just the ticket.

And the SS Norway - the reconditioned and repolished SS France - looked especially appealing. The Norway, the star of Norwegian Caribbean Lines five-ship cruise convoy, is awesome - a gigantic floating hotel-entertainment complex: 70,000 tons, 12 decks high, the length of three football fields. And it berths 1,850 passengers. Our late-February sailing was almost fully booked.

Too big? Perhaps for some. But we found there was something for everybody - families with young children, young mod marrieds, singles, teen-agers, even babies. And there is plenty of room for everyone.

Activities escalate from swimming, lazing, dozing, and reading to more active sports - among them volleyball, golf-ball driving, and offship snorkling in the all-ages ''dive in'' program.

While many cruise ships offer lounge and home-grown musical attractions, the Norway sports the likes of ''name'' stars, such as Jack Jones, Dihann Carroll, Jack Carter, Robert Goulet, and Phyllis Diller in Las Vegas-type revues (a bit more ''PG'' than ''R''), along with first-run movies (we viewed ''On Golden Pond'' between sunnings) and nightly disco for the with-it set.

But there is also the traditional table tennis and shuffleboard, bridge and cribbage, and an assortment of lectures ranging from speed reading and beauty tips to sports lore.

Expectedly, food abounds. But here again, variety is the fare. Formal (tux and long gowns if you like, but not necessary) nine-course dinners in the two nicely decorated dining rooms to on-deck hot dog, hamburger, salad buffet lunches.

The food is at least semigourmet: Cornish hen, capon, choice steak, and prime rib; succulent fish dishes; vegetables with tasty sauces. And of course, rich, rich desserts. As former Californians who have endured five produce-scarce Massachusetts winters, we particularly opted for the melon, fresh berries, and daily assortment of peaches, pears, plums, grapes, and apples.

We were a little snobbish about the Florida warm-weather lobster (once you have been weaned on a Maine lobster, you get that way). The food, well-served by immaculate Jamaican waiters with good humor but proper reserve, came in steaming; beverages were piping hot.

The Norway has 18 cabin categories - and so a size and price for all. Veteran cruisers advise outside cabins (for light), preferably located midship (for less motion during rocky seas). We booked late and had to take what was available. We ended up with two bunk-bed inside cabins forward in the ship. They were small but sufficient, nicely decorated, and kept spotlessly clean by stewards who attended to them twice a day. We liked the separate closets and closed-circuit television that kept us up on world news, ship activities, and even offered current movies. A nice extra: heated towel racks in the bathroom. But, alas, there always seemed to be a dearth of large beach towels.

It might be advisable to book early and pay a little more for an outside cabin.

The price of the cabin, of course, determines the major part of the cost of the cruise. The Norway's scale is perhaps less than what one might expect for this type of luxury cruise. Our table mate, a real estate consultant in southern California, made an analytical study of costs, accommodations, itinerary, comparative benefits with other cruises before he and his new bride signed up for the trip. By his estimates, Norwegian-Caribbean got considerably higher grades than comparable lines for one-week journeys.