Mystery cruise with high jinks on the high seas

"MURDER! There's been a murder." someone screams. Heads pop out of portholes. Cabin doors swing open. The passageway quickly fills with passengers edging toward a clustered circle of horrified faces staring down at the deck. the "pleasure cruise" has taken a terrifying twist.

An Agatha Christie novel?

Not at all. It is the Norwegian America Line's first floating "Whodunit" cruise, which promises to be a mystery lover's paradise with enough mayhem and the macabre to lift an eyebrow of Sherlock Holmes.

The cruise sails from Fort Lauderdale on April 19 and will spend 15 days on a transatlantic crossing visiting Bermuda, the Azores, Lisbon, and winding up in Genoa, Italy.

But the trip's high points might just be aboard ship rather than on shore.

Passengers are bound to suspect something when they are fingerprinted and mugshots are taken at the "welcome aboard" party.

And then planners promise:

* Two mock murders will take place at sea. Passengers turned detectives will be asked to piece together the clues, with prizes awarded for the most interesting solutions.

* A Policeman's Ball with a "come as your favorite sleuth" theme. The prize for the most interesting costume will be the official detective's Burberry trench coat.

* An eerie midnight mock burial at sea.

* A "special event" when the ship passes through the Bermuda Triangle, an area said to cause strange disappearances and super natural phenomena.

* One passenger on board for the first four days of sailing will operate under a fake identity. Only the captain is free of suspect in this caper, planned as an ice-breaker to help guests get aquainted, since passengers have to interview each other to find out who the culprit really is.

Who thought up this bizarre voyage, you ask?

Guy Durham, who is with the Norwegian American Line, explains: "Two years ago , I was on one of our cruises and I observed a lot of passengers reading murder mysteries. Agatha Christie books were everywhere. So I thought, 'Why not put the two things together into a cruise for mystery lovers?'"

He is right about the plethora of mystery books -- over 100 million copies were sold last year.

Mr. Durham then asked Dilys Winn to help plan some "special events." Mr. Winn was the owner of the first-ever mystery-book store called Murder Ink in New York City, which she has since closed to write mystery novels. She is the author of two best sellers, "Murder Ink" and, her latest, "Murderess Ink."

Ms. Winn has brought together some special guests to speak to passengers, including Tom McDade, a former FBI agent turned crime writer; Tony Spiesman, a private investigator who will teach "How to trail a suspect"; and Donald Rumbelow, a London "bobby" and expert on Jack the Ripper of 19th-century London infamy.

P. D. James, one of the best-selling English mystery authors, will conduct a proper English tea, a spoof showing how villains slip arsenic into the teacup next to them. Later, she will discuss the art of writing a mystery.

The experts will offer lessons on how to "smuggle" (taught just before reaching Lisbon), how to disguise your voice, creating and alibi, how to break a code, and inventing a disguise.

A polygraph (lie detector) will be on board for any last-minute confessions. First-run mystery movies will be shown every night with (what else) Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" running the first night.

There is no mystery about accommodations on the Sagafjord, a 24,000-ton luxury liner with full state-rooms, dining room, lounges, a disco, indoor and outdoor pool, and a gymnasium with sauna. Price for the 15 days runs $1,580 for the cheapest rooms and about $3,040 for the most expensive.

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