Getting to the Bahamas, fast

THE Caribbean Princess, a high-speed catamaran cruiser of the Viking Express Line, started trips early this year on one of the more challenging routes for daily commuter ship service. The new $3.9 million vessel splashes its way from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, over the often troublesome waters of the Gulf Stream and the Bahama current. Passenger discomfort due to rough water is a primary difficulty facing the ship. With high waves, even the catamaran - despite its nine-foot tunnel designed to eliminate motion problems - will buck like a seagoing bronco. The ship is safe under these conditions, but not necessarily comfortable. At these times, only an adventurer would attempt to go from one deck to another.

Since the Caribbean Princess is air-conditioned and enclosed, passengers are not permitted out on deck when the ship is under way. At its cruising speed of 32 knots, the ship can traverse the nearly 90 miles between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport in about 2 hours.

The new Caribbean Princess daily service is less expensive and faster than a cruise ship, but slower than air service. It carries a maximum of 312 passengers at a minimum round-trip fare of $59. There is a $15 port charge and $4 for parking at Port Everglades. It is actually a transportation service, not a cruise ship, and does not offer sumptuous cuisine, entertainment, and shipboard activities. Instead, attractively boxed light meals and beverages are served. The modern aircraft-like interior is comfortable and pleasant, but room to roam is limited. Reclining chairs are available in executive class only. Other options for travel to Freeport

Air service from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport is provided by several airlines at round-trip air fares of about $100 to $120. At the time of writing, Eastern Airlines was offering one-day round-trip service from Miami for $80. Check with a travel agent for special reduced rates and overnight package tours.

Late last year, the new 13,000-ton cruise ship DiscoveryI started one-day cruise service to Freeport from Fort Lauderdale. It now runs four days a week. The cruise-only fare is $39 round trip, and $79 with meals included. Add to that an additional $14.50 for port charges and parking fees.

One-day cruise ship service is also offered to Freeport from the Port of Palm Beach aboard the Viking Princess on Monday only. The fare is $79 including meals, plus port charges and parking. The Scandinavian Sun sails from Miami daily to Freeport, and the Scandinavian Sky, of Port Canaveral, leaves Thursday at midnight and returns Saturday at 8 a.m.

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