AS/CW to Add 20% to Fleet Capacity

SEATTLE -- For some cruise lines, fleet additions in the 1,500- and 2,000-passenger categories have become commonplace.

Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West operates at the other end of the scale.

Its new Spirit of Endeavour, with just 107 berths, will add a whopping 20% to the company's total capacity when it enters service in Alaska in April.

It will be -- by nine passengers -- the biggest ship in the AS/CW fleet.

The company is a leading operator of small vessels in Alaska, with ships ranging from the 54-berth Spirit of Discovery to the 99-passenger Spirit of '98.

Obviously, with ships that small, the addition of one the size of the Spirit of Endeavour makes quite an impact.

The Endeavour might just be about as big a ship as AS/CW will ever operate, according to the company's president, Richard West.

"We think it's about the right size for us," West said.

"We are very proud of the kind of cruise product we provide, and this new vessel gives us an opportunity to do even more than we can on the smaller ones without losing the ambience and service levels we're known for."

The Endeavour -- the former Newport Clipper -- is joining the AS/CW fleet after almost a year of extensive upgrading at a cost of around $5 million.

Much of the work, West said, was "under the water" -- the addition of a new, bulbous "nose," a new drive train and propeller and so on.

The effect of all of that part of the work will be to reduce the ship's fuel consumption by 20%, thereby enabling AS/CW to recoup its investment sooner.

But it is what happened above the waterline that will make the difference to passengers.

"Most of the cabins were in very good shape," West said. "But we did some work on some of them, including standardizing all of the bathrooms and installing sprinklers.

"All of the ship's soft furnishings will be brand new," he continued, "and we also upgraded the galley equipment."

Perhaps the most striking difference between the Endeavour and other AS/CW ships will be felt in the public areas.

"This ship has wider companionways and a new, bigger dining room and lounge bar," West said.

"It has uniform tiled bathrooms, teak decks and bigger-than-normal staterooms.

"It is decidedly more deluxe than most small cruise ships," he said.

The lounge has a baby grand piano and a small dance floor.

In order that a certain musical instrument not be wasted or the dance floor go unused, AS/CW has hired a couple of piano-playing crew members to put in time at the keyboard when not involved in their other duties on the Endeavour.

The work that brought the Endeavour up to acceptable standard for AS/CW -- and, incidentally, to full Solas (Safety of Life at Sea) compliance and then some -- was carried out in a yard at Ballard, Wash.

AS/CW is one of the few remaining major U.S.-flagged lines; its six overnight cruise ships represent almost 40% of the total U.S. fleet.

The Endeavour will operate out of Seattle in eight-night Alaska cruises through the late-spring and summer, moving to the San Francisco Bay area for a series of three- and four-night California Gold Country cruises in the fall.

The ship is 207 feet long -- 15 feet longer than its fleetmate, the Spirit of '98.

The other AS/CW overnight ships, besides the Spirits of Endeavour, Discovery and '98, are the Spirit of Glacier Bay (84 passengers), the Spirit of Alaska (82 passengers) and the Spirit of Columbia (80 passengers). The company also operates two day boats.

For information, call the line at (800) 426-7702.

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