By Lori Tenny

Reed Travel Features

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- Apple Vacations is expanding its 1998 offerings with the launch of its first cruise product in Mexico. From Dec. 19 to April 10, the firm will offer a seven-night Mexico Riviera Western Seas itinerary aboard the Ocean Majesty.

The ship will set sail from Puerto Vallarta and call at Acapulco, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Manzanillo and Cabo San Lucas, with full-day excursions offered in each destination.

Bringing the upscale Ocean Majesty program into the Mexico portfolio was a natural extension for the firm, according to Doug Brown, Apple's director of cruises. "Apple is very serious about getting more involved in the cruise market, and Mexico is very logical," he said, adding that Apple is the largest tour operator to Mexico from North America, mainly because of its significant charter airlift from Midwest and East Coast markets.

As part of the Ocean Majesty program, clients will be flown directly to the ship on Apple charter flights from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit, St. Louis, Denver, Milwaukee and other cities. The cost of the nonstop, roundtrip flight will be included in the Ocean Majesty rate, and clients who originate from markets in the West on another carrier will be given a $200 credit.

"One of the major problems people have is getting adequate transportation to and from cruise ships," Brown said. "We're taking away one of the major headaches." The program also will enable Apple to expand its client base by offering an ideal upscale Mexico cruise product," Brown said. "The ship will attract another kind of client, who wants more than Puerto Vallarta for a week," he said. "And if you have to put a cruise ship somewhere, can you imagine a more perfect place than the west coast of Mexico from January to April?"

The Ocean Majesty, owned by Majestic International Cruises of Greece, is a 535-passenger ship that measures 444 feet in length. The 273-cabin vessel has 186 outside units and eight suites with a veranda. All cabins feature private bathrooms and air-conditioning, and most of the units have picture windows.

Facilities on the ship include a dining room with two seatings for dinner; several bars and lounges; a domed observation lounge; an outdoor swimming pool; a sauna with a Jacuzzi; a small gym; a small casino, and a disco. Formerly a ferry, the Ocean Majesty was completely renovated in 1994.

All of the operations on the vessel are directed by former employees of Royal Cruise Line. The vessel was not known to the North American market until Orient Lines began chartering it this year on spring and fall Aegean itineraries, Brown said. The Ocean Majesty program is the third cruise vacation product offered by Apple. The firm also charters the Carousel, formerly the Nordic Prince, which calls at Aruba, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Margarita Island and Curacao from December to mid-April.

In the spring and fall, Apple also offers programs to Bermuda aboard the Horizon. On another cruise expansion front, Brown said Apple is negotiating with Dolphin Cruise Line to charter a ship for cruises from Philadelphia to New York, New England and Canada. Depending on the success of the Ocean Majesty program, Apple might pursue other cruise products for the Mexico market, Brown said.

Prices for the Ocean Majesty program range from $798 to $1,499 per person, double, including roundtrip air fare between selected cities and Puerto Vallarta, transfers, all meals, activities and entertainment. Reduced rates are offered for programs booked and deposited 90 days prior to departure. Group rates are available. For group bookings, Apple is offering agents a 15% commission and one free cruise for every 25 sold. Agents who book groups by Sept. 30 will receive a one-category upgrade.

For reservations, call (800) 727-3400.

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