Discovery offers quiet days, exotic destinations

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Discovery World Cruises may not ring a bell with many cruisers, but if it does sound familiar, let me clarify: Its the small company selling cruise expeditions, not to be confused with a day-cruise operation in Fort Lauderdale.

Discovery World Cruises owner, British travel entrepreneur Gerry Herrod, operated Ocean Cruise Lines and Pearl Cruises in the 1980s and Orient Lines in the 1990s.

As he cannot seem to stay out of the cruise business, Herrod bought the former Island Princess, one of Princess original Love Boats, had it refitted and by mid-2003 the 650-passenger Discovery began sailing on wide-ranging itineraries.

The ship operates split seasons. Discovery World Cruises markets cruises in North America from December to April; during the other seven months,  British firm Voyages of Discovery charters the ship.

Americans usually are not found aboard during the U.K. charter period, although, as I found on my spring cruise, Brits, Australians and New Zealanders mix in during the North American season.

Stepping aboard the Discovery in mid-April, I immediately recognized the hotel manager, the cruise director, the hostess and the maitre dhotel from my cruises on the Marco Polo and Crown Odyssey.

They, and several of the crew, transferred from Orient Lines after Herrod sold the company to Norwegian Cruise Line.

Thats loyalty, and it shows in the continuity of the onboard product.

Even the public room names are familiar -- the Seven Continents Restaurant, the Yacht Club alternative restaurant and the Palm Court. 

And as with Orient Lines, the emphasis is on intriguing cruise itineraries, guest lectures, cultural entertainment and brochure prices that begin at less than $200 per day for an outside cabin.

During its inaugural run between November 2003 and April 2004, the Discovery sailed to South America, Antarctica, islands in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Azores and England.

The Discovery offers a 13-day Antarctica cruise, including air from Buenos Aires to the ship and back, two nights in a hotel and Antarctic shore excursions for $3,595 per person, double.

During the first Antarctic season, 45 passengers ranged in age from 35 to 55. The rest were older and mostly retired. On most cruises, the average age is about 70, said Tim Davey, Discovery World Cruises vice president.

On my voyage from Fort Lauderdale to England, passengers settled into a quiet lifestyle during the sea days, which were taken up by enrichment lectures, games inside and on deck, use of the gym and spa facilities, reading and socializing.

The theme was Maritime Memories, with lectures and films on the ocean-liner era.

A former purser told tales about three decades of life at sea on ships trading to South Africa and Australia from the 1940s to the 1970s. Another speaker gave a two-part talk on the White Star Line, including the companys history before, during and after the sinking of the Titanic.

A film about the Furness Bermuda Line depicted life aboard the Queen of Bermuda from the 1930s to the 1960s. Another  film showed the once-thriving commercial dock activity in London, Liverpool and Southampton, England.

The Maritime Memories theme will be repeated during the Dec. 5 cruise from Lisbon to South America.

Navigating the ships amenities is relatively simple given its moderate size and organized layout. Most public rooms stretch the length of the Riviera deck, with naturally lighted side galleries acting as promenades.

A view of the sea is never far away. Many public rooms have excellent forward- or aft-facing views. The Discovery Lounge and adjoining Explorer Bar have two-deck-high windows looking onto the aft pool deck, and passengers gathered here for drinks and dancing before and after dinner.

The mezzanine holds the card room and also offers sweeping stern views. The Palm Court acts as a connecting gallery, a reading room and the main location for afternoon tea.

The Carousel Show Lounge offers gently tiered semicircular seating for specialty lectures -- one of the lines strengths   --   and evening entertainment.

The ships furnishings have simple, colorful patterns, and light comes through the wraparound windows.

Outdoor activities such as table tennis, shuffleboard and golf-putting take place on four decks high up on the ship, which prevents crowding. A retractable dome allows for all-weather use of the pool and two whirlpools.

The 351 average-size rooms and suites include 222 outside cabins (windows or portholes), none with private balconies.

All rooms feature twin or double beds (some in L-shaped configuration), direct-dial telephones, TVs and safes. Otherwise, configurations vary even within the same category. The ship has 17 cabin categories spread over five decks, so a study of the deck plan is recommended.

Quite a number of cabins have a third upper berth or a sofa bed, and a few cabins can accommodate four passengers.

Some higher categories have bathtubs, and Bridge Deck rooms have views partly obscured by lifeboats. Some cabins interconnect, though they are not marked on the deck plan, and a large number are set aside as singles.

My cabin was forward-facing. The large window looked onto a small forward deck and then over the bow. At night, the shades had to be drawn so light did not interfere with the bridge watch one deck above.

The cabin was roomy and had a comfortable couch, coffee table, large-screen TV, vanity-desk, three closets and plenty of shelf space.

The sprawling Seven Continents restaurant seats passengers at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at assigned tables for four to eight people.

The food is good international fare, well prepared and varied, but stopping short of gourmet.

Notable menu items were the cioppino, a California-style fish soup with garlic bread; most of the spicy soups, such as West Indian bean; fresh swordfish; blackened mahi-mahi; key lime pie; and chestnut mousse cake.

Wines are fairly priced, starting at $16.

The service, meanwhile, was of a high standard. The crew was unfailingly polite.

The 80-seat Yacht Club, an observation venue, serves as the alternative restaurant, on most nights offering varied Asian, East meets West, Italian and South Pacific menus, which often reflect the cruising region.

Reservations are required, which is not usually a problem, and there is no extra charge. Passengers who dine before the sun sets will be rewarded with a sweeping view of the sea.

Passengers dressed smartly for dinner: Evening dress may be formal, informal or smart casual (a collared shirt).

Aft on the same deck, the Lido Buffet serves breakfast and lunch in an open setting, under the lido decks overhang or inside the Yacht Club. In good weather, outdoor barbecues are held here in the evening.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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