Vessels offer diverse routes, accommodations

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NEW YORK -- The cruise industry's growing fleet of large-scale vessels has somewhat obscured the tremendous diversity among its small ships.

Indeed, cruising's small-ship segment features several vessel types, a broad variety of itinerary options and onboard accommodations ranging from rudimentary to lavish. Sailing cruise ships constitute an increasingly popular segment of the category.

The largest of these vessels, which combine the rigging, masts and nostalgic feeling of wind-powered sailing with contemporary accommodations -and motorized propulsion to deal with wind variances -- is Star Clipper's flagship, the 228-passenger Royal Clipper.

The five-masted, fully rigged ship, promoted as "the biggest true sail vessel in the world," entered weekly service in the Mediterranean during the summer of 2000.

Although built to resemble turn-of-the-century clipper ships, the 5,000-ton Royal Clipper, like its smaller fleetmates Star Clipper and Star Flyer, offers elegant accommodations including rosewood veneer furnishings, Victorian-style brass lamps and full-length mirrors. Other amenities include television, hair dryer and satellite telephone.

Royal Clipper's fall/winter Caribbean schedule commences Nov. 3 with alternating southern Caribbean itineraries departing roundtrip from Barbados through April 20, 2003.

One route includes calls at Martinique, Iles des Saintes, Antigua, St. Kitts, Dominica and St. Lucia. The alternate route visits Martinique, St. Lucia, Bequia, Tobago Cays, Grenada and St. Vincent.

Cruise-only rates range from $1,345 to $3,695 per person. For details, call (800) 442-0551.

Another upscale sailing vessel, Peter Deilmann Cruises' 48-passenger Lili Marleen, begins year-round cruises in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands on Dec. 6.

The ship will offer 10- and 14-day cruise/land tour packages. The 10-day package includes seven nights aboard the Lili Marleen; all excursions; three nights in Quito, Ecuador, and entrance fees for Galapagos National Park.

Cruise-only rates start at $3,348 per person. Call (800) 348-8287.

The 14-day package includes seven days aboard ship and two nights in Quito, plus five nights in Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Peru.

The land extension includes accommodations in hotels in Guayaquil, Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu. It also features roundtrip train transportation to Machu Picchu, guided sightseeing in Cuzco and Machu Picchu and airport transfers.

The Lili Marleen's staterooms feature burled wood finishes; pastel upholstery and carpeting, and tiled bathrooms with brass fittings. The ship has a diesel engine to propel it when winds are light. Call (800) 348-8287.

Small-ship operator Clipper Cruise Line will deploy its four vessels -- the 138-passenger Yorktown Clipper, 100-passenger Nantucket Clipper, 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer and 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey -- on a variety of voyages from Antarctica to the Far East, the South Pacific, the southeastern coast of the U.S. and Northern California.

The Nantucket Clipper will spend the fall and winter exploring Belize and Honduras with a series of eight-day voyages between Belize City and Puerto Cortes, Honduras.

The ship's shallow draft enables it to sail into coves and islands that are inaccessible to larger ships. Per person rates range from $2,895 to $4,415. Call (800) 325-0100.

Seattle-based Cruise West is offering four Central America itineraries aboard the 100-passenger Temptress Explorer.

Among the four itineraries is a seven-day cruise from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Colon, Panama. The sailing features a Panama Canal transit and shore excursions in Manuel Antonio National Park, Corcovado National Park and Golfo Dulce, all in Costa Rica.

Cruise West is offering 26 cruises in this series from November to April. Cruise-only rates rates start at $2,245 per person.

Another seven-night cruise visits Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. Departing from Belize, the itinerary calls at Roatan Island in Honduras, Belize's San Pedro Town, plus Quirigua Ruins and the town of Livingston on Guatemala's Rio Dulce. Offered in the spring of 2002 and 2003, the voyage starts at $2,095 per person.

Temptress Explorer is among the category's simpler vessels, comfortable but far from elegant. The ship offers open-seating dining and air-conditioned accommodations.

Trained naturalists escort small groups of passengers on shore excursions, and on some beaches, the crew sets up a barbecue and a bar for private beach parties.

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