Byline: Arturo and Maureen Gonzalez, Special to The Tribune.
Column: Spring and summer cruises, '89.
SO CHICAGO TRIBUNE (TRIB)
Edition: FINAL EDITION
LP Shades of Jason and his band of sea-going Argonauts. Crowds of cruise-minded vacationers are once again heading for holidays afloat on the "wine-black" seas of the Mediterranean. In 1986, Med cruising took a tragic nosedive. The senseless violence of the Achille Lauro hijacking with its murder of a helpless American passenger cast a black shadow over all the many cruise lines which had, for generations, criss-crossed the Med.
TX Tourists stopped coming, and more than a few of the massive fleet of sleek liners ceased their island-hopping, shifting instead to alternate itineraries in the Baltic, the Caribbean and the Pacific. But the sheer beauty of the Med, its links with history, its network of fully developed ports conveniently close to one another, all make it a tourist destination too attractive for the madness of any terrorist group to eclipse. Completely enclosed by two vast continents, it's virtually storm proof. Every inch of shoreline, from Istanbul to Gibralter, is the cradle of one or another of mankind's most ancient civilizations. And being a southerly sea, the days are long and sunlit from spring till fall. In other words, it's a cruise passenger's delight. In many ways, the Med cruise has taken over from the extended, multi-nation European bus tour of previous decades which led to so many of those, "If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium" jokes. No longer is it necessary for tourists to unpack and repack every night and every morning if they are determined to sample a selection of countries in a single week. Bus passengers must endure a different hotel room every night and travel so swiftly during the day that if they blink, they miss Liechtenstein completely. The Mediterranean cruise offers passengers the same quantity of countries but without the hassle. Cruise passengers travel cosseted in comfort instead of bumping over cobblestone streets in hard bus seats. Sea travel is at night, when you sleep. On some cruises, you're in a different port each day, hitting six cities in five countries on two continents in just seven days. "We feel that the era of one-week European cruising has definitely arrived," says Connie Soloyanis, the Pireaus-based spokesman for Epirotiki Lines, operators of the largest fleet of cruise ships in the Med. "Busy people today often can't spend more than a week at any one time away from their desks. Yet many of them still hanker to sample a variety of different countries swiftly without having to check in to a different hotel every night with all the suitcase lugging and unpacking/repacking that's involved with bus, car or train touring." A comfortable, convenient solution to the problem is cruising. Your hotel room, your neatly hung closet, go along with you. And when your ship is in the Med, it glides in brief 200- to 300-mile overnight legs, with you and your fellow passengers seeing a different landscape over the rail each morning. The itineraries of most ships for many seasons concentrated in the eastern Med. Pireaus was home port and the ships ventured out through the Greek islands, over to the Israeli, Turkish and Egyptian coasts, with the most adventurous going through the Dardenelles to call at Yalta and other Black Sea ports. Such cruises are still exceedingly popular. But a new route which offers even more variety takes cruise ships in a week on a loop around Italy, from Venice to the French Riviera and back again. There are stops at the jet-set Italian village of Portofino, or the hilly island of Elba where Napoleon plotted escape from his first exile. * Some ships anchor offshore and tender passengers into the Aga Khan's multi-million dollar beachfront playground at Costa Smerelda in Sardinia. On a number of cruise itineraries is a brief sail to Africa, showing passengers who take the land excursion in Tunis the sun-bleached, crumbled ruins of Carthage as well as the teeming Arab souks nearby. Ships tie up in the Sicilian port of Catania, its aged building facades still showing the bullet and shrapnel pockmarks left over from the Allied/Axis house-to-house fighting waged along its alleyways almost 50 years ago. Corfu, the most British of all the Greek islands, where they still play cricket on some village greens, is another favorite stop, passengers tendered ashore to swim in the warm, azure Aegean, followed by relaxation at a taverna's outdoor table, sipping a milky-white, licorice-flavored ouzo. Cruise ships chug up and down the rugged Yugoslavian coast, nosing through the beautiful, fjord-like Kotor Bay and tying up just a short bus ride from the medieval, red-tile-roofed, walled city of Dubrovnik. And there's no more memorable sight in the world than looking at Venice from the sea, seeing the Doge's Palace and the tower at St. Mark's Square just as returning Venetian sailors saw them centuries ago when this Adriatic city-state ruled the seas. Many of the Med's cruise liners are on the small side, so they can nose into even the shallowest port. But virtually all have crammed themselves with every luxury found on the larger ships which cruise the Caribbean. Fitness freaks will find a weight room and sauna aboard to fight the slightest hint of cruise flab. On the Stella Oceanis recently we noticed the length of the decks were clearly marked so joggers and walkers could accurately calculate how many turns around the deck would wipe out how many calories. Odds-chasers frequently find 21 tables, a roulette table and a bank of slot machines on board to keep them happy (and broke). There's always a cinema showing Oscar-winning first-run films, doubling as a conference center for business and incentive groups aboard. Plus a complete range of duty-free shops, bars, discos, buffet areas, beauty salons, swimming pools, shuffleboard courts and the inevitable rows of deck chairs where the passengers daily grill themselves like oiled Greek smelt in the warm Med sun. Alan Mount, a New York public relations executive, recently took a Med cruise and has some practical advice to offer on the experience. He says: "Most important, don't sign up for every one of the daily shore excursions offered. Pick and choose. Decide to remain aboard in some ports, or go ashore and explore by yourself. "Too many of the tours get you off the ship at the crack of dawn, run you ragged all day, and dump you back on board exhausted at dusk. "Make sure you are in the second dinner seating. Otherwise, you hardly have time to rest and clean up between the end of the shore excursions and the sounding of the first seating dinner gong."
CAPTION: PHOTO: The Stella Solaris off the Greek island of Santorini. @Art:PHOTO
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