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New vessels to come a-floating out

Ready or not, folks, here they come: The next barrage of new ships that will float out between next month and November 1998 will bring 14 vessels in slightly more than as many months.

Maybe you thought we already had enough ships. Apparently the cruise industry doesn't think so. Though this latest batch actually will be a mixed bag; that is, not every ship debuting will be of the mega variety. (Do I hear a sigh of relief?) For the first time in years, some small luxury and midsized ships are being built, plus one expedition vessel and two sailships are getting "do-overs" to re-emerge as spanking-new passenger vessels.For cruisers who love planning to sail inaugurals, here's the lineup by cruise line. For more information about any of these, contact a travel agent.

- Carnival Cruise Lines will introduce two sister ships in 1998 - the Elation March 20 and the Paradise sometime in November. Aside from Paradise being the first totally smoke-free cruise ship, both 70,000-ton, 2,040-passenger vessels will boast an expanded Children's World area. Also new will be a futuristic Virtual World, an electronic game area for children and adults; and Fun Vision, a remote-controlled TV system available in cabins.

Elation will cruise year-round from Los Angeles, making Mexican Riviera voyages. Paradise will sail from Miami, alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

- Celebrity Cruises will launch the Mercury, third in a series of identical 77,000-ton ships, on Nov. 2. Except for decor, the ship will mirror the line's 1,750-passenger Century and Galaxy.

Mercury will depart every Sunday from Fort Lauderdale on seven-day western Caribbean cruises; from May through September, it will make one-week Alaska cruises.

- Clipper Cruise Line will add a third ship to its fleet of small expedition vessels in April 1998. The 4,575-ton, 122-passenger ClipperAdventurer - formerly the Alla Tarasova, a Russian passenger vessel - will have expert lecturers and naturalists on all voyages.

The Adventurer's 10-night inaugural voyage will explore the Iberian Peninsula, Madeira and Morocco. Subsequent sailings will range from seven to 21 nights, cruising western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, the Atlantic coast from Halifax to Fort Lauderdale, the Amazon River, Brazil and even Antarctica.

- Disney Cruise Line will introduce Disney Magic on March 12 and Disney Wonder in December 1998. With double occupancy, each 85,000-ton vessel can carry 1,760-passengers. Third- and fourth-passenger occupancy can bring the number to 2,400. The ship will offer four theme restaurants, including one for adults only. The ships will have a large adults-only nightlife venue and, to nobody's surprise, some of the best children's facilities afloat. Cabins will be unusually spacious (240 square feet) and families surely will welcome the staterooms' bathroom shower/tub combo - one bathroom with shower, sink and vanity, and another with a vanity, sink and toilet.

Both ships will offer identical seven-night cruise/hotel packages that combine a three- or four-night stay at Walt Disney World with a three- or four-day Bahamas cruise.

- Holland America Line will launch its newest flagship, the Rotterdam VI, in Europe next month. The 62,000-ton, 1,320-passenger ship is built for long voyages, including an annual world cruise, and will feature this line's first alternative dining venue, an Italian restaurant with room for 90 diners.

Rotterdam VI will sail two Mediterranean voyages before beginning a season of Caribbean/Panama Canal cruises. Its first 97-day world cruise will depart Jan. 19 from Los Angeles and will be followed by a season in Europe.

- Princess Cruises' 109,000-ton Grand Princess, carrying 2,600 passengers, will be the biggest ship afloat when it enters service May 14. For the bean counters, that's a mere 8,000 gross-registered tons more than Carnival's Destiny, the vessel currently holding the title of biggest. Grand's "firsts" will include a wedding chapel, three main dining rooms and three alternative dining restaurants (one with a Southwestern theme). It also will have the industry's first "swim-against-the-current" pool, one of five pools aboard the vessel.

Through September, Grand Princess will visit Scandinavia/Russia, western Europe and Norway's North Cape. Between October and April, it will cruise the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale.

- On Jan. 31, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises will introduce the industry's first small luxury ship in years, the 320-passenger, 18,800-ton Paul Gauguin. The ship will boast a large spa operated by Carita of Paris, a retractable aft watersports platform and guest lecturers on every cruise. Fifty percent of its cabins will have verandas, and staterooms (the smallest of which is a commodious 200 square feet) will have marble bathrooms. The lines claim the ship will have more space per passenger than any cruise vessel afloat. It also will have a casual dress code with no ties required.

The Paul Gauguin will cruise weeklong itineraries year-round from Papeete, Tahiti, to Rangiroa, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Moorea.

- In April, Royal Caribbean Cruises will introduce the 1,950-passenger Vision of the Seas, a 78,491-ton sister ship to Rhapsody of the Seas that boasts an amphitheater-type show lounge and a two-story dining room. Vision will sail Mediterranean cruises from May through September, then will reposition to Boston for New England/Canada cruises. From November 1998 through April 1999, Vision will cruise 10-and 11-night Panama Canal voyages between San Juan and Acapulco.

- For those eager for information about ships planned even further out than these, Royal Caribbean will introduce the two largest vessels ever built, in 1999 and 2000. Look for a pair of 130,000-ton, 3,100-passenger vessels to begin cruising in the Caribbean. So far, all we know about them is this: Each vessel will have an ice-skating rink.