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If you can clear your social calendar for two to three months and have wads of cash burning a whole in your Hermes wallet, then you sound like the perfect candidate for a world cruise. Long, leisurely and pricey (try anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 per person!), you can literally traverse the entire globe and never have to change planes, unpack twice or figure out where to have dinner.

A world cruise is the ultimate way to travel for the gilded armchair adventurer.

Cunard Line's Laconia made the first circumnavigation in 1922, and ever since "world cruise" has been synonymous with the ultimate in cushy, over-the-top travel. How else can you spend the winter months exploring the far corners of the earth, from Mumbai to Machu Picchu, all the while lazing in a luxurious cabin and attended to by a staff of doting do-gooders?

The world cruise crowd is a well-traveled, like-minded bunch to be sure, but don't expect elderly retirees who drool in their soup. Okay, many are over 60 because older folks tend to have the time and flexibility to be at sea for months at a stretch; as more people retire earlier or run their businesses remotely, the demographics have opened up. Radisson Seven Seas, for example, reports that there were 50 guests on the full world cruise this year under age 60. After all, 60 is the new 50.

For those with the luxury of precious time, some world cruises literally circumnavigate the globe in about 100 days, while others focus on regions like Asia or South America on journeys of 60 or 70 days. If you don't have time to do the full journey, which the majority of passengers don't (Cunard reports that about 20 to 40% book the line's full world cruise), shorter segments are typically available.

Count on about half of the trip being spent at sea, as the ships make their way between ports, often across vast bodies of water like the South China Sea and the Red Sea. During those looong, lazy days in transit, you can visit the gym and spa; or head to the library, casino, Internet center, observation lounges and bars. To keep your brain from turning to mush, lectures on history, culture or current events are offered frequently from a variety of prestigious guest speakers, from well-known journalists to authors and academics.

When in port, expect some overnight stays in a number of the world's most famed places, from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong, Venice, St. Petersburg, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires. Excursions offered during the longer calls include journeys in-land for two- and three-day trips to fabled sites like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, Cambodia's Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, Egypt's Valley of the Kings, and the great game preserves of Africa.

If booking a full world cruise, you get lots of perks, often including complimentary first-class round-trip airfare to the port of embarkation, generous onboard credits for use in the ships' spa and boutiques, bon voyage parties in luxury hotels the night before departure, and private car transfers between home, airport and the ship.

As you might expect, you pay for what you get. Anyone willing and able to part with this kind of dough gets catered to big time. Special requests are rarely a problem. In their zeal to please world cruise guests, Radisson Seven Seas President and CEO Mark Conroy recalls installing a second safe in a gentleman's suite to accommodate his ample jewellery collection and in another instance, transporting and installing special wardrobes that a frequent world cruise guest had custom built to fit her suite.

World Cruise Offerings for 2006

If you like to stay active while wending your way around the globe, Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity (tel. 800/446-6620; www.crystalcruises.com) offers one of the most extensive rosters of activities you can find. While the two-year-old, 1,080-passenger Serenity spends 106 days sailing from Los Angeles to Southampton, England, enjoy pastimes such as merengue lessons, wine tasting and computer classes -- not to mention outstanding dining venues, including an excellent Asian venue, Silk Road, that's overseen by famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. If you've never uttered the word budget in your life, then book a one-bedroom 1,345-square foot Crystal Penthouse with veranda. Each has a small gym, butler service, and ocean-view master bath complete with flat-screen television. If you can pry yourself away from all this, there will be plenty of opportunities to go ashore and explore some of the world's most coveted places. The journey begins by heading south to Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and across the South Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, before crossing the Indian Ocean and on to the eastern coast of Africa. Perhaps the most exciting segment may be the next one, which includes calls to Egypt and a first-time visit to Tripoli (Libya). If you can't quite commit to the full four months, seven shorter segments are available.

Departing January 18, 2006, the full 106-day world cruise in a standard 226-square-foot cabin with a picture window starts at $42,790 per person (around $404 a day), while the biggest abode, the Crystal Penthouse, starts at $210,940 per person ($1,990 a day!).

If tradition and experience mean anything to you, then Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2 (tel. 800/5-CUNARD; www.cunard.com) gets big points. Built in 1969, the 1,740-passenger ship is considered by many to be the last true ocean liner to be built. QE2's long sleek hull, painted a deep almost-black midnight blue, stretches from a slim pointed bow built to slice through vast open seas to a set of classically-tiered stern decks. In this age of boxy white ships, the QE2's classic profile is a head turner all right. Below decks, Cunard's storied past comes alive in a collection of grand paintings and memorabilia, which ranges from old menus and luggage tags to black and white snapshots of the many celebrities and world figures who have sailed with Cunard. It's all the perfect backdrop to the QE2' s grand 109-day journey, which circles the globe on route to exotics like Fiji, Bali, and Cairo, with overnights in Auckland, Sydney, Hong Kong, Bombay and Dubai. The ship sails round-trip out of New York, which no other circumnavigation is doing. There are more than 20 different types of cabins, from tiny inside staterooms for single travelers to the best in the house: a pair of Grand Suites, aptly named Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Feel like royalty in the elegant wood-panelled one-bedroom split-level apartments that measure 1,184-square feet. Tucked high up in an ultra-private part of the ship that's accessible only through a private staircase, each one has two verandas, walk-in wardrobe, marble bathroom, dining area, and a raised lounge that leads to a cozy glass-covered conservatory and forward-facing veranda.

If you haven't got the time, there are nearly a dozen shorter segments available, from 37 to 107 days.

Departing January 9, 2006, the full 109-day world cruise in a category H single inside cabin starts at $28,559 (a more affordable $262 a day) and goes up to $239,999 for a Grand Suite ($2,202 a day).

Radisson' 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com) is a great size, small enough to be intimate and large enough to offer plenty of onboard amenities. The 108-day world cruise from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, covers practically every corner of the globe, calling at 45 ports in 28 countries. As you sail from one exceedingly fascinating port, like Rangoon (Myanmar), to another, say Tripoli (Libya) and Aqaba (Jordan), you'll be surrounded in luxury. The Voyager has four dining venues, plus a two-deck-high show lounge, cigar bar, Internet center, gym, spa and roomy pool deck. Then again, who needs any of it, chances are you'll want to spend as much time in your appealing stateroom as possible. The smallest staterooms are 306-square-foot suites with private verandas, walk-in closets, stocked mini-bars and CD/DVD players. For high rollers, the two-bedroom Master Suite is apartment-sized at 1,152 square feet. There's a large 183-square-foot balcony, plus butler service, fully stocked bar, and CD/DVD players.

Six shorter segments are also offered.

Departing January 10, 2006, the full 108-day world cruise in a standard suite starts at $49,995 per person ($463 per day), with a Master Suite going for $179,995 per person ($1,667 per day).

The smallest ship doing a partial world cruise is Seabourn's Seabourn Pride (tel. 800/929-9595; www.seabourn.com). The exceedingly intimate 208-passenger Pride is doing a 72-night circumnavigation of South America round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale, that heads south though the Panama Canal and clockwise around the continent. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ship's impressive culinary offerings and service all the while calling on spectacular colonial capitals like Lima, Santiago, and Buenos Aires, as well as sleepy old-world fishing towns such as Puerto Montt and Chiloe (Chile). Extended visits include three days in Manaus for excursions deep into the mighty Amazon. With as many sea days as ports of call, this miniature cruise ship is ideal for travelers most comfortable with a slow pace and lots of free time to simply relax. Most of the accommodations are 277-square-foot suites, some with sliding glass doors, others with bay windows. If you need something larger, consider a one-bedroom 530- to 575-square-foot Owner's Suite. Each has a fully stocked bar and a semi-circular couch that faces the sea through an arc of windows over the bow.

Three shorter segments of 29, 36 or 54 days are also available.

Departing January 2, 2006, the full 72-day South America circumnavigation cruise in a standard suite with a window starts at $19,678 per person ($273 a day), while you can book an Owner's Suite for $62,014 per person ($861 a day).

The humblest of the world cruise ships may be Holland America's Prisendam (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com). The 793-passenger Prisendam is not dripping in luxury, but is cozy and very comfortable. The ship is slated to do a full circumnavigation round-trip out of Ft. Lauderdale that includes 36 ports of call on 22 different countries on six continents, including Antarctica. You'll be able to get more than a quick look at local attractions with overnight stays in Rio, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Mombasa and Bombay, plus calls to two ports in Libya, Tripoli and Benghazi. And there's more: this is the only world cruise to dip down to the South Pole, sailing to way-off-the-beaten-track places like Deception and Elephant Islands, where Shackleton's crew hunkered down for 105 days awaiting rescue. But there will be no roughing it aboard the Prisendam. The range of staterooms starts with small inside cabins and goes all the way up to a 724-square-foot one-bedroom Penthouse Veranda Suite, with an ocean view whirlpool tub, DVD player and mini-bar.

Departing January 5, 2006, the full 105-day world cruise in a standard inside cabin starts at $23,838 per person ($207 a day), while you can get the Penthouse Suite for $150,038 per person ($1,429 a day).

To book any of these grand world voyages, contact a travel agency specializing in high-end travel, including The Cruise Professionals (tel. 800/265-3838; www.cruiseprofessionals.com) and Largay Travel (tel. 800/955-6872; www.largaytravel.com).

* Note: Silversea Cruises plans to offer a world cruise in 2007.

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