Oceangoing condo Home can be anywhere the high seas will take the wealthy residents of a luxury condominium cruise ship planned for delivery in 2001.

August 16, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Here's a deal: For a mere $1.5 million, you can become the proud owner of a luxury condominium with two or three bedrooms, an equal number of bathrooms, a private whirlpool and, most importantly, a wet bar.

The bonus: It floats. Around the world.

No, this is not your father's cabin cruiser. This is The World of ResidenSea, an 86,000-ton ship turned condominium complex.

Sometime in the year 2001, the vessel will embark on a continuous cruise around the globe, chasing the sun to exotic ports of call. Care to see the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prix of Monaco or the America's Cup? Your new home will take you there.

Prices for a modest two-bedroom condo begin at $1.5 million. From there, the sky's the limit. A 2,538-square-foot penthouse goes for about $7 million. Of course, the bigger the condominium, the larger the maintenance fee. For the most posh of places, upkeep could set you back as much as $22,500 per month. That's $270,000 a year.

But look on the bright side: Maid service is included.

For some, that seems to be enough. Sixty-eight of the ship's 286 units have been sold for a total of $130 million, and another 17 have been reserved.

"The average buyer is about 55 years old. They see this as an alternative to a vacation home," said Robert Burnett, president of ResidenSea (USA) Inc., which is based in New York. The World also has offices in Oslo, Norway.

"It's a great way to see the world, ideal for people who have everything and can afford to indulge themselves," said Hoppy Stafford, a Maryland broker with Christie's Great Estates, the global real estate network marketing The World in North America. "It combines the luxury of a condo, the services of the best hotel and all the amenities of the best resort."

And there's no property taxes to pay.

So, you're ready to sign the settlement papers? Not so fast. First, you must prove your net worth is at least $5 million.

Then, maybe -- just maybe -- Stafford will pencil you into his schedule.

Of course, you'll have to be willing to invest a hefty sum -- roughly 10 percent of the purchase price -- before you've even seen a model of your new home. Nothing has been built yet. A color sketch and schematic floor plan will have to do.

Construction is expected to begin in 2000. The German shipyard Howaldtswerke -- Deutsche Werft AG of Kiel has promised to deliver the luxury vessel on April 30, 2001.

A joint venture, The World is the creation of two high seas competitors -- Knut Kloster Jr. and Helge Naarstad.

Kloster, an international shipping magnate, continues a family tradition of maritime innovation. His father, Knut Kloster Sr., founded the Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1966. The son has served as chairman and chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Cruise Line and Royal Viking Line.

Naarstad, a former president of Norwegian Cruise Line, is best known for the "super yachts" he has developed. He has built Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, two of the highest-rated ships in service.

The two Norwegian maritime giants joined forces in 1996 to start The World. Its condominiums went on sale last year. They plan to make their ship the most luxurious vessel afloat. To that end, they've hired naval architects Petter Yran and Bjorn Storbraaten to design The World.

The architects' achievements include some of today's most majestic ships, including Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II, and the 85,000-ton Disney Magic, which made its maiden voyage last month.

"The World will be as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall," Yran said. "It's a Panamax ship, the maximum size that can go through the Panama Canal."

The ship will be 15 percent bigger, in terms of tonnage, than the classic liner Queen Elizabeth II. And though the typical ultra-luxury cruise ship (such as the QE2) normally has 2,500 vacationers on board, The World will have just 650 residents with a crew of 500 to pamper them, Burnett said.

"I've always been afraid that the ship will be too empty," said Yran, who has consulted with hospitality professionals to ensure that The World will exceed all expectations. "You don't want it to be like a ghost town. So the challenge is to create an atmosphere where you can have a small number of people on board the ship and still be comfortable."

The solution: Movable walls.

Restaurants, and perhaps shops, will literally shrink when there are fewer people on the ship.

"When there's, say, 300 people on board, you'll be able to walk down a public street along the middle of the ship and take your meal in a restaurant that will have five or six tables," Yran said. "But when the ship is full, we'll open the back space of that restaurant, where there'll be 200 more tables."

The ship will boast seven restaurants with a gallery of lounges, bars and boutiques, a 300-seat theater, a library with a full-time librarian, and everything a business professional could need -- from conference rooms and Internet access to satellite video, licensed securities broker and a print shop.

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