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New, improved cruise ships

Plus great rates at hip hotels in Hawaii and here at home

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Cruising Speed
The cruise industry is slowly shedding its less-than-hip image with the launching of stylish new ships and more interesting itineraries. Worth noting are Continental Waterways' new luxury barge, the M.S. Paraguay, which will soon cruise the Paraguay River, accommodating 50 passengers in comfy rooms decked out with sofas, writing desks, and TVs (www.continentalwaterways.com; from $1,690 per person). Windstar Cruises, known for its upscale journeys aboard sailing yachts, brings the 308-passenger Wind Surf back to the States after a decade abroad. Starting January 13, seven-day cruises to the Florida Keys and Bahamas will depart Sundays from Fort Lauderdale (800-258-7245; from $1,295 per person). And in 2003, Cunard launches its $800 million Queen Mary 2, transporting passengers between New York and Southampton, England, in high style with huge suites and high-tech amenities, plus a full-scale Canyon Ranch spa. (To get on the waiting list, call 800-528-6273.)

Home for the Holidays
Booking a hotel room in Manhattan during the holidays is never easy: Accommodations often sell out weeks in advance, and the few available rooms can cost up to three times their regular rates. But with this season's shaky travel climate, not only are rooms available but some are downright affordable. The Stanhope's (212-774-1234) romantic ambience usually means Christmastime rates between $395 and $425, but it is booking rooms this year from just $245 a night. At the Royalton (212-869-4400), rates after December 15 start at $195 ($265 on New Year's Eve), and the W hotels (877-946-8357) are offering rooms from $199 a night, a bit more on New Year's Eve. Even the Plaza (212-759-3000) and the Waldorf (212-355-3000) still have plenty of beds available for the holidays. Rooms at the Plaza start at $324 (down from $500), while the Waldorf's rates are as low as $159 over Christmas, or $299 on New Year's Eve.

Hawaiian Lei Overs
If you've always wanted to visit those Hawaiian getaways that cater to superstars like Bruce Willis, Tiger Woods, and Steven Spielberg, now's your chance: Many of Hawaii's most spectacular resorts are brandishing tantalizing deals in order to lure reluctant visitors this winter. (Yes, you'll have to fly, but at least you'll still be in one of these United States.) The Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa (pictured; 808-742-1234) is offering more than 50 percent off on ocean-view rooms throughout January, and at the Sheraton Maui (800-782-9488; mention "Fallsave Rate"), you can book one for $265 (normally $500). Also, the Grand Wailea Resort and Spa (800-888-6100) has knocked $100 off its rates, while the Kahala Mandarin Oriental (800-367-2525), the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui (800-441-1414), and the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (888-340-5662) have all extended their fall deals by tossing in extras like free nights, breakfast, or car rentals. Be prepared for some Christmas and New Year's blackouts, and if you need a travel agent to sort through the best deals, we recommend Robbie Brandt at HNL Travel Associates (808-591-2011).
AMY BOSHNACK

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Guiding Bite This month, Zagat introduces its first Europe's Top Restaurants Guide, covering 25 cities and announcing the best (Paris) and worst (London) dining towns ($12.95). Virgin territory Peter Island Resort, the British Virgin Islands' most luxurious private-island hideaway, kicks off the winter season with twenty revamped beachfront suites. Starting at $660 a night, the entirely redone rooms flaunt huge ocean-view windows, Jacuzzis, and gorgeous Mediterranean-tile frescoes (800-346-4451). The Peel Deal Thanks to BlissSpa's brand-new London outpost, New York's pampered jet-setters don't have to fly back home to maintain their oxygen-blasted, alpha-beta-peeled complexions (60 Sloane Avenue; 011-44-207-584-3888). desert coze Le Bernardin's Maguy Le Coze and chef Eric Ripert have just opened a sister restaurant, Azur, at California's La Quinta Resort & Club in Palm Springs. Expect the same easy ambience and brilliant take on seafood (760-777-4835). Over the River The Woolverton Inn in Stockton, New Jersey -- about five minutes from New Hope -- debuts four new luxury cottages, featuring cathedral ceilings, two-level suites, Whirlpool baths, and even one fireside hammock (from $225; 888-264-6648).


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