Perhaps the best way to begin a guide to cruising is to define the difference between a ship and a boat. Roughly speaking, if a vessel sails on fresh water (lakes and rivers), it's a boat; if it sails on salt water (oceans or seas), it's considered a ship. In addition to those two broad categories, there are a number of other different kinds of passenger vessels that are appropriate for groups:

Barges--Small, self-powered riverboats. Generally, they are deluxe and serve gourmet food. I find their cabins are small, but comfortable. They are popular in Europe, and are a great way to see a country at a very leisurely pace.

Ferryliners--The large ferries that cover Europe like a fog, and can be used for day excursions or pre- and post-conference trips. They are very modern, with discos, shops, lounges, supermarkets, and deluxe restaurants. Small cabins are available. In the United States, several ferries sail from Washington to Alaska.

Mini Cruisers--The ultramodern smaller ships that sail into places a big ship can't, and provide a marvelous way to see coastal areas and waterways. They are finally becoming popular in America. Some are shallow-draft vessels that can get right up on the beach. Many have a bow ramp that drops down on the shore. I find the food to be very good and well-served. The entertainment is generally hired locally at the ports of call.

Passenger (Cruise) Ships--Vessels whose main function is to carry passengers. They have facilities for overnight accommodations for the passengers.

Riverboats--The shallow-draft passenger vessels that sail on the rivers of the world. There are five of these in the United States, and only the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen have overnight cabin service.

What to Look for in a Ship In addition to excellent food and service, I look for these requirements in a cruise ship:

* Air conditioned throughout

* At least one elevator for every 200 passengers

* Single seating for meals--This gives your attendees lots of time to eat and enjoy their meals without being rushed.

* View from the dining room

* Stabilized (if oceangoing)

* Thorough housekeeping throughout

* Built or refurbished within the past five years

* More than 10,000 Gross Registered Tons (This denotes capacity: 100 cubic feet of capacity is equal to 1 GRT.)

* Good passenger/crew ratio--I consider a 2:1 ratio to be excellent.

Cruising2000: The New Ships The ships listed here include those new to cruise line fleets through the year 2001. Plans for ships with inaugural dates beyond 2001 are so tentative that they have been left out.

Early 2000 Costa Cruises Costa Atlantica Berths: 2,112; Tonnage: 84,000

Holland America Zaandam Berths: 1,440; Tonnage: 65,000

Princess Cruises Ocean Princess Berths: 1,950; Tonnage: 77,000

Mid- to Late 2000 Carnival Victory Berths: 2,758; Tonnage: 102,000

Celebrity Millennium Berths: 1,950; Tonnage: 85,000

Holland America Amsterdam Berths: 1,380; Tonnage: 61,000

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas Berths: 3,100; Tonnage: 136,000

Silversea Cruises Silver Shadow Berths: 360; Tonnage: 25,000

Early 2001 Carnival Spirit Berths: 2,100; Tonnage: 84,000

Celebrity Millennium II Berths: 1,900; Tonnage: 85,000

Princess Cruises unnamed Berths: 2,600; Tonnage: 110,000

Radisson Seven Seas Mariner Berths: 360; Tonnage: 46,000

Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Berths: 2,000+; Tonnage: 85,000

Mid- to Late 2001 Carnival Pride Berths: 2,100; Tonnage: 84,000

Celebrity unnamed Berths: 1,900; Tonnage: 85,000

Norwegian unnamed Berths: 2,000 Tonnage: 76,000

Silversea Cruises Silver Mirage Berths: 360; Tonnage: 25,000

Cruise Line Contacts American Hawaii * Contact: Lori Purcell

* (800) 933-9933

* E-mail: lpurcell@cruise hawaii.com

* www.cruisehawaii.com

Carnival Cruise Lines * Contact: Sharon Goldfarb

* (305) 599-2600, (800) 438-6744

* E-mail: sgoldfarb@carnival.com

* www.carnival.com

Celebrity Cruises * Contact: Mary Reichenback-Lynch

* (800) 345-7225

* www.celebritycruises.com

Commodore Cruise Lines * Contact: David Stafford

* (954) 967-2100, (800) 538-1000

* E-mail: dstafford@commodorecorp.com

* www.commodorecruise.com

Costa Cruises * Contact: Toby Johnson

* (305) 358-7325

* E-mail: johnson@usa.costa.it

* www.costacruises.com

Crystal Cruises * Contact: Eric Graves

* (310) 785-9300, (800) 446-6620

* E-mail: egraves@crystalcruises.com

* www.crystalcruises.com

Cunard Line Ltd. * Contact: Tanya Barnette

* (773) 276-7601

* E-mail: tbarnette@cunardmail.com

* www.cunard.com

Disney Cruise Line * Contact: Allison Frohmann-Bolanovich

* (407) 828-3411

* E-mail: allison.frohmann-bolanovich@disney.com

* www.disneymeetings.com

Holland America Cruise Line * Contact: Paul Shortall

* (206) 298-3808, (800) 445-3731

* E-mail: paul_shortall@halw.com

* www.hollandamerica.com

KD River Cruises of Europe * Contact: J.F. O'Rourke

* (914) 696-3600

* E-mail: jfocruise@aol.com

* www.rivercruises.com

Mediterranean Shipping Cruises * Contact: Steve Hirshanpage

* (212) 764-4800

* (800) 666-9333

* E-mail: shirshan@medship.com

* www.msccruise.com

Norwegian Cruise Line * Contact: Cindy Wolf

* (305) 436-4720, (800) 327-9020

* E-mail: cwolf@ncl.com; www.ncl.com

Orient Lines * Contact: Cindi Occhuizzo

* (954) 527-6660, (800) 333-7300

* E-mail: cocchuizzo@orientlines.com

* www.orientlines.com

Premier Cruises * Contact: Joanne Cotterman

* (800) 327-9766

* E-mail: jcotterm@premiercruises.com

* www.premiercruises.com

Princess Cruises * Contact: Hilary Ann Sullivan

* (310) 553-1770

* E-mail: hsullivan@princesscruises.com

* www.princesscruises.com

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises * Contact: Maggie Mantia

* (937) 291-2225

* E-mail: mmantia@radisson.com

* www.rssc.com

Renaissance Cruises * Contact: Kari Tarnowski

* (954) 463-0982

* E-mail: kari_tarnowski@rcruz.com

* www.renaissancecruises.com

Royal Caribbean International * Contact: Mary Reichenbach-Lynch

* (800) 345-7225

* E-mail: mary_reichenbach-lynch@rccl.com

* www.royalcaribbean.com

Sea Cloud Cruises, Inc. * Contact: Maritza Bush

* (201) 227-9404, (888) 732-2568

* E-mail: seacloud@att.net

* www.seacloud.com

Silversea Cruises * Contact: Mr. Jan Lueff

* (954) 522-4477, (800) 722-9955

* E-mail: janl@silverseacruises.com

* www.silversea.com

Star Clippers * Contact: Jack Chatham

* (800) 442-0553

* E-mail: stclippr@aol.com

* www.starclippers.com

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises * Contact: Dale Miller

* (305) 672-6453

* E-mail: windbc@windjammer.com

* www.windjammer.com

Windstar Cruises * Contact: Noel DeChambeau

* (206) 281-0671, (800) 628-3354

* E-mail: ndechambeau@halw.com

* www.windstarcruises.com

When Celebrity Cruises' Millennium sets sail in June, it will be the first cruise ship powered by gas and steam turbines instead of diesel engines. It's a technological shift that makes sense. Gas turbine propulsion reduces exhaust emissions by up to 90 percent and cuts down noise and vibration. Waste heat from the exhaust, unlike the sludge and oil waste produced by diesel engines, can be recycled. The U.S. Navy has been using this technology since the 1970s.

The 1,950-passenger Millennium will cruise Europe from June through October, and then sail from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean in November. It will offer the largest luxury suites afloat, and 80 percent of the staterooms will have ocean views.

Three more turbine-powered ships from Celebrity and two from parent company Royal Caribbean International will follow by 2003.

At the send-off of Disney Cruise Lines' second ship, the Disney Wonder, in early September, the talk of the pre-christening party was who would be the ship's godmother? Who would crack the champagne and send this 875-berth beauty on its way?

Guests took their seats in waterfront bleachers just outside the Port Canaveral terminal. The 964-foot Disney Wonder was anchored offshore, its elegant black hull trimmed in red, white, and a shade of yellow that matches Mickey Mouse's shoes. Donald Duck hangs permanently off the stern, painting some final touches, while his nephews conspire to cut the ropes that hold him.

The new liner sails on three- and four-day journeys, with stops at Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island, and Nassau. Dedicated meeting space is limited, just one room divisible into three boardroom-size venues, but the 1,022-seat Walt Disney Theater, the 268-seat Buena Vista Theater, and several restaurants can be used at certain times. As on its sister ship, Disney Magic, which was launched in summer 1998, many staterooms feature an industry first: a bathroom and a half, with a shower and sink area separate from a sink and toilet area. Disney also puts a new spin on cruise dining. Rather than theming the dining room differently each night, guests and their waitstaff move from one type of dining room to another. Another Disney innovation is the way it handles its classic customers: kids.

As on other ships, there are separate pools for kids, families, and adults, but the real difference is deck five, much of which is transformed into recreation centers. There are separate areas for kids

3 to 8 and for those 9 to 12. Counselors give parents a pager when they drop off their children so they're always in touch.

On hand at the christening were Al Weiss, president, Walt Disney World; Paul Pressler, president, Walt Disney Attractions; and a cast of Disney characters. So who would the godmother be? With the help of Mickey and laser technology, the godmother made her appearance: It was Tinkerbell! Sprinkling pixie dust rather than champagne over the length of the ship, she sent the liner on its way.

It's tough to imagine a trip more rewarding than cruising Alaska on Celebrity's sister luxury liners Mercury or Galaxy, ships with a nautical elegance reminiscent of the glory days of trans-Atlantic travel. Our seven-night sail from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska, on Mercury exposed us to landscapes that ranged from thick, lush rain forests to frozen ice-blue glaciers. Wildlife sightings included black bears, bald eagles, and sea lions.

These ships are purposely built for Alaska cruising, with lots of glass-enclosed public areas for gazing at the scenery; 639 of the 935 spacious staterooms have ocean views.

Luxury is the norm. With the exception of the casino, the ship's design--with its $3.5 million art collection--is more understated than showy. All cabins have interactive televisions, bathrobes, and 24-hour room service. There's a spacious gym and spa with more than 20 massage and beauty therapists. Thanks to Celebrity's culinary consultant, French Master Chef Michel Roux, the food is not only copious but delicious.

Meeting attendees are also in for a treat. The 183-seat conference room, with its curved ceiling, light wood accents, and comfortable seats with built-in writing tables, is a departure from the norm. Due to Celebrity's alliance with Sony Corp. of America, the space is equipped with sophisticated technology, including the capacity for computer-generated slide or video presentations, multilingual translation, interactive audience participation, and satellite videoconferencing. Another nifty feature is a production studio that can produce custom videos and broadcast them to remote locations, including stateroom televisions.

Ports of call include Ketchi-kan, with its American Indian totems; Skagway, a gold-rush town; and Valdez, in a setting reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.

The shore excursions will give you a feel for the real Alaska. We flew to the tops of glaciers, cruised wilderness areas, and rode a steep, narrow-gauge railroad along the path of the Klondike gold rush.