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BIGGER BOATS ARE ON THE WAY

Cruise companies, buoyed by rising tides of passengers and profits, are hastening to build more (and bigger) ships.

Among the 28 passenger ships to be launched by 1998 is a 100,000-ton behemoth being built for Princess Cruises that will hold 2,600 passengers. The biggest cruise ship afloat today, the 76,000-ton SS Norway (formerly the SS France), carries 2,022 passengers.

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Royal Caribbean has ordered two 1,800-passenger vessels; Celebrity Cruises will add two new boats holding 1,740 passengers; even the Walt Disney Company is planning two ships to carry 2,400 customers each.

According to an industry study, the number of people taking cruises of two days or more in North America has grown ninefold since 1970, to 4.5 million last year.