Princess Cruises has ordered two new ships, including a sister ship to the Sun Princess and a larger ship for year-round Caribbean service.

The orders were placed with Fincantieri, where the Sun Princess is currently under construction, scheduled to enter service in January of 1996.

The first vessel under the new agreement will carry 1,950 passengers and enter service in the spring of 1997. The 77,000-ton ship will be built at a cost of more than $295 million.

The second ship will be built specifically for Caribbean service and carry 2,500 passengers. In the range of 95,000 tons, this $385 million vessel will enter service in the fall of 1997. The company has also secured an option for a second "wide body" ship.

For the second ship, Princess has also foregone the flexibility of passing through the Panama Canal in favor of additional passenger space made possible by the larger size of the ship. "We have expanded dramatically in all trades outside of the Caribbean in the last five years," said Peter Ratcliffe, President of Princess Cruises.

Promising that the new ship will launch a new era in Caribbean cruising, Ratcliffe said that the design offers an "enormous amount of space."

The new ship will have a beam of more than 115 feet and be more than 295 feet long; the draft will be about 26.5 feet.

The design concept will be very similar to the Sun Princess, according to Ratcliffe. He said that of the ship's outside cabins, 85 percent will have private balconies. He underscored that the design will offer passengers a variety of choices in dining and entertainment with three dining rooms and three show lounges. Italy-based Giacomo Mortola is Princess' "in­ house" designer responsible for designing the ships.

"We are moving away from a regimented environment," Ratcliffe said. He also underscored that while the new ships will carry more passengers than Princess ships traditionally have, the ships will still carry fewer passengers than comparable sized ships of other cruise lines.

"We believe there is a big market for quality, premium cruises," Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe also noted that Princess will have six ships in the Caribbean and while the line will continue to operate from Fort Lauderdale and San Juan as its main ports, it will consider alternate homeports and new itineraries for the smaller ships.

Ratcliffe also said that the new ship orders demonstrate the company's commitment to those destinations it believes are particular areas of ongoing growth, namely the Caribbean and Alaska.

"The fleet additions will also allow us, through ship redeployment, to further strengthen our presence in our Exotic Adventure trades," Ratcliffe said.

"We are the leaders in most of the markets," Ratcliffe said, pointing to Alaska, transcanal, Europe, and the Far East. "We like to sail all over the world and are always looking at new possibilities," Ratcliffe added.

The Sun Princess and the addition of these two new ships will increase the Princess fleet to 12 ships and the capacity by 70 percent, according to a spokesperson for Princess. That would give Princess an estimated annual passenger capacity of about 700,000 and make it the third largest cruise operator in the world.

Already, under the P&O umbrella, the combined P&O and Princess fleets may be the second largest cruise/passenger ship operator in the world based on berths, Ratcliffe pointed out.

Ratcliffe said that of Princess' older fleet, the Fair Princess "could be withdrawn" at the end of the decade while he anticipated that the Island Princess and the Pacific Princess, the original Love Boats, will continue to sail for Princess for a "long time." Ratcliffe also said that the Golden Princess, which has been chartered to Princess Cruises, will be "reviewed."

"We are very happy with how we have developed over the past five years," Ratcliffe said. "We believe in steady, long term investments and are determined to be one of the leading cruise companies of the world."

"Demand in the industry is very, very good," Ratcliffe said, "and competitors with modern tonnage will best be able to take advantage of this demand."