The World: Grande Dame on Sale

From the moment when Mme. Charles de Gaulle smashed a bottle of champagne across her bow 14 years ago, the 66,000-gross-ton luxury liner France has reigned as the seductive grande dame of the seas. The 1,035-ft. liner, longest in the world, could carry as many as 2,044 passengers amidst the splendor of spacious staterooms and marbled public salons. Her first-class dining room, where white-tied captains spooned out gargantuan portions of caviar, was praised as "the best French restaurant in the world."

Speed, however, has proved to be a more marketable commodity than elegance. Never able to divert enough passengers from the jets,...

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