Hi Rick and Deb,
Thank you for your service to our country and to my family (your reference to Semper Fi gave you away) from the daughter of a retired Ambassador. We truly appreciate the man who stood the watch over our family during our twenty years overseas.
Now onto your question. Park West Galleries does indeed do a gold mine business on the cruise lines...as to whether or not your piece, purchased for 200 could appraise for 795, yes, that is entirely possible. The piece you describe (Andrew Warden) if it is a lithograph, limited edition and signed in the plate (that means signed in the lithographic plate and then transferred to the canvas) would indeed sell for that price, 795, perhaps a bit more to a serious collector in a large metropolitan area, such as San Francisco where Warden is popular.
As to whether or not your situation is routine: Not likely. You enjoyed a very fortunate purchase, probably based upon your good taste. I recently purchased a small, Andre Bongibaud lithograph at an auction on a short Baja Mexico cruise for $40. The piece later appraised for 1150. Yes, you read that right. Forty bucks to One Thousand One Hundred Fifty. Now, the reasons why I got a great deal:
a) I liked the piece and no one else did. The piece is not selling on their cruises.
b) Andre Bongibaud was not truly discovered until a few months after I had taken the cruise. Park West likes to go around, find unknowns and suddenly they get discovered.
c) Like you, I have great taste!
Most of the pieces available on board are indeed, inflated at the initial bid. Many of them can be purchased far cheaper at home from a good framer, or art dealer. On board, If you have a tough auctioneer, and most of them are genuinely interested in art and well educated on the subject, you won't get away with anything...but occasionally, you'll find an auctioneer, willing to let a lesser piece "go for a song" just to get people bidding...I suspect that is what happened in my case...I got the room going with my forty dollar steal and that's when the bidding really started...he made up for any money he might have lost on my little litho....many times over in fact.
I hope this helps to answer your question and that you will keep going to the art auctions... Personally, I think they are a lot of fun and I have made many lasting friends over the years just by having the art there in front of me to talk about with total strangers....these total strangers have become good friends who still remember my birthday!
p.s. My boyfriend and I are going on Celeb. Century on 1/12/02. Is that the cruise you folks are on? If so, I want to buy drinks for the Marine on watch and his wife.