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The River Princess prepares for the return of its passengers at port on the Danube in Eastern Europe.Photos by Bob & Sandy Nesoff
The River Princess prepares for the return of its passengers at port on the Danube in Eastern Europe.

Hanging in until the last minute to make a purchase may be a great idea when shopping for Christmas presents, but is not necessarily the best idea when planning a vacation, especially a cruise.

With the advent of new ships on line and a wide variety of itineraries, cruising has become, arguably, the favorite method of vacationing.  With most people saving for a year—or several years—for that terrific getaway, counting pennies is important.  To be able to make a sensible vacation budget you have to have a pretty good idea of what the trip is going to cost.

There are several all-inclusive resorts that provide everything for one up-front fee.  Most of the time there are so many extras that the cost of the vacation could easily double or even triple.  Cruising is one way to avoid that trap and still have an awesome vacation.

When you book a cruise you are made aware of all the costs and the inclusives.  Most cruise lines offer side trips that are inclusive and others that there will be an additional charge for.  All meals are included as is entertainment.  Many offer extras such as lectures and informative programs on the destination ports.

Uniworld Cruises, arguably at the top of the boutique cruise lines, has a variety of trips ranging from the Danube in Eastern Europe to trips France Russia and Egypt as well.  Relatively new and exciting on their agenda is the Vietnam/Cambodia cruise.

Any latent hostility that may have lingered after the years of conflict between the United States and North Vietnam has long since melted into the dense, green jungle.  Before that conflict Vietnam was known as the Riviera of Southeast Asia and was a prime vacation destination.

Many of the American tourists flocking to Vietnam are returning soldiers who were there originally under far different circumstances.  Their welcome by the locals is both warm and friendly.  And why not?  If the United States could have such a relationship with Germany and Japan, there should be nothing more than good will.

Uniworld has crafted a two-week cruise that takes in both the wonders of a variety of locations in Vietnam and the Mekong Delta, then continues onto Cambodia where one of the most beautiful World Heritage Sites, the Temple of Angkor Watis on the schedule.

The temple complex sits in the jungle and is arguably more exciting than the Mayan pyramids at Tikal in the Guatemalan jungle.

The specially constructed river ships, River Saigon and River Orchid are designed for comfort and luxury as they slowly move along the river providing exquisite views of the passing landscape.  All cabins are outside with sliding glass doors making photography an easy chore.

In Eastern Europe Uniworld plies the Danube in both directions from Vienna to Bucharest and back.  The ship stops in seven countries over the course of two weeks without even exuding a feeling of being rushed.

On the itinerary are locales such as the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, home of the Hapsburg dynasty and Empress Maria Therese.  In Budapest visits include the Grand Synagogue and a view of the city from a mountain top. Vukovar, Croatia offers the opportunity to sit and have lunch with a local family, enjoying Croatian peasant cuisine.

Kostolac in Serbia will bring the visitor to Viminacium, a Roman enclave that is now being uncovered and puts on display what the daily life of the ancients must have been like.

Uniworld river ships are the antithesis of mega-ships and it isn’t long before passengers and crew are on a first name basis and lasting friendships are formed.

Not that there’s a problem with the mega ships.  Royal Caribbean is in the planning stages for its next generation of luxury liners dubbed “Project Sunshine.”  Plans are for arrival in 2014 or 2015 with continued announcements throughout this year.  For information go to www.uniworld.com.

Roya Caribbean is planning a $300 million revitalization program that will affect all of it ships.  There will be expanded dining and entertainment options, wifi and new staterooms.  When completed it will give the line virtually a brand new fleet.

Little lasses are the focal point of a new program Royal Caribbean has put in place: “Barbie Premium Package.”  Available on select ships, it allows girls in the 4 to 11 age bracket the opportunity to set their own “dream cruise.”  There will be a Barbie-themed stateroom, tea party, dance class, fashion designer workshop and fashion show.

DreamWorks, the fantastic group that makes those unbelievable movies, is once again teamed with Royal Caribbean to bring their experience to a sixth ship in the fleet, the Mariner of the Seas.

There will be family fun with DreamWorks characters from Madagascar, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and others.  These are already available on Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.

For mom and dad or any romantic couple, there will be new and expanded culinary offerings increasing the menu variety to include dishes infused with regional flavors that reflect the line’s global destinations.  For those with dietary restrictions there will be low calorie, gluten free and lactose free options.  For details go to www.royalcaribbean.com.

 

The Roman ruins at Viminacium give visitors a glimpse into the daily life of ancient Romans.