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It's Day 3 of a week-long cruise down Europe's second-longest river, and the River Beatrice is gliding leisurely
through the verdant Slovakian countryside into the tiny capital of Bratislava.

Lauren and Gary Snyder prepare to stroll into town, conveniently just steps from the pier where Uniworld's few 160-
passenger vessel will dock. "It's been a surprise," says Lauren of the ease of exploring the ports along the route from
Budapest, Hungary, to Passau, Germany. "The most stressed I've been so far is playing Name That Tune," says Gary,
a cardiologist from Jacksonville. The relaxed pace and easy access to city centers are just two reasons why river
cruising is on a roll. Indeed, it's one of the fastest-growing segments of travel with up to 60% annual growth for some
lines in the past five years — nearly 10 times the rate of ocean cruising. Even with the recession, Uniworld
competitors Viking River Cruises and AMA Waterways are growing at double-digit rates this year.

Why the surge? With fewer than 200 passengers per ship, river cruising is more laid-back and intimate than most
ocean cruising, without lines to embark, debark or wait for meals or crowds to overwhelm ports. On ocean cruises,
"there's too much herding around and standing in line," says Paula Wagner of the Travel Square One/Alltour agency
in Denver. It can also be more sociable. "You meet more people than on ocean cruises, because of the open-seating in
the dining room," says the ship's hotel director Siegfried Penzenleitner. "The average for a river cruise is 20 people."
Because river ships dock right in the center of town, cruising the inland waterways offers far easier entree to a region's
heartland including small medieval villages or grand historic capitals. Unlike on many ocean voyages, you can walk
right off the ship into town — whenever you like. No tendering ashore. No long drives to your destination.
Furthermore, the size and configuration of river vessels guarantees that every cabin is "outside" with a coveted river
view. And calm, shallow waters prevent any motion sickness of being at sea. Compared with bus touring, it's much
easier. "All the major cities of Europe are on a river, so why not unpack just once?" says Joy Whitney, 45, a researcher
from Princeton, N.J, who has taken five Uniworld cruises. Ian Dash, 48, an audio engineer from Sydney, agrees. Hey
says, "On a bus tri, most of the time you're on motorways going from city to city. The nice thing about a boat is you
can sleep in the same bed, and you travel slowly and can see the scenery rolling by." Finally, river cruising — unlike
most ocean liners — often includes excursions and wine with meals, as does the River Beatrice. That's a particularly
good value in Europe, where you pay upfront in dollars and avoid the unfavorable currency exchange.
"Economically, you can't beat it. You aren't nickel-and-dimed to death," says travel agent Wagner. "People say 'I can't
afford Europe,' but with this, I say 'yes, you can.' River cruising is under-promised and over-delivered."

A rising tide of cruises indeed, no fewer than nine new river ships are launching worldwide just this year: two from
Avalon Waterways, one from Viking River Cruises, three from AMA Waterways, one from Tauck, and two from
Uniworld. Avalon and AMA are rolling out three more in Europe next year, reflecting bullishness about a product
that appeals mainly to Baby Boomers, retirees and experienced travelers.

How does the River Beatrice, now Uniworld's flagship, make waves in a burgeoning market? By paying attention to
details; as in generous closet and storage space, vanity mirrors and good bathroom lighting, French balconies in 80%
of the staterooms. "I've toured a lot of other ships, and this one stands up," say Wagner. "They've been listening to
their customers." Overall, the River Beatrice fairly gleams, from the white Murano crystal chandelier in the two-story
lobby to the smartly appointed staterooms. Some 2,085 mirrors — from beveled wall insets to cabin table tops to full-
length in the bathrooms — enhance the luminosity and sense of space. Silk wallpaper, velvet curtains, original art
(Chagall, Picasso and Matisse, among others) and a soothing cream and brown color scheme complete the understated
elegance. There's no skimping on cabin amenities, either: flat-screen TVs, in-room safes, mini-fridges, hair dryers,
fluffy robes and slippers, and crisp white-on-white Egyptian cotton linens. Bathrooms boast floor-to-ceiling white
marble and luscious L'Occitane toiletries. Several unexpected touches stand out: espresso makers in the mini-suites,
delicate white orchids, and complimentary bottled water. One quibble: Although rooms are equipped with Internet
access, service was slow to non-existent.
Still, some passengers, such as Barbara King, a show-business retiree from Scottsdale, Ariz., find the 150-square-foot
cabins too small. But she still prefers this to the mega-liners. Visitors are immersed in the flavor of Europe from the
minute they step aboard. Start with the 53 crew — from the Dutch captain, Austrian hotel manager and German
cruise director, to the Romanian concierge, Hungarian masseur and Slovakian engineer. Well-prepared meals — some
five-star worthy — spotlight regional specialties, too: Hungarian goulash and cabbage soup (better than it sounds);
Wiener schnitzel and Sachertorte; Bavarian sausages and potato pancakes. But there's plenty for the less
adventuresome, with two entrees plus a vegetarian choice at dinner. After dinner, forget cabaret shows, casinos or
Broadway revues. Instead, cruise director Christine Bremberger showcases the local culture — especially fitting for a
region as famous for its musical heritage as Central Europe. Highlights include a magical night at the Kursalon
concert hall in Vienna, where a chamber music group played selections from the Strauss brothers, Mozart and
Haydn— all of whom lived in this music capital — as well as an unforgettable organ recital at St. Stephan's Cathedral
in Passau, which boasts the world's largest cathedral organ with nearly 18,000 pipes. You can even take onboard
Viennese waltz lessons. The makeup of passengers is international, too — Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom,
Canada and the USA — but all are English-speaking to avoid language barriers, says Robert Fitzgerald, a Uniworld
sales manager. Retirees Brian Johnson, 65, and Toni Johnson, 63, from Corlett, Australia, say they like the mix of
nationalities. They chose the River Beatrice "because we wanted the comfort and service," says Toni. "They're very
hands-on." For example, when Capt. Tom Buining overheard a passenger complain about the lack of weights in the
small fitness center, he bought some at the next port and delivered them personally.

Life on the river's banks, as comfortable as the, will draw you into the destinations. Slicing through the heart of the
Continent, the Danube historically was the lifeblood of its communities. Quiet country scenes and vineyards, citadels
and castles, monasteries and cathedrals form a never ending tapestry along its 1,770 miles. This itinerary features some
of Europe's great capitals: sophisticated, stylish Vienna with its reminders of Austro-Hungarian imperial grandeur;
historic Budapest, where coffee culture percolates again in some 300 cafes; Bratislava with its cozy cobble stoned Old
Town. But the less-known stops offer the most unexpected treats: tiny baroque Dürnstein (pop: 900), gateway to
Austrian wine country (bike tours to the vineyards are available). Melk, Austria, home to a 900-year-old cliff-top abbey
famous for its 80,000 medieval manuscripts. Storybook Salzburg, which is still alive with the sound of music on every
street corner and courtyard, and Passau, set in pastoral Bavaria. As Harvey King, an association executive from
Scottsdale, sums it up, "This cruise is a no-brainer."