Cruise lines await Danube River clean-up


FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. -- The war in Kosovo is over; Yugoslavia is lurching toward democracy and the Serbian city of Belgrade soon will be ready for cruise passengers.

A portion of the Danube River in Serbia -- which is part of the Yugoslav Republic -- was clogged by debris from bridges that had been destroyed by bombs, but efforts by the European Union to clear the waterway are nearly complete.

Several European-chartered ships plan to stop in Belgrade on their Danube itineraries, where tours of Belgrade and a visit to the fortress of nearby Novi Sad are scheduled.

In the U.S., Value World Tours, based here, plans to resume its five-country Danube cruises from Vienna through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Romania.

Value World president Samo Toplak acknowledged that some Serbs might harbor anti-American sentiment as a result of the NATO bombing that damaged the city in spring

of 1999.

"But this is cosmopolitan city. Most of the population is university educated and followed the war [in Kosovo] on the Web -- they don't buy into the anti-American propaganda that was spread during the war," he said.

Toplak, a native of Serbia, added that while some Serbs might resent the U.S. government, "there is no resentment toward American tourists."

He also noted that during Value World's daylong stop in Serbia, "cruise passengers are on an escorted sightseeing tour and are not wandering around the city on their own."

Value World charters the Balkan Beauty, built in 1968 with small cabins ranging from 98 to 110 square feet. The ship has modern amenities such as air conditioning, two dining rooms and an evening entertainment lounge.

Prices for the package start at $1,298, cruise only, for 11 nights.

Departures might be offered as early as May 21 and 31, Toplak said, depending on how the clean-up effort in the Danube is going.

"We'll know by March," he said.

Six definite dates are available Aug. 16 through Oct. 1.

Eninco, Calif.-based Uniworld said it plans to reintroduce its southern Danube itinerary, similar the program offered by Value World, in 2002.

Other cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises and Peter Deilmann Cruises will have ships this year that pass through Serbia without making port calls.

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