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Elvis…Far From The Mississippi

It’s 1974. You’re Elvis Presley — many wished that for almost two decades. You’re not at the height of your career, but you’re still packing them in wherever you go. Some people actually are “Elvis Presley”…as impersonators are beginning to pop up. Your country is in an awful war (like there are any other kind), in Vietnam.

Fast forward 42 years.

Elvis is long gone. The impersonators are not. In fact, there are more Elvis look-a-likes than ever. Some of them are even pretty good performers, not just in Vegas and assorted venues ranging from small theaters to street corners.

One is doing it in Vietnam.

His real name is Damian Mullin and he’s an Australian…crikey! He’s the best of Australia’s Elvis impElvis impersonators, having won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and he has the seal of approval from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which means The King’s company has a financial interest in the performances in…Vietnam.

The event will take place over eight days in September, on board La Marguerite, a river cruise ship that sails under the flag of AmaWaterways through its Australian partners, on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“It’s an opportunity to present something different with a more intimate atmosphere,” said Jodie Quick, director of The Cruise Gallery, the Australian agency that’s selling the tour. “Most music cruises are on larger ships…[this one] gives passengers the chance to travel somewhere more adventurous and exotic with the comfort of Elvis’ crooning!”

The cruise is called Rockin’ the Mekong.

You can only imagine what Elvis would be thinking.

Today at portsandbows.comCelebrity Solstice back to Australia for 2017-18

Carnival Magic
7 nights
January 31, 2016
Galveston (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

First River Cruise: Mekong Riches

Our first river cruise — on AmaWaterways’ luxurious new AmaDara — is history. So it’s the first chance for us to compare it to what we’ve always known: ocean cruises.

This is not an all-inclusive comparison, as our “inaugural” was in a remote, somewhat virgin part of the river cruise world, Cambodia and Vietnam. There’s only a handful of AmaDarapassenger ships cruising the Mekong River. In Europe, the river cruise mecca, you might see that many in half an hour.

Given that caveat, here are some observations for anybody thinking about cruising the Mekong…

* It’s the best way to see this part of the world if you’ve never been there, and we hadn’t. Faced with such a different culture, customs in a Communist country and languages unlike anything resembling English, it’s comforting to retreat to the comfort of the AmaDara until you get your feet wet.

* Choose the time of year carefully. Right now is still monsoon season, which can mean heavy rainfall for at least part of every day. High season starts in November, for six months.

* Seeing the Mekong Delta is an eye-opener as to how dependent both countries are on the river. It is a working river in every sense of the word, the lifeblood for millions of people.

• There are fewer selections of shore excursions — usually no more than a choice of two — and in this area rarely do you walk off the ship and into an excursion. Bus and boat rides can take minutes to an hour or more to reach the destination on land, just like they do from ocean ships.

• The guides are wonderful and the shore excursions interesting, to say the least. Because river cruising is more expensive, shore excursions are usually included and onMekongthis cruise delivered a wide-ranging sample of the people, the lives they live and the obstacles they’ve overcome.

* A river ship like this is both comforting and confining. Everything is close and, with fixed meals and one main restaurant and maximum 124 passengers, a family feeling develops. Anonymity, for those who like it, is out of the question.

* Service is better than on the ocean ships. For example, the cruise director knew everybody by name — EVERYBODY — by the second day and he was always there to respond to the smallest of queries.

* Food reflects the local cuisines (pho soup in the morning), but there’s always comfort food on the menu for the less adventuresome. In that sense, it’s like ocean ships but the food quality is kicked up a notch or three.

* While you can’t walk anywhere, you have to be able to walk. There’s no elevator on the ship, no wheelchair accessibility to the ship and while shore excursions aren’t demanding, they almost all require lengthy walks in humid conditions.

* Getting on and off the ship is so much simpler. You pick up your boarding pass and return it when you get back.

* While it’s sold as a cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the rides at both ends can be lengthy…and we really did have to wait for a chicken to cross the road.

* On river ships the rooms are bigger, more comfortable and close to everything — obviously.

* The landscape is so different, a refreshing change from watching the waves go by, and there are photo ops left and right, every day, all day.

As a first river cruise, “Riches of the Mekong” is going to be a tough act for us to follow.

In the news…

• Fur Carnival ships sailing to Bermuda from April through November next year
• Today first chance for booking immersive cruises on Crystal Esprit from 2016 to 2018

Today at portsandbows.com: Regent Seven Seas’ sweet suites

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
7 nights
October 19, 2015
Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Motril, Gibraltar, Cartagena, Rome
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Nov. 11: Remembering Audie Murphy

Audie MurphyYesterday was a day for remembering war vets. In Canada, people wear poppies and attend services, and poppy sales were at an all-time high this year. In the U.S., war heroes are celebrated and the never-ending list of people serving in the Armed Services are saluted.

People like Audie Murphy.

Who's Audie Murphy?

There are probably two generations of North Americans who haven't a clue, including many from our generation. Those who have heard of him likely think of the Hollywood actor who for two decades played mostly cowboy type roles on the big screen, which meant his real story as a soldier was lost on many.

Not on Viking Cruises.

One of the shore excursions on one of the Viking itineraries includes a trip to the Audie Murphy Memorial. That would be in France, near a small town called Holtzwihr. The people of Holtzwihr — there are fewer than 2,000 living there today Holtzwihr Memorial to Audie L. Murphy— never forgot him. Thirteen years ago, they built the memorial. An American hero, an American movie star, a soldier's soldier as they say…celebrated to this day in the French countryside where he lived what might be called the day he became a legend.

And speaking of legends…the most popular one is that he held off, injured and killed dozens of enemy soldiers that day, almost single-handedly. He climbed onto a burning German tank, turned it on the enemy and held them at bay until he ran out of ammunition, returning on a wounded leg to his company, which he then led into battle. It was one of the turning-point battles in World War II.

Murphy was decorated with every known military combat medal and award for courage and valor — 33 of them. He was wounded three times. After returning from France at age 21, he suffered mightily from what today is known as PTSD. He died at age 45 in a plane crash in Virginia, 43 years ago.

Yesterday was a reminder to remember him, as a symbol of war veterans — all gave some, some gave all.

Viking Cruises is part of that.

– Photo of Audie Murphy Memorial by Conrad SickowViking Prestige

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival's unique and upgraded WiFi

Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas
8 nights
January 16, 2015
Baltimore (return): Port Canaveral, Nassau, CocoCay, Key West
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $62

Wait-And-See Time If Your Cruise Includes Russia

Was it just a few weeks ago that the world was watching Russia because that's where the Winter Olympics were? Is that short a time all it takes for the world to be watching Russia for wintry reasons far more serious…wintry, as in Cold War?

The world includes people who go on cruises because, since safety trumps everything when you're a tourist, there are trips to Russia on the line this year. Compared to what's happening in the Ukraine, this is incidental. Collateral damage, as it were. Yet it's a disruption for people with upcoming cruises booked in and around the Black Sea.

At least seven cruise lines have ships scheduled to visit Sevastopol this year. That's in Crimea. That's where the Russian Navy has blocked the harbor.

Odessa is a Black Sea port on many cruise-ship itineraries, and some river-cruise itineraries. It's in the Ukraine, but not in a potentially volatile part of it…for now.

It's not just safety that could sour plans. If travel visas are banned, it affects every St. P-Philipp Hienstorfer copycruise that touches the Russian shoreline, no matter how far it is from the troubled Crimea region…such as St. Petersburg (above), which both ocean and river ships frequent.

So far, nothing has been canceled or re-scheduled, but the start of the cruise season is just weeks away.

Cruise lines are watching. So is the rest of the world.

This time, it goes far beyond Sochi. This time, there are no gold medals.

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
April 20, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): FreeportNassau
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72

Viking Offer for China a Bucket Lister?

Going to China isn't something that's ever made it onto our Bucket List but if it did, could there be a more appealing way to go than on a river cruise?

There are many choices, and one of them caught our eyes this week because it seems somewhat affordable, which river cruises often aren't for the average traveler, from Viking Cruises.

How does this sound?

A 13-day cruisetour called Imperial Jewels of China at the end of February, from Shanghai to Beijing for $3,000 per person. That's about $230 a day and it includes 11 guided tours to many places a first-time tourist would like to see — The Great Wall, Three Gorges Dam, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square — in addition to all the usual accoutrements like a balcony room, just about all meals, two nights in upscale hotels, two Intra-China flights.

The ship is the Viking Emerald and, yes, of course you also have to fly to China. Viking's got a deal on that, too — $797, a 2-for-1 offer that applies on flights from Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

Add it all up and you can spend 13 days seeing China for under $3,800 per person. Viking's regular price for all this is $8,595.

Are we going?

Can't make it this time…we have a commitment in Washington DC the day the cruise ends.

But it just might go on the bucket list after all.

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
January 6, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $39

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