Hop Aboard First U.S Ship to Cruise on an Italian River

Posted: April 19, 2013  |  By: Gene Sloan [USA Today]

VENICE, Italy — For Kathy Selvaggio, 62, of Valencia, Calif., and several dozen other tourgoers, it is a night to remember.

Entering Venice's centuries-old St. Mark's Basilica through a side door, they shuffle down the main aisle in near darkness, taking seats near the altar. It is hours after closing time, and the cavernous icon of Venetian wealth and power is empty, its lights turned off.

Moments later, a bank of lights above the altar kicks on, revealing the glittering golden dome of mosaics above the raised tomb of St. Mark. Then another bank of lights switches on, and another, and soon the entirety of the enormous church and its many treasures — from its tessellated marble floors to its gold- and gem-covered alterpiece — are glowing.

"The fact that it was opened just for us makes it special," Selvaggio says as she gazes across the Byzantine masterpiece's mosaic-encrusted walls. "We're getting the chance to really explore it, and I think that's unusual."

It's not the only unusual thing about this tour. As the evening comes to an end, a guide leads Selvaggio and her traveling companions to water taxis for a quick trip back to their accommodations. They are not in a local hotel or one of the giant cruise ships docked at the Venice maritime station, but in a small river ship tied up along a nearby waterway: Uniworld's River Countess.

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