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Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent was founded in 1962 as a safari tour operator in East Africa and has long since expanded to include much of the world on land tours and a selection of small-ship cruise offerings, on various ships that it charters or books into as well as hotel barge cruises in Europe and the UK. In February 2019, Manfredi Lefebvre, executive chairman of Silversea Cruises, took an 85% share in A&K with the founder Geoffrey Kent keeping just 15%. For the present, A&K’s worldwide operations will continue as is.

Itineraries:

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

The mighty Rhine flows through the heart of Europe. * Photo: A&K

Europe: For the riverboat program, with departures scattered throughout the cruising season (April to December/January), A&K uses Amadeus riverboats, such as AMADEUS QUEEN (built 2018, 162 passengers, AMADEUS SILVER III (b. 2016 & 168p), AMADEUS BRILLIANT (b. 2011 & 150p) and AMADEUS DIAMOND (b. 2009 & 14 p). The A&K group aboard each departure is limited to 24, led by an A&K resident tour director in conjunction with a local guide and using a private vehicle when going ashore. Most river cruises last a week, a few longer, and cover the Rhine, Main, Danube, Rhone and Soane, Seine and Loire, plus Belgian and Dutch waterways during the bulb season and the Danube during Christmas season. Cruises are bracketed by hotel stays that add up to 9- to 11-day cruise tours, and one Holland to Hungary 17 days. All cabins have large picture windows and either walkout balconies or French balconies. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner, and A&K passengers have separate reserved tables at meals. and occasionally, some are taken ashore. All gratuities included except for the resident tour director.

A&K also sells oodles of hotel barge trips all over France, Italy (Po Valley), Ireland (Shannon), England (Thames),  Scotland (Caledonian Canal) and Holland (numerous waterways).

For sailing ship cruises, the venerable 64-passenger SEA CLOUD (b.1931) and companion ship, the 94-passenger SEA CLOUD II (b. 2001) cover the Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula and Northern Europe.

In 2018, A&K is also offering luxury expedition-style cruise charters in the Greek Isles aboard the brand new 150-passenger LE LAPEROUSE, described as “mega-yacht,” and including butler service in all suites, spa and gym with a hamman, underwater lounge, heated outdoor infinity pool, and a marina with  hydraulic platform and Zodiacs.

Asia: A&K charters Ponant’s 199-passenger LE SOLEAL  for a 14-day springtime land and sea tour beginning in Osaka then traveling south to Kyoto and Hiroshima and then following West Coast, with a diversion to an historic temple complex in South Korea, then on north to Sapporo finishing with a flight back south to Tokyo. The varied content includes Japanese culture, history, art, architecture, gardens and nature.

Asia Rivers:  In China, a 13-day tour includes a 3-night Yangtze River cruise aboard SANCTUARY YANGTZE EXPLORER (18 passengers aboard a riverboat shared with others); in Myanmar, an Irrawaddy River cruise aboard the SANCTUARY ANANDA (18 passengers) is part of an 11-day cruise tour; and on the Mekong River, sail on MEKONG PRINCESS (24 passengers) as part of a 12-day cruise tour from Bangkok and includes Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Angkor Wat.

Egypt: A&K uses the posh 12-passenger SANCTUARY ZEIN NILE CHATEAU, an intriguing-looking motor yacht with fore and aft felucca-type sails, offering four days aboard, and part of a longer 14-day Egypt and Jordan  itinerary that includes Cairo, the pyramids, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Petra, Jerash and more. Departures September through November.

Expedition Cruises: A&K takes a full ship charter of Ponant Cruises’ LE BOREAL built in 2010, limiting the capacity to 199 in all balcony cabins and  the similar L’AUSTRAL, completed in 2015. On selected dates, expeditions visit the Antarctic Peninsula with others extended to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the expedition staff caters to children between the ages of 7 and 18 with programs aboard and trips ashore. In the Arctic, a 15-day expedition-style cruise begins in Norway and visits Svalbard, Greenland, and Iceland. A 24-day Northwest Passage voyage embarks in Kangerlussuaq , Greenland and disembarks in Nome, Alaska.

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Antarctica beauty. * Photo: Abercrombie & Kent

Cuba: The chartered LE PONANT (built 1991 & 58 passengers) will be the focus of an 11-day Cuba cruise tour from Santiago de Cuba along the south coast to Havana. Hotel stays in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.

Special Notes: See Ponant Cruises for more complete information on their vessels.

Contact: Abercrombie & Kent, 1411 Opus Place, Executive Towers II West, Suite 300, Downer’s Grove, IL 60515-1098;  www.abercrombiekent.com; 800-433-8410.

— TWS

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Grand Circle has the hots for American seniors and solo travelers, often by offering singles low or no single supplements, and no single supplements on pre- and post- trip extensions.

Grand Circle Cruise Line is an arm of Grand Circle Travel, founded in 1958 as a tour operator for senior adults. In addition, another subsidiary is Overseas Adventure Travel catering to the over 50 for land and sea trips, overlapping with the cruise line for adventure cruise programs. The firm concentrates on European river cruising with its wholly-owned fleet of small ships, and otherwise both owned and chartered vessels cruising throughout Northern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europe, plus Egypt, Panama, and Antarctica. Add-on land packages are also a big draw.

Ships, Years Delivered & Number of Passengers: The sizeable fleet is divided between small riverboats and ocean-going ships, either owned or privately-chartered by Grand Circle.

The privately-owned European river fleet numbers eleven: BIZET (built 2002 & 120 passengers) for the Seine; PROVENCE (b. 2000 & 46 p) for the Rhone & Soane; RIVER ARIA (b. 2001 & 162 p), RIVER ADAGIO (b. 2003 &162 p), RIVER CONCERTO, RIVER HARMONY & RIVER MELODY (b. 2000 & 140 p), and RIVER RHAPSODY (b. 1999 & 140 p) for the Rhine, Mosel, Main & Danube; RIVER ALLEGRO (b. 1991/remodeled 2011 & 90 p) for the Elbe; NEFERTITI (b. 2000, 75p) for the Nile.

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

The privately-owned ocean-going fleet numbers four: CORINTHIAN (b. 1990 & 98 p) for Europe, Morocco, South America and Antarctica. ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (b. 2007 & 50 p) with lots of itineraries in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Newly-added is the 89-passenger CLIO (formerly Tere Moana and built in 1988 as Le Levant) that began cruising in June 2016 in Northern Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean.

Privately-chartered ships: DISCOVERY, a catamaran (b. 204 & 24 p) for 12-day cruise tour to Panama and the Panama Canal (on board 3 nights). NEFERTITI, a Nile riverboat (b. 2000, refurbished 2008, 75 p). 5 decks, no elevator.

Passenger Profile: Grand Circle caters to Americans of the 50 years and up set, including many solo travelers, 3 in 10 according to the line.

Passenger Decks: River fleet (46-162 passengers except where noted): RIVER ADAGIO & RIVER ARIA, RIVER RHAPSOY & RIVER HARMONY (4 decks & elevator between 2 cabin decks); BIZET (3 decks & elevator between cabin decks); PROVENCE (46 p) & RIVER ALLEGRO (90 p) and both 3 decks & no elevator);  CORINTHIAN (5 decks & elevator to all decks); ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (4 decks & no elevator); catamaran DISCOVERY (3 decks & no elevator).

Cruising Germany's Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising Germany’s Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price: $$ Moderate. For solo travelers, go to www.gct.com/solo

Included features: All cruises of many differing lengths: international airfare, excursions ashore and listed events aboard & ashore; beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch & dinner; Internet (limited to dedicated public areas and certain river stretches); port charges; and gratuities to drivers & local guides but not ship personnel. 5% frequent traveler credit is applied to your next booking. River cruise tour groups are limited to 47; while small oceangoing ships are limited to 25 when ashore.

Itineraries: European river cruises and many pre- and post cruise tours including land travel and hotel stays (9 to 28 days)  take in Belgian & Dutch waterways; Rhine & Mosel; Main and Danube; Elbe; Seine; Rhone & Saone; La Rochelle, Bordeaux and cruise the Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne rivers; Myanmar (Burma) river cruise tour along the Irrawaddy. Small ship ocean-going cruises and cruise tours to North Europe, Iberia and Morocco & Antarctica with the CORINTHIAN; Mediterranean cruise-tours with ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA; Panama and the canal cruise tours with DISCOVERY. CLIO cruises North Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean. In winter, CLIO offers 11-night cruise tours to Cuba, sailing from Miami for a 7-night cruise calling at six ports, then a 3-night hotel stay in Havana and flight back to Miami. Alternate trips will start with a flight from Miami to Havana for 3 nights, and a 7-night cruise that returns to Miami. Rates include ship and air transportation, all tours, gratuities and visa. China land tour and Yangtze River cruise operate March to May, July, September and October using the 218 passenger VICTORIA SELINA, VICTORIA LIANNA or similar riverboat. Most recently, 15-night Egyptian cruise tours spend seven nights aboard the chartered 75-passenger riverboat NEFERTITI from February to the end of May and again August through December. Passenger go on tour in groups of no more than 25.  Israel/Jordan extensions add another week.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? Every region that Grand Circle covers has its own attractions. River cruises are an ideal way to see the cities, towns, castles, palaces, landscapes, cultural sites and river life without packing and unpacking. Small ship cruises allow calls to both popular and less frequented ports, and inshore cruising where big ships cannot go.

When to Go? In Europe, the peak summer months will see the most tourists and some land destinations may be crowded, while before June and after September, the numbers fall off. The earliest and latest dates will be chilly and may have more rain. Bundle up for the Christmas markets on river cruises, a different sort of experience.

Cabins: Riverboats have many shared features: mostly all outside cabins with picture windows, though windows on the lowest deck will not open as there are positioned just above the waterline. Cabins are most often about 160 sq. ft., and some have narrow step out balconies. TVs with CNN and radio are common features. Beds are usually fixed twins with some convertible to sofas during the day. Many cabins are equipped with emergency call buttons.

Adriatic coastal cruise. * Photo: Grand Circle

Adriatic coastal cruise to Croatian and Montenegro ports. * Photo: Grand Circle

The three Mediterranean small ships have Upper Deck double cabins with balconies, Main Deck cabins with portholes that open and measure 150 to 170 sq. ft. Two singles on the crew deck are 140 sq.ft., with fixed portholes. The CORINTHIAN offers what are referred to as suites, measuring from 215 to 285 sq. ft. that in effect means a separate sitting area with sofa, occasional chair and coffee table. Beds are arranged as twins or queens. The top two decks of suites have small balconies and all features windows, apart from seven on the lowest deck with portholes. Cabins amenities are TV, DVD/CD player, mini-refrigerator and telephone. The catamaran DISCOVERY has small windowed cabins with twin or queen beds. CLIO’s cabins range from 194 to 205 sq.ft. and some have balconies. Very attractive open and covered aft veranda for dining.

The Corinthian * Photo: Grand Circle

The 98-passenger Corinthian cruises European waters and Antarctica. * Photo: Grand Circle

Single supplements are often the lowest of any river cruise line and in some cases are waived completely. The line offers pick a travel companion on a site where interested passengers share profiles.

Public Rooms: The riverboats share in common a forward observation lounge with bar here or adjacent to the aft situated dining room, and most have a small library. The Sun Decks will have open and covered lounge spaces. The Mediterranean ships have adjacent lounges and restaurants (with bar) and Sun Deck with bar and grill. The CORINTHIAN’S public spaces are all stacked aft with the dining room on the portholed lowest deck, and lounge and library above that. An outdoor café serves breakfast and light lunches. The top deck offers a Jacuzzi, and massage room is located on the deck below. The DISCOVERY’S single space serves as viewing lounge, bar, library and dining room. Covered deck space is aft on two decks. CLIO has two dining areas, two bars, library, and whirlpool.

Dining: All vessels operate with one open sitting, and the small ships have a reputation for more creative food than the riverboats, aided by the smaller number of passengers and higher per diem fares. Food caters to American tastes with some regional specialties.

Activities & Entertainment: Shared activities ashore are limited to groups of 25 passengers on the small ships and 47 on the river fleet. Well trained program directors, native or local residents of the region, shepherd the groups. Activities aboard the riverboats may include classes on painting or cooking, language lessons, glassblowing and talks on such topics as river commerce, politics and the European Union. Shore excursions may be on foot or use a bus to see the sights and make visits to schools, farms, a private home or porcelain factory. The small ships offer both talks geared to the region, and included sightseeing forays in port are often on foot when the ship docks close to the center, with buses for more distances destinations. The DISCOVERY offers outdoor activities to islands, national parks, small villages and water sports in addition to the cruise tour’s Panama land portion.

Special Notes: Grand Circle often offers some of the lowest fares for its river cruise program. WHAT TO EXPECT outlines physical requirements such as the amount of walking, accessibility for travelers with mobility restrictions, types of terrain, transportation used and climate information. Grand Circle Travel operates world-wide land tours, and China tours include a 4-night Victoria Cruises’ river vessel along the Yangtze.

N.B. If Grand Circle interests you, and even if not!, sign up for the weekly Inside Scoop, a round up of travel news and insights, weekly films, recipes, themed destinations, and travelers’ photos.

Along the Same Lines: Other river operators and Viking’s new ocean-going fleet, though with a much larger capacity.

Contact: Grand Circle Cruise Line, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210; www.gct.com; 800-221=2610

— TWS

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SeaDream's beloved champagne and caviar beach party. Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

SeaDream’s beloved champagne and caviar beach party.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Snapshot: SeaDream was created for lovers of luxury who shun formality and stiff upper lips and instead embrace a casual “no-jackets-required” elegance on route to the British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Italian Riviera, Adriatic Sea and other chic pockets of the world. SeaDream’s two mini cruisers feel like yachts in many ways, with their classic thick wooden doors, bar tops and furniture, and all the brass details and navy-blue fabrics. There’s lots of outdoor deck space for passengers to hang out on sipping endless glasses of Prosecco or other free-flow libations, all included in the fares. In port, the SeaDream MO is to stay late in places like St. Barts and St. Tropez so passengers can sample the local restaurant and bar scene. When possible, the ships anchor in places where passengers can zip through the surf on a WaveRunner, and in port, pedal around on a bicycle, both stowed on board. The line’s beloved champagne and caviar party on a remote beach is a cruise highlight and epitomizes SeaDream’s laid-back style of indulgence.

Before SeaDream was founded in 2001, its two ships had another life; they were originally built for Sea Goddess Cruises and named SEA GODDESS I and SEA GODDESS II. From their launch in the mid-80s, the pair was considered two of the poshest small-ships on the high seas. They changed hands a few times over the years, becoming a part of the Cunard and then Seabourn fleets, before joining SeaDream.

N.B. In Spring 2019, the line announced the building of a brand-new yacht for 220 passengers occupying 110 veranda suites. Constructed in the Damen shipyard in the Netherlands, the ship is expected to debut in September 2021 and to make a series of worldwide cruises that will take the ship to all seven continents. More details as they are revealed. N.B. In early December 2019 the order for the new ship was cancelled,  no reason given. However, all initial bookings will be refunded, and it is hoped to announce a new ship order in 2020, and meantime, the refurbishment of suites aboard SeaDream II will begin as planned in early 2020. 

Ship, Year Delivered & PassengersSeaDream I (built 1984, 112 passengers) and SeaDream II (b. 1985, 112 p)

Passenger Profile: Mostly Americans and some Europeans and Canadians, majority 50+. Holidays and summers you’ll see extended family groups too, sometimes several generations; though these ships are not geared in any way to young kids under about age 12. A good slice of the line’s business comes from full-ship charters, often by large (rich) families. Occasionally there are big groups on board that take over half the ship; when booking ask if there are any on your sailing to avoid feeling like an outsider.

Passenger Decks: 5; an elevator connects all but top deck.

Price: $$-$$$  Expensive

Included Features: Wine at lunch and dinner, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, gratuities, use of water “toys” from the yacht’s marina and mountain bikes.

Itineraries:

On June 4, 2019, the U.S. government announced new travel restrictions for Cuba that directly impact cruise travel to the Caribbean nation. After much consideration and extensive discussions with travel partners, SeaDream Yacht Club has decided to cancel its 2020 Cuba Collection. At this time, there are no future Cuba sailings on SeaDream itineraries.

  • Many 7 days and others 5- to 9-night Eastern Caribbean cruises mostly from Barbados, St. Martin, St. Thomas and San Juan. CANCELLED: Now many cruises include some or a heavy focus on Cuban ports with one end embarking or disembarking in Havana or Cienfuegos. CANCELLED
  • 5- to 11-night cruises in the Med, between ports including Lisbon, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Nice, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Adriatic ports, Piraeus (for Athens), Greek Islands, and Turkish coast. Cruises may easily be combined without any repeat port calls.
  • 12-14 day transatlantic positioning cruises between the Caribbean and Mediterranean seasons have the option of tacking on a Caribbean and/or a Mediterranean itinerary at either or both ends.
The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. Photo: Ben Lyons

The mini SeaDream cruisers can slip into ports and waterways the biggies cannot. * Photo: Ben Lyons

Why Go?  The ships are casually chic and all-inclusive, and you can’t beat the size: large enough for two restaurants, a pool and a hot tub, and small enough to feel intimate enough to make friends easily. A crew of 95 means there’s almost one crewmember for every passenger; they may even lead walking tours or bike rides in port, called “shore-side casuals.” Service isn’t stuffy or cloying, but trust us, you’ll want for nothing.

When to Go? The SeaDream twins cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins: All the cabins feature lots of real wood furniture and cabinetry for a nautical feel, plus an efficient entertainment center with a flat screen TV, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station that also incorporates a vanity, desk and mini-bar, stocked with beer, soft drinks and water. A sofa can accommodate a third guest in all cabins, ideal for an older child. There are 54 Yacht Club cabins measuring a comfortable 195 square feet, and 16 of them can be combined to create 8 double rooms called Commodore Suites (cabins on Deck 2 have portholes, those on Decks 3 and 4 have large picture windows). There are also two large suites. Beds are clad in Belgian linens are very comfortable, though on the narrow side, and storage space is generous.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Marble covered bathrooms have showers and are small, but functional. The Bulgari toiletries are appreciated and so are the free cotton SeaDream-logo pajamas. Other extras include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, make-up mirror, personal stationary and hair dryer. Cabins have dataports for Internet Access (for a fee), but on our last cruise, it was veryyyy slow. These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as doorways to cabins are not wide enough and elevators don’t reach all decks.

Public Rooms: There are two restaurants — one indoor, one out — plus the roomy Main Salon lounge with a dance floor and small bar, that’s used for port talks, movies, and pre- and post-dinner dancing. It leads out to the stern-facing pool deck and bar. One level up on Deck 4 is the Piano Bar, often the scene of sing-alongs, and adjacent to it, a tiny casino and a small library. Forward on Deck 4 is the surprisingly well-equipped ocean-view gym with half a dozen cardio machines and a spa with four treatment rooms and outdoor space. Up on Deck 6, is the Top of the Yacht Bar, where a thick wooden U-shaped bar holds pride of place under a sail-like roof with the rest of wonderfully open to the elements. It’s the place for drinks any time, and it’s especially fab at sunset. If the crowd is eager, the bartenders will crank up dance music after dinner and patrons can dance and let their hair down.

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board. Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

A typical delicious lunch buffet on board.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining: Eating is a high point, especially when the weather allows dining in the open-air Topside Restaurant up on Deck 5; otherwise, it’s the more traditional Dining Salon inside down on Deck 2. The Topside’s cozy tables for two or three tucked into the wooden banquets along the edges are much sought after, while the wake-facing tables for four are wonderful if the wind isn’t too strong. Seating is open, with plenty of tables for two and four, but a few days into the cruise, most people are eager to dine with new friends at larger combined tables. In Topsiders, breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with elaborate displays of homemade breads and pastries, as well as fruits. Similarly, at lunch, the buffet is generously laid out with a variety of salads, cold cuts and cheeses; at both meals there are ala carte items prepared in the galley, from eggs Benedict and crepes at breakfast, to grilled fish or a noodle dish at lunch. For dinner in the Dining Salon, choose a de Degustation (tasting) menu or go with Japanese, raw food or pan-Asian dishes in addition to popular western standards. Mid afternoon snacks are served poolside and if you’re hankering for caviar, just ask for it if you don’t mind paying extra. There’s 24-hour room service for snacks and lite meals.

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Life on a SeaDream cruise is lived up on deck.  *  Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment: When the ships are on the move, passengers love sunbathing and snoozing on the firm Queen-sized sunbeds that line the top-most deck (though depending on the wind direction, soot from the funnels can make things a tad unpleasant). They also love sipping a refreshing glass or two (or more) of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc at the open-air bar or around the small pool on the protruding aft deck, with great views of the ship’s wake. When anchored, weather and conditions permitting, a watersports platform at the stern allows you easy access to kayaks, sailboats, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, personal water craft (Jet Skis), water skis and a floating island/trampoline. There are also mountain bikes for use in port (mostly in Europe and the Caribbean) and each ship has a golf simulator and wii gaming consoles for use in the Main Salon.

On all cruises in the Caribbean, and in the past in Asia too, the high point of the week’s activities is SeaDream’s indulgent “Caviar and Champagne Splash” held on a remote stretch of beach somewhere. Passengers happily wade through the surf to grab plastic glasses of champagne and dollops of caviar from waiters standing chest high in the ocean and serving the goodies from floating life rings and surfboards. It’s all giggles and guzzles, as passenger revel in the frivolous (and fun) absurdity of it all. The beach bubbles are followed by a full lunch at tables set up in the sand. Evenings on board, entertainment consists of drinks with new friends, sing-alongs at the piano bar, gambling in the tiny casino, dancing on deck at the Top of the Yacht Bar, and a weekly outdoor movie shown under the stars. During the day, occasionally there are talks or special films shown about the destination, but generally SeaDream does not host expert lecturers. There are however, a handful of wine appreciation theme cruises every year, with tastings and a winemaker’s dinner hosted by a guest winemaker or winery owner.

Along the Same Lines: Windstar may be the closest, especially its sailing ships but with less pampering and less expensive fares.

Contact Info: 601 Brickell Key Drive, Suite 1050 Miami, FL 33131; www.seadream.com; 800-707-4911 or 305-631-6100. UK freephone 0800-783-1373. See website for other phone numbers for Australia, New Zealand, East & Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America.

— HMS

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore. Photo credit: Christina Colon

The nimble Sea Dream ships can cruise close to shore.  *  Photo: Christina Colon

 

 

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