Tom Harper River Journeys' Birdsong vessel caters to solo travelers with 18 single staterooms with balconies. // © 2015 Tom Harper River Journeys
Feature image (above): The 88-cabin Birdsong offers a wine bar, a fitness center and a sauna. // © 2015 Tom Harper River Journeys
Boston-based Tom Harper River Journeys, which has previously blocked space on other companies’ vessels, will unveil its first company-owned ship for the 2016 river cruising season. Built and based in Europe, the 88-cabin Birdsong is designed with everything from a wine bar to a spacious fitness and wellness center with oversize windows, a whirlpool and a sauna.
Solo travelers are especially important to the company, as 18 cabins are dedicated to independent travelers. Single staterooms offer French balconies and 132 square feet of space, compared to double cabins that measure 165 square feet.
The ship’s inaugural 12-day cruise from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam is slated for March 2016. During the remainder of the year, Birdsong will operate 8- to 13-day river cruise tours along the waterways of Holland and Belgium as well as the rivers of the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube. Guests can expect special opportunities to sail during the Christmas market season and New Year’s holiday.
According to Bret Gordon, CEO of Tom Harper River Journeys, the name of the company refers to Mark Twain’s characters, Tom Sawyer and Joe Harper. This allusion signifies the kind of customer they target — two best friends traveling together on an adventure. Their premise is that the experience is about the destination, not the ships, and about the person you travel with.
Gordon said a large portion of the company’s market is made up of retired educators and that Tom Harper serves them with especially good guides. Limiting shore excursions to groups of 25 people creates a more intimate guiding experience.
The CEO also said that Tom Harper is keeping prices low by operating on a lower profit margin. To that end, the company has built a lot of technology behind the scenes to cut back on operations costs.
Tom Harper’s itineraries in Europe provide more time in ports for guests, and they go deeper into destinations. For example, in the Moselle region, the line takes travelers into Luxembourg. The Experience Your Way program means there is no charge for optional tours, either.
“On every journey, we give the customer a choice — go left, go right, art or monastery,” Gordon said. “They can see the destinations differently according to their own interests, and the tours are complimentary.”
In addition to the shore excursions, the line’s pricing includes drinks at lunch and dinner and all gratuities on land and water.
“Paired with our simplified and comprehensive pricing, including all tours, meals and gratuities, we will extend our proven concept of immersive and unique off-ship experiences by balancing must-see places on unique itineraries with those special spots known only by locals,” Gordon said.
The company is showcasing Birdsong’s new seven-night Eastern Europe on the Danube River through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania between Budapest and Bucharest. In Pecs, Hungary, Tom Harper provides a guided tour of the 11th-century Basilica of St. Peter and the Roman Necropolis — listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests will also visit the university town of Osijek, Croatia, which dates back to Neolithic times and was occupied by Celtic tribes, the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Habsburg dynasty.
Experience Your Way excursions include the Petrovaradin Fortress, overlooking the Danube, with roots dating back to the Paleolithic Age. The cruise calls in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and sails through the Iron Gates, an 83-mile-long river gorge dividing the Alps from the Carpathians and Serbia from Romania. It is one of the most picturesque areas of the Lower Danube.
There is an opportunity to combine the May 27, 2016, Eastern Europe departure with the June 3 Budapest to Nuremberg Highlights of the Blue Danube cruise. Combining these cruises will create a 14-day sailing.
On other ships, Tom Harper offers cruising through Scotland’s Caledonian Canal, Egypt and Southeast Asia. Travel consultants can book online via the company’s three-step booking system or by calling 855-464-2773.