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The idea of coupling river and seagoing cruises isn’t altogether new. Years ago, for example, Princess Cruises packaged seagoing cruises and Yangtze River cruises together. But with the range of river cruising and the announcements of river cruise companies entering the seagoing sector, as well as seagoing companies building river cruise vessels, the concept is now seeing a strong resurgence.
These ocean-river packages are somewhat similar to back-to-back cruises. Some seagoing cruisers (whatever capacity the river ship can hold) can book two or more segments that are entire cruises in themselves to give them full immersion in a destination and allow them to take advantage of the culture that lies along both the seaports and rivers.
This summer, Celebrity Cruises announced 11 combined cruises of 16 to 24 nights with Amras Cruises (the North American face of 30-year-old European brand Luftner Cruises) within its Celebrity Explorations program. Combinations included a Danube cruise from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremberg, Germany, coupled with two days in London and a cruise in Spain and the Canary Islands; a roundtrip Seine cruise from Paris matched with an Israel and the Mediterranean cruise; and a Rhine cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, followed by a night in Rome combined with a transatlantic cruise to the Caribbean.
However, the program faded into the background after it was announced, and travel agents say they are unsure why. Tom Baker, co-owner of Houston-based CruiseCenter, thinks a strategic river cruise partnership without the linkage would have worked better. However, Jim Applebaum, vice president of sales for Amras, says the company has seen some success and believes the program will work better in the upcoming years. According to Applebaum, Amras and Celebrity are planning to meet shortly to continue discussions.
With Crystal Cruises’ announcement of two river cruise ships in the pipeline, along with its additional seagoing vessels and yacht, agents have been asking the line whether it will combine river and seagoing cruises. While the company says it is considering how that might be done, any announcements will likely come after its deployment of a diverse set of luxury products.
Viking Cruises says it is thinking about such a move, using the potential of its well-established river cruise fleet and its rapidly expanding new seagoing brand.
Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking, says the line has been encouraged to consider pairing its river and seagoing products because of guests’ increasing interest in longer cruises.
“We are finding that the number of nights they travel with us is increasing rather than decreasing,” Marnell said. “And more than 200 guests booked Viking Star’s first cruise for 50 days. Our river passengers are also moving into longer itineraries with our cruise tours, so this looks like something that could be quite successful.”
One plan Viking is considering is linking Baltic and Mediterranean ocean sailings with a river cruise for a six-week Grand Viking Voyage that would combine itineraries on Viking Star, Viking Sea and the Longship Viking Baldur. In total, it would include 17 countries and 36 guided tours.
Plans are by no means firm, but a possible lineup would be embarkation from Stockholm with an overnight, a day in Helsinki, two days in St. Petersburg, Russia, and one day in Tallinn, Estonia, then cruising the Baltic to Gdansk, Poland; Berlin; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Stavanger and Flam in Norway. After an overnight in Bergen, Norway, guests would fly to Amsterdam to embark on the river cruise portion of the trip, calling in the Netherlands and several ports in Germany and Austria, with overnights in Vienna and Budapest before flying to Venice, Italy. There, guests would have two hotel overnights, then sail on to Croatia, Greece, Italy, Monaco, France, with an overnight in Barcelona, Spain.
In addition to extending the range of penetration into a region, its surroundings and its culture, a combined cruise could expose more ocean cruisers to the river product, and vice versa as the market expands. It can be a very complex experience, even more so if itinerary options are customizable — so it’s wise to work with a travel agent on booking such a trip.