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For at least three years now, travel agents have reported a trend of mixing seagoing and river cruises. The cruise lines, however, have never packaged them — until now. Viking Cruises recently announced its 2019 Ocean & River Voyages product.
By uniting the river and ocean experiences, Viking is offering passengers a very rich experience of regional culture.
The cruises combine a 190-guest Viking Longship river cruise with a cruise on Viking’s fast-growing fleet of nearly identical 930-guest ocean ships. Agents’ main complaint is that the first two itineraries (setting sail in 2018) were already full when they heard about the product.
Debuting in May 2019, the Grand European & Viking Fjords itinerary will sail Budapest to Bergen, combining the 15-day Grand European Tour cruise on the Rhine and Danube rivers between Budapest and Amsterdam with the eight-day Viking Shores & Fjords ocean itinerary, which sails the North Sea between Amsterdam and Bergen, Norway.
Viking will also offer additional departures in 2019 of the 15-day Rhine & Viking Shores & Fjords combination itinerary, which debuts in June 2018 and will sail between Basel and Bergen.
“I think it is a brilliant move on Viking’s part,” said Rick Kaplan, president of Premier River Cruises. “It may have a wider appeal to international passengers who have more vacation time, but it should work well here in North America as well. I believe it will significantly assist Viking in filling new ocean and river capacity going forward."
And that seems to be the case.
“Our first two Ocean & River voyages will sail this summer and fall, respectively, and they are completely sold out,” said Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking Cruises. “That demand led to us expanding the program for 2019. We will have four sailings in 2019, and so far we are optimistic about the initial response."
Marnell says the company has chosen Amsterdam as a midway point in the itinerary because it is one of Viking’s most important river embarkation/disembarkation ports, as well as an embarkation/disembarkation port for its seagoing ships.
“For our 2019 offerings, we are joining an eight-day ocean itinerary that sails between Bergen, Norway, and Amsterdam with an eight- or 15-day river cruise itinerary that sails between Amsterdam and Budapest,” he said. “So, in Amsterdam, the logistics are actually fairly simple to transfer 190 guests from a Viking Longship to Viking Sun and vice versa within the same port complex. We are the only travel company that can marry ocean and river cruises into a seamless, unified journey.”
Looking beyond the scheduled cruises, Marnell says that Viking has not announced more new sailings beyond 2019, but are hopeful with the initial response among guests who see the value in a destination-focused experience that provides both a river cruise and ocean cruise, with only one international flight.
Beth Schulberg, owner of Oswego, Ore.-based Cruise and Travel Specialists and All About River Cruises, thinks the idea is a winner.
“Viking has great ideas; anything they do is like gold,” she said. “The company has made quality travel accessible to far more people, they have an unbelievable air department and they pay commission on everything — and then they come along with products like this that people are going to love.”
The DetailsViking Cruises www.vikingcruises.com