DER launches fjord cruises, escorted plan

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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- DER Travel Services' new products include two Norwegian fjord cruises with land-based accommodations and one escorted tour of Oslo, Norway, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden.

Perry Bender, director of product development for DER Travel, said a key reason why the company expanded its program to Scandinavia was that the region "is not really saturated like a lot of other areas of Europe, specifically in the summertime."

He added that following a banner year for travel to Europe, particularly to Italy and Germany, many U.S. travelers, who prior to last year traveled only to the Caribbean or other parts of the U.S., have picked up the European travel bug, and are looking for different areas to experience.

The seven-night escorted tour, titled Scandinavian Capitals, visits the capitals of Norway, Denmark and Sweden and is priced $961 per person, double. The tour has nine guaranteed departures this summer: June 28, July 5, 12, 19 and 26, and Aug. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Seven breakfasts are included.

Both the Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord cruises depart from Bergen, above. Scandinavian Capitals spends two nights each at the Radisson SAS Plaza in Oslo, the Imperial Hotel in Copenhagen and the Scandic Slussen Hotel in Stockholm, or similar properties. One night is spent aboard a Scandinavian Seaways ferry cruise from Oslo to Copenhagen.

Days on the escorted tour are evenly divided and alternate between four days of free time and three days of planned sightseeing -- one in each of the capitals visited.

Starting in Oslo, the tour visits the Viking Ship Museum, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump and Frogner Park, featuring sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland.

The Copenhagen portion of the tour spends an evening at Tivoli Gardens after a day spent seeing the Little Mermaid sculpture, Rosenborg Palace with its Crown Jewels and Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

A sightseeing tour of Stockholm includes City Hall, where the Nobel Prize ceremonies are held, the Royal Palace and the charming Old Town.

As for DER's two new Scandinavian cruise packages, Bender said, "One reason why we picked these was because they can be combined nicely with the Norway in a Nutshell [rail] package, from Oslo to Bergen. This is a perfect add-on for that, and I think it could be sold relatively easily [in conjunction with Norway in a Nutshell]."

The Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway, is visited on DER's cruise of the Sognefjord. Both the Sogne Fjord Cruise and Hardanger Fjord Cruise offer three nights of land-based hotel accommodation and are priced at $729 per person, double occupancy.

Guaranteed departures run weekly every Monday, from May 14 through Aug. 27.

For either package, the first night is spent in Bergen, Norway, at the Admiral Hotel or in similar accommodations.

The pivotal choice in deciding between the fjord packages may come down to whether one wishes to stay at the same hotel for the remaining two nights (the Sogne Fjord Cruise), and do excursions, or stay in a different location each of the three nights (the Hardanger Fjord Cruise).

The Sogne Fjord Cruise stays at Kvikne's Hotel in Balestrand. The Sognefjord on which it sails is said to be the deepest and longest fjord in the world, at 126 miles long and 4,251 feet deep.

Besides the "king of fjords' itself, highlights include a visit to Lake Jolster, which is tied in to a visit to landscape painter Nikolai Astrup's home; the Boyabreen Glacier, which is said to be Norway's largest; and the Hopperstad Stave Church, which dates to 1150.

Another highlight of the Sogne Fjord Cruise package is a ride on the Flam railway, which ascends a steep, narrow mountain valley through scenery of waterfalls and mountainsides, and dramatically descends from a height of 2,952 feet to the level of the fjord below.

The Hardanger Fjord Cruise stays at the Hardanger Fjord Hotel as well as the Ullensvang Hotel in Lofthus. Nicknamed "queen of the fjords," Hardangerfjord is the second-longest fjord in Norway, behind the Sognefjord.

The Hardanger Fjord Cruise package also visits the home of an artist, in this case violin virtuoso Ole Bull in Lysoen, as well as a glacier, Folgefonna, Norway's third largest.

In lieu of the scenic train ride, a special treat on the Hardangerfjord itinerary is a horse and carriage ride from Rosendal to the Barony at Rosendal, with its 300-year-old rose garden. A visit to a fruit farm in Fyksesundet is another highlight.

Both fjord packages include two dinners and three breakfasts at the hotels, as well as three buffet-style lunches aboard ship.

Relatively small, 100-capacity ships are used for the day sailings on the two fjord itineraries, Bender said.

"They are able to get more of a personal cruise into the fjords and into the arms of the fjords," Bender said. "There are some bigger cruise ships that go right down the middle of the fjords, whereas these smaller ships travel into the arms and get into the scenery."

For reservations, call DER Travel Services at (800) 782-2424. For DER's Vacations in Europe brochure, fax a request to (800) 860-9944 or visit the Web site: www.dertravel.com.

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