Orient Lines extends port stays


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orient Lines sweetened the appeal of its Scandinavia & Russia cruise-tour, a combination seven-day cruise and two-night hotel stay introduced last year, by heeding passenger and agent comments and adding more time in Stockholm, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Extra time to explore the Swedish and Russian ports was created by redesigning the itinerary from a roundtrip cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Stockholm into a one way from Copenhagen to Stockholm, or the reverse.

Last year's 10-hour stay in Stockholm was expanded into an overnight aboard the ship and a sightseeing tour.

For the visit to St. Petersburg, the change means two full days and an overnight instead of the 12-hour stay offered last year.

One-way itineraries are the norm for Orient Lines.

"By sailing one way, you get to stay longer in a port and visit more ports," said Mitchell Schlesinger, Orient Lines' senior vice president of sales, marketing and passenger services. "That's part of our destination-intensive philosophy."

Included hotel stays are also a calling card for the cruise-tour company.

The Scandinavia & Russia program features two nights at a first class or deluxe hotel in Copenhagen, giving passengers ample opportunity to visit the city's castles (an optional, $115, full-day excursion visits Frederiksborg, Fredensborg Palace and Kronborg Castle on the island of Zealand) and Tivoli Gardens.

Similarly, the added overnight aboard the ship in St. Petersburg "enables people to spread out the tours they take and also see a cultural event in the evening," Schlesinger said.

This year, evening excursions in St. Petersburg are a ballet performance at the St. Petersburg Conservatory ($55 per person) and performances of Russian folk songs and dances, highlighted by the high-kicking dance of the Cossacks, ($48 per person) at Carnival Concert Hall.

Is the inclusion of Russia a key selling point to the mostly Scandinavian itinerary, which also features a 10-hour day in Helsinki, Finland, and a six-hour visit in Tallinn, Estonia?

"Yes, dramatically so," said Schlesinger. "There's so much history and beauty in St. Petersburg, and that is a very big selling point."

Orient Lines' Scandinavia bookings are 50% ahead of this time last year, Schlesinger said, "because of the combination of being [in Scandinavia] for a second season and changing the Scandinavia & Russia itinerary."

Orient Lines carried about 14,000 U.S. travelers in Scandinavia last year.

"Our acquisition of the Crown Odyssey prompted the expansion there," Schlesinger explained. "After obtaining the [1,030-passenger] Crown, we put it on the Mediterranean itineraries and moved the [830-passenger] Marco Polo to the Scandinavian itineraries."

Agents Marek Kubik, president, owner and founder of 1-800-Sail-Yes in Dunedin, Fla., and Craig Martin, president of Cruisin' Inc., Philadelphia, sold groups on Russia & Scandinavia cruises last year, and both said that the relatively small ship, the included hotel stay in Copenhagen and additional time and overnights in St. Petersburg and Stockholm are key selling points this year.

"On a small ship," Kubik said, "you are not one of thousands of people. You get to talk to everyone."

Kubik also credited cruise director David Lawton for being "a real cruise director" and "great entertainer. He runs his own show and is very visible on the ship."

Lawton, also director of entertainment for Orient Lines, will be the cruise director aboard the Marco Polo's Scandinavian itineraries from June 1 through Aug. 5.

Kubik also said a ship of the Marco Polo's size has the advantage of docking close to town in cities such as Tallinn, where it is near the Old Town harbor and within walking distance of the city. Larger cruise ships are forced to dock a half hour's drive away from the city at Mugga harbor.

"You probably see as much in that nine-day package as some others' 12-day packages," Martin said, "but it's, of course, less expensive, and it's a great value."

Both agents had high praise for Orient Lines as a cruise company.

"Individuals or groups," Martin said, "this is the one cruise line we never get any complaints on."

Also from an agency perspective, Martin added, "in handling special requirements for a group, [the line] works with you for soft as well as tight sailings, unlike some of the majors that tend to fight you all the way and work with you only if they need your help."

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