Cruise lines offering combined river and ocean itineraries

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Viking’s Ocean & River Voyages include passenger transfers in Amsterdam.
Viking’s Ocean & River Voyages include passenger transfers in Amsterdam.

As a growing number of cruise lines get into both the river and ocean side of the business, a new product has emerged: itineraries that combine a river cruise with a blue-water sailing. 

This past fall, Viking Cruises, which was among the first major cruise companies to offer both river and ocean cruises, quietly launched three such itineraries, called Ocean & River Voyages:

  • The 15-day Rhine & Viking Shores & Fjords combines a Rhine river cruise with a North Sea sailing (with departure dates in both 2018 and 2019). 
  • The 22-day Grand European & Viking Fjords combines a Danube, Rhine and Main cruise with a North Sea sailing (departures in 2019). 
  •  The 18-day Rhine and Amsterdam to Catalonia combines a Rhine cruise with a sailing along the Atlantic coast (departures in 2018).

Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing for Viking, said, "Our first two Ocean & River Voyages will sail this summer and fall, respectively, and they are completely sold out. That demand led to us expanding the program for 2019. We will have four total sailings in 2019, and, so far, we are optimistic about the initial response."

Viking’s Ocean & River Voyages combine a sailing on an oceangoing ship with one on a river cruise.
Viking’s Ocean & River Voyages combine a sailing on an oceangoing ship with one on a river cruise.

Crystal Cruises, which added river cruising to its portfolio of ocean and yacht cruises in 2016, has taken a similar tack. Crystal now offers eight itineraries that combine a river cruise with either a yacht sailing or an ocean cruise, a series the company calls Crystal Exclusive Journeys.

The first of those sailings is scheduled to depart this summer. All will start with a roundtrip river cruise out of Vienna on the Crystal Mozart, then continue with several different ocean or yacht options. For example, three of the ocean voyages take place on the Crystal Symphony, and one takes place on the Crystal Serenity, with options that include cruises from Barcelona to Lisbon; Marseille, France, to Barcelona; and Antwerp, Belgium, to Honfleur, France.

Walter Littlejohn, Crystal's managing director and vice president, said the combination cruises "have been very well received since the introduction of them last year."

Crystal's approach has been a bit different than Viking's. While Viking has thus far only combined river sailings and ocean cruises that share a common port (in Viking's case, Amsterdam), Crystal offers both itineraries on which there is an overlapping port (including Amsterdam) and where a nonstop flight can be included to get passengers between two ports.

So, for example, passengers might disembark the Crystal Mozart in Vienna, then take a nonstop flight to Dubrovnik, Croatia, to board the Crystal Esprit yacht.

Regardless of how complicated the transfer, both lines tout that a key benefit of doing the combination cruises is that the lines will handle logistics.

Scenic is slated to become the next major river cruise line to unveil an ocean product when its discovery yacht, the Scenic Eclipse, launches this summer. The line has indicated that once the yacht launches, it too will start offering similar combination cruises. And Scenic sister line Emerald Waterways plans to introduce combination ocean/river cruises after it launches its first oceangoing vessel in 2019, a 36-passenger yacht named the Adriatic Princess.

Pete Larson, a river cruise specialist and owner of the River Cruise Guru agency, said he had not received any inquiries for the combination cruises yet, but added that he sees potential for the product to gain popularity.

"We often get clients who are loyal to the river cruise line," Larson said, adding that in those cases, the clients would appreciate being able to stick with the brand they like for an ocean experience. He said products like this often come with discounts or perks.

Crystal, for example, explicitly states that there is a 15% to 20% discount on the ocean or yacht portion of the itinerary when booked in combination with a river cruise.

Despite Viking's sold-out itineraries, Don Baasch, owner of Las Vegas-based LastCallCruises, seemed less certain about the potential appeal of combined ocean/river sailings.

"Most river cruise inquiries continue to be from people looking to visit specific areas that are not accessible via ocean cruises," Baasch said. "So I'm wondering where the demand would come from."

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