Travelers are pairing rivers and rails in 2021 bookings

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Uniworld will sail its northern Italy cruises on the La Venezia. Some of the departures will offer land and rail packages.
Uniworld will sail its northern Italy cruises on the La Venezia. Some of the departures will offer land and rail packages.
Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Planes, trains and riverboats?

That's a combination that is shaping up as a hot trend, as travelers eager to make up for their canceled 2020 river cruises are looking to double down on their 2021 vacations with train trips through Europe before or after their cruise.

Frank Marini, president of Yankee Leisure Group, which operates Railbookers, says it is "getting tons of requests" from agents looking for customized add-ons.

"The one thing with train travel, it's almost like the sleeping giant at times," he said. "Because it means something different to so many different people. But it's always there; it will always be there. But it's always interesting to me because [a rise in demand] follows certain trends, whether that's good or bad trends."

In Europe, he said, "with agents rebooking river cruises, all of a sudden here comes demand there with add-ons or variations that we haven't seen before."

Even before the pandemic, some river companies had begun looking at more extensive add-ons to river cruise itineraries.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, for example, in February announced  a partnership with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains to add packages with both land and rail options for 2021.

Uniworld is offering the rail itineraries through Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia in conjunction with its Venice-based northern Italy river cruises. Options include a 14-day Milan, Venice and Swiss Alps package that has a land portion in Milan, a roundtrip cruise from Venice and a train trip to Zurich. A 12-day Venice and Swiss Alps package, meanwhile, starts with a train trip from Zurich to Venice and ends with a roundtrip Venice cruise.

CEO Ellen Bettridge said that the new rail package has proven popular and that Uniworld is hoping to add more rail-river combinations in 2022.

"At Uniworld, we are constantly looking for ways to elevate the intimate destination experience our guests appreciate and quite frankly, expect," said Bettridge. "Like river cruising, luxury train travel is an opportunity to bring our guests to the heart of Europe and with a view that changes daily."

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