Escorted tours: Tour & cruise combos

Escorted tours: Tour & cruise combos

Get the best of both worlds with a two-in-one tour

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I can’t claim to be a born-and-bred Londoner in the Bow bells, rhyming slang, never-been-north-of-Watford sense, but having lived in or near the capital all my life, I’d hope to know its landmarks pretty well.

Yet an evening cruise down the Thames recently proved just how wrong I was: it turns out you can take as many strolls along the South Bank as you like, but only when you get onto the river do you see London from a totally new perspective.

That’s where the growing phenomenon of tour-and-cruise combos comes in. They combine the best bits of a cruise with the best of an adventure on land, playing to the strengths of each region and giving passengers a better all-round experience.

1. Vietnam, Cambodia and The Mekong

With epic waterways cutting their way through one fascinating country after another, Asia is ideal territory for sightseeing on both land and water.

The popularity of such itineraries has prompted Wendy Wu Tours to expand the cruise product in its 2016-17 Southeast Asia brochure with new Ayeyarwady options in Burma and a flagship 21-day Mekong Odyssey through Vietnam and Cambodia.

Marketing manager Ben Briggs says: “Land-and-cruise itineraries continue to be very popular, not just in China but Vietnam too. The few days spent on the river act as a relaxing break between busier days of touring on land either side.”

The 21-day tour offers a good grounding in Vietnamese culture before even embarking on the river, with sightseeing in fast-paced Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hue, plus a cookery class in Hoi An and tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City.

Only on day 10 do guests take to the water for a seven-day Mekong cruise through floating market Cai Be, past tribal villages and Cambodian countryside, ending in Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat.

Book it: Mekong Odyssey starts at £4,790, including all flights, meals, visas, accommodation and entrance fees, for departures from September to November.

2. Greece and Aegean Sea

There’s no arguing the appeal of the sun-kissed Greek islands, but holidaymakers who spend all their time hopping between picture-postcard harbours and beachfront tavernas risk letting the wealth of culture pass them by.

The most satisfying answer, surely, is to do both, with a tour that ticks off icons of the ancient world while allowing time to relax on the calm waters of the Aegean Sea.

Trafalgar’s Best of Greece tour comes with an option to include a four-day Aegean cruise.

The tour starts in Athens with the Acropolis and 1896 Olympic stadium, then takes in mainland highlights from Agamemnon’s Royal Palace and site of the first Olympic Games in 776BC, to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and ancient battleground Thermopylae, home of the famous Spartan-v-Persian clash recently retold in the action movie 300.

After eight days on land, board a ship in Athens and cruise to Mykonos, Kusadasi in Turkey (with an optional excursion to Ephesus), then Rhodes, Crete and Santorini to get a taste of Greece’s most popular island destinations.

Book it: Trafalgar’s Best of Greece plus four-day Aegean Cruise costs from £1,662, excluding flights, with 11 nights’ B&B accommodation, specialist guides, and dinner at an olive farm in Olympia.

3. Ganges and the Gold Triangle

India is too big and too diverse to squeeze into a single trip, but pairing one of its iconic waterways with a classic tourist route is certainly a good start.

Options are as varied as cruising the Brahmaputra River through Assam or the languid backwaters of Kerala, but Titan has chosen the daddy of them all, the Ganges, for its new Golden Triangle and Ganges itinerary on board Uniworld’s all-suite Ganges Voyager II.

Not only will passengers get the best possible introduction to India through the Lutyens-designed monuments of New Delhi, Taj Mahal in Agra, and the colourful sights of Pink City Jaipur, but they can also cruise the Lower Ganges.

The river passes former British settlements and Bengali farmlands, with excursions to see the impressive architecture of Bengali mosque Hooghly Imambara at Bandel, the temples of Kalna’s Rajbari complex, a walking tour of arty village Matiari, and a visit to colourful Mayapur, birthplace of the Hare Krishna movement founder.

Book it: India’s Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges starts at £6,049 in November 2016, including flights, five nights’ hotel accommodation and a seven-night full-board cruise including shore excursions, transfers and Titan’s home departure service.

4. Rhine and Glacier Express

Glacier Express

The popularity of European river cruises has never been higher, offering unrivalled access to the very heart of the continent’s most charming cities, but what if you want to explore further than a shore excursion allows?

That’s why Riviera Travel introduced guided extensions on its Blue Danube; Douro, Oporto & Salamanca; and Rhine Cruise to Switzerland itineraries (£399 for the first two, £599 on the Rhine). In fact, they’ve been so popular Riviera has already increased the number of departures next year.

Cruise highlights include medieval Koblenz, charming Rhineland town Rudesheim and sailing through the Rhine Gorge, not forgetting acres of pretty Black Forest and Swiss scenery along the way.

But add the four-day extension and passengers will see a lot more of those snow-tipped peaks with the legendary Glacier Express rail journey to Zermatt, plus further guided sightseeing and a chance to ride Europe’s highest open-air cog railway to the Gornergrat ridge.

Book it: Riviera Travel’s Rhine Cruise to Switzerland with Glacier Express extension starts at £1,997 departing June-September 2016. The price includes flights, full-board on the cruise and B&B at hotels in Chur and Zermatt, standard-class on the Glacier Express and transfers.

5. Ecuador and Galapagos

If you’re prone to travel envy, look away now – this is as green-eyed as it gets.

The Galapagos Islands top many a bucket list, and with increased options from the UK over the past few years – Rainbow Tours has just added the new Santa Cruz II, motorised catamaran Petrel, and from January, premium-class yacht Origin – they are more achievable than ever.

The islands are most often combined with the highlights of Peru or, increasingly, mainland Ecuador.

Latin America product manager Amanda Sweeney says: “South America, and in particular Galapagos, is often looked upon as the trip of a lifetime, and clients want to maximise what they see and do. They often look at multi-country combinations, and flight connectivity is great so it’s easy to get around.

“Advise clients not to rush the Galapagos. It’s a long way to travel and it’s a unique destination they might never return to, so it’s worth staying up to a week rather than just booking the shortest cruise options.”

Back on dry land, touring highlights in mainland Ecuador include the World Heritage Site of Quito, the Avenue of the Volcanoes, the Devil’s Nose Train, colonial city Cuenca and the epic scenery of El Cajas National Park.

Book it: Rainbow Tours’ 15-day Ecuador & Galapagos cruise starts from £5,395 including flights and transfers, split between the mainland and a week on a 20-passenger ship.

6. Cairo and Nile cruise

Luxor Temple

Twinning Cairo with the Nile won’t win any points for originality, but there’s a reason it’s a well-trodden trail.

You haven’t really seen Egypt until you’ve gazed in awe at its honey-coloured Pyramids, or posed for photos with the giant paws of the Sphinx. Yet Giza makes much more sense when viewed alongside the wealth of monuments that line the banks of the Nile between Aswan and Luxor.

Notable sights range from the High Dam of Aswan and temple at Kom Ombo – dedicated to falcon-headed god Horus and crocodile god Sobek – to the Unesco World Heritage listed Temple of Horus at Edfu and the Temple of Luxor.

That’s before passengers even reach the Valley of the Kings and temple complex at Karnak, home to the avenue of ram headed sphinxes and the colossal statue of Rameses II.

It’s not all ancient history: Insight Vacations’ Elegance of Egypt tour also follows in the footsteps of Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill with high tea on the terraces of the Old Cataract Hotel, adding a traditional felucca boat sailing and a party wearing traditional Egyptian dress.

Book it: Insight Vacations’ seven-day Gold tour, Elegance of Egypt, sandwiches a three-night Nile cruise between four days’ sightseeing in Cairo and Giza, priced from £1,850 including B&B accommodation, transfers and sightseeing; flights extra.

7. Scottish Islands and Iceland

The highlands and islands of the British Isles might not sound like natural bedfellows with Reykjavik, but go back a few centuries and there was actually a lot of crossover between bonny Scotland and the Nordic regions.

Those links of landscape and culture come to the fore when explored in a single trip, which is why Great Rail Journeys runs a 15-day tour combining Scotland with a cruise through the Icelandic fjords.

Starting with a walking tour of Glasgow, the trip features a heritage train journey along the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway, tour of Stirling Castle, and sightseeing around Edinburgh, before heading to Leith to board the 800-passenger Marco Polo.

From there, cruise stops include colourful Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, one of the world’s smallest capitals, then Icelandic fishing town Seydisfjordur, scenic Isafjordur, plus sightseeing excursions at Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss Waterfall and Unesco-protected Thingvellir National Park.

Finish with stops at Iceland’s Westmann Islands, Lerwick in the Shetlands, and finally Orkneys’ capital Kirkwall, and the similarities between these remote regions becomes even more apparent.

Book it: Great Rail Journeys’ Scotland & The Northern Isles Cruise starts at £1,575, departing July 26, including rail travel, accommodation and sightseeing in Scotland, and breakfast, lunch and dinner on the cruise.

8. Yangtze and China


Like the country through which it flows, the Yangtze is big – it literally means ‘long river’ – and, as a vital trading route, has been at the centre of Chinese history for centuries.

So it’s no surprise the four day cruise between Yichang and Chongqing is a major selling point for Collette tour The Wonders of China & Yangtze River, sitting alongside Shanghai sightseeing, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, Chengdu’s panda breeding centre, Beijing’s Summer Palace and Forbidden City, and the Great Wall as standouts of the trip.

Collette’s director of product, Suzanna Kinahan, says: “We’ve reworked our itinerary to add new features, as it is the most popular land and cruise tour for our UK market. Now that we’ve added Chengdu, we can visit the panda-breeding sanctuary to provide a better panda experience for our guests.

“The river cruise portion is popular because it provides a relaxed environment and guests only need to unpack once, and there are daily excursions and onboard activities to keep our guests entertained.”

Book it: The Wonders of China & Yangtze River leads in at £3,449 including UK transfers, flights, most meals and guided sightseeing.

9. Inside Passage and Alaska

Alaska is prime cruising territory, but while many tours pair an Inside Passage sailing with Canadian highlights like the Rocky Mountaineer, Alaska has just as much to offer on land as its neighbour.

There’s plenty to see from the water: spot the whales, seals, dolphins and playful Dall’s porpoises native to Alaska’s chilly waters; retrace the trading routes of early American settlers; and admire the epic coastal scenery from the comfort of a ship.

But head a few hours inland and the six million acres of Denali National Park – home of North America’s highest peak – await, where the local ‘big five’ are grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves and Dall sheep.

Farther north, second city Fairbanks provides a window on Alaska’s pioneering past, founded on an early 20th century gold rush.

Cox & Kings also offers an optional flight across the Arctic Circle here, plus a visit to small town North Pole and a cruise along the Chena River in a traditional sternwheeler.

Book it: Cox & Kings’ 14-day Alaskan Adventure includes a seven-night Holland America Line cruise from Vancouver, with excursions to Ketchikan, Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park, then guided sightseeing through Seward, Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks. Prices start at £2,795 excluding flights.

10. Patagonia


In this vast region, tour-cruise combos come into their own – driving through its wild, desolate landscapes is the best way to get a feel for Patagonia’s scale, but no visit would be complete without retracing Darwin’s steps along the channels that lead from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean.

Travel 2’s Journey Through Patagonia does just that, with time in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego National Park and a journey on the Train to the End of the World, before passengers embark on a three-night cruise.

Latin America purchasing manager Justine Egan says: “Stella Australis’s first-class expedition ships navigate their way between two of the world’s southernmost cities, Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina. Accompanied by expert guides, sail through the Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan, through breathtaking scenery of fjords, glaciers, snow-capped peaks and icebergs. Zodiac excursions offer the opportunity to see wildlife including dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals, whales and penguins.”

The tour’s final act is impressive too, visiting Torres del Paine National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier.

Book it: Travel 2’s 13-day Journey through Patagonia starts at £4,599, including flights to Buenos Aires, accommodation, sightseeing and transfers, in April 2016.

Ask the expert

Edwina Coppock, agency sales manager, Titan
“There is increasing demand for cruise-and-tour trips, so we have increased our range to 25 itineraries worldwide. It’s a great way to enjoy the best of both worlds, spending some time on land exploring fantastic places, and then visiting multiple destinations on a cruise. It’s popular for new-to-cruise guests unsure about booking their first holiday afloat, and it represents fantastic value compared to putting together a cruise-and-tour itinerary independently.”

Angela Waite, sales and commercial manager, APT
“Agents selling cruise-tours should highlight that you can cover such a lot in the one break. While there are often alluring sights inland, a cruise-tour allows you to combine exploring the city with time to relax and take in the scenery from the comfort of your balcony suite or sun deck. We find cruise-and-tour combinations are a great way to introduce clients who like touring holidays to the convenience of cruising. Our cruise-and-tours in destinations such as Canada, Vietnam and Cambodia are selling incredibly well for 2016.”


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