5 great holidays that combine a cruise and a train trip

Aug 21, 2021

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Some people can think of nothing better than spending every moment of their holiday time on a cruise. Others dream only of train trips.

And then there are people who love both modes of travel — in some cases so much so that they have a tough time deciding which way they want to go when it’s time for a getaway.

If you feel you’re squarely in the latter category, we have some good news: You don’t have to choose between the two types of trips. You can arrange holidays that combine the best of cruising with the best of train travel, too.

Termed cruise-and-rail trips, many aren’t even official pairings. That is, you’ll have to book the cruise portion of the trip and the train portion separately, as no company is selling them together as a package. But don’t worry about that too much. You’ll be able to find a travel agent to do the heavy lifting and work out the logistics for you.

The more significant issue you’ll face is in deciding on which stunning part of the world with train corridors and cruise ship-plied oceans you should focus for a cruise-and-rail adventure.

It is in this area we can help. Here, our picks for five of the most spectacular cruise-and-rail combination trips.

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An Alaska cruise with the Rocky Mountaineer

(Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer/Facebook)

One of the great hubs for Alaska cruises, the port of Vancouver, British Columbia, also is the gateway for one of the most scenic train experiences in North America: a two-day ride through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer.

As a result, travellers can easily combine the two experiences into an extended cruise-rail holiday.

Fans of trains and ships can board the Rocky Mountaineer in Banff or Jasper, Alberta, for the two-day journey through the mountains to the Rocky Mountaineer Train Station in Vancouver. From there, it’s just a seven-minute cab ride to the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal, where vessels operated by Princess Cruises, Holland America and several other lines depart on seven-night trips to Alaska.

Expect to see soaring mountains, forests and wildlife — and learn a little about Gold Rush-era history — during both portions of the trip. The Alaska cruise portion also will include stops in small port towns such as Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan.

An Alaska cruise with the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway travels through the mountains around Skagway, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Travel Alaska)

Are you looking for a shorter train experience to tie into an Alaska cruise? Consider signing up for a day trip on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway in Skagway as your shore excursion when visiting the small Alaska port town on a cruise.

A ride into the mountains on this narrow-gauge railroad is the “tour that everybody does” when visiting the Gold Rush town-turned-tourist hub, and for a good reason. It offers an easy way to get deep into the great Alaskan outdoors.

Personally, I’m a fan of more active excursions in Skagway. But for someone who isn’t going to hike, bike, horseback ride or raft their way through the wilderness around the town (there are tours for all of those things, too), a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway is one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the area’s iconic Alaskan scenery.

From the comfort of a vintage rail car, you’ll get stunning views of mountains, gorges, glacial rivers and waterfalls as you climb nearly 3,000 feet to the summit of White Pass — the headwaters of the mighty Yukon River. Designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the 20-mile route is a marvel in its own right, with improbably steep grades at times and segments that pass over soaring wooden trestles and around tight, cliff-hanging curves.

A Mediterranean cruise with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

(Photo courtesy of Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express)

You’ll want to pack a copy of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” for this combination trip.

This trip pairs an overnight ride from Paris to Venice on the train that Christie made famous: the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, with a Mediterranean cruise out of Venice (or a dock nearby Venice; with changing docking rules in Venice, some cruise vessels have started sailing out of other Northern Italian ports such as Ravenna).

Now owned by U.K. luxury hospitality company Belmond, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express features restored art deco carriages. You can view the heart of Europe as the train travels southward from Paris through the Alps to Italy in advance of your cruise. Or save the train portion of your trip for the end of your holiday and ride the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in reverse. You also can extend the trip with an add-on train ride between Paris and London.

From Venice, the cruise portion of the trip can take you to Adriatic ports such as Dubrovnik, Croatia, or to the Greek Islands or western Italy, France and Spain, depending on which vessel you pick. Dozens of ships sail out of the region around Venice each year.

Related: Orient-Express debuts new, dream-worthy European routes

A Norway cruise with the Bergen Railway

The Bergen Railway, known as the Bergensbanen to the locals, will take you across the mountainous “Roof of Norway” from Oslo to Bergen, where you can catch a cruise along the scenic Norwegian coast with such lines as Hurtigruten or Viking.

Expect stunning mountain scenery on both pieces of the trip, with the seven-hour railway portion of the adventure taking you across the snowy Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Stretching a tad over 300 miles, the Bergen Railway route is the highest in all of Northern Europe and will bring you stunning views of mountains, forests, fjords, waterfalls and rivers. A marvel of engineering, it’ll take you through 180 tunnels and make stops at some of the highest train depots in Europe.

From Bergen, cruise vessels can deliver you up the Norwegian coast to such fairy-tale lands as Alesund and the mountainous and glacier-carved Lofoten archipelago.

An Asia cruise with the Eastern and Oriental Express

Like Europe’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Southeast Asia-focused Eastern and Oriental Express is owned by U.K.-based hospitality company Belmond, and it will take you on a multiday rail journey through the region that can be paired with an Asia cruise for an epic cruise-rail adventure.

There are several routes of the scenic luxury train from which you can choose, but perhaps the most logical option is to start with a three-night trip from Bangkok to Singapore. From there, you can hop on one of several dozen cruise vessels that call the city-state home at various times during the year.

Onboard the Eastern and Oriental Express, which features elegant green and gold carriages, you’ll find magnificent interiors adorned with cherrywood panelling, Thai silks and Malaysian embroidery. The train’s routings will take you past lush jungle, paddy fields, ancient temples and quaint villages. Cruises departing from Singapore often visit coastal destinations in Thailand and Vietnam or venture farther afield to Indonesia or even as far as Australia.

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Featured photo courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer/Facebook.

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