Top 5 Rail and Sail Itineraries
PHOTO: Vacations by Rail is now offering a rail and sail itinerary to Cuba aboard Amtrak's Silver Meteor, pictured. (Photo by Brian Major)
Cruises are fantastic as samplers of coastal port destinations, but they do only scratch the surface of the inland experience. Any time a train trip can be tacked on to a sailing, you get the best of both worlds, and there are a number of new and classic packages available for rail and sea aficionados.
1. Cuba from New York
The newest offering is something rather unique, especially convenient for New York residents: a 12-day train and cruise combo to Cuba. After a quick overnight rail ride on Amtrak’s Silver Meteor from New York to Miami, guests board Haimark’s newly refurbished MS Saint Laurent for a nine-night round-trip cruise to the Caribbean island nation.
Vacations By Rail is known for comprehensive rail tours in North America, and Haimark is a recent luxury expedition cruise company founded in 2013. The MS Saint Laurent is a 210-passenger ship serviced by 90 crew members, originally built in 2001 and now refurbished with updated soft goods such as new carpeting, upholstery, glassware and deck furniture. The ship also carries a fleet of zodiacs.
The cruise will visit the following Cuban ports-of-call: Havana, Maria La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and Holgui. Under current restrictions on U.S. and Cuba relations, such trips are classified as people-to-people cultural exchanges in lieu of outright tourism.
2. Alaskan Cruisetours
A classic rail and sail itinerary branded by cruise lines as a “cruisetour” delves into majestic Alaska. Usually pulled by the Alaska Railroad, special glass-domed railcars donning the logos of Holland America Line or Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, for instance, provide a wonderful glimpse into the Alaskan wilderness and its wondrous flora and fauna.
Land extensions can be added on before or after scenic Inside Passage cruises, and the threshold between the two is often at Anchorage or Seward with rail-tours extending north into Fairbanks.
Princess Cruises’ offerings are particularly appealing as they include stops at a handful of lodges that they also operate along the way. Trains move during the day for optimal viewing opportunities, and the lodge stays occur overnight in locations such as Denali and (the former) Mt. McKinley.
For an alternate direction, Amtrak offers the excellent Coast Starlight sleeper cars to ride from Los Angeles to Seattle, where you can also easily embark on an Alaskan cruise.
3. Canadian Rockies
Similar to the Alaskan train trips are Rocky Mountaineer’s Canadian equivalents that travel through the Rockies out of Vancouver and Seattle. In conjunction with Holland America Line’s Amsterdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam and Westerdam ships are 11- to 19-day total journeys.
The Coastal Passage Canadian Rockies Getaway combines a seven-day Alaskan cruise with a comprehensive 12-day train and motor coach excursion through Canada featuring overnight hotel stays. Destination highlights include Kamloops, Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff. Like in Alaska, these rail cars come complete with panoramic glass-dome canopies, plus Rocky Mountaineer’s two tiers of service and accommodations.
4. International Cruises, Trains and Hotels
As a provider of posh hotels, trains and cruises worldwide, Belmond offers a unique international collection of luxury experiences, with products like the iconic Orient Express, that can be combined for exceptional journeys.
Consider the company’s 13-night Scotland by Land and Sea itinerary featuring the Belmond Royal Scotsman train (looking a bit like Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter fame), and the Hebridean Princess, a converted car ferry and Royal Mail Ship, both round-trip from Edinburgh.
The first four days take place aboard the railcars in timeless style. Passengers stay on the train in handsome cabins by night and enjoy dining on fine meals and observing the passing scenery by day, with sights of and stops at Inverness, Ballindalloch and the Highlands. After a two-night stay at the Balmoral Hotel, the Inner and Outer Hebrides are explored during seven days aboard the Hebridean Princess cruise ship.
5. European Rivers and Rails
Coming full circle, Vacations By Rail also offers a wide variety of river cruise and train trip packages in Europe. With the immediate proximity of famous cities along both European rivers and rails, passengers will maximize their time in the very heart of the destination. Go fast on a high-speed train and then slow things down on a leisurely cruise.
The creme de la creme of such combos is the extensive 22-day Christmas Wonderland with Paris & Prague itinerary. After four days in the City of Lights, a high-speed train whisks you away to Amsterdam. Then explore the legendary Christmas Markets on a 16-day river cruise aboard one of Scenic’s Space-Ships. Upon disembarkation in Budapest, a motor coach will transport guests to Prague for a final four days of blissful touring.
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