9 of the best rail journeys to add to a cruise - Cruise International

9 of the best rail journeys to add to a cruise

By Teresa Machan | 14 Jul 2022

Landwasser Viaduct, Switzerland

Landwasser Viaduct, Switzerland. Picture: Shutterstock/Viacheslav Lopatin

Rail-and-sail holidays combine the world’s most memorable train journeys with the most enjoyable experiences by water, so we find the best train journeys to tag on to your next cruise for the ultimate adventure

 

Cruising and rail journeys make great bedfellows. Ribbons of track and river snake off the beaten path and into the heart of a destination, while trains and ships pull into grand stations and historical sea ports with a sense of ‘arrival’ that is unmatched by car or plane.

Combine the two, and you can map out an extraordinary trip. It’s easy to pair like with like in terms of food, service, land touring and accommodation, as the following rail-and-sail combinations illustrate. Whether you decide to go it alone or book the pair as a package, the hardest part will be choosing your route.

 

Danube Express

Danube Express Picture: Steve Grogan

Venice and the Swiss Alps

Rail: Admiring Europe’s shimmering lakes, perched castles and chocolate-box villages is one thing; doing it from the refined cocoon of the Danube Express is quite another. The handsome train belongs to the renowned Golden Eagle fleet and this rail route from Zurich to Trieste via Innsbruck and Slovenia doesn’t disappoint.

Wow factor: The Obernberg Valley on the Austrian-Italian border of the Brenner Pass is one of the Austrian Tirol’s most pristine wilderness areas.

Sail: Making light work of a vast swathe of central Europe, this alpine rail-and-sail combo from Uniworld includes a relaxing sail from Venice on the luxurious La Venezia, visiting Chioggia, Polesella (for Bologna or Ferrara) and the lagoon island of Burano (for Torcello, Mazzorbo and Burano).

Book it: Uniworld’s 12-day Cruise & Rail: Venice & the Swiss Alps trip costs from £9,999 including flights, transfers and excursions, including a private concert in Slovenia’s subterranean caves at Postojna.

Craigieburn Straight, TranzAlpine Train

Craigieburn Straight, TranzAlpine Train

New Zealand’s TranzAlpine rail journey

Rail: Rivers, plains and New Zealand’s soaring Southern Alps are some of the striking natural features along the TranzAlpine’s coast-to-coast run from Christchurch to Greymouth. The best come at the end of the Craigieburn Straight, where plains roll towards Mount Binser and the edges of Arthur’s Pass National Park. Midway between there and journey’s end at Greymouth is tranquil, trout-packed Lake Brunner and the Arnold River valley.

Wow factor: During the ascent to the high plains of Craigieburn, the train encounters 15 short tunnels and four viaducts, including the 72-metre-high Staircase Viaduct. The stream below empties into the ice-fed Waimakariri River.

Sail: Now that Australia and New Zealand are open to visitors, why not combine both? Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises both offer one-way sailings between Sydney and Auckland. Silversea’s Auckland to Sydney cruise via Tasmania (Hobart) and Melbourne takes in several ports including Auckland, Picton and Milford Sound, without duplicating any of the TranzAlpine stops.

Book it: An 11-day cruise from Auckland to Sydney on Silversea’s Silver Whisper costs from £7,400 departing on January 8, 2023. A one-way trip on the TranzAlpine in January 2023 costs around £112 and takes just under five hours.

VIA Rail train from Quebec to Montreal

VIA Rail train from Quebec to Montreal. Picture: Claude Robidoux

Canada’s VIA Rail

Rail: VIA Rail is best known for The Canadian – a silvery train of restored 1950s Streamliner coaches that snakes its way across five provinces from Toronto to Vancouver – but that’s not the end of its extensive rail network. This year sees the launch of the first in a 32-strong fleet on the Quebec City-Montreal-Toronto-Niagara Falls route. Whether you take the Quebec route, The Great Western Way from Toronto to Vancouver or the coast-hugging Maritime Way from Montreal to Halifax, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on.

Wow factor: Cruising up the St Lawrence towards the only fortified city in North America is a proper ‘pinch me’ moment. The turreted hilltop, copper-roofed Chateau Frontenac announces your arrival in Quebec City.

Sail: P&O Cruises, Viking, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard are among those lines featuring the Unesco World Heritage-listed city. Most itineraries combine it with a cruise up America’s eastern seaboard in September, to coincide with Fall colours.

Book it: A seven-night New England and Canada cruise from New York to Quebec on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 costs from £1,549 departing in September. Great Rail Journeys’ nine-day Maple Explorer tour visits Niagara Falls before heading north to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. From £2,695 including city tours, eight nights’ hotel accommodation, flights, meals and all rail travel on VIA Rail Canada trains.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Rail: A seat on the graceful Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a bucket-list staple. On this overnight from Paris the romance of the legendary train is matched only by its final destination, Venice. Settle into one of the plush restaurant cars, tuck into a lavish dinner and watch the French vineyards and countryside roll by.

Wow factor: Coffee, smoked salmon, eggs, truffles… perhaps some caviar, too? Chef John Imbert’s decadent feasts – and there are four of them on this trip – may require loose-fitting trousers.

Sail: This new Italian itinerary from Fred Holidays combines the rail journey from London to Venice with a seven-night Amalfi and Sicily cruise on the four-masted tall ship, Star Clipper. There are also city stays in Venice and Rome, and four nights in a Tuscan villa hotel with a cookery class and some relaxing pool time.

Book it: The 15-night trip costs from £7,969 including travel from London to Folkestone on board the British Pullman; an overnight journey on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (with meals); two hotel nights in Venice and Rome; rail travel from Venice to Florence, excursions to Florence, Pisa and Lucca, rail travel from Florence to Rome and the seven-night cruise.

Mount Robson, seen on Rocky Mountaineer's Journey to the Clouds

Mount Robson, seen on Rocky Mountaineer’s Journey to the Clouds

Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska

Rail: For full immersion in Canada’s epic mountain landscapes, nothing beats sliding through the Rocky Mountains in a glass-domed train carriage. Bookended by luxury hotel stays and including an overnight in Kamloops, the Rocky Mountaineer rail journey from Banff to Vancouver takes in alpine forest, miles of lakeside track and big skies punctured by craggy peaks.

Wow factor: While views and food are superlative, it’s the insight and stories that bring this journey to life, so make the most of the always-entertaining commentary from your onboard hosts – who will also keep your wine glass topped up along the way.

Sail: Vancouver is a springboard for summer cruises to Alaska’s Inside Passage, but from the western Canadian city you can also cruise to Hawaii, Seattle and America’s West Coast beach cities and wine country.

Book it: Railbookers has a 10-day Canadian Rockies holiday including an overnight on the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Jasper in SilverLeaf class, nine nights’ hotel accommodation and five tours, from £2,549. Tag on Princess Cruises’ six-day Pacific Wine Country itinerary from Vancouver, which takes in the vineyards of Napa Valley and calls at San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, from £499 departing in September 2022.

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo. Picture: Celebrity Cruises

Japan’s bullet train

Rail: Ever ridden Japan’s famous bullet train? From the oh-so-precise timings and white-gloved conductors to the bento-box lunches and polished service, the needle-nosed Shinkansen is surely as good as ‘regular’ train travel gets. The Tokaido Shinkansen line calls at Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, scooping up scores of attractions at stops en route.

Wow factor: About 45 minutes from Tokyo, the train whooshes past Mount Fuji. Be sure to look out the right-hand side of the train.

Sail: Several ships are due to sail to Japan in 2022 and 2023. Abercrombie & Kent will charter Ponant’s Le Soleal to coincide with cherry blossom season next spring. Brand new from New Zealand-based line Heritage Expeditions is a 16-day Islands of Japan cruise from Kanazawa to Otaru on board Heritage Adventurer in May 2023, while Celebrity Millennium will visit Hakodate and Aomori, at the northern tip of Honshu, in autumn 2023.

Book it: Riviera Travel’s 13-day Japan Garden Discovery visits 10 traditional Japanese gardens and includes a journey on the bullet train and a night in a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan. From £4,299 departing November 2, 2023. Add Celebrity Cruises’ 13-day Best of Southern Japan cruise from £1,539, departing November 17, 2023.

Bernina Express

Bernina Express. Picture: Rhätische Bahn / Andrea Badrutt

Bernina Express and Glacier Express

Rail: How better to appreciate Switzerland’s cinematic alpine vistas than by rail? Two trains operate specifically for passengers’ viewing pleasure – the Bernina Express, which climbs to 7,290ft, and the Glacier Express, which travels through three Swiss cantons with white-knuckle viaducts, spiralling tunnels and spectacular views of the Matterhorn.

Wow factor: Assuming you have a head for heights, be ready for when the Bernina Express crosses the six-arch Wiesen Viaduct and heads into the Wiesen Valley in the canton of Graubünden.

Sail: Basel is a springboard for river cruises on the Rhine, which flows from the Swiss Alps to the Black Sea via Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Take on a sailing of seven, 10 or 14 nights.

Book it: Titan’s eight-day Spectacular Rail Journeys tour round-trip from Davos (via Zurich) includes journeys on both trains before swapping rails for water on a scenic Lake Constance cruise. From £2,099 departing on July 20, 2022. Saga has an eight-day Castles and Vineyards of the Rhine cruise from Basel to Amsterdam on board the new Spirit of the Rhine. From £1,499 departing in May 2023.

Rovos Rail, South Africa

Rovos Rail, South Africa. Picture: Dookphoto

Rovos Rail in South Africa

Rail: Watch South Africa’s magical veld, vineyards and Great Karoo unfold from the open-air observation car on Rovos Rail. More like a five-star hotel on wheels, the train has elegant en-suite wood-panelled sleeper coaches and an observation car with a bar, sofas and booths. Highlights of the Pretoria to Cape Town route include excursions to the historic village of Matjiesfontein and the open pit and underground diamond mine in Kimberley.

Wow factor: The dining car serves up some of the continent’s finest food (think roasted karoo lamb shank and grilled queen scallops), matched only by some of the country’s excellent wines. Dress to impress.

Sail: Leaving Southampton, Fred Olsen’s ship Bolette will sail around the African continent late next year, and call at the Seychelles and Maldives. For a river alternative, a sedate cruise on Lake Kariba from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls with CroisiEurope visits both Chobe and Matusadona national parks, and Impalila Island in Namibia.

Book it: Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 20-night round-trip Cape Town cruise on Voyager departs December 6, 2022, from £11,999. Rovos Rail can be included in a five-night pre-cruise extension.

McKinley Explorer, Alaska, Holland America Line

McKinley Explorer, Alaska

McKinley Explorer journey in Alaska

Rail: Alaska trains venture into back country, and the scenery is spectacular. Those cruising with Holland America Line can take the double-height, domed McKinley Explorer to travel between Anchorage and Denali National Park & Preserve. Named after its tallest mountain, Denali, this six-million-acre wilderness is home to moose, caribou, Dall sheep and grizzly bears. There’s a restaurant car and open-air viewing platform.

Wow factor: Curved glass dome windows run the full length of the car, for panoramic views of the flora and fauna and soaring mountain peaks.

Sail: After disembarking in Whittier, passengers join the Nieuw Statendam in Anchorage for one of the world’s most scenic sea routes, via the magnificent (and advancing) Hubbard Glacier and the Inside Passage, to Vancouver.

Book it: A 10-day Denali ‘Cruisetour’ starting in Anchorage, including a stay at the McKinley Chalet Resort and a seven-night cruise to Vancouver, costs from £1,669 departing on June 23, 2022.

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