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Best rail and sail cruise holidays from the Orient Express to the Rocky Mountaineer

Author: Dave Monk

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Love ships and trains? Then why not combine both your passions in one unforgettable journey...

Can you imagine a better travel combination than rail and cruise? First, taking a train that snakes through incredible scenery, alongside rivers and lakes, through mighty mountains, great forests and vast plains.

Then joining a ship to sail majestically along fjords and across oceans, all while you enjoy all the facilities of a floating five-star hotel. It’s the perfect way to explore the interior of a country as well as its ports and coastline.

And that’s why more ocean and river cruise companies are linking up with rail services across six continents to offer amazing experiences of land and sea with exciting stops along the way.

Packages made in travel heaven include the Rocky Mountaineer train with an Alaska cruise, Norway’s Bergen line combined with a voyage to the Arctic Circle, and Australia’s Ghan express twinned with a journey around the Kimberley coast.

Most of these trips are long and all are luxurious – but if you think they’re beyond your budget, you might be surprised at some of the deals on offer from specialist travel agents. So have your ticket ready, please move along the carriage and settle down in comfort as you start the journey of a lifetime...

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Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise

This is the classic rail-and-sail combo, carrying travellers from western Canada across the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver, the departure port for Alaska.

There are three itineraries available: from Banff you can take ‘First Passage to the West’, which travels through spiral tunnels cut into the mountains, stopping overnight in Kamloops before arriving at the coast.

From Jasper there are two choices; ‘Journey through the Clouds’, also via Kamloops, and ‘Rainforest to Gold Rush’, which stops at Whistler and Quesnel. Passengers can choose between SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf service, the latter including a double- deck carriage with glass observation lounge on top and fine dining below.

- READ MORE: Step back to the golden age of travel with a cruise & rail holiday -

From Vancouver, ships sail towards the Alaskan capital, Juneau, as well as to ports such as Ketchikan, Whittier and Sitka. Rail fans can also ride the White Pass and Yukon Railroad on an excursion from Skagway, or even extend their holiday by catching the Alaskan Railroad from Seward to Anchorage.

Get on board

Canadian Affair 17-night ‘Rockies & Alaska Cruise Extravaganza’, including two days in Rocky Mountaineer SilverLeaf service on the ‘First Passage to the West’ route, a 7-night Holland America cruise and 10 hotel nights, departing 21 September 2022, from £3,719 including flights from the UK.

The Rocky Mountaineer’s observation car is your grandstand seat for incredible scenery - before you go bear-spotting on an Alaskan cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Mediterranean Cruise

Travelling by the Orient Express needn’t be murder, despite its Agatha Christie connections.

Guests take the Belmond British Pullman train to the coast and transfer to a coach for the Channel crossing, to be met at Calais by the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

During the overnight journey to Italy, passengers are encouraged to dress up for dinner in the opulent dining car with its Lalique glass inlays and polished cherrywood panelling.

- READ MORE: Which Mediterranean country is best for you? -

In Venice, the splendid Royal Clipper tall ship unfurls her sails and departs for a week-long round trip to Croatia, calling at Zadar for a chance to see Roman ruins, Venetian defensive walls and the ‘sea organ’ that makes music from the waves.

After a stop in Hvar, guests can tour Dubrovnik before heading on to Kotor in Montenegro and then the Croatian island of Vis with its inviting beaches. Calling lastly at the resort town of Rovinj, Royal Clipper returns to Venice for passengers to catch their flights back to the UK.

Get on board

Fred Holidays 9-night ‘Venice Simplon- Orient-Express & Royal Clipper Balkans Voyage’, departing 29 June 2023, from £5,989 including return flight.

Railways boast experiences of snowy mountain peaked views setting sail on your cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

Venice River Cruise and Golden Eagle to Istanbul

Luxury rail travel needn’t end in Venice – you can then board the Golden Eagle Danube Express for a six-day onward journey to Istanbul, gateway to Asia.

Upmarket cruise company Uniworld offers this trip, irresistibly packaged with a week-long Italian river cruise. The holiday begins with a tour of Venice, including an after-hours lighting ceremony at St Mark’s Basilica, before a voyage on the Po River to Bologna.

- READ MORE: Why a cruise and rail holiday is the best of both worlds -

Attractions along the way include a pasta-making workshop, a visit to a market in the coastal town of Chioggia and an overnight at Burano in the Venetian lagoon. Back in Venice, passengers board the Golden Eagle for a scenic Balkan journey via Trieste, Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade.

Crossing the Greek border to Thessaloniki, you then pass through the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, before the train enters Turkey and ends its journey in Istanbul, where you can spend two days exploring this ancient and endlessly fascinating city.

Get on board

Uniworld 15-night ‘Cruise & Rail: Venice & Istanbul’ package, including 7 nights aboard SS La Venezia, 6 nights aboard the Golden Eagle Express and two hotel nights in Istanbul, departing 6 August 2022, from £14,499 including flights from the UK.

Venice's Rialto Bridge crosses over the narrowest part of the Grand Canal in the heart of Venice. Credit: Shutterstock

Bergen Railway and Norwegian Cruise

To most of us, a Norwegian holiday means one thing – the fjords. You’ll see plenty of those on Fred Holidays’ best-of-Norway package but you’ll also get to ride Europe’s highest mainline railway and take a cruise deep into the Arctic Circle.

After flying into Oslo, guests board a train to Myrdal, 2,800ft above sea level, and join the Flam Mountain Railway, one of the steepest and most beautiful train routes in the world, with a stop at the 738ft Kjosfossen waterfall.

A boat trip along Naeroyfjord drops passengers at Gudvangen to rejoin the rail line to Bergen. Then, after a night’s rest, it’s time to board Hurtigruten’s MS Trollfjord for an 11-night cruise all the way north to Tromso and Kirkenes, passing the ship’s namesake fjord.

- READ MORE: Cruise and stay: The smarter way to holiday -

Onboard, a two-storey panoramic lounge gives stunning views of the passing coast and islands, while hikes and other onshore excursions will introduce you to the Norwegian notion of friluftsliv (loosely translatable as the great outdoors).

Get on board

Fred Holidays 14-night package including 11-night Hurtigruten cruise, plus ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ train journey, two hotel nights in Oslo and one in Bergen, departing 25 September 2022, from £2,799 including flights.

The Flam Mountain Railway is one of the steepest and most beautiful in the world. Credit: Shutterstock

Eastern & Oriental Express and Asian Cruise

Fly to Bangkok and you can board the Eastern & Oriental Express for a luxurious three-day trip to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

After settling into your private cabin, you can admire tropical views from the teak-lined observation carriage before taking your seat in the dining car, where there is entertainment from the resident pianist.

- READ MORE: Rock and Rail: the perfect cruise add-on -

Stops include River Kwai Station for a chance to visit war cemeteries, cycle through rice fields or take part in a Thai cookery class. After a two-night stay in Singapore, you fly to Hong Kong and join Celebrity Solstice for a 10-night cruise to Manila, via Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay and the temples of Hue and Danang.

Arriving in the Filipino capital you can explore backstreets lined with goldsmiths, herbalists and mooncake (sweet pastry) shops before ending the day watching the famous sunset over Manila Bay.

Get on board

ROL Cruise 19-night ‘Far East Adventure’ package, including a 3-night journey on the Eastern & Oriental Express, a 10-night cruise aboard Celebrity Solstice and six hotel nights, departing 21 November 2022, from £5,999 including flights from the UK.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is a final treat after a journey aboard India’s Palace on Wheels. Credit: Shutterstock

Indian Palace on Wheels Train and Asian Cruise

The title of Palace on Wheels is no exaggeration for India’s most luxurious train, with its 14 air-conditioned carriages, two chandeliered dining coaches and even an onboard spa.

Every cabin is fit for a maharajah with an en-suite bathroom, silk fabrics and antique furniture. For the ultimate experience, book a 33-night escorted tour that begins with a 7-night Palace on Wheels rail adventure.

Departing from Delhi, highlights include the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur, a safari in Ranthambore National Park, a visit to the yellow sandstone fort of Jaisalmer, a camel ride on the sand dunes of Sam and a sightseeing tour in Jodhpur.

- READ MORE: 10 must-see ancient civilisation cruises -

Finally there is a dream visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra before the train ends its journey back in Delhi.

Next comes a 3-night hotel stay in dazzling Dubai, followed by a 15-night all-inclusive Indian Ocean cruise aboard the luxurious Azamara Quest, calling at Mumbai, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia, and culminating in a 3-night stay in sensational Singapore.

Get on board

Cruise1st 33-night ‘Palace on Wheels with Azamara Quest’ package, departing 6 November 2023, from £8,999 including flights from the UK.

India's Palace of the Wheels boasts luxury fit for everyone, with dining coaches and on onboard spa. Credit: Shutterstock

Ghan Train and Australia Cruise

Ready for adventure? You can cross Australia from south to north by rail, then take a 10-night cruise along the wild Kimberley coast on a tailor-made 28-day holiday with Audley Travel.

The three-day rail journey from Adelaide aboard the famous Ghan includes stops at Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Alice Springs. Named after the Afghan camel handlers who crossed the red centre of Australia more than 150 years ago, the Ghan has a long and colourful history, including the time it got stuck for two weeks in one spot and the driver had to shoot wild goats to feed his passengers.

- READ MORE: Best places to cruise in Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific -

Thankfully things are different now, with huge trains of around 36 carriages making the 1,850-mile journey in a reliable 54 hours.

Arriving in Darwin, guests transfer to the 120-passenger Coral Geographer for a cruise along the Kimberley coast to Broome, with visits to the Montgomery Reef, the King George River with its twin waterfalls, and the Prince Regent Rock. More adventurous types even get the opportunity to ride the Horizontal Falls in Zodiac boats.

Get on board

Audley Travel 28-day tailor-made package with Kimberley cruise and Ghan rail trip, 2022 departures until October, from £13,000 including flights from the UK.

Travel along the Ghan embracing its long and colourful history. Credit: Shutterstock

Belmond Hiram Bingham Train and South America Cruise

A rail journey into a lost civilisation is just one highlight of a 23-night package that starts with a stay in the Peruvian capital, Lima, and ends in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Flying in to Cusco, Peru, guests board the 1920s-style Belmond Hiram Bingham train, named after the US explorer who rediscovered Machu Picchu.

The now famous Inca citadel lies at the end of a 57-mile journey during which passengers can enjoy brunch (or even a pisco sour) in the bar, admiring views of the Sacred Valley as the train climbs into a cloud forest.

- READ MORE: Can you take a dog on a cruise? Guide to dog cruise holidays -

After a tour of Machu Picchu and an overnight stay, it’s time for the return ride to Cusco and flights to Santiago, where Celebrity Infinity awaits at the nearby port of Valparaiso.

Next comes a 12-day cruise, during which you’ll see the Chilean fjords and sail the Strait of Magellan before arriving at Punta Arenas. Passing Cape Horn, the ship calls at Montevideo and ends its journey at Buenos Aires.

Get on board

ROL Cruise 23-night ‘All-inclusive Machu Picchu & Cape Horn’ package, departing 15 March 2023, from £5,999 including flights from the UK.

A rail journey boasts unforgettable views, such as climbing into lush forests. Credit: Shutterstock

Rovos Rail and African Cruise

Safari adventures, the Victoria Falls and a luxurious train journey are among the amazing experiences available on this 15-day holiday, starting with a stay in Cape Town before flying to Kasane in Botswana to join the elegant Zambezi Queen riverboat.

You’ll have the chance to spot hippos, lions and elephants as the 28-passenger vessel glides through Chobe National Park, stopping at a typical riverside village. Then, after crossing the border into Zimbabwe, you’ll stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel and enjoy a journey by steam train across the famous bridge.

- READ MORE: 9 of the weirdest cruises in the world -

Next morning, a Rovos Rail train will take you on a three-night journey to Pretoria, stopping for a full-day safari in Hwange National Park – home to 400 species of bird and 107 types of animal, including one of the world’s largest elephant populations.

The train has two dining cars, a lounge, observation coach and 36 suites, some offering a lounge and bathroom with shower and Victorian-style tub.

Get on board

Wexas Travel 14-night ‘Rivers and Rails of Africa’ package, departing 3 November 2022, from £12,865 including flights from the UK.

The elusive leopard is located in South Africa’s Hwange National Park. Credit: Shutterstock

Al Andalus Train and Canaries Cruise

Combine the romance of sail with a train that’s fit for a king on this fabulous journey through the south of Spain and the Canary Islands.

Starting in historic Seville, guests spend two nights in a four-star hotel before boarding Al Andalus to begin their rail journey. Once used by British royals on the French Riviera, this is a fabulous vintage train, exquisitely furnished with marquetry and plush upholstery.

- READ MORE: What to expect on luxury cruise ships -

Its 14 carriages – including two restaurant cars, a bar, playroom and seven en-suite sleepers with 24-hour room service – carry just 74 people. The six-night rail trip includes excursions in Jerez, Cadiz, Ronda, Granada, Baeza and Ubeda.

Then guests enjoy a three-day stay in Malaga before boarding the beautiful tall ship Star Clipper for a nine-night cruise to Gran Canaria, calling at Gibraltar, Tangier, Casablanca, Safi, Arrecife and Puerto del Rosario. The 166-passenger four-masted sailing ship offers two pools, a library and a piano bar.

Get on board

Fred Holidays 20-night ‘Al Andalus Luxury Rail & Cruise’ package, departing 15 October 2022, from £6,849 including flights from the UK.

The Al Andus luxury rail and cruise package explores stunning hotspots such as the warm beaches of the Canary Islands. Credit: Shutterstock
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