Lotus Cruises to launch luxury river ship for Upper Mekong

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Vietnamese cruise line Lotus Cruises is launching what it claims to be the “first luxury ship” on the Upper Mekong in Laos in 2021.

Mekong Muse will be the line’s third ship and will be available for UK agents to book from November 25.

Mekong Muse will feature 14 cabins split into three categories. Thee will be six Visa Suites, six Signature Suites and two Grand Suites.

Cabins will be the largest available on this section of the Mekong, with Vista Suites measuring 20sq m and Grand Suites to 32sq m.

Other areas onboard will include a restaurant, lounge bar, observation area, herb garden and jogging track on the sun deck, with Indochina-inspired design.

It will sail 10-night itineraries from Chang Saen in Thailand to Vientiane in Laos and clients will be able to book a five-night trip taking in either half of the sailing.

More: Target ‘refuse-to-cruise’ customers to boost river sales

Pandaw is currently the only other line in the UK offering sailings on this part of the river, which is narrower and less accessible than the Lower Mekong.

Uniworld has chartered the line’s existing vessel, Mekong Navigator, for the last two years and will charter its newest vessel, Mekong Jewel, from January 5 for 22 weeks.

Marco Rosa, the founder of representation company Plateau International, said: “We’ve seen huge demand for Laos worldwide, and this has been the driving factor in Lotus’ decision to launch a ship here. It’s an amazing destination and it’s still very untouched.

“The scenery is much more dramatic than the lower part of the Mekong, and in the north, there are barely any tourists, so we expect strong demand.

“We believe there isn’t much of a similar level in the region – the product is very limited at the moment and there aren’t really any other luxury options available.”

“We’re still finalising specific excursions for Muse but we want to be different and go to the more authentic places,” managing director Chi Vu told Travel Weekly.

“We’re still researching and visiting local houses and schools to see where we can bring people. We want to go to places Pandaw doesn’t go to and give people a unique experience.

“We see no other river ships up to the standard we want (to offer).”

A new online reservations system is launching in January that will allow agents and consumers to book cruises direct with the cruise line. Currently, bookings have to go through email via the office in Ho Chi Minh City.

The moves mark part of a wider expansion plan for the family-run company; two more Mekong ships are being planned for 2022 and 2023, and president An Vu said ocean cruising could also be on the horizon.

Speaking to Travel Weekly on board a special sailing for agents and operators on Mekong Navigator this week, he said: “We’re looking at the possibility of expanding into the ocean. We don’t mean 4,000 passengers – we mean boutique coastal cruising.

“It could be around Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines. There’s a lot out there in Asia and we have ambitious plans to expand.”

Actress Helen Mirren named godmother of Scenic ship

Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren has been named godmother of the Scenic Eclipse expedition vessel. The ship will be christened on Sept. 10 in New York City.

Helen Mirren“Scenic Eclipse is a unique ship that requires an equally unique person to act in this role,” stated Glen Moroney, Scenic’s founder and chairman.

Mirren won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2007 for her performance in “The Queen.” She was also nominated for Oscars for her roles in 1994’s “The Madness of King George,” 2001’s “Gosford Park” and 2009’s “The Last Station.”

The Eclipse is Scenic’s first oceangoing vessel. It was originally scheduled to debut in 2018 but shipyard problems delayed its completion.

The 200-passenger ship’s maiden voyage is slated to depart Iceland on Aug. 15 on a 13-day discovery sailing ending in Quebec on Aug. 27.

The ultra-luxe Eclipse will have two six-guest helicopters and one six-guest submarine capable of depths of nearly 1,000 feet, indoor and outdoor plunge pools, and butler service for all guests. The 114-suite ship will have 10 dining options, including Asian fusion, French fine dining, a chef’s table and a poolside buffet. There will be a state-of-the-art theatre for entertainment and lectures.

Scenic operates river cruises in Europe, Southeast Asia, Russia and Egypt on 15 ships.

Ocean-river combos alluring option for cruise lovers

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It seems like something true cruise enthusiasts could really get onboard with: the marriage of a blue water sailing with one that ventures into the inland waterways.

So, it comes as little surprise that the one company with a solid stake in both the ocean and river markets, Viking, quietly launched itineraries that combine an ocean and river cruise.

Viking currently has three itineraries it calls its Ocean & River Voyages. The 15-day Rhine & Viking Shores & Fjords combines a Rhine river cruise with a North Sea sailing (with both 2018 and 2019 departure dates); the 22-day Grand European & Viking Fjords combines a Danube, Rhine and Main cruise with a North Sea sailing (with departures in 2019); and the 18-day Rhine and Amsterdam to Catalonia brings together a Rhine cruise with a sailing along the Atlantic Ocean (with departures in 2018).

It’s an approach worth watching as a slowly growing number of cruise lines build and offer both ocean and river products. In addition to Viking, Crystal Cruises now has vessels that sail both blue and inland waters, and Scenic is gearing up to make its first foray into ocean cruising with the launch of the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse this summer.

On a smaller scale, Pandaw River Cruises has started to offer coastal sailings in Southeast Asia in addition to its numerous river cruises on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers. Closer to home, American Cruise Lines has cruises both along the U.S. and Canada coastlines as well as on U.S. rivers, and UnCruise offers a Columbia and Snake river sailing in addition to its numerous coastal cruises. French river cruise company CroisiEurope has some coastal ships as well. Since for the most part, river cruises can’t go where ocean cruises can and vice versa, it seems the two would work well together as a combined offering for passengers that have the time and the willingness to experience two very different types of cruising.

Perhaps for Viking, there’s a larger goal at play with the combination cruises, too. Travel Weekly’s cruise editor Tom Stieghorst recently reported that Viking’s senior vice president of marketing Richard Marnell admitted that one of Viking Ocean’s core challenges is that the Viking name is still associated primarily with river cruises. Combining the company’s ocean and river offerings could be seen as a way to introduce those river cruisers to the ocean product.

For companies with access to both markets, the opportunity to cross-market and introduce river cruisers to the oceans and ocean cruisers to the rivers is definitely an advantage worth weighing. While some might argue that they are very different markets with distinct passengers, river cruise line surveys of their passengers often find that many of them are ocean cruisers as well, suggesting that there is a potential marketplace for the ocean-river combination cruise.