Doing more onshore

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The Palace at Versailles
For all the fuss river cruise lines make about their pretty ships (and don’t get me wrong, most are a visual delight), the truth is that many of the most memorable river cruising moments don’t take place on the water – they take place on land.

Yes, images of boats sell cruises. And yes, we all love to get a sneak peak of and visually approve of our sleek vacation accommodations before we journey out into the world. But in theory, those accommodations are just a means to an end, a literal vessel to bring us to the places we battle through long flights and jetlag to get to: the destination itself.

In recognizing that, river cruise lines are steadily highlighting and enhancing experiences that go beyond the hardware with ever more intriguing onshore programs. For instance, Crystal River Cruises has said that in addition to its onboard culinary program, its guests will have access to dining experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants. In fact, each 2017 Crystal river itinerary will feature at least one Michelin-starred dining opportunity, the first of which will be complimentary, the company has promised.

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Tauck, a tour operator first and foremost, has repeatedly touted its emphasis on and investment in onshore experiences. The company recently announced that it would continue along that path by adding more and enhanced shore excursions for 2018.

Along those lines, Tauck has secured exclusive pre-opening visits to Versailles and after-hours tours of the Louvre (both of which have been piloted on select departures in 2017 and will be expanded for next year). In 2018, some river cruise passengers will also be invited to a private Tauck dinner inside the German Parliament building, and there will be an included lunch at Alain Ducasse’s newest restaurant, Ore, in Versailles.

Hotel barge company European Waterways said that it has also noticed that passengers are asking for more immersive and experiential encounters ashore. In response, the company is adding excursions such as an exclusive tour of a castle garden in Scotland led by the head gardener, and the opportunity to try some fresh oysters after a private tour of an oyster farm. 

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Castle at Loch Ness, Scotland

In recent years, European Waterways said that it has also worked to better curate its wine tastings excursions to passengers’ tastes and to enhance the culinary experience by including more private cooking demonstrations with regional chefs.

You see, while it’s definitely a close cousin of ocean cruising, river cruising is by nature of the restricted size of the vessels never going to be able to bank on the “ship as the destination” appeal that many blue-water behemoths benefit from. Thus, while the promise of a fetching ship and a comfortable mode of travel may lure many travelers to river cruising, it will ultimately be the “wow” moments onshore that are likely keep them hooked.

Britannia passengers will be ale and arty as P&O adds best of Britain

P&O Britannia Union Jack Designed Hull.

Talk about Drool Britannia!

Craft brewers from as far afield as Speyside and Dunbartonshire, Scotland, and the Isle of Man and Dorset, have been recruited to stock the shelves of P&O’s Brodie’s bar on its new ship – named in honour of its founding partner Brodie McGhie Willcox.

Among the 70 beers and ciders P&O Cruises are lining up are Black Sheep from Masham, North Yorks and Rutland Panther from Oakham. You’ll also find Admiral Lord Collingwood from Northumberland rubbing shoulders with a Knight of the Garter from Windsor and Eton.

And that’s not all. There’s Chocolate Tom from Cheshire, Bath’s Ginger Hare, Orange Peel from Devizes, Wilts, and Aberdeen’s Brew Dog.

With a couple (or more) beers inside them, passengers might be forgiven for doing a double take when they walk past a pair of artworks that best represent Britain today.

Best of British: One of the Spirit of Modern Britain artworks which will be displayed on board P&O’s record-breaking new ship

The ship, being christened in Southampton on March 10, takes a prominent position but so does Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis with his beard represented by festival revellers and London’s Shard – which might be the tallest building in Europe but would be dwarfed by Britannia if it was stood on its stern.

Mary Berry, who is expected to be giving lessons in the Cookery School and Marco Pierre White, who is devising menus for gala dinners, are also there, along with faces less likely to be seen on board such as Posh and Becks, Boris Johnson and Simon Cowell.

Fares for seven nights on the biggest ship to be built for the British market start at £699pp.

See video of Britannia undergoing her first sea trials below

 Video of mv Britannia going through her paces

Cruise ship runs aground in Scotland

Cruise ship runs aground in Scotland

By Phil Davies

Cruise ship runs aground in ScotlandA small cruise ship ran aground in Oban Bay in Scotland yesterday evening.

The MS Serenissima, which was recently refurbished and is under charter to Noble Caledonia, is reported to have 112 people on board.

No-one was believed to have been injured in the incident.

The vessel was refloated in the early hours of this morning after it ran aground in Oban Bay. Divers will carry out underwater surveys of the vessel to ensure its seaworthiness.

An initial attempt to refloat the ship using its own engine, with a lifeboat pulling from astern, failed because of strong winds blowing the ship towards the shore.

High tide was not due until around midnight but it was hoped to tow the vessel off around 10.30pm.

An RNLI spokesman told the BBC last night: “The vessel is currently aground at the bow but still afloat at the stern.

“The initial attempt at refloating the ship used its own engine with the lifeboat providing assistance by pulling at the stern.

“Unfortunately this attempt was hampered by a strong wind blowing the ship towards the shore, and was unsuccessful.

“The lifeboat is now working with the crew of the ship to refloat it at a higher state of tide.”

The local Oban Times newspaper reported: “It would appear that the 87-metre MS Serenissima went the wrong way round a navigation buoy, as she encountered the MV Isle of Mull ferry, when she entered Oban Bay in Argyll from the north.”

The vessel was completing an 11-day ‘Great Gardens and Houses of Britain and Ireland” itinerary which left Poole on May 11.

The ship, which previously operated for Hurtigruten on Norwegian coastal voyages as the Harald Jarl, is scheduled to depart from Oban today (Tuesday) on a seven-night Hebridean cruise, according to Noble Caledonia’s 2013-14 Small Ship Cruising in Britain and Ireland brochure.