Extending a river cruise at sea

By Tom Stieghorst

Many of the passengers I shared a voyage with recently on the new Viking Star ocean cruise ship were past passengers on Viking’s river cruise vessels.

I was surprised to hear from more than one of them that river cruises in general are too short.

Unlike on the ocean, where one can find world cruises of more than 100 days, river cruises are limited by the length of the river they sail on and rarely span more than two weeks.

Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

One woman said that to justify the trouble of packing, taking an overseas flight with all of the security and customs procedures that involves, and adjusting to jet lag in Europe, she wanted to vacation for longer than a typical river cruise allows.

This woman had enjoyed a 15-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, and said she wouldn’t mind doing the reverse cruise back-to-back in order to get more mileage from her overseas trip.

Mind you, nearly one third of the passengers on my cruise from Istanbul had signed on for a full 50-night, 33-port grand ocean tour of Europe that will finish in Stockholm at the end of May.

So clearly, while there is some overlap between ocean and river cruise customers, there’s a certain contingent that prefers a longer voyage than is possible on the average river itinerary.

One solution is to combine the two, a concept that first launched last fall when Celebrity Cruises linked up with river operator Amras Cruises to create ocean-and-river cruise packages.

Viking could take that idea to the next level by being one company that offers both types of cruises.

There is already a lot of conversation about the topic at Viking’s headquarters in Los Angeles, according to Sara Conley, Viking’s director of public relations and social media, who added that it is logistically more difficult than it might appear.

Ocean and river cruises do not share many homeports, so there might be land transfers involved between one ship and the other. And the schedules of the two sides of the cruise business were not designed with coordination in mind, so they don’t necessarily match up in convenient ways.

At this point, Viking has just one ocean ship, the 930-passenger Star. Next year it expects to have another delivered, with a third to follow either late in 2016 or early 2017.

By that time Viking may have figured out a solution to offering the combo cruise that would give some passengers both a river cruise and a more extended cruise vacation in Europe.