Scenic rail-and-sail vacations that combine trains and cruise ships

Elissa Richard

Double the adventure, double the fun: Pack two top trips into a single dream getaway, courtesy of these bundled “rail-and-sail” vacations. Read on for 10 seamless journeys that combine cruising with leisure train travel, and be put on the fast track to an unforgettable escape.

1. Alaska & the Canadian Rockies

Rocky Mountaineer’s new partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line pairs Inside Passage Alaskan sailings with train trips between Seattle or Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (this latest collaboration joins the rail line’s already established offerings with Holland America Line). Five different itineraries are on the roster—try a run that includes the new Coastal Passage route between Calgary and Seattle, stopping off at Vancouver, Banff, Lake Louise, and more, before (or after) setting sail on a weeklong Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel or Norwegian Pearl. Thirteen- to 14-night packages from $4,866/person.

2. More Alaska Rail & Sail Combos

Alaska cruise-and-rail packages tend to dominate this niche market, with travelers keen on sampling the many land- and sea-based wonders of this massive state. Princess Cruises pioneered the concept of luxury rail service in Alaska back in the mid-‘80s, and it still today offers “cruisetours,” touting side trips to Talkeetna, Denali National Park, and/or Fairbanks by train, including overnight stays at Princess-run wilderness lodges (10- to 15-night trips from $798/person).

Holland America Line pairs three- to seven-night sailings with multi-night land-based visits to Denali and/or the Yukon, which incorporate daylong rail outings aboard a glass-domed train between Anchorage and Denali, and/or the historic narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, along with overnight stays at area hotels (10- to 20-night trips from $999/person). Or, combine Royal Caribbean’s seven-night Alaska sailings aboard the Radiance of the Seas, with three- to four-night land tours inclusive of lodging, excursions, and a full-day jaunt through the interior of Alaska on the glass-domed cars of the Wilderness Express (10- to 11-night trips from $1,564/person).

3. Rivers & Rails of Africa

AmaWaterways’ brand-new “Rivers and Rails of Africa” itinerary for 2014 is set to explore the best of southern Africa. The trip combines a three-night stay in Cape Town, a four-night Chobe River sailing aboard the Zambezi Queen (with excursions to local villages and wildlife reserves), and a two-night stay surrounded by the majesty of Victoria Falls. The adventure culminates with a two-night, 1,000-mile rail journey aboard the upscale Rovos Rail vintage train through Botswana (including a jaunt through a game reserve), before winding back down in South Africa (with a final night in Johannesburg). Fourteen-night packages from $11,495/person.

4. American Heartland NYE Journey

Cruise ship-and-train trip specialist Uncommon Journeys has put together a special American heartland itinerary to coincide with New Year’s Eve. Trace the Mississippi River Delta while traveling across America’s middle on an overnight train trek aboard the new Pullman Rail Journeys service from Chicago to Memphis, then set out aboard the upscale American Queen steamboat for a seven-night voyage along the Mississippi River, with stops scheduled at the signature antebellum mansions, Civil War battlefields, and historic towns that define the South. The cruise concludes in New Orleans, for an overnight hotel stay and city sightseeing. Ten-night trip departs December 27; from $2,895/person.

5. Asia by River & Railroad

Explore the best of Asia on a 10-night river-and-rail adventure through Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar, in the hands of legendary tour operator Orient-Express. Tours incorporate overnight stays in bustling Singapore, Bangkok, and Yangon; a two-night train trip on the Eastern & Oriental Express (between Singapore, Malaysia, and Bangkok); and a grand finale four-night voyage aboard the luxury riverboat, Road To Mandalay, from Mandalay to Yangon, in Myanmar. Ten-night packages from $8,985/person.

6. Islands & Highlands of Scotland

Discover Scotland in style aboard the exclusive 36-passenger The Royal Scotsman train—touting the UK’s only luxury sleeper car—combined with a sailing aboard the posh, 50-guest Hebridean Princess ship. A newly packaged offering for 2013, the fully inclusive high-end tour includes uniquely Scottish stops, like an excursion to the idyllic Ballindalloch Castle and a whiskey tasting at Glen Ord Distillery. Eleven-night vacations from $16,846 per person.

7. Close-to-Home Cities, Mountains & Beaches

Rail-cruise vacation specialist Vacations By Rail has put together an epic two-week tour, combining a two-night Amtrak journey across the western U.S., with a 10-night sailing to Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, La Paz and Puerto Vallarta, in Mexico. Board Amtrak’s California Zephyr from Chicago for a scenic journey over the Colorado Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains, and transfer on to San Francisco (for an overnight stay), where the Grand Princess awaits. This 13-night tour leaves March 2; rates from $2,620/person.

8. Elegant European Explorer

For the very best of both worlds, pair a sailing aboard leading luxury liner Silversea with a rail tour aboard the British Pullman carriages of the fabled Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train. Silversea offers pre-cruise tour extensions with the rail line in 2014, offering an unforgettable luxury rail adventure between London and Venice (including a crossing over the Swiss Alps), before setting off for a nine- to 10-night Silversea cruise between Venice and Rome—or, Athens. Rates for 11- to 12-night packages from $9,139/person.

9. Fjords, Arctic & More Norway

One-up a Hurtigruten cruise along Norway’s storied coastline by tacking on a “Norway in a Nutshell” bus, train, and ferry journey through some of the country’s most idyllic fjord- and glacier-coated interior landscapes. The world-class, train-anchored trek—which can be done in one day or split up over multiple days with overnight stops—runs between the coastal port of Bergen and the capital at Oslo, and includes segments like the Flåm Mountain Railway, an engineering marvel. Hurtigruten runs several cruise itineraries from Bergen, including their “Classic Round Voyage” to Kirkenes (and back), which dips into the Arctic Circle, and calls upon in Trondheim, Alesund, and more. Eleven-night packages from $2,099/person.

10. Amazon & Andes Voyage

UK-based Journey Latin America bundles Amazon River sailings with multiday rides on Ecuador’s recently relaunched rail route between Quito and Guayaquil. Cruise the brand-new MV Anakonda for four nights, taking in Amazonian indigenous villages and biological reserves. Then, hop aboard upscale trans-Andean railroad Tren Crucero, which connects the Ecuadorian capital to the Pacific coastline on a three-night journey past panoramas of volcanoes, verdant valleys, and soaring Andean peaks, with overnight stops scheduled at historic haciendas and country inns. Thirteen-night journeys from $4,870/person.