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Viking River Cruise at least Ambitious

 

Our colleague Phil Reimer, who writes Ports and Bows blogs and column for readers across Canada, recently made a long trip to see Longships, the moniker the rapidly-expanding Viking River Cruises gave its newest line of vessels.

What Phil found, among other things, was the most ambitious river cruisers in the world. He witnessed the christening of the first four of six Longships being launched this year, and discovered Viking has not just six more coming next year but possibly six more in 2014.

Granted, river cruise ships don't cost nearly as much as ocean liners to build, but clearly Viking is hoping to dominate what has always been a niche market. Maybe it's not so niche now. How ambitious is spending $600 million or so?

Generally, river cruisers carry fewer than 200 passengers. More have more balconies, and they don't have the big-production entertainment that their ocean cousins have. What they have is quality, in food and accommodation and pricing. It's a generally more sedate surrounding, watching the land go by instead of oceans of water.

Having been on a self-styled canal cruise in France — and that's a story for another day — we are intrigued by the astounding growth of river cruising. Why, it's grown to the point where Phil is now dedicating a blog every Friday (20% of his weekly content) just to river cruising, and he's the best there is at taking the pulses of people who cruise.

Holland America Eurodam
12 nights
June 2, 2012
Amsterdam, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edinburgh, Invergordon, Alesund, Geiranger, Flam, Bergen, Kristiansand, Oslo, Copenhagen
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74
www.hollandamerica.com

Cruise Ship Port: To Drive or To Fly

One of the problems when trying to get to a cruise port is — often — deciding whether it's better to fly or drive.

We found a helper.

It's called Travel Math (or travelmath if you insist on precision) and it calculates, in rough terms, what you need to know to make that decision. Or at least to make it easier.

Let's take an example. Say you live in Memphis and want to catch a cruise from the Port of Miami.

Driving takes 16 hours. Flying, including estimate driving time to and from the airport and check-in time, takes 3 hours and 27 minutes.

Driving costs $303.61, using gas prices of $3.85 a gallon. Flying costs $296. However, the driving cost includes only for gas, not meals and motel and parking in Miami.

Driving covers 986 miles. Flying 872 miles.

In this example, flying is the way to go. In fact, adjusting for the current price at the pump probably makes it even better. On the other hand, you do have to endure the baggage, security and general annoyances of flying.

Travel Math — that's travelmath.com — isn't conclusive, but it helps.

And it's free.

Diamond Princess
7 nights
June 2, 2012
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $555
Cost per day: $79
www.princess.com

Viator Joins Shore Excursion Options

The news that, as of Monday, you'll be able to book shore excursions without visiting the shore excursions desk on your cruise ship or visiting "Juan Valdez" and his agents on the pier could have far-reaching implications.

A company called Viator launched its website yesterday, for bookings starting six days later. It's for any major cruise line, any ship, almost any place (there are 80 ports). It's not the first company to venture into these waters, but it seems to be the most ambitious…or at least the latest.

If Viator (and others like GroupShoreExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com) are successful, it's going to force cruise lines to be competitive in what many believe is the high cost of shore excursions. That is, if they haven't already done so and if they have, the consumer still wins.

This new company claims to shave as much as 60 per cent off the going, monopolistic rate…with little competition, only Juan and his amigos, cruise lines are quick to warn you that the ship won't wait if you're late getting back from a shore excursion not operated by the cruise line.

While this is true, have you been on a ship where departure was delayed…and where you saw passengers scurrying across the dock to the gangplank? We have, more than once, and since there were only four of five of them, we assumed these were not cruise-line shore excursions.

Cruise people don't want to leave passengers behind, just to make a point, although now that they're in a fight for the shore excursion dollar, tactics may change. Similarly, their competitors on the shore don't want unhappy customers, either. In both cases…bad for business.

We've taken a few trips on shore outside the comfort of the "we could leave without you" promise and (touch wood) never missed the ship. The closest we came was in France, after renting a car and getting lost, and the rental-car rep jumped in and drove us to the pier in, well, French style. And besides, most passengers going "on their own" allow plenty of time to return.

If you feel threatened by missing the boat, Viator promises…no, guarantees…that Viator will get you to the ship at the next port, at Viator's expense. At least one of its competitors (Group Shore Excursions) makes the same promise. Considering the magnitude of these businesses, they'll probably be more than capable of fulfilling the guarantee for the few times it may be necessary.

Unless everybody's scared.

Then, these customer-friendly businesses will simply be dead in the water.

And don't worry too much about Juan and his amigos. They'll probably wind up doing what they do for the new companies.

Costa Deliziosa
11 nights
May 25, 2012
Amsterdam (return) to Norway: Hellesylt, Honningsvag, Tromso, Leknes, Trondheim, Andalsnes, Bergen
Inside: $1,099
Cost per day: $99
www.costacruise.com

 
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