If you’ve never taken a rail and sail holiday before, you’ve missed out on one of the most incredible ways to explore some of the best travel destinations across Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada. Rail and sail holidays allow you to combine all the benefits of a cruise holiday with an exhilarating journey by train across the country, taking you to some of the world’s most desirable landmarks that would otherwise be unreachable by ship alone.
2015 is an amazing year for rail and sail destinations and here we look at two of the best combinations on offer for a luxurious and thrilling trip that you’ll never forget.
The Rockies + Alaska
On this incredible rail and sail journey, you’ll fly from Sydney and begin your holiday in Vancouver, spending one evening in this beautiful city. There’s so much to see and do before your voyage has even started: wander through some of the 1,001 acres of Stanley Park with its year-round blooming gardens, miles of trails, attractive beaches and Canada’s largest aquarium; soak up the sights and smells of Granville Island market with its colourful stalls and finest in gastronomic delights; or immerse yourself in the culture of Gastown, Vancouver’s historic heart and a centre for food, fashion and independent design.
The next day you’ll take the Rocky Mountaineer Northbound to Whistler where you’ll stay three nights in Whistler Village. A central neighbourhood in Whistler, you’ll find the pace here is as fast as you want it to be. Take a trip in a 4 x 4 and visit Whistler’s famous black bears and cubs in their natural habitat with an experienced guide, or book a helicopter tour and get a spectacular bird’s eye view of Whistler and the Blackcomb Mountains. Alternatively, take a quad bike out into the backcountry where you’ll get an up close view of the stunning landscape as you rip along old logging roads in a thrilling adventure. There’s so much to do in Whistler that three nights won’t seem like enough to appreciate all this beautiful area has to offer.
Next, you’ll head Southbound back to Vancouver giving you a few more hours to enjoy the City’s hospitality before you board your ship the next afternoon. You’ll have the next day at sea to enjoy the entertainment and activities on your cruise ship before it sails into the more protected Alaska Inside Passage which is a jaw dropping complex labyrinth of bays and fjords.
The same day, you’ll reach Juneau in Alaska, where you’ll be able to see the imposing 12 mile long Mendenhall Glacier from the East Glacier Loop Trail, a well-marked path that you can follow yourself or book as an excursion. Alternatively, take a gondola to Mount Roberts where each of the cars rises up a breath taking 1,800 feet from the cruise ship dock and into downtown Juneau. You’ll travel through the rain forest and on to the Mountain House, giving you far-reaching views of the Gastineau Channel and Juneau itself.
The next day will take you to Skagway in Alaska where you can see the colossal Davidson Glacier; or relive the gold rush on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway with a forty-mile round trip that takes you from tidewater at Skagway on to the Summit of the White Pass with an elevation of 2,865 feet. From the comfort of your vintage parlour car, you’ll be blown away by the incredible scenery as you pass mountains, gorges, waterfalls, glaciers, trestles, tunnels and numerous historic sites.
The day after, you’ll visit Tracy Arm Fjord which is over 30 miles long and here you’ll see some of Alaska’s biggest glaciers, including the well-known twin Sawyer glaciers. These frequently expel large chunks of ice into the waters below. Gliding through the fjord, you’ll experience lush forests, dazzling waterfalls, blue-tinged glaciers and snow-capped mountains unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The area is a haven for wildlife too and with a keen eye you’ll spot bears, wolves, goats, deer and many different types of seabird.
Following a day at sea, you’ll find yourself in the port of Victoria, British Columbia. Thanks to its temperate climate, you’ll love exploring this beautiful area which should include a trip to the Butchart Gardens, world-renowned for their stunning floral displays. Another popular activity in this area is whale watching, with tours available for most months of the year including May.
Typically local tours will last two to three hours and allow you to explore the crystal waters of southern Vancouver Island where you’ll see an abundance of seals, sea lions and bald eagles. Whales are not guaranteed on the tour at this time of year but the trip is well worth it regardless. Finally, you’ll leave your ship the next day in Seattle where you’ll have the opportunity to explore a little of the Emerald city before your flight back to Sydney.
Alaska + Eastbound Rockies
For this adventure packed rail and sail trip, you’ll fly from Sydney and land in San Francisco where you’ll spend the night exploring this colourful area. With your cruise not set to depart until 4pm the next day, there’s just enough time for some sightseeing, and for most visitors, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge will be high on the list. The early bird tour to Alcatraz is recommended – this departs from Pier 33 at 8:45am and avoids some of the crowds. Tours cost around $30 and last about 2.5 hours – during which you’ll see and experience this legendary island which was once a Civil War fort and more famously, one of the most well-known federal penitentiaries in history.
You’ll spend the following couple of days at sea and enjoy all of the excitement and entertainment that your cruise ship has to offer, before reaching Sitka in Alaska. This beautiful city is home to around 9,000 people and is littered with traces of its Russian heritage – most notably the gold coloured crosses and onion shaped domes of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral which you can see from high atop Castle Hill. The Sitka National Historical Park is also worth visiting with its rich and bloody history – here you can see the Tlingit and Haida totem poles dotted along the pretty coastal trail, together with the Russian Bishop’s House which has been restored to its former glory and provides a somewhat rare example of Russian colonial architecture in North America.
You’ll spend the next day in Juneau, Alaska, before sailing on to Skagway and then finally reaching Haines. Haines refers to itself as the adventure capital of Alaska and with good reason – there is a lot on offer here. The history, culture and stunning scenery is reason enough to visit in itself, but for thrill seekers, there are enough activities to last you a lifetime.
Take a four hour rafting journey on the Chilkat River through the area which has the world’s greatest concentration of Bald Eagles or go kayaking on Chilkoot Lake, home to five different species of Pacific salmon, many bald eagles, various waterfowl and one of the greatest concentrations of brown bears that can be found in southeast Alaska.
You can read our guide to rail and sail holidays here, or check out more brilliant cruise deals by clicking the button below.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons and Princess Cruises Media Center. Credit: Ted McGrath, JLS Photography, Dawn Ellner, Princess Cruises.