Oceans of difference: Coach vs cruise

For solo travellers, the choice between a coach tour for a cruise isn’t as simple as it might seem. Jane Archer helps agents to throw some light on the decision

A coach tour is just the land‑based equivalent of a cruise, right? Well, no: both are about touring but that is where the similarities start and end. Understanding their different selling points is vital if you want to match your clients to the right type of holiday.

Relaxing at sea
For passengers on an ocean cruise, the ship is part of the attraction. They can board, unpack once and then relax as their floating hotel takes them from port to port. Ocean liners accommodate anything from a few hundred passengers to several thousand and have swimming pools, restaurants, bars and theatres, live bands, lectures and more to keep folk entertained while the ship sails from one destination to another. Most cruising is done in the evening and overnight, and many itineraries include at least one sea day, which gives passengers time to enjoy the ship’s facilities.

A week’s cruise in the Western Mediterranean might tick off Barcelona, Nice and Rome or customers can fly to Asia and cruise around Thailand, Vietnam, Borneo and Singapore in one ten-day holiday.

River-cruise vessels are smaller than ocean-going ships, averaging 150 passengers. A lot of cruising is done at night but there is a view by day, highlights being spots such as the Rhine Gorge in Germany and Austria’s Wachau Valley along the Danube.

A coach with a view

A coach holiday is a very different experience. For one thing, coaches only hold about 50 passengers so you get to know everyone. There is always a view and those concerned about seasickness need not worry (the same applies to a river cruise).

Coaches can take you to landlocked places that cruise ships can’t reach: Siberia in Russia, Las Vegas in the US and Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia. A recent escorted tour around India’s Golden Triangle took me from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Jaipur to visit the Amber Fortress. It was an incredible journey you could not make on a ship.

While cruise itineraries generally hop between countries, coach tours often focus on one state or region – ten days in Eastern Canada with Tauck, for instance, or 11 days in Italy with Trafalgar Tours.

On the downside, you have to stay seated during the journey other than to use the facilities and do tend to end up living out of a suitcase as you travel between hotels. However, modern vehicles have more legroom – Leger Holidays’ Silver Service coaches even have a small rear lounge where passengers can gather to chat.

Most tour companies have also stopped cramming itineraries with a different city each day. Titan Travel’s Essence of Japan tour, for instance, spends three nights in Tokyo and two in Hiroshima, Kyoto and the hill town of Takayama, with multiple departures between September this year and April next year.

Insight Vacations offer easy‑pace tours that cut down on travel time: ten days in Budapest,Vienna and Prague; eight days in St Petersburg and Moscow; or ten days in Rome, Florence and Venice with optional trips to Pompeii

What about age?

Cruise and coach holidays attract older people who want to travel but are content to let someone else do all the organising, but both also have a substantial and growing following among young people.

And why not? Many cruise ships have trendy restaurants and sushi bars to appeal to hipsters and there is even a new river cruise brand, U by Uniworld, exclusively for millennials aged 21 to 45. It launches on the Seine, Rhine and Danube this month.

U is a sister company to Contiki, a well-established coach holiday company for the 18-35s that offers high-energy trips and camping tours with “road crew” in place of tour managers.

For older customers who may struggle to get around, the company Mobility at Sea rents specialist equipment to make their cruise more comfortable. It has partnerships with many large operators such as Saga, Princess and Cunard.

Do they charge single supplements?

Most cruise and coach companies charge a single supplement but amounts vary enormously and a few have no-supplement offers now and then. Voyages to Antiquity and Cruise & Maritime Voyages are among the best ocean cruise lines for singles as they charge lone travellers just 25 per cent extra. Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ships have studio cabins for solo travellers that are individually costed rather weighed down with a supplement.

River cruise lines AmaWaterways and Tauck have waived single supplements on lower-deck cabins on all European cruises this year, and reduced the charge on higher-grade rooms on selected departures across the year.

More than half of all Contiki clients are solo travellers. Instead of charging them a supplement, it pairs same-sex individuals in twin rooms. Trafalgar has dedicated solo departures with no supplement.

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