Sign Up for Our Monthly River Cruise Newsletter
We are all awaiting the time when we can float down the world’s rivers and cruise in comfort again, and it looks like that day may finally be on the horizon. In fact, one line is hopeful they can resume at least some voyages by the end of the year.
If not in 2020, companies are looking to target a March 2021 return — around the time when the start of the European season would typically begin — while domestic lines are seeking resumption in late 2020 or early 2021. For now, however, regional sailings have the benefits of easy access and shorter travel times to and from embarkation and disembarkation ports.
Foreign flights, by comparison, are more restrictive, especially for U.S. travelers. As of press time, American travelers are still not allowed entry into E.U. member countries; the list of countries allowed into the E.U. is re-evaluated every two weeks, taking into account the number of new COVID-19 cases by origin.
But wherever clients are sailing, one of the greatest inherent benefits of river travel over ocean cruising (and particularly helpful during a pandemic) include always being within sight of a shore and having medical attention — and the means to evacuate guests — within immediate reach.
Here, we provide a snapshot of each mainstream line’s current and future status.
American Cruise LineAmerican Cruise Lines’ riverboats are ready to set sail when the time is right (sometime this year, the company hopes). Its 2021 season will begin in February, and the highlight will be the launch of its new American Melody ship
Enhanced health protocols include onboard COVID-19 testing; increased sanitation; reduced capacities (capped at 75%); the availability of personal protective equipment (which may be required at certain times); private room service; and more.
In the meantime, clients can cancel 2020 cruises for any reason, up to 24 hours prior to departure, for a full future cruise credit.
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC)The latest from AQSC is the extended sailing suspension through the end of 2020. The line’s newest ship, American Countess, won’t debut until 2021 (when existing ships American Duchess, American Empress and American Queen also come back online).
When operations do resume, the line will apply enhanced health and safety protocols to its itineraries, including pre-cruise screenings, increased sanitation, added medical resources, thermal monitoring and reduced motorcoach capacities. The use of facial coverings is not mandated onboard.
AmaWaterwaysAmaWaterways is back to limited operations, with AmaKristina serving German guests. The line may not be accepting American clients until 2021, but its updated health measures (which include temperature checks, face coverings in public spaces and social distancing) are already being practiced.
In the longterm, co-founder Rudi Schreiner envisions a future where self-service buffets will be eliminated in favor of show-kitchen stations.
Until then, AmaWaterways is awaiting the arrival of the AmaLucia and AmaSiena ships on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, along with the AmaDahlia on the Nile River in 2021.
Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways has opted to forego service in 2020 entirely. Its Peace of Mind Plan allows guests to reschedule their canceled cruise to 2021 or 2022, without penalties or fees.
Once Avalon does start back up, the brand will uphold an extensive list of health and safety protocols, including pre-boarding health screenings, mask wearing (when physical distancing is a challenge), limited onboard capacities and touchless interactions.
Furthermore, air is not re-circulated between cabins, and Avalon touts the benefits of booking its signature open-air staterooms, which open to the outdoors.
CrystalCrystal has also pushed back its river cruises until 2021, but has remained vigilant in continuously updating its Crystal Clean+ protocols (now in its third iteration), which follow Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) latest core mandates.
This will translate to COVID-19 testing before embarkation, social distancing, required mask wearing when proper spacing is not possible, regular health monitoring and disembarkation only on sanctioned shore excursions. Crystal is also requiring travel insurance for all guests.
Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel are now all Green Award certified for upholding high safety and environmental standards, and their reservations are open through 2022 — when Crystal is scheduled to make maiden calls in Vidin, Bulgaria, and Giurgiu, Romania.
Emerald Waterways and Scenic Luxury Cruises & ToursAccording to press statements, Emerald Waterways is looking to an April 2021 restart, as it and sister brand Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours have canceled all cruises through the end of 2020. Both brands are offering 110% future cruise credits to any canceled clients.
Scenic and Emerald’s shared “Cruise with Confidence” policies are also written in close conjunction with CLIA’s, among which are medical evaluations and tests before boarding, enhanced sanitation, minimized social contact and smaller groups onshore. Not mentioned at this time are any requirements about face coverings.
TauckTauck also suspended its voyages through the remainder of the year. For trips scheduled for January through March 2021, the brand’s policies allow clients to cancel within 45 days of departure with fewer penalties.
Tauck is confident it will overcome the current downturn and is prepared to implement new protocols, which will encompass health screenings, physical distancing and mask wearing in groups, but may vary by geographic region. Still awaiting its debut is the new Andorinha riverboat, originally scheduled for spring of this year, along the Douro River in Portugal.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and U by UniworldAlso on hold through December are corporate sisters Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and U by Uniworld. Their policies currently allow client changes or cancellations for a full future cruise credit up to 30 days before any European cruise through June 30, 2021.
Once the Uniworld brands do resume cruising, they will follow CLIA and World Health Organization guidelines for safe sailing. Passengers should expect, among other things, assigned dining tables and companions, regular temperature checks, hand sanitation stations and Premium Purity-solution self-disinfection of surfaces. Face coverings will only be required at a passenger’s personal discretion.
VikingViking has a lot coming up, but like other brands, it is currently on hold through the end of the year. Clients who canceled their trips will receive a 125% future cruise credit that is good for two years.
While Viking hasn’t yet announced its future plans for updated health and safety protocols (besides emphasizing the small and spacious — and thus safer — vessels), the company is still looking ahead toward 2021 and 2022. Next year, it will introduce the new Viking Saigon on the Mekong River, and in the following year, the line will debut the new Viking Mississippi along the namesake river.