When Will European River Cruising Resume?
By Anne Kalosh
An estimated 70 to 80 river vessels operated in Europe this year, including those of A’Rosa, Phoenix Reisen, Nikko Tours, Lüftner Cruises, Douro Azul and Scylla, among others. They carried only Europeans, primarily sticking to certain national markets.
AmaWaterways was represented, too, as the only U.S.-based line. Ama’s customers are mainly North Americans, but since these travelers were blocked from most of Europe, the company chartered one of its vessels to a German tour operator.
Carrying exclusively Germans, Austrians and Swiss for European river cruising, AmaKristina sailed from July until November, when Germany shut down domestic travel/hotel operations, ending river voyages.
COVID-Free In 2020
During the whole season, AmaKristina reported no COVID cases.
“German guests are probably very careful,” said Rudi Schreiner, president/co-owner, AmaWaterways. “German guests follow directions well.”
AmaWaterways adhered to protocols including enhanced sanitation, mask-wearing in all public spaces, daily temperature checks and distancing (facilitated by plexiglass dividers in the lounge).
Self-service dining and beverages were eliminated, and an in-room dining option was available for all meals.
The line has restructured dining across its 22-vessel European fleet to eliminate buffets, and that change will be permanent.
Crew underwent COVID tests, but not passengers. Schreiner said that’s because the virus was so well controlled in Germany for most of the time the sailings operated. This policy may change in 2021, based on European entry regulations that are still to be determined.
AmaWaterways’ original plan was to limit occupancy to 50 percent however the average passenger count per cruise over four months was around 60 on a 170-passenger ship.
Eighty percent of Ama’s accommodations have balconies, and the lower-level rooms (with just windows) were not offered for sale.
A Learning Experience
The season was “not a money-maker,” Schreiner said. “It was an excellent learning experience.”
Christmas markets and holiday cruises would have normally been running at this time, but those were canceled due to the COVID surges in Europe.
It’s yet to be seen when river cruises can resume.
Schreiner expects that to happen in the spring for Europeans and in late spring “but, more realistically, the summer” for North Americans.
“We are ready to cruise whenever people can cruise,” he added.
Late Spring Start?
“My gut feeling is we will start late spring cruising, possibly with a few ships, possibly with Europeans and hopefully with a few Americans,” Schreiner said. “But I still think summer will be the time when it can really start. By March/April, people will have a very good idea of how safe it will be to go in the summer.”
If the vaccine distribution fares well, fall/winter will be “pretty much as usual.”
Bookings for spring slowed recently with the COVID spike in North America and uncertainty about vaccine distribution, and travelers with existing reservations have postponed for later in the year. Ama currently lets them do that, without change fees. (This policy will continue for bookings made by Jan. 31.)
Sales for summer and fall, and especially fall and winter 2021, are “strong,” while 2022 is “very strong,” Schreiner said. Plus, AmaWaterways is already filling charters and group sailings in 2023, which hasn’t opened yet for individual reservations.
Sparked by Qantas becoming the first airline to state proof of vaccination will be required to fly, other airlines may follow suit and Schreiner thinks some countries could make it a requirement for entry, just as some African nations, for example, require a yellow fever vaccination.
He believes travel policies in Europe will be decided at the national level, not in European Union groupings as when the Continent first reopened.
So there may be a patchwork of regulations. Individual countries may mandate proof of a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination.
Open Travel Not Likely Until 2022
“I don’t believe there will be open travel, maybe not until 2022,” Schreiner said. “COVID will be around in 2021.”
He doesn’t think AmaWaterways itself would mandate vaccination, but the line will comply with whatever national requirements are in place.
“Completely new rules will come out,” he predicted.
“If there are no strict rules, we will apply the strict rules on board,” he added. “You can’t let your guard down.”
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