The river fleets of the mighty European waterways are at last cranking up their engines and starting to sail, thanks to the rapid spread of vaccinations across the continent and America, home to the most inveterate river cruisers.
Uniworld has even relaunched La Venezia, the former River Countess struck by MSC Opera in 2019 while alongside in Venice.
She’s got more suites and dining areas, space for social distancing and interiors inspired by the work of Italian artist and textile designer Mariano Fortuny. Wonderful to feel things like this at least are almost back to normal.
But that doesn’t mean everyone has agreed on their policies towards vaccines and health protocols.
Avalon Waterways, for instance, recently announced a change meaning all guests travelling internationally between July 15 and Oct. 31 must be vaccinated.
Avalon is owned by Globus, and CEO Scott Nisbet said the requirement “provides our travellers the safest return to travel” while ensuring “more seamless movement between countries and within destinations.”
In all honesty, however, it’s more about the myriad requirements of the countries through which the waterways flow than companies running cruise ships.
That said, just in time for summer, the rivers are about to flow with ships again. And Australian fans are getting excited.
Viking, which starts sailing in Portugal at the end of the month, has seen a rise in bookings – particularly on longer journeys.
“Viking is now open for the full 2023 Europe river cruise season. This is the first time we have opened a whole season this far in advance which is definitely a positive indication of global demand and the return to cruise that we have all been waiting for,” says Michelle Black, Managing Director Viking Australia and New Zealand.
“With this early release we are increasingly seeing more Australian and New Zealand guests take advantage of the opportunity to forward plan well into 2023 which gives added peace of mind when there is such uncertainty around when our international borders will open.
“Europe remains popular with longer itineraries such as Viking’s 23-day European Sojourn, which sails from Bucharest to Amsterdam or vice versa, in particular attracting people’s attention as they want to travel for longer and make the most of their next voyage after being unable to travel for so long. Likewise, the sale of pre and post extensions is on the rise for the same reason, with guests choosing to extend their stay and really explore and discover their destination.”
In France, the Seine, Rhone/Saone and the Bordeaux regions are reopening, as well as the Rhine and the Danube. In Italy, the Po River and the Venetian Lagoon are creaking back to life. And Portugal’s Douro River is also now offering itineraries.
Scenic will return to the Douro on July 30, with Scenic Azure, while sister line, Emerald Cruises, will begin sailing in Portugal with Emerald Radiance.
And there are bargains to be had. Emerald is offering savings of $2,000 per couple, for instance.
“We are so excited to see the situation in Europe evolving in a positive direction,” Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder, AmaWaterways, which APT operates in Australia, told American trade site Travel Weekly.
Crystal, Riviera Cruises, Tauck, Uniworld and Croisi Europe are all announcing starts in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.
Sadly, with Australia’s borders likely closed until the end of the year, Aussie river fans will be well advised to book 2022.
Here’s a list of who’s sailing when, according to Travel Weekly:
Amadeus River Cruises
Amadeus River Cruises will launch its first sailing for Americans since the pandemic began July 1 on the Rhone. Other limited sailings for Americans will continue throughout July, with a full schedule for Americans expected to resume in August, said Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president. The line will start sailing with European guests in mid June.
Portugal sailings resume July 3 on the AmaDouro.
River cruises will start on the Douro in Portugal June 7, followed by sailings in France on the Gironde and Seine June 30. Other start dates include sailings on the Rhine beginning July 2; the Danube, Elbe, Oder, Havel rivers and the Baltic Sea July 8; Spain’s Guadalquivir River Aug. 19; and Italy’s Po River Aug. 25. French canal cruises are set to resume July 2.
Crystal River Cruises
Crystal River Cruises said it will resume sailing in Europe on Aug. 29, but it has not yet released further details on its restart. The company said it is currently assessing its final ship deployment for the fall and winter and will announce more information when that is completed.
Riviera River Cruise
Riviera River Cruises will restart its European river cruises July 2 on Portugal’s Douro River. Riviera’s first departure of its eight-day Douro, Porto and Salamanca river cruise.
The Scenic Group
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours will launch its 2021 European season on Portugal’s Douro River, with the first sailing starting July 30. Emerald Cruises will start its 2021 European season on Portugal’s Douro River July 31.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
Cruising resumes June 20 in Italy on its newly transformed S.S. La Venezia. Cruises in France will start June 27 from Bordeaux on the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde rivers, followed by a July 4 restart on the Seine from Paris and a July 11 relaunch on the Rhone and Saone rivers.
Cruises in France will start June 27 from Bordeaux.
Viking River Cruises
The line has added select river cruises to its Welcome Back collection, with cruises on the Douro beginning June 30 and sailings in France and on the Danube starting July 18.