River cruises predicted to return upon availability of COVID-19 vaccine

With the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, hope has been restored in many as they look forward to a pandemic-free future. Experts have predicted normal operations will resume for many industries by the summer, or soon thereafter. Consumer confidence to travel is expected to resurface and surge quickly upon the increased availability of the vaccine. According to industry leading figures, river cruising will make a comeback in Europe as a preferred travel experience for North Americans. 

Scenic rivers wind between historic towns, castles, abbeys, and wineries across European countries. Over 100 river cruise ships call these rivers home although majority are run by companies based in the United States. Even though COVID-19 has stalled this industry for a year now, the potential return in late 2021 is expecting to prevail. It is likely Americans that choose to travel to Europe may have to show proof of vaccination before boarding. If this is the case, spokespeople have shared there would be little to no risk of contracting the virus even if one person is exposed.  

One of our AAA Travel partners, AmaWaterways, is at the helm of leading this new era in river cruising. The company looks forward to resuming their sailings as cases decrease and travel restrictions are lifted. Rudi Schreiner, the co-founder, and president of AmaWaterways, has shared in latest news, “‘We are able within days to start operations’… ‘So, from our side, we are just basically on the sideline waiting for when this will happen.’” AmaWaterways owns 22 vessels on European rivers, and exclusive vessels on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, the Nile in Egypt, and the Chobe River in Africa.  

According to Schreiner, many North Americans who had initially booked their voyages in April and May, have now pushed later, and new bookings remain steady in the summer months or onward. The season for AmaWaterways typically runs late-March through December, but due to the pandemic, sailings are aimed to return in July. This past year, the line partnered with a local German tour operator to charter cruises along the Rhine, for Germans only, during a 4-month period. The German government had allowed domestic travel within the country, paired with clear and consistent guidelines to lessen an intense outbreak of COVID-19 cases.  

This opportunity to continue in some capacity amid a global health crisis, has prepared the AmaWaterways’ team to welcome back North Americans with a wide range of anti-coronavirus measures. The line will cut passenger capacity by about 35% to support social distancing, require mask-wearing, start pre-boarding health screenings, provide COVID-19 tests for the crew, perform daily temperature checks of guests and workers, along with removing buffet dining.  

Schreiner speaks to this chaotic year as a great learning experience for the company and believes the comeback for river cruises will be much stronger than ocean lines. The staff aboard river cruises are usually local to European areas, while ocean operators are more prone to a mix of crew members from a wide range of nations. Additionally, the itineraries of ocean cruises are typically more complex as the visits cross through different countries and territories that now have their own, independent regulations. These variances between river and ocean lines, of staff and destinations alone, reinforce the notion that AmaWaterways and similar competitors will bounce back. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented resilience necessary for travel companies to survive, the vaccine development and protocols in place allow for an optimistic future in river exploration.  

Note: All photos courtesy of AmaWaterways.