Christmas celebrations may end up being rather different this year, with the potential of tough restrictions on how many can gather, and where we can travel, but river cruise fans can still get into the festive spirit amid Covid-19.
For while the situation with ocean cruising remains largely uncertain – the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opted to extend its ‘no sail’ order through October 31 while Canada, the Cayman Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and the Seychelles all have cruise bans in place until the end of the year – river cruise lines have been quietly making their comeback.
German river cruise company, A-Rosa, successfully resumed cruises on the Douro, the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone over the summer, as did Amadeus and Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope. And all three outfits are offering Christmas markets cruises to British passengers – even with quarantine requirements on the arrival home.
Lucia Rowe, managing director at A-ROSA River Cruises UK, told The Telegraph: “We currently have a selection of festive themed cruises on offer so guests can enjoy advent time on the rivers. We are constantly monitoring the local conditions and official regulations and will do everything we can to ensure we offer a magical experience on the rivers this December."
Meanwhile Amadeus is offering a ‘Magic of Advent on the Rhine’ and a ‘Magic of Advent on the Danube’ river cruise this winter and are confident that their two sailings will go ahead as planned. An Amadeus spokesperson said: “We have health protocols in place and follow the guidelines set forth by the countries that we cruise through. With this, we are pleased to say we are cruising and will continue to do so as long as we are allowed and can do so safely.”
And a number of river cruise lines who have currently paused operations amid the pandemic are hoping to join them. Jamie Loizou, UK Managing Director for AmaWaterways, who suspended all river cruise sailings until the end of November, said: “Current restrictions mean that departures beyond that date are being reviewed on a regular basis, but we will resume our scheduled programme as soon as possible. We are hopeful that this will be in time to operate our Christmas cruises on the Rhine and Danube.”
Avalon is another river cruise line planning a Christmas comeback on both the Danube and the Rhine (departing December 14 and 12 respectively), giving guests the chance to delight in the sights, smells and tastes of central Europe’s Christmas festivities.
Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Giles Hawke, Avalon Waterways UK chief executive, said: “This December we have some fantastic value festive cruises on the Rhine and the Danube, so guests can truly get into the Christmas spirit.
“As the world is different this year, we've adapted our cruises to visit the most joyful sights away from the hustle and bustle. River cruising is a great choice with low guests numbers and our spacious Panorama Suites with open-air balconies.
“As well as Avalon cruises exceeding health and safety protocols, guests can change their plans to the following year for no extra cost if they need to. I am travelling on one of these cruises myself to meet our guests and reassure myself of the high standards we are committed to.”
But it’s not all good news. Uniworld, which has suspended all voyages until at least the end of October, had hoped to resume service in time for the European Christmas markets but that plan has now been scrapped. A spokesperson for the brand, which revealed the interiors of its highly anticipated new ship SS La Venezia at the end of September, confirmed their Christmas market voyages “will no longer be taking place this year.”
However Tui River Cruises will launch, following a six month delay due to the impact of Covid-19, towards the end of November with a brand new Christmas markets programme catering to British passengers on new ship Tui Isla.
Chris Hackney, the managing director of cruise for Tui UK and Ireland, told The Telegraph: “We’re really looking forward to setting sail for the first time next month and taking our customers away on our new fully refurbished ships. It’s been a real journey to get to this point but we’re excited to show people what Tui River Cruises is all about.