When will river cruises resume? Vaccines fuel optimism: Travel Weekly
The deployment of Covid-19 vaccination programs and the progress of tests are fueling new optimism about a return to river cruising in 2021.
While a weak appetite for long-haul travel and ongoing travel restrictions could push the start of European river cruises for Americans into the summer, domestic operators say they are currently moving forward with plans to sail again in March.
“Things change so quickly,” said John Wagoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company. “We have rapid tests, the vaccine, so we see a light at the end of the tunnel. We know it’s not a train. I really can’t tell you if it’s March, April, May or June. But we know it’s in this timeline.
“So we’re going to shoot for March 15,” he said. “I think we have a very good chance at that.”
While demand for early departures at this point is low, Wagoner said that since ships will be operating at reduced capacity, he expects to be able to fill any spring cruise.
“We are very optimistic,” he said. “We believe there is pent-up demand, and we look forward to a very exciting 2021.”
American Cruise Lines has announced that it is also planning a full season starting in March on the Mississippi and the Columbia and Snake rivers. His plans include the launch of his new modern riverboat, the American Jazz. A fourth, the American Melody, is scheduled for August.
American Queen also has new tonnage coming up. She plans to start the season with the relaunch of the American Duchess on March 15 on the Mississippi River, followed by the christening on March 21 of her fourth paddle steamer, the American Countess. The American Empress is scheduled to resume navigation in the Pacific Northwest on April 4.
Wagoner said it was still not clear when he could start using his largest paddle steamer, the 436-passenger American Queen. Due to its size of over 250 passengers, it must follow CDC rules which require more monitoring and navigation tests before being cleared to operate.
While American Cruise Line’s four paddle steamers and three modern riverboats, like American Queen’s three smaller ships, are exempt from CDC rules, both companies say at this point they plan to require Covid tests before boarding for all their passengers.
Internationally, most operators still have open departures for March and April, but expect these to be pushed back.
“The opening of the borders remains our biggest obstacle to the resumption of operations in Europe, so we hope for positive news with the deployment of vaccines as well as new tests, etc. Said Pam Hoffee, Managing Director of Avalon Waterways.
“We continue to monitor the situation in Egypt, Peru, Ecuador, Vietnam and Cambodia, which are the other countries where we operate,” she added. “Borders have opened up to some of these destinations; so yes, there is a chance that we can operate there before Europe. At this point, we have chosen to cancel these programs until the end of February based on the epidemiological situation here in the United States and in these countries. “
AmaWaterways chairman and co-founder Rudi Schreiner said he is currently considering the April departures. But, realistically, he thinks it might be the summer before Ama can operate again in Europe for the Americans.
International operators say it is also too early to know how the tests and vaccines will fit into their health and safety protocols.
“As we are able to see what’s going on with the vaccine rollout, as well as the county requirements, we can finalize our plans accordingly,” Hoffee said. “We anticipate a mix of vaccination evidence [and] routine testing to be part of our final program. “
UPDATE: This Insight was updated on December 18 to clarify which American Queen Steamboat Co. ships will be new for 2021. It is launching a ship, the American Countess.