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Europe river cruise patchwork amid lockdowns and some Christmas markets closures (*updated*)

PHOTO: UNIWORLD CRUISE_Uniworld_holiday_lobby.jpg
A Uniworld vessel decked out for Christmas
Although the river cruise season is widely over in central Europe a fourth wave of COVID-19 in certain regions led to the cancellation of some Christmas markets sailings.

Particularly impacted are Austria and Germany's southern and eastern states including Bavaria and Saxony. Austria instituted a lockdown until Dec. 13, with possible extension for unvaccinated people. Bavaria canceled its Christmas markets at the last minute, and Saxony is implementing a similar strategy, while its federal state prime minister has not ruled out a full lockdown for his state.

Perspectives for Germany as a whole are uncertain though a nationwide lockdown supported by the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel is unlikely for the time being. Despite the cancellations in Bavaria and Saxony, most other federal states are having their Christmas markets, often under tightened regulations such as mask requirements.

Slovakia began a two-week lockdown Nov. 25.

AmaWaterways working to revise itineraries

AmaWaterways said it's working to adjust Danube itineraries so that travelers who wish to continue with their vacation plans may do so.

'Guests who choose to travel should be prepared to be flexible and understand that ports of call and excursions have not been finalized and are subject to change as the situation in Europe continues to evolve,' the company said in a statement. 'Most of our ships on the Danube will be sailing between Budapest, Hungary, and Vilshofen, Germany, with extra excursions and scenic cruising in Hungary, scenic cruising through Austria's beautiful Wachau Valley and more time in port in Germany. Regardless of itinerary modifications, we will provide transfers to the international airports associated with the original embarking and disembarking locations.'

Future cruise credits may be provided to those passengers who travel depending on the extent of the itinerary modifications. Those who aren't comfortable traveling between now and year's end may postpone their trips and receive a 100% FCC for the purchased price of the cruise-only portion.

A-Rosa halts Danube, continues on the Rhine but skips Dutch ports

A-Rosa canceled its Danube itineraries through Dec. 11, but hopes to restart from Dec. 15. A spokesman told Seatrade Cruise News the company is optimistic that lockdown measures in Austria and Slovakia will show a positive result.

A-Rosa Flussschiff continues operating on the Rhine, but canceled A-Rosa Flora's calls at Dutch ports due to government restrictions such as reduced restaurant hours. A-Rosa Flora will pass the Netherlands without stopping and replace the dropped calls at Amsterdam and Rotterdam with Antwerp (overnight) and Dusseldorf. 

Plantours implements 2G policy

Plantours Kreuzfahrten likewise continues its river operations but implemented a '2G' policy allowing only travelers who are fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID. On Tuesday spokesman John Will said this policy, already implemented on the company's ocean ship Hamburg, was extended to all river vessels and will remain in force throughout 2022.

Plantours has scheduled six pre-Christmas itineraries with Lady Diletta from and to Dusseldorf. All call exclusively at German ports, and Plantours expects they'll operate as planned. Bookings are good, and only few cabins are still available. Plantours also currently intends to operate New Year's river cruises on all five of its vessels, which are fully booked.

Uniworld drops Danube, keeps Rhine

At Uniworld a few sailings along the Danube were impacted. 'Danube Holiday Markets,' 'Classic Christmas Markets' and 'European Holiday Markets' itineraries scheduled to depart in the first two weeks of December were canceled and passengers have been contacted to discuss replacement travel dates and sailing options.

President and CEO Ellen Bettridge said Uniworld was working on an alternative for travelers still interested in experiencing the holiday markets this year along the Rhine.

Tauck's Amsterdam-Brussels itinerary is on

Tauck canceled all its departures of 'Christmas Markets Along the Danube' and 'Holiday Magic: Danube Family River Cruise' as a result of the Austria lockdown and Bavaria's cancellation of Christmas markets. Tauck's other Christmas markets river cruise, 'Yuletide Spirit: Amsterdam to Brussels,' is scheduled to operate as planned.

The company added it doesn't expect the temporary measures in Austria and Bavaria will have any impact on its spring Danube cruises.

Crystal cancels Danube, forges ahead on Rhine

Earlier this month, Crystal River Cruises canceled Crystal Ravel's remaining four December sailings since the vessel's Danube itinerary is comprised mainly of Austrian ports. Crystal Debussy, which operates seven- to 10-night Rhine cruises from Amsterdam and Basel, is to continue operating published itineraries through year's end.

According to Walter Littlejohn, SVP and managing director of Crystal River Cruises, the restart that began in August has been an 'unqualified success with strong demand and excellent guest feedback, with some of the highest guest satisfaction scores ever, and a validation of the company’s Crystal Clean+ health and safety protocols.'

These, including the policy of 100% vaccinated passengers and crew, have been extended through 2022, as earlier reported.

Crystal also provides COVID-19 testing at embarkation before passengers board, which most lines don't.

'Amazing season'

'We’ve had an amazing season and our guests and crew have been excited to be back on board enjoying some truly special moments, including special wine tastings in the Wachau Valley, stops in Vienna featuring the Crystal Signature Event at the Belvedere Palace and visits to Budapest, which have included an unforgettable nighttime sail by the beautiful Parliament building,' Littlejohn said.

Crystal Ravel is to resume operations in March with seven-night 'Delightful Danube' itineraries sailing between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany, joining Crystal Mozart's seven-night 'Danube Dreams & Discoveries' itinerary round-trip Vienna.

Passengers on the canceled cruises were given the option of transferring to 2022 Christmas markets sailings aboard Crystal Ravel or Crystal Mozart on the Danube or Crystal Bach on the Rhine, with their fare protected for the equivalent category. Alternatively, they can receive a 100% future cruise credit valid toward any Crystal experience embarking by the end of 2023, or a refund.

IG RiverCruise projects strong 2022

IG RiverCruise, the Basel-based cruise line association that represents close to 360 vessels, 90% of the European market, expressed optimism for the 2022 season on high demand for river cruises next year.

Without citing figures, IG RiverCruise also said 2021 had been significantly busier than last year, particularly toward the end of the summer, though limited capacity utilization continued to affect financial results.

Call for uniform regulations

The association said one of the most significant challenges this year has been keeping track of different measures and travel restrictions along the rivers. Varied rules and regulations often resulted in confusion, not least among the authorities themselves. IG RiverCruise urged countries and federal states to more closely coordinate their measures in the interest of clarity and effectiveness. 

* Update adds information from AmaWaterways

See also 'Donaukonferenz delayed, River Cruise Europe steps in with webinar'

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