The recent news about Europe reopening to vaccinated travelers this summer was, obviously, welcome news for the long-shuttered river cruise industry.
But with opening dates and details on country-specific buy-in for welcoming travelers still elusive, river operators say it's too soon to say exactly when the season will resume. Still, there's renewed optimism about getting Americans back on Europe's waterways this summer, and possibly sooner than was widely predicted just a month ago.
"Finally, things are looking up," said Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River Cruises, which ran a limited series of sailings last summer for European guests. "We are currently planning to start the season in June and are preparing for the first group of American passengers onboard a Rhone cruise on July 1, with more American passengers to follow that month and a full return to sailings for Americans in August."
Additionally, he said, bookings for 2021 and 2022 have been up since the first announcement of the EU reopening to American travelers, and a lot of business that was sidelined up to that point is now being confirmed.
Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways, likewise offered a slightly more optimistic opening scenario than last month, saying this week that it could begin sailings on the Douro River in Portugal sometime in June, followed likely by France in July, then possibly Central Europe by the end of July or early August.
Avalon Waterways said it remains on hold through the end of June.
"While we're prepared to restart Avalon Waterways from an operations standpoint, we're not yet to the point where we can commit to a specific date, based on country access," said Pamela Hoffee, the line's managing director. "In the meantime, we continue to see the optimism of travelers in the form of strong forward-booking volume, which has picked up in recent weeks. We're confident we'll be back on the water this summer and anticipate more good news on openings within the coming weeks."
Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, said it is targeting mid-June to early July for its three ships in France, and expect to launch the new S.S. La Venezia in Italy in late June or the first week of July.
Rob Voss, COO of Scenic Group, which operates the Scenic and Emerald river cruise brands, said it is "increasingly hopeful that we will be able to start up European river cruising by mid-summer." Marilyn Conroy of Riviera River Cruises said it is pushing for a July restart. And Tauck's Jeremy Palmer said it is targeting a late summer-early fall return.
Crystal River Cruise managing director Walter Littlejohn, on the other hand, said the line has canceled all cruises through Aug. 28 and has no plans to change those dates.
Indeed, there seems no reason to rush to put out sailing dates that might again have to be pushed back.
Even domestically, where American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines have been sailing the Mississippi since March, questions remain about when the Pacific Northwest will fully reopen. While American Cruise Lines has resumed sailings there, to Oregon ports only, American Queen president Shawn Bierdz said it won't start sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers until mid-June, to allow a cushion for Washington state to reopen to cruising.
Bottom line, he said, American Queen simply doesn't want to "roll the dice on that one" and potentially subject guests to another round of rescheduling.