Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

This month brought the first publicly reported case of Covid-19 on a European river ship.

But as with other cruise cases that have occurred since the industry has slowly reopened, the reported infections of two guests and six crew members on a CroisiEurope ship in Portugal appears to have been an isolated incident.

And other river operators who have made limited returns to European waterways say they have, so far, avoided any incidents and are pleased with the results of their initial forays into the Covid era of river cruising

Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, says the company has been sailing four ships with German guests, and it's been going so well that it is adding two more vessels this month.

Mahar said Tauck has had high guest satisfaction. Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River Cruises, which has been sailing about half of its fleet with European guests since July, reports the same. As has Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of AmaWaterways, which has been operating one ship for German passengers on the Rhine. 

 Most importantly, they all agreed in separate conversations, the limited number of cruises are helping them test and perfect sailings during the pandemic.

"We were able to really have a proof of concept of our health and safety initiatives onboard," Leskovar said. "And we are happy to that up to now we have been able to keep all of these passengers happy. So we've learned a lot and feel good about implementation on board. That's the good part of it. We've got some experience with it."

While AmaWaterways installed some plexiglass at the reception desk and between some seating areas in the lounge, Tauck and Amadeus report limited physical changes.

Mahar said Tauck has removed high-touch items, created one-way hallways and made some changes to the dining room and menus to avoid buffets, but the "core of experience is sustained and working smoothly."

Leskovar says that while the crew is required to wears masks at all times, guests are only required to wear them in instances where they can't distance.

"But we have very generous public spaces," Leskovar said, noting the dining and lounge areas are oversized to avoid seeming packed -- even when a ship is at capacity.

"We really were able to create an onboard atmosphere where the cruise itself is not really impacted," he said. "You don't feel like you're sailing on a hospital ship."

On the CroisiEurope Douro sailing earlier this month on the ship the Vasco de Gama, the company reported two guests fell ill the day of disembarkation and later tested positive for Covid-19 at a hospital. Six crew members also ultimately tested positive, although none had symptoms, and future sailings were moved to the Amalia Rodrigues with a different crew to ensure that the Vasco de Gama could be fully serviced and its crew 100% healthy before sailing again, the company said.

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