Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

A ban on the popular nighttime illumination cruises past Budapest's brightly lit Parliament building has been lifted. But not all river lines are rushing to resume the sailings.

The government ban was implemented after a deadly collision on an illumination sailing in May between a Viking ship and a small touring boat, which sank, killing 27 South Korean tourists.

AmaWaterways co-founder Rudi Schreiner said his ships have halted the cruises while officials continue their investigation into the accident Likewise, Avalon Waterways said it has decided to "discontinue illumination sailings at this time."

Officials with Crystal and Amadeus, however, say they have resumed the cruises, which under new rules implemented in January require ships to go farther beyond the crowded stretch of the Danube immediately in front of the Parliament before turning around. Viking declined comment about whether it has resumed the night-time sailings.

Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge issued a statement saying, "Neither Uniworld nor U River Cruises offered illumination cruises or excursions before the incident. Uniworld changes docks in Budapest where guests can see the Parliament building illuminated when passing between the two dock locations. This route hasn't been affected."

The hesitation by some to continue the cruises, or to classify them as illumination sailings, no doubt stems from concerns by operators about balancing customer expectations with respect for the dead, uncertainty about who was at fault, increased liability and attempts to avoid further scrutiny and quell calls for a permanent ban on illumination cruises by the larger vessels.

One question river lines are no doubt weighing is just how important illumination sailings really are to passengers.
Pete Larson, a river cruise specialist and owner of RiverCruiseGuru.com, said he thinks they are important "for some."

"I've been on the illumination cruise with Emerald Waterways, and it was magnificent," Larson said. "I thought it was a highlight of the cruise for sure. My wife couldn't have cared less. In fact, she slept through it. So it depends on the person, I believe."

Since the accident, he said, he has not had any complaints from clients booked on ships that had to skip the nighttime sailings. Nor has anyone inquired about illumination cruises during the booking process, Larson said.

Concerns have long been brewing about the potential for accidents on the crowded river at night, prompting the new restrictions in January and calls by some for a permanent ban on the cruises by larger ships.

Whether or not they will be allowed to continue, and how they might be regulated, will likely be determined by the outcome of, and response to, the findings of the investigation of the May 29 accident, in which the Viking Sigyn hit and sank the small tour boat as they both passed under a bridge.

In the meantime, river cruise operators might have to look to alternative land options for soaking in the spectacular view, since a visitor only needs to cross one of the many bridges from the Pest side of Budapest to the rising elevations of Buda for equally if not even more stunning views of the Parliament and Pest's brightly lit skyline.

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