In the wake of Austria imposing a country-wide lockdown as part of an effort to break a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, river cruise lines in Europe have announced changes and cancellations to various itineraries, bringing the final weeks of 2021 to a sour close.
As part of new measures, Austria has paused leisure travel, restricting tourist entry through Dec. 13. But this could be extended another 20 days, the country’s chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, said on Nov. 19.
Austria is the first European nation to reimpose a national lockdown this winter season.
For river cruises, the restriction interrupts itineraries that include visits to popular Christmas markets along the Danube river. As part of its lockdown, Austria has temporarily cancelled these holiday hot spots.
The German states of Bavaria and Saxony have also entered into various degrees of lockdown and some Christmas markets in the country have already been cancelled.
The Munich Christkindlmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest and biggest Christmas markets, for instance, has been nixed for the second consecutive year.
Cancellations & adjustments
As such, river cruise companies have been responding accordingly with suspensions and adjustments.
Crystal River Cruises has cancelled the remaining four Dec. 2021 sailings of Crystal Ravel, whose Danube itinerary is comprised primarily of Austrian ports.
Crystal Debussy, which operates 7- to 10-night Rhine River cruises departing from Amsterdam and Basel, is scheduled to continue to operate its published itineraries through the end of the year, reads a notice on Crystal’s website.
“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,” said Walter Littlejohn, senior vice-president and managing director of Crystal River Cruises. “Such strong guest response to our resumption of service makes it even more disheartening that we were obliged to cancel the four remaining Crystal Ravel sailings.”
The company says Crystal Ravel will resume river cruising in March 2022, offering 7-night Delightful Danube itineraries sailing between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany, joining Crystal Mozart sailing 7-night Danube Dreams & Discoveries itinerary sailing roundtrip from Vienna.
All affected guests, and their travel agents, have been contacted with details of this cancellation along with their rebooking and compensation options, the company says.
Viking River Cruises will continue to sail through Austria but it will not be stopping at any ports of call there.
“In recognition of any inconvenience caused by the change, Viking has provided guests on these modified itineraries with onboard credit to be used on their upcoming sailing, as well as a voucher to be used for their next voyage," Viking said in a statement.
Avalon Waterways says it will be cancelling all Danube and Main-Danube itineraries between now and the end of the year.
“Avalon will be in direct contact with all affected guests and their travel advisors to offer a range of options to reschedule affected cruises. Communications with affected guests will be done in order of upcoming departure dates,” reads a company statement.
“Direct communications to all affected travellers is being done on a rolling schedule, reaching out first to guests – and their travel advisors – with the earliest, scheduled departures.”
Scenic Group, which includes Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises, has suspended all of its remaining 2021 European river cruises.
This includes the suspension of six Scenic river cruises and four Emerald Cruises river cruises as “all were due to visit Europe’s Christmas Markets,” reads a company statement obtained by PAX.
The company says it will be contacting affected guests “early next week” to discuss their options, including transferring to a 2022 Christmas Markets river cruise.
“Everybody at the Scenic Group has been left saddened by the abrupt end to our 2021 season, sailing in Europe,” the statement reads. “For the last few months, we have welcomed thousands of guests on board our river ships, providing them with fantastic memories of sailing through the heart of Europe’s villages, towns and cities. We now look forward to new adventures with our guests once we commence the 2022 European river cruise season in March.”
Tauck is also unable to operate its Danube holiday river cruises as planned.
“As a result of the current lockdown in Austria and the cancellation of all Christmas markets throughout Bavaria, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all 2021 departures of Christmas Markets Along the Danube and Holiday Magic: Danube Family River Cruise,” the company said in a statement. “Please note we do not anticipate these temporary measures will have any impact on our Danube cruises in the spring.”
In a company statement issued to PAX, AmaWaterways' Kristin Karst, co-founder and executive vice-president, noted how the itineraries of four ships sailing on the Danube were affected this week due to Austria's lockdown.
"AmaWaterways’ top priority was to contact all travel advisors and guests on these Upper Danube itineraries who were scheduled to arrive in Europe this weekend," Karst said. "We know how much our guests have been looking forward to their river cruise experience on board our festive ships so rather than cancel, we quickly reached out to our travel partners and guests and provided creative alternative arrangements."
"Travel during these times remains a personal choice and we have kept our flexible policies in place to best accommodate the evolving conditions."
"Our experienced operations team continues to evaluate upcoming sailings and we will be contacting all travel advisors and guests with options available if their Danube cruise may be impacted by the temporary lockdown in Austria."
These arrangements may include moving to another ship or itinerary, or postponing to a future date, Karst explained.
Guests cruising through Austria on modified itineraries will also be eligible to receive Future Cruise Credits depending on the number of days affected.
"AmaWaterways' festively-decorated ships will continue to sail on the Danube, Rhine and Rhône rivers and our wonderful crew are looking forward to welcoming our guests on board," Karst said. "Under the leadership of the most experienced river cruise executives in the industry, AmaWaterways continues to put the health, safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew at the centre of all our decisions."
"We commend and deeply appreciate the patience and flexibility shown by our travel advisor partners and their clients as we continue to adjust our Danube itineraries in order to safe guard our guests’ vacation plans.”
Uniworld River Cruises has also provided PAX with an update.
Ellen Bettridge, president & CEO of Uniworld, said the company will be suspending select Uniworld departures and is "working on an alternative for guests still interested in experiencing the European holiday markets this year along the Rhine River."
“Our ‘Danube Holiday Markets,’ ‘Classic Christmas Markets,’ and ‘European Holiday Markets’ itineraries scheduled to depart in the first two weeks of December have been suspended, and guests have been contacted to discuss replacement travel dates and sailing options," Bettridge said.