Each of us has a comfort zone for timing our return to international travel. When you are ready to set sail on a European river cruise, there are a few changes you should keep in mind. We anticipated many of the changes to cruising, a few were happy surprises.
I just returned from a Danube River cruise on Avalon Waterways. We explored the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Hungary aboard our floating hotel the Avalon Artistry II. We had a fabulous time while still adhering to appropriate health and safety practices that have become part of our daily life. There are several changes in the river cruise industry that you need to know before you hop on an international flight to sail on one of Europe’s beautiful rivers.
1. Cruise Lines Want You To Sail
The cruise lines are ready for guests. They want you to feel safe, enjoy your cruise, and spread the word that cruising is back.
The Avalon Artistry II can carry a maximum of 128 passengers in her 12 staterooms and 52 suites. Our sailing had 62 passengers which imparted a spacious, uncrowded feel. The staff is listed at 37 members, however, on our sailing, we had 41. Virtually two staff for every three guests. Needless to say, we were extremely well attended onboard. There was plenty of space to spread out and watch the gorgeous scenery as we floated along.
Tourism is down in Europe due to the perceived restrictive paperwork required and the only recently lifted travel restrictions. This is a plus for the travelers that visit. There are fewer crowds everywhere you go. The lines are shorter, restaurant service is quicker, and you don’t have to battle traditionally crowded attractions.
2. Sanitation Practices
Sanitation practices are the first big change you will encounter. While hotels and cruise ships strive to be squeaky clean, the emphasis on sanitation has brought clean to a new level.
According to Avalon Waterways Health and Safety statement, “We’ve instituted enhanced cleaning procedures throughout each ship … deep disinfection of each stateroom between cruises as well as dining areas between each meal service and the inspection and disinfection of all goods prior to loading on the ship. In addition… the air in our ships is not circulated between staterooms; only within an individual stateroom and mixed with clean, fresh, outside air.”
Every time housekeeping staff entered our suite, they opened the balcony door to let in fresh air, giving the room a refreshingly clean scent. I was comforted by their first-rate safety protocols.
3. River Cruises And Social Distancing
All common areas like the dining room, deck, and lounge had social distancing seating pre-set regularly. There was a large, organized group sailing together so they tended to sit without distancing. The crew reset the social distancing reminders regularly.
When we boarded buses for the excursions, many times there were empty rows between seats. However, on the smaller group excursions that required only a large van, we were not socially distanced and many riders chose to wear a mask on the buses.
4. COVID Testing
Most river cruise lines are requiring all passengers and staff to be fully vaccinated. This adds a level of comfort and security to your cruise vacation. They may also offer COVID testing at the end of your cruise if it is required to re-enter your home country.
Obviously, the goal is to avoid a positive test indicated by a pink line. I never thought in my 60s I would be worried about a little pink line again!
During my recent river cruise, I had three COVID tests. My grandbabies were sick with a cold before I left on vacation. As you can imagine, I became sick with their cold just as we landed in Prague. After the first night of coughing, I was terrified I was COVID positive and would pass it along to other guests. The next morning, I took one of the video-proctored tests I brought with me. Thankfully, it was negative. The following day I was still coughing — a lot! After speaking with our cruise director, it was decided the cruise line would test me once I embarked on the ship.
Typically, cruise guests have to wait to check in once they have embarked, however, they hustled us right to our room and administered a COVID test. Once again, the test was negative and we were allowed to enjoy our cruise.
Consider bringing a CDC-approved video-proctored test kit with you. Many cruise lines are offering to test U.S. passengers since they are required a negative test to fly back to the country. However, if they don’t offer testing, you will need to seek out a testing center at the airport or another local testing facility. It is much easier to have one of these kits that provide an emailed copy of your results.
You can take the test in the privacy of your room and most kits take about 15 minutes from start to finish. Be sure to choose one that is CDC-approved. City Health and many others offer a CDC-approved Rapid Antigen COVID test online.
5. Temperature Check
Every guest’s temperature was checked daily before entering the dining room at breakfast. A no-contact thermometer and required hand sanitization made the process quick and easy. We began each day with the comfort of knowing we were good to go.
6. Mask Requirements
Wearing masks on the ship was highly recommended in the common areas. That being said, after the first day, many guests chose not to wear their masks around the ship. The ship’s crew, however, always wore their masks.
Masks were required when entering the dining room and when serving yourself from the breakfast or luncheon buffet.
A KN95 mask from FFP Masks is a must-have in many European countries. At this time, travelers are allowed to be outside without a mask. Many museums and attractions, however, required the KN95 mask to enter. Packing a supply of these masks will keep you from scurrying to purchase one if you are declined entry.
7. Itineraries Need To Be Flexible
Everyone has certain excursions that are high on their to-do list. With unpredictable COVID outbreaks, passengers need to be accepting of flexible itineraries. Excursions may change and evolve while you are mid-cruise. Keeping an open mind regarding your itinerary will make your cruise more enjoyable.
Changes to the original plan may happen, but your ship’s staff is dedicated to your vacation enjoyment and will do their very best to ensure you have fabulous shore experiences.
8. Locator Forms And COVID Vaccination Attestations
Many countries are requiring visitors to complete a locator form or COVID attestation form. Your travel agent is the best resource for what forms need to be completed before your trip. Some Schengen Area Countries (European countries that have eliminated border patrols and checks for citizens and tourists) have similar travel requirements and restrictions, making it easy to move from one country to the next.
In our case, we needed to complete a locator form for the Czech Republic before we left home. It was a simple form. It was, however, in Czech and took a little effort to complete. The correctly completed form generates a QR Code that you need to carry with you during your visit. We were asked to produce it only once at the airport before our flight from Munich to Prague.
During our trip, Germany changed its travel requirements, and our travel agent and the ship’s cruise director informed us of the new COVID vaccination attestation requirement immediately. Again, it was a simple form to complete and we were able to print it out on the ship.
Many countries required us to show our vaccination cards when entering a hotel, restaurant, or pub. However, we were not asked to show our vaccination cards at other onshore activities.
Great River Cruising Deals
When you are ready to travel, and that time is unique to every individual, the river cruise industry is ready to welcome you back with open arms and sparkling ships. The changes I encountered on my recent cruise were mostly a source of comfort and security. Some of the paperwork was tedious and repetitive, however, this is how the travel world is evolving and we need to adapt if we want to get out and explore.
If you are contemplating a river cruise, these are good things to know: