Soon after European Union leaders on May 19 agreed to allow fully vaccinated travelers, including Americans, to enter Europe this summer, river cruise companies announced their plans to restart sailings along Europe’s scenic inland waterways.
Even though most EU leaders have yet to outline the specifics of their reopening plans, including what will be required for U.S. travelers to enter Europe in terms of COVID-19 vaccination and/or possible testing requirements, river cruise lines aren’t waiting any longer.
“Demand for river cruising is at an all-time high,” Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, said in a statement about that river cruise line’s 2021 return to sailing.
If sailing along Europe’s storied Danube River, drinking wine on the Seine in France, glimpsing castles along the Rhine, or cruising past vineyards on Portugal’s Douro River sounds like the ideal getaway, you’re in luck.
The cruise lines that will be sailing Europe’s rivers this summer—and beyond—include:
- Avalon Waterways
- Emerald Cruises
- Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
- Viking River Cruises
European river cruises sailing in 2021, 2022, and beyond
Here is what each of the European river cruise lines has planned thus far.
On May 21, AmaWaterways announced that it would return to the rivers of Europe on July 3, with sailings in Portugal.
After that, the company will restart cruises on all of the European rivers it sails throughout July and will begin sailing the Danube River with its largest and most impressive ship, the 196-passenger AmaMagna, on July 21, 2021.
As for what will be required for passengers to sail, AmaWaterways is waiting for the European Union to finalize its entry requirements.
“As we proceed with our return to the rivers, we will continue to monitor the updates from global health authorities, local governments and airlines with regards to the entry requirements. In the coming days, we will be providing more information regarding the specific documentation needed for sailing with us,” stated AmaWaterways president and cofounder Rudi Schreiner.
This classy river cruise line, which puts a strong emphasis on its food and wine program, is an AFAR Travelers’ Choice winner for Best River Cruise Line, and its cofounders were recognized as 2019 AFAR Vanguard honorees for the deeply personal touch they bring to the river cruising experience. AmaWaterways has a fleet of 25 ships on the rivers of Europe, as well as on Southeast Asia’s Mekong River, southern Africa’s Chobe River, and Egypt’s Nile.
For a truly epic river cruise itinerary, it may be worth waiting until June 1, 2023, when AmaWaterways will sail its longest river cruise ever—the “Seven River Journey Through Europe.” The 46-night experience will take 144 guests through 14 countries on four different ships. The rates start at $25,999 per person.
The itinerary will sail France’s Seine, Saône, and Rhône Rivers; the Rhine, Moselle, and Main Rivers through Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; and the final sailing will be along the Danube River from Germany, through Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and ending in Romania.
Avalon Waterways, which is owned by touring powerhouse the Globus family of brands, is hosting numerous European river cruises in July, August, and September 2021. Avalon offers sailings ranging from short 4-day cruises, all the way up to multi-country 18-day cruises along the Danube and Rhine Rivers, among other European waterways.
One of the line’s more interesting offerings for 2021 and 2022 is its new storyteller series, itineraries hosted by authors and musicians. The first one is a week-long Rhine itinerary that departs on October 30, 2021, and is hosted by Diana Gabaldon, author of the best-selling Outlander novels.
In 2022, the series will continue with a “Sex & the City of Lights” Seine sailing on July 19, 2022, hosted by Candace Bushnell, author of Sex in the City; a “Wild & Whimsy on the Water” active Danube cruise on July 22, 2022, hosted by Wild author Cheryl Strayed; and a September 14, 2022, Danube sailing hosted by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, among several others.
In order to travel with any of its brands, including Avalon Waterways, Globus requires guests to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination from at least 14 days prior to travel; proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test from within 72 hours of travel; or proof of recovery from a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis within three months of travel.
The company will also provide and cover the cost of any additional COVID-19 testing that is required for guests to return to their home country (such as the current U.S. testing requirement for international arrivals), as well as testing during the trip if guests show symptoms.
Sleek and chic river cruise oufit Emerald Cruises will kick off its 2021 European season on July 31, 2021, on Portugal’s Douro River.
The eight-day “Secrets of the Douro” sailings will go roundtrip from Porto and along the terraced vineyards of the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cruise includes a day trip to the Spanish city of Salamanca, an excursion to the Coa Valley Prehistoric Museum in Pocinho, dinner at a traditional wine estate, and a tour of the baroque village of Lamego. On the ship there will be a port wine cocktail lesson, a Portuguese cooking demonstration, and mosaic tile painting, among other activities.
Emerald vessels feature a trademark pool area that transforms into a cinema in the evening.
All guests must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks prior to departure.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
Emerald’s slightly more grown-up and sophisticated sister brand Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours will also begin offering cruises on Portugal’s Douro River this July. Scenic will be running 8- and 11-night cruises up and down the winery-bedecked waterway. Highlights include canoeing on the Sabor River (a Douro tributary) and a private concert in Porto’s historic São Francisco Church.
Itineraries can be combined with Bordeaux and Seine River cruises in France, or with extensions in Lisbon and Madrid.
As with Emerald, all guests must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before departure.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
Following the news that Italy and France plan to reopen their borders to American citizens in June, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises announced its plans to restart European river cruising in those two European countries soon thereafter.
Uniworld will resume its river cruises on June 20, 2021, when it will debut the recently renovated S.S. La Venezia in Italy. On June 27, Uniworld will restart cruises in France on its S.S. Bon Voyage, S.S. Joie de Vivre, and S.S. Catherine vessels.
The S.S. La Venezia will sail Uniworld’s 10-day “Milan, Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy” itinerary. The S.S. Bon Voyage will sail Uniworld’s eight-day Bordeaux cruise along the Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde Rivers. The S.S. Joie de Vivre will sail the Seine for eight-day “Paris & Normandy” cruises. And the S.S. Catherine will sail the Rhône and Saône Rivers in France’s wine- and culture-rich Burgundy and Provence regions.
“Restarting these itineraries is just the first step in getting all of our ships back on the rivers this year,” Uniworld CEO Bettridge said in a statement.
Uniworld will also be unveiling its new S.S. Sphinx river cruise ship in Egypt on September 25, and it will begin sailing the Peruvian Amazon on September 1, with two new itineraries aboard the Aria Amazon.
If you want to do “all of the above,” then maybe you should look into Uniworld’s epic 46-night “Rivers of the World” cruise, which includes the Nile, Italy’s Venice Lagoon and Po River, the Danube River from Budapest to Passau, France’s Seine, and Portugal’s Douro River Valley. The inaugural sailing takes place on May 20, 2023, and the trip starts at $38,999 per person.
Another unique river cruise experience that may be worth waiting for is Uniworld’s first-ever “Mystery Cruise,” a 10-day sailing that begins on June 12, 2022, in Europe. Rates start at $6,999 per person including airfare; the cruise will be hosted by Bettridge. The Mystery Cruise is a totally new itinerary for Uniworld and will feature experiences that have never been included on Uniworld journeys before. The itinerary will be revealed as travelers are on their way to the airport—prior to takeoff, a packing list will be provided, as well as a few clues to help prepare.
A full list of Uniworld’s 2021 Europe sailings is available online.
Viking announced that it will also restart its European river operations in July 2021, beginning with sailings in Portugal and France and along the Rhine.
The cruises are an 8-day “Rhine Getaway” from Amsterdam to Basel; a 10-day “Portugal’s River of Gold” from Lisbon to Porto; an 8-day “Paris & the Heart of Normandy,” roundtrip from Paris; an 8-day “Lyon & Provence” from Avignon to Lyon; and a 15-day “France’s Finest,” that combines northern and southern French river itineraries.
The river sailings are being offered exclusively to vaccinated travelers. All guests and crew will have access to frequent COVID-19 PCR tests. The cruise company stated that it has installed new air-purification technology on all of its ships, and it will conduct additional health checks and sanitization measures and promote physical distancing onboard. All of the health and safety protocols can be found online.
Viking has also relaunched ocean cruises in England, Iceland, Bermuda, and the Mediterranean and intends to announce additional 2021 sailings.