The 2022 season for river cruising in Europe has begun. And with the easing of COVID restrictions, more Americans are ready and willing to travel abroad. But some have concerns about how the war between Russia and Ukraine could affect their travel plans.
To help you be well prepared when suggesting a European river cruise to them, here is a summary of what is happening with the major brands, including any changes to itineraries because of the situation in Ukraine.
Amadeus River Cruises
Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president, Amadeus River Cruises, gave this update: “We have had some passengers call and inquire about the status of our cruises, but we did not have any cancellations due to this situation yet. Also, there are no trip or cruise interruptions that we can foresee at this time, especially since it is not expected that any part of the European Union or NATO zone will be physically affected by the conflict. More important than the actual distance to the conflict is whether a vessel is operating within the confines of the European Union and/or NATO zone. All countries that are part of some of our cruises and that have a border with Ukraine (Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania) are part of the European Union. We currently don’t have any plans to alter cruises and are planning to operate all itineraries. As an Austrian company, we work hand-in-hand with Austrian and European officials to monitor the situation in real-time.”
The brand does not cruise in Russia or Ukraine so they did not have to alter any river cruise itineraries or pre- and post-cruise land programs.
“AmaWaterways’ top priority will always be the safety of our guests and crew,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways. “With 20 years of experience providing unparalleled river cruise journeys, our operations team can modify itineraries and adjust excursions at a moment’s notice should there be any need to do so. Our guests are very anxious to travel again and by doing so they are able to provide much-needed support to the economic recovery of the countries visited, which are struggling to recuperate after two years of travel restrictions.”
As for how the war has affected business, Karst said: “The conflict has not had a significant impact on our reservations for this year. There was a short lull in new reservations at the end of February until mid-March, but the phone lines are busy again and we are seeing a lot of last-minute reservations coming in for the September to December travel period. Our outlook for 2022 remains positive with incredible pent-up demand and we’re so excited to welcome our guests back to the rivers!”
“First, we proactively cancelled all Russia tours through 2023. We have also seen a slight slowdown in bookings in the last few weeks (less than 10 percent), specifically for Eastern European vacations,” reported a representative from Avalon. “Conversely, we’ve enjoyed an increase in sales for North America and other Western and Southern European destinations – for both tours and river cruises. Overall, traveler resilience is stronger than ever. And, both advisors and our consumers have shared with us their confidence and comfort in traveling with the Globus family of brands, knowing that they’re in good, safe hands, not to mention the fact that they’re in for a perfectly planned getaway.”
Last week, the line christened its newest Suite Ship, the Avalon View, in Bratislava. The 443-foot, 166-passenger vessel has 83 cabins, 80% of which are Panorama Suites. Unique to Avalon, Panorama Suites feature an 11-foot-wide, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling window with a door that opens a full seven-feet, turning the entire suite into an open-air balcony. Avalon View will spend all of its 2022 season on the Danube River offering six- to 22-day itineraries including “Taste of the Danube,” “Danube Symphony,” “Active & Discovery on the Danube,” and “Gone Girl!” (a storyteller sailing with celebrity host, Gillian Flynn).
Emerald Cruises and Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
“Scenic and Emerald Cruises have been keeping a close watch on the Russian assault on Ukraine as guest and crew safety is paramount. The companies have not made any changes to itineraries at this point. We feel it is important to support the local economies of these destinations that are dependent on travel. And as long as there are no dangers to our guests and crew, we hope to offer these destinations to our guests,” said Ann Chamberlin, VP of sales for the sister brands Emerald Cruises and Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
Regarding the outcome of the unrest on business, Chamberlin added, “We are continuing to see strong bookings for 2022 and 2023. Certainly some of our guests have asked about safety and voiced their concerns, but at this point we do not see any across-the-board effect on our bookings.
Of note, Emerald Cruises just announced the godmother, award-winning travel industry advocate and educator Vanessa McGovern, for its newest river ship, Emerald Luna; as well as launching its first luxury ocean yacht, Emerald Azzurra, in March. In 2023, the line will also launch its second luxury yacht, Emerald Sakara; while Scenic will launch its second Eclipse ultra-luxury yacht.
Tauck relayed that they have not altered or adjusted any of their river cruises as a result of the conflict in Ukraine (although they have cancelled all 2022 departures of their land tours of Russia and eliminated the St. Petersburg port call from their “St. Petersburg & the Baltic Sea” small ship ocean cruise).
“In general, our bookings have remained very robust in Europe despite some guest concerns, which we addressed recently in an email to guests booked to travel to Europe with Tauck in the coming months,” said Joanne Gardner, Tauck’s vice president, worldwide operations. “We basically reported what we’ve been hearing from our partner-suppliers there, and what we’ve seen ourselves (we’ve had a large contingent of Tauck employees visiting Europe lately in preparation for our 2022 operating season). That is, that people in Europe are carefully monitoring developments in Ukraine and there’s a fervent desire for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, but otherwise, daily life goes on normally. As Tauck’s President Jennifer Tombaugh noted in the email sent to our Europe-bound guests, ‘I felt utterly and completely safe and comfortable during my entire time in Europe. It all felt very normal … the regular rhythm of life in the places I visited was very apparent and wonderful to see.’
“We remain cautiously optimistic regarding our 2022 plans in Europe and elsewhere. Many of our guests haven’t traveled in more than two years, they have their 2022 Tauck travel plans in place, and they won’t be easily deterred from getting out there and seeing the world. We’re committed to helping them do exactly that, all while keeping their health and safety as our very highest priorities.”
Following the invasion by Russia in Ukraine and the ongoing war, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises canceled its Trans-Siberian rail program from Moscow to Vlasivostok, Russia for 2022. “We still plan to move forward with our new Cruise & Rail experiences through Hungary, Italy, Romania, Austria, Switzerland and more this year,” said Ellen Bettridge, president & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
“Aside from the Trans-Siberian rail itinerary, we do not have any cruises operating in the affected areas this year and are operating all of our Central European cruises, including those along the Danube, as planned. Ultimately, the confidence and safety of our guests and crew remain our top priority. We are closely monitoring the situation and remain optimistic that brighter days are ahead. Our thoughts are with all who are affected by this conflict.”
Viking responded to our request for information with: “We are deeply opposed to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and are heartbroken for all the people who are impacted. On March 1, we made the decision to cease all operations in Russia in 2022. At this time, we have made the decision to cancel all departures of our Ukraine and Russia river itineraries through 2023. We will also replace scheduled stops in Russia for all 2022, 2023 and currently open 2024 ocean itineraries. Guests and their travel advisors on impacted departures have been notified directly.
“As a company that has been helping people explore the world for 25 years, we strongly believe in the power of travel to build connections between cultures. We remain hopeful for a quick resolution to the current conflict. Our team is actively monitoring the situation and will keep our guests up to date as necessary.”
At press time, Travel Market Report had not heard back from Riviera River Cruises.
Providing humanitarian aid
Many in the travel industry have taken steps to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by the war in Ukraine. Among cruise lines, AmaWaterways teamed up with the port of Amsterdam and other volunteer organizations to provide one of its river ships to offer temporary accommodations for refugees arriving in Amsterdam. Holland America Line’s Volendam is also being used as a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands during a three-month stay in Rotterdam. MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Corp. are also providing aid.