Here's What to Expect for Your European River Cruise This Summer

Viking Cruises river ship

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

After two years of interrupted travel plans, the sparkling waters of Europe's rivers are finally summoning voyagers back. 2022 is shaping up to be a big year for river cruises, particularly in Europe, where travelers can float past iconic sights on famous waterways like the Seine or the Rhine. Viking Cruises, which recently held a naming ceremony for eight new longships in Paris, will send out its "full fleet," according to Richard Marnell, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Viking Cruises. That means 74 river ships will carry guests worldwide this summer, including for the first time on the Mississippi and the Nile.

"There's almost a degree of urgency in which people realize how precious time is," Marnell explained of the demand for summer river cruises, specifically around Europe. "With the time we've all had taken away over the past few years, they're more eager than ever to get to destinations and places they've yet to see and places they've seen previously. We're also noticing the local destinations we're visiting are much more welcoming than they've ever been in the past of returning travelers. They're very excited. It's a win-win all the way around."

While things are mainly returning to normal—or a new version of normal—there are some considerations travelers should bear in mind when embarking on a European river cruise in the coming months. If you're on the fence, also consider that many of the cruise lines, including Viking Cruises, Uniworld, and AmaWaterways, are retaining many of their COVID-19 safety protocols even as local and international restrictions ease. Still, the cruise lines feel that now is the time to embrace international travel.

"I consider [COVID-19] is really behind us," Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, said at a media conference during the longship naming ceremony in Paris. "Now, it's obviously a much less serious thing, and I think we should get back to life as normal."

When preparing for your summer European river cruise, here's what you need to know.

Viking Cruises longship in Paris

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Pre-Trip Requirements

For now, guests on most cruise lines will need to be fully vaccinated and booster to embark. Uniworld, which operates numerous river cruises in Europe, will require all guests to be immunized through Dec. 31, 2022. They will also be required to comply with any vaccine and booster requirements set by the destinations visited on a particular cruise. For example, France currently requires proof of vaccination to enter the country, so anyone booked on a Seine journey will need to keep that in mind.

AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, and Viking Cruises have a similar mandate, although Marnell confirms that Viking will continue to evolve its policies as things change. "That's something we will continue until we feel it's acceptable not to," he noted of the vaccine requirement. "But for the near-term, yes."

To prepare, ensure you have your CDC card (or similar alternative, if you were vaccinated outside of the U.S.) that lists both your original vaccine doses and your booster on hand. Viking uses an app called VeriFLY to check proof of vaccine ahead of their cruises, but some local destinations may require you to show your CDC card for specific shore excursions. It's also worth making a photocopy of your vaccine card to keep in your cabin safe just in case.

Onboard Experience

For the most part, being on board a river ship these days feels relatively normal. There is more sanitizing than guests may be used to, but the COVID-19 safety measures have not overly impacted the general experience. The biggest question, of course, is: "Do I need to wear a mask on my cruise?" The answer, for the moment, is yes. AmaWaterways requires medical-grade face masks for guests when moving through interior spaces on the ship and does not permit cloth masks. Uniworld asks guests to wear masks when walking in public areas, but they can be taken off when seated in the lounge and restaurant.

Viking Cruises, the first cruise line to stop sailing in March 2020 and has been sailing again since last spring, is taking a different approach. According to Marnell, masks will become optional for guests onboard Viking ships from April 1, 2022. The crew will continue to be required to wear them. Viking will also test its passengers with regular PCR spit tests to help prevent community spread if there is a COVID-19 case, as they have been doing on both the river and ocean ships since last year.

"Masks are going to be optional unless it's a local regulation," Marnell explained. "With testing, we are taking a conservative approach because it's about keeping the guests and crew as safe as we can. But as soon we can, we will roll back on testing." He added, "we will adapt to what we feel is best and safest for our guests and our crew. We start with that, and then, of course, we need to follow whatever local and international regulations are as needed."

Another consideration for guests onboard is social distancing. Cruise lines are booking their river cruises at full capacity this summer, which means you will be in proximity of other passengers in indoor spaces. On some ships, dining in the restaurants is communal, with large, shared tables, so guests should be aware of that possibility and let guest services know if they have any concerns. Several cruise lines, including Viking and Avalon Waterways, have guest rooms that feature small balconies, which is an excellent option for those who need more personal space.

Shore Excursions

As Europe's countries open up, so do the shore excursion possibilities. Last year, cruise lines weren't always able to allow passengers to self-explore in many destinations; this year, things are back on track. Because river cruise ships are relatively small, expect small group excursions if you prefer something guided. Avalon Waterways, for example, keeps all shore excursion groups to less than 20 people. If you're concerned about crowds, opt for excursions to less tourist-y spots or select walking or cycling tours. At the recent Viking naming event, which featured a mini-cruise up the Seine, Versailles was jam-packed with visitors, while a walking tour of Giverny was relaxed and peaceful.

Many European countries continue to drop restrictions, so masks will most likely be optional at most of your stops. Cruise lines will follow local regulations for shore excursions, so it's best always to bring along a mask and proof of vaccine when heading ashore.

AmaWaterways long ship

Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Returning Home

While many countries have dropped the requirement to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter, the U.S. currently requires all travelers, regardless of vaccine status, to take an antigen or PCR within one day of their return flight. This is something the cruise lines are aware of and have accounted for in their summer plans. Viking and Avalon Waterways provide the test as an included amenity for all travelers and will continue to do so as long as required. As you discover or re-visit all your favorite European destinations, it's one less thing to think about.

Article Sources
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  1. Viking Cruises. "Viking Expands European River Fleet With Naming of Eight New Ships and Marks Beginning of 2022 River Season." March 16, 2022.

  2. Uniworld. "Your COVID-19 Travel Questions Answered." Accessed March 28, 2022.

  3. Schengen Visa. "Now It Is Easier Than Ever to Travel to France In Spite of COVID-19: Vaccination, Testing & More Entry Rules Explained." March 17, 2022.

  4. AmaWaterways. "Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed March 28, 2022.

  5. Viking Cruises. "Viking to Temporarily Suspend Cruise Operations Until May 1, 2022." March 11, 2020.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Documentation of Recovery from COVID-19." Accessed March 28, 2022.