Viking signals that the restart to river cruising in Europe is at hand

May 20, 2021

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Pencil in July for a comeback of river cruising in Europe.

That was the word Wednesday from Viking, the biggest seller of river cruises to North Americans.

The California-based company said it would restart operations in July in Portugal, France and along the Rhine River, which cuts through several countries in the central part of Europe.

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Viking said the trips only would be open for fully vaccinated travellers — the same policy the company has announced for initial “welcome back” ocean cruises it will operate out of the U.K. starting Saturday. The company has been selling those trips for more than a month.

Viking is a significant player in both ocean cruises and river cruises.

“The response to our initial Welcome Back ocean voyages has been overwhelmingly positive,” Viking founder and chairman Torstein Hagen said in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s river cruise announcement. “It is clear that many people are eager to get back out into the world.”

Up until this week, Viking hadn’t operated a single ocean cruise or river cruise departure since March of 2020, when cruising around the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Viking was the first major cruise line to halt departures worldwide.

In addition to restarting ocean sailings out of the U.K. this week, Viking already plans to restart a handful of “welcome back” ocean voyages out of Bermuda and Iceland in June and July as well as some Mediterranean sailings out of Malta starting in July.

A Viking river ship sailing on Europe’s Danube River. (Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises)

The line’s newly announced plans for a restart of river cruising in Europe only will bring back some of its river ships in the region.

Viking on Wednesday said its initial comeback in Europe would focus on five itineraries that are among its most popular, including its classic seven-night “Rhine Getaway” routing on the Rhine River between Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Basel, Switzerland.

The four other itineraries that Viking initially is restarting are its:

  • Nine-night “Portugal’s River of Gold” trips on the Douro River in Portugal that include a seven-night cruise on the river and a hotel stay in Lisbon.
  • Seven-night “Paris and the Heart of Normandy” sailings on France’s Seine River.
  • Seven-night “Lyon and Provence’ sailings on France’s Rhone River.
  • 15-night France trips that combine the Seine and Rhone river voyages.

Viking’s announcement comes in the wake of the European Union agreeing Wednesday to reopen its borders to vaccinated Americans and other travellers. Cruise industry executives have said such a move was a prerequisite for river cruising for Americans restarting in Europe.

As part of its announcement, Viking said it was actively working on additional “welcome back” itineraries in other destinations that would be announced, “as soon as possible.”

Viking said it planned to operate the newly announced river cruise trips with new health protocols that include frequent saliva-based COVID-19 PCR tests for passengers. The line has said it might test passengers every day in some cases.

Viking’s new plan to restart river cruises in July is a watershed moment for the comeback of river cruising across the globe. The company is by far the biggest river cruise operator in the world catering to North Americans. It operates more than 60 river cruise vessels in Europe, Asia and Africa, and it accounts for around half of all river cruises taken by North Americans.

Other major river cruise operators with a global footprint such as AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways mostly have cancelled sailings through the end of June but have said little yet about definitive plans for a July restart.

Two small cruise lines that offer river cruises in U.S. waters — American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company — already have restarted some operations on U.S. rivers such as the Mississippi River and the Columbia River.

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Featured image of courtesy of Viking.

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