The Return of Cruising – The Strength of River Cruise

The Telegraph reported late last week a clarification in the original Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) ban on cruise ship travel for UK Citizens. Where the original ban covered all cruise ships, the updated advice exempted river cruise ships.

Clarification from the FCO and Department for Transport (DfT) on Friday 17th July included round-Britain cruises in the ban, as they come under the definition of “sea-going cruise ships”. Scuppering the plans of some cruise lines (including Hurtigruten) to offer round-Britain cruises towards the end of the year, the Government’s advice effectively bans UK citizens from ocean cruising.

The Strengths of River Cruising

This is where the key characteristics of river cruise turn from possible hinderance to virtue. Now seen under the light of the global pandemic as a lower-risk alternative to ocean cruising, river vessels are able to sail their itineraries on the world’s rivers – taking UK citizens along with them.

The small size of river cruise ships allows for easier-to-manage safety protocols. With reduced numbers of passengers by design, measures such as social distancing are far easier to enforce. This was noticeable on the first sailing cruise ship post-COVID-19, Nicko Cruises’ NickoVISION. On board NickoVISION, capacity was limited to two-thirds, while crew were supplied protective face coverings and gloves. In addition, guests were required to wear masks in public areas, and all luggage was sanitised prior to departure.

NickoVISION river cruise ship cabin view of Budapest
NickoVISION, the first cruise ship back on the water since shutdown, sailing through Budapest

River cruising was already experiencing a period of growth before COVID-19 – and this is something we explored in detail with Lauren West, Naval Architect at AmaWaterways. But will river cruising be able to maintain this popularity through the pandemic? The statistics certainly seem to say so. In a survey from travel agent Scenic Group, taking responses from ~500 US-based travel advisors, more than 60% of participants noted that river cruises were accounting for between 25 and 50% of all their cruise bookings. In addition to this, a survey from agent Mundy Cruising saw 30% of respondents planning a river cruise for their next trip.

The cruise industry has taken a colossal hit from the global pandemic, as we all too well know. But with cruise ships getting back on the waters, albeit with necessary safety measures, the future is looking bright – in particular for smaller ships.


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