Updated advice allows UK travellers to return to the world’s waterways
River cruising has been given a huge boost with the news that it is no longer part of the FCO’s blanket advice against cruise holidays.
Last week the industry was dealt a blow when the FCO warned UK travellers against all forms of cruising, despite other areas of tourism and leisure reopening. The announcement brought widespread criticism from the cruise industry, travel agents and dedicated cruisers who said it failed to take into account the huge differences between cruise ships with thousands of passengers and river vessels carrying fewer than 200 guests, along with hotel barges catering to very small numbers.
The advice has been reworded to say it applies to “sea-going” ships in international waters. River lines A-Rosa, CroisiEurope and European Waterways have already resumed selected sailings in Europe. The FCO has said the latest advice does not include ferries or privately rented boats.
The industry has been quick to react to the update with Chris Townson, MD UK, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, describing it as “welcome news”.
He added: “River cruise ships are small by comparison with ocean liners, carry far fewer passengers, and are always in close proximity to the shore, and therefore to local healthcare providers. Uniworld ships have plenty of outdoor space and multiple dining options where we can make reservations, plus our itineraries offer outdoor activities such as bike rides or hikes, and small group visits to uncrowded villages and towns off the beaten track. When in bigger cities we offer exclusive and private experiences such as an after-hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, just for our group. So for us it has never made sense for river to be treated any differently from a hotel resort – and like our hotel counterparts we have put incredibly robust and enhanced health and safety protocols in place for wellbeing and reassurance of both guests and staff.”
James Cole, founder and Managing Director, Panache Cruises, said: “It’s so pleasing to see that the FCO has changed its advice and river cruising has been given the green light. When you combine this with the industry leading protocols that are being implemented by each of the cruise lines, the low deposit schemes and flexible booking conditions, together with the exceptional deals available to consumers, now is certainly the best time in the history of cruising to book a cruise. But my advice would be not to wait, as prices will increase as bookings gain momentum.”
In further cruise news Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has announced it is expanding its ocean fleet from four to six with the purchase of two vessels – the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam and 1,404-passenger Rotterdam, from Holland America Line. They will be renamed Bolette and Borealis after previous Fred. ships.
Fred Olsen Junior, Chairman of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said: “We have chosen these vessels as they will fit seamlessly into our existing fleet of small ships, each carrying under 1,500 guests, bringing with them new and larger public areas whilst not compromising on our small ship experience.
“This increase in our capacity demonstrates our confidence in the future. With these new additions to the fleet, we will come out of this current situation stronger than ever, ready to deliver the award-winning itineraries that we are famous for.”
On the same day Celestyal Cruises, which sails on itineraries around the Greek Islands and Eastern Mediterranean, announced that it had acquired Costa Cruises’ 1,800-passenger Costa NeoRomantica, which will be the third vessel in the fleet.
The line’s CEO, Chris Theophilides, said: “While Covid-19 has brought a temporary pause to our operations, it is important that we look to the future with optimism and continue to deliver on our strategic plan to grow the business and enhance the award-winning Celestyal experience through investment. I’m delighted with the addition of this mid-size cruise vessel to our fleet. She is ideally suited to our business model and is very well appointed following her significant transformation in 2012.”
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs courtesy of A-Rosa, CroisiEurope, European Waterways and Uniworld River Cruises