With Christmas markets closed in Austria, river cruise lines cancel or alter sailings

Lockdowns in Austria and Germany, more than 20 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, have resulted in Danube River cruise cancellations for the remainder of the year.

Austria, home to Vienna’s sprawling Christmas market frequented by most river cruise lines, entered a country-wide lockdown on Nov. 22, which completely restricts tourist entry and is expected to last at least through Dec. 13.

The bright return of holiday river cruising in 2021, heralded as the year the European Christmas markets would return, has dimmed even further as the German states of Bavaria and Saxony have also entered a weeklong lockdown. This includes the cancellation of Christmas markets in Munich and the popular embarkation port of Nuremburg for the entire Christmas season.

Crystal Ravel done sailing for the year

Crystal River Cruises has canceled its four remaining Crystal Ravel sailings this December. The Ravel had been scheduled to call in four Austrian ports: Vienna, Melk, Linz and Krems. Guests have the option to transfer their reservation to 2022; receive a 100% future cruise credit toward any Crystal experience embarking prior to Dec. 31, 2023; or receive a full refund. 

“We’ve had an amazing season and our guests and crew have been excited to be back on board enjoying some truly special moment,” Walter Littlejohn, senior vice president and managing director of Crystal River Cruises, said in a statement. “Such strong guest response to our resumption of service makes it even more disheartening that we were obliged to cancel the four remaining Crystal Ravel sailings.”  

The cruise line continues to operate its seven- and 10-night Rhine River sailings onboard Crystal Debussy through the end of the year. Crystal Ravel will resume service in March 2022 for a spring season of weeklong Danube cruises from Budapest.

The Crystal Ravel’s final four sailings of 2021 were canceled. Photo Credit: Crystal River Cruises

Avalon, Scenic and Tauck cancel cruises

Avalon Waterways has also canceled all Danube and Main-Danube itineraries through the end of the year, citing a direct impact from the Christmas market closures. Compensation to guests include a full refund, a letter of credit or the ability to move their cruise to a future date.

Scenic Group has suspended all of its remaining 2021 European river cruises, which included six Scenic cruises and four Emerald Cruises sailings.

“Everybody at the Scenic Group has been left saddened by the abrupt end to our 2021 season sailing in Europe,” according to a statement from the company. “For the last few months, we have welcomed thousands of guests on board our river ships, providing them with fantastic memories of sailing through the heart of Europe’s villages, towns and cities. We now look forward to new adventures with our guests once we commence the 2022 European river cruise season in March.”

Tauck said it has canceled all holiday cruises on the Danube through the end of the year “as a result of the current lockdown in Austria and the cancellation of all Christmas markets throughout Bavaria.”

Tauck’s Amsterdam-to-Brussels Christmas cruises are scheduled to operate as planned.

Viking modifies Danube itineraries

Viking River Cruises has chosen to modify the itineraries of river voyages that include Austria. While Austria is locked down, ships will sail through the country and skip port calls there. 

“In recognition of any inconvenience caused by the change, Viking has provided guests on these modified itineraries with onboard credit to be used on their upcoming sailing, as well as a voucher to be used for their next voyage,” Viking said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely, should any further changes become necessary.”

AmaWaterways and Riviera evaluating upcoming sailings

AmaWaterways executive vice president Kristin Karst said AmaWaterways did not cancel Danube cruises on its four ships this week and “continues to evaluate upcoming sailings.”

“We know how much our guests have been looking forward to their river cruise experience on board our festive ships, so rather than cancel, we quickly reached out to our travel partners and guests and provided creative alternative arrangements,” Karst said.

“Travel during these times remains a personal choice, and we have kept our flexible policies in place to best accommodate the evolving conditions. Our experienced operations team continues to evaluate upcoming sailings and we will be contacting all travel advisors and guests with options available if their Danube cruise may be impacted by the temporary lockdown in Austria.” 

Karst said AmaWaterways could move passengers to another ship or itinerary, or postpone cruises to a future date. 

Guests cruising through Austria on modified itineraries will be eligible to receive future cruise credits depending on the number of days affected. 

Riviera River Cruises executive vice president of North America sales Marilyn Conroy said that if the “lockdown is extended in Austria, we will operate an alternative itinerary.”

Uniworld working on holiday alternatives

Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge said its Danube Holiday Markets, Classic Christmas Markets and European Holiday Markets itineraries scheduled to depart in the first two weeks of December have been suspended

“We are working on an alternative for guests still interested in experiencing the European holiday markets this year along the Rhine River,” said Bettridge.
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This report was updated on Tuesday with plans from AmaWaterways, Uniworld and Riviera River Cruises.