River Boat Cruise Operators Prepare to Test the Waters

While major ocean cruise liners are targeting a resumption of sailing as of August 1, several river boat cruise operators are already putting their toes back in the water.

American Cruise Lines said it would have two boats back in operation by the end of June, sailing at 75 percent capacity.

The American Song will navigate the Columbia and Snake Rivers, with capacity reduced from 184 guests to 138.

The American Harmony meanwhile will sail down the Mississippi, with 142 guests, well down on its maximum capacity of 190 guests.

The American Queen Steamboat Company also intends to resume sailing by the end of June, with the American Duchess due to cruise back down the Mississippi and the American Empress in the Pacific Northwest. Victory Cruise Lines, acquired by AQSC last year, plans to resume sailing on the Great Lakes at the beginning of July.

Starting to sail - River Boat Cruise Operators
Starting to sail – River Boat Cruise Operators

COVID-19 health protocols

Many river boats fall below the number of passengers and crew set in the CDC no sail order which specifies that vessels with a combined number of no more than 250 passengers and crew can currently sail until at least July 24 or until such time as the order is lifted.

The American Duchess has a capacity of 166 passengers and 70 crew and so falls under the numbers specified by the CDC while the American Empress accommodates 223 passengers and 82 crew and will have to travel under capacity.

Both American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Company have released extensive details of the health protocols they plan to employ in order to prevent COVID-19 infections on board.

The protocols feature pre-boarding screening, body temperature checks, health questionnaires, one-way walkways, reduced shore excursion capacity, maintaining a distance between passengers and increased frequency of disinfection.

UnCruise Adventures CEO, Dan Blanchard, head of the newly formed U.S. Small Boat Operators Coalition, has said his company is targeting a mid-July return. But, as he told TravelPulse, while the law allows him and other operators to sale, “the marketplace may not be ready.”

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European River Boat Cruise Operators

In Europe, German river cruise operator A-ROSA is also targeting a late June resumption of cruises.

“River cruises are an ideal and flexible form of travel for a safe relaxing holiday in the ‘new normal,’” said the company’s managing director Jörg Eichler. The ships are comparatively small and have relatively few guests on board, so that the necessary hygiene rules can be implemented efficiently.”

Scylla, a European river fleet flying under a Swiss flag, is now targeting a June 1 return. Earlier this month it was one of the first companies to spell out a step by step COVID-19 health protocol.

And Windstar

Seattle-based luxury small ship cruise operator Windstar Cruises has also announced a return to service, although it only plans to resume sailing at the beginning of September despite operating vessels that fall under the CDC’s combined 250 passenger and crew advisory.

The 148-guest Wind Spirit will be Windstar’s first yacht to resume sailing in Tahiti and the South Pacific.

“We have taken extraordinary measures to operate our yachts safely,” said Windstar Cruises CEO Andrew Todd.

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