(Updated 5:00 p.m. EST) — Numerous river cruise lines have begun canceling or modifying the the rest of the 2021 season for their popular European Christmas Market sailings following Austria’s two-week lockdown that began on November 22 as a measure to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates.
On November 25, Slovkia announced it, too, would go on a two-week lockdown, removing the popular port of Bratislava from the handful of lines that have elected to continue sailing the Danube. Germany — which has shuttered the majority of its popular Christmas Markets in the wake of rising cases of COVID-19 — is also flirting with a possible lockdown meant to stop the spread.
While some lines are electing to cancel the remainder of their entire 2021 European river cruise seasons, others are modifying itineraries or simply canceling all Danube runs through Austria.
River Cruise Lines Cancel, Modify Christmas Markets Cruises
As of this writing, seven river cruise lines had either canceled or modified their European or Danube itineraries for the remainder of 2021:
AmaWaterways: No changes at this time. Line says it will “continue to monitor” the situation.
Avalon Waterways: Avalon has canceled its remaining Danube and Main-Danube 2021 river cruises.
Crystal River Cruises: Crystal has canceled its remaining Danube departures aboard Crystal Debussy.
Emerald Waterways:: Emerald has canceled its remaining 2021 European river cruises.
Scenic: Scenic has canceled its remaining 2021 European river cruises
Tauck: Tauck has canceled all 2021 departures of its ‘Christmas Markets Along the Danube’ and ‘Holiday Magic: Danube Family River Cruise’ itineraries on the Danube. Rhine itineraries are not affected at this time.
Uniworld: Uniworld has canceled select 2021 departures during the first two weeks of December, including Danube Holiday Markets,’ ‘Classic Christmas Markets,’ and ‘European Holiday Markets’ itineraries.
Viking: Viking will continue to operate its Danube sailings by sailing past Austria without stopping.
“Due to Covid-related lockdowns in Austria and the closing of various European Christmas Markets, we will be suspending select Uniworld departures and are working on an alternative for guests still interested in experiencing the European holiday markets this year along the Rhine River,” says Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld. “Our ‘Danube Holiday Markets,’ ‘Classic Christmas Markets,’ and ‘European Holiday Markets’ itineraries scheduled to depart in the first two weeks of December have been suspended, and guests have been contacted to discuss replacement travel dates and sailing options.”
Avalon told Cruise Critic the lockdown measures in parts of Bavaria were equally to blame for the company pulling the plug on its remaining Danube departures.
“Due to conditions related to COVID-19, the Austrian and Bavarian governments have announced lock-downs and Christmas Market closures that will have a direct impact on select Avalon Waterways cruises,” Avalon Waterways said in a statement to Cruise Critic. “As a result, Avalon Waterways will be canceling all Danube and Main-Danube itineraries between now and the end of the year.”
Crystal told Cruise Critic that the remaining four Danube sailings aboard Crystal Ravel will be canceled this year. Voyages on the Rhine aboard Crystal Debussy are unaffected at this time, and continue to operate.
“In the wake of increased lockdown measures in central Europe, Scenic Group have taken the decision to suspend all remaining 2021 European river cruises,” Scenic Group said in a statement to Cruise Critic. “With Austria announcing a full national lockdown from Monday and the Bavarian region of Germany canceling its Christmas Markets we are suspending 6 Scenic river cruises and 4 Emerald Cruises river cruises, all were due to visit Europe’s Christmas Markets.
“We will be contacting affected guests early next week to discuss their options, including transferring to a 2022 Christmas Markets river cruise.”
AmaWaterways, meanwhile, tells Cruise Critic it has adjusted the itineraries of four Danube-based vessels.
“With temporary restrictions announced for Austria on Friday, the itineraries of four ships sailing on the Danube were affected this week,” the line said Kristin Karst, Co-Founder and executive vice president of AmaWaterways. “AmaWaterways’ top priority was to contact all travel advisors and guests on these Upper Danube itineraries who were scheduled to arrive in Europe this weekend. 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.”
Following these Christmas Markets sailings, most river cruises aren’t set to resume in Europe until March 2022.
European River Cruises Affected by Regional Lockdowns
Amidst dramatically rising COVID-19 infections, Austrian officials announced a 10-day national lockdown that began on Monday, November 22. Officials said the lockdown could be extended for up to 20 days total.
Austria’s decision makes the country the first in Europe to lock down this fall amidst rising infection rates in several European countries.
Germany was also considering a lockdown, reports Bloomberg. The country is experiencing a spike in infections from the virus, with 50,000 new cases in one day reported.
On Friday, the German region of Bavaria canceled all its Christmas markets for the second year in a row. This includes the Nuremburg, Passau and Regensburg markets, among those visited by river cruise passengers. The Munich market was cancel earlier this week, three days before its scheduled opening.
Hungary, with Budapest a popular embarkation and disembarkation port for river cruises, is another concern. The country experienced a dramatic surge in new COVID-19 cases this week.
Complicating matters are the riots, sometimes violent, that have broken out across Europe in reaction to lockdown measures being imposed by local governments.
Many river cruise lines are still assessing the situation.
Cruise Critic has also reached out to other major river cruise lines for comment.