In the past two months, Britton and I have traveled to Europe for three river cruises. Britton cruised on both Avalon Waterways in France in early October and on AmaWaterways on the Rhine in August. I cruised on Crystal Debussy on the Rhine and Moselle rivers, having returned just yesterday.
All three cruises were wonderful, and we’ll be writing much more about our trips in the coming weeks. In this post, we summarize how three different cruise companies handled testing, vaccine and masking requirements.
If you’re someone who asks if doing a European river cruise now really worth all the hassle, the answer is a resounding yes. That’s not just from our point of view but also from the points of view of those we traveled with. You’ll read more about these perspectives during the coming weeks.
1. You Must Be Fully Vaccinated
All three cruise companies require that crew and guests be fully vaccinated. That’s AmaWaterways, Avalon and Crystal. Most other companies will require vaccinations, and if not companies, then countries, unless you are willing to quarantine for an extended time upon arrival.
2. You May Need To Show A Negative Covid Test To Enter Europe
When I traveled in early October, the Netherlands required negative Covid tests before arrival (48 hours before boarding from the U.S. if PCR and 24 hours before boarding if rapid antigen). At the time of Britton’s travel to the Netherlands, the negative tests were not required for fully vaccinated travelers. It was the same for Britton’s trip to France last week.
3. You May Need To Show A Negative Test Before Boarding Your River Cruise
AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways did not require a test before boarding, though they recommend a negative result as a precaution. Crystal provided free testing before boarding Crystal Debussy, with results in about 15 minutes. Staff on all three river cruise lines are tested on a regular basis, and all newly arriving staff are tested before boarding.
4. You May Need To Wear A Mask On Board
Stepping on Debussy I entered a world were guests were not required to wear masks (staff were required to wear surgical masks, however). It was an odd feeling at first, and a few people continued to wear masks for the first day. Gradually, we realized that this was about as safe of an environment as could be created, and my feeling was that all guests felt comfortable without masks. For Britton’s cruises, AmaWaterways required masks; Avalon did not anywhere other than around buffets and areas where social distancing was not possible. Like Crystal, crew on Avalon and AmaWaterways wore masks at all times.
5. U.S. Citizens Will Need To Get Tested Three Days Before Flying Home
This was a major point of confusion, because the CDC changed its guidance from having to show a negative Covid test from 72 hours before departure to three days before departure. Aren’t they the same? No. Here’s why. I was scheduled to fly home at 1 p.m. on Thursday. That meant I could have my test done at anytime on Monday or after. If I had my test done at 10 a.m. on Monday, for example, that would be 75 hours before my flight. That’s still a valid test under the updated CDC guidelines. Several people on my cruise insisted that my test would not be valid because it was performed too early. Even the KLM check-in attendant was confused, having to count out the days on her fingers. For clarity I am providing this information from the CDC website:
Why does the Order specify 3 days rather than 72 hours? What is considered 3 days?
The 3-day period is the 3 days before the flight’s departure. The Order uses a 3-day timeframe instead of 72 hours to provide more flexibility to the traveler. By using a 3-day window, test validity does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test was administered.
For example, if a passenger’s flight is at 1pm on a Friday, the passenger could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Tuesday or after.
6. Your Cruise Company May Not Provide A Departure Test
AmaWaterways provided tests for 60 euros. On Britton’s cruise, they brought in someone external to conduct testing. Avalon provided tests for guests free of charge. These tests were conducted by crew members and results were given in less than five minutes.
Crystal did not provide tests. Instead, Crystal provided information for testing centers, which were ubiquitous and ranged in price quite a bit. In Cochem, Germany, three days before I was to fly home, I discovered that I could have a test performed for 10 euros at a pop-up testing center. The whole procedure took 15 minutes, from filling out paperwork to getting the results. The next day, other guests had their tests done in Bonn for 14.90 euros each. Some had tests done at the airport for 79 euros. Our advice is don’t sweat it. Tests are easy to come by in Europe.
One further note is that Crystal provided surgical masks while all companies provided hand sanitizer in staterooms and suites. And as expected, hand-sanitizing stations were set up throughout the ships.
On October 21, we’ll talk more about cruising during the pandemic and our experiences on four ships (including Britton’s Viking Ocean cruise). Join us by registering here.
susan allen says
Were any of these cruises doing daily testing?
Ralph Grizzle says
Only Viking does daily testing to my knowledge.
Karen H Shearer says
My husband and I just returned from a three week trip to Italy(Milan, Florence and Venice). We were concerned about being tested prior to our departure home. We were aware that the Italian Red Cross had pop up tents by train stations. When we arrived in Venice, we questioned the Red Cross workers to discover that the Italian Red Cross were closing for the next 15 days in all of Italy! We initially ? panicked but when we checked in with our Airbnb host he advised us to check with the pharmacy right next door to us. We did that and were able to make an appointment for the day we needed our test. It cost €25 but what a relief.
We are cruising on Viking in November , after 3 cancellations, but we couldn’t wait to get back to Europe.
Hi Ralph and Britton,
WE are scheduled for an Amawaterways Rhine cruise in Nov. (WE are so lucky to be able to use the “Complementary sailings for Frontline Heroes Special as I am a Public Health Nurse working in Covid Relief) WE are fully vaccinated and have our pre-flight PCR tests scheduled.
Do we need and how do we get the
EU Digital Covid Certificate? WE will be spending some days after the cruise in Amsterdam, and have heard that we will need it to go to restaurants/etc. Advice?
Ralph Grizzle says
Congrats and kudos to Ama for providing you with this cruise for your service. Crystal was able to get us an EU QR Covid Code. Maybe Ama can get one for you while you are on the ship. Not sure how they did it, but they asked for our CDC card and managed to get us the QR code (on paper). In Amsterdam, my hotel said they could get me one also but they added that most of their guests had not had trouble using their CDC card to get into restaurants, etc. Best of luck!
Clark B Calabrese says
Thank Ralph!! Great timely and helpful information! We will be leaving in a few day for Europe and spending most of the time with Avalon Waterways on the Rhine River. A few extra days in Zurich and Amsterdam too. It should be a fun Holiday! 18 months late plus the 13 or 14 months of planning before that, just to get to this point. Got a bunch of on-line Health forms to fill out, but not worry.
Thank you!! Clark C.
Ralph Grizzle says
Safe travels! It’s easier than it all appears.
Nancy Leggett says
I just returned from an Emerald cruise on the Douro River in Portugal. (sept 16-29, including 2 days in Lisbon). Pretty much the same protocols. All crew and guests were vaccinated. Needed negative testing 72 hours before entering Portugal. We had quick tests on the dock as well. The crew was always masked and masks and sanitizer were provided for guests. We wore mask when moving about inside the ship and on tours. But otherwise no masks were needed in the lounge, restaurant or on the top deck. Emerald provided exit tests on board for those not doing the Lisbon extension. For those on the extension (including me), our tour director shepherded us to a testing center on the day we needed to have the tests done. (No cost to us). Clinic personnel all spoke English and the test results were back the next morning. Emerald really took amazing care of us!!
Ralph Grizzle says
Thanks for sharing this Nancy. Good to hear that Emerald is doing such a great job with its protocols.
carole-lee Wirshborn says
Testing for return to US.
How is this handled for pax taking a post cruise extension (organized by their river cruise line)?
Ralph Grizzle says
See Nancy’s info above for how Emerald handles it. Otherwise, test centers are all over Europe and cheap.