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.