River Cruise Update 2020

A special river cruise update for 2020 was presented to members of the UK cruise industry today (27th April). Andy Harmer from CLIA UK & Ireland and Lucy Huxley from Travel Weekly hosted the webcast, which saw key players in the river cruise sector share their plans for the future. This comes at the time when the annual CLIA UK & Ireland was due to take place in Southampton.

Andy Harmer CLIA Lucy Huxley Travel Weekly


During this time of uncertainty, changes to bookings are flexible and accommodating. Currently, CroisiEurope cruises have been cancelled until 15th June 2020 unless further restrictions are put in place.

John Fair, UK Sales Manager for CroisiEurope, has observed that most people are re-scheduling for 2021 rather than 2020. It appears that its river cruise customers are waiting a little longer to ensure it is safe to travel. On a positive note, CroisiEurope has noticed new bookings for 2021.

CLIA river cruise update 2020 webcast


The river cruise line has felt the upheaval like many but it understands that ‘everyone is in the same boat’.

A-Rosa actually managed to start its European river cruise season in 2020, being one of the first cruise lines to begin. Cruises took place for two weeks in March before being halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The river cruise line has experiences a high percentage of their river cruise bookings being re-scheduled for late 2020 and 2021.


In the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian river cruise line is coming to the end of its summer season. River cruising has become a bucket list item and this has been driving the growth of the river cruise sector. New ships and new experiences have contributed to this increase in popularity and APT is noticing that people who try river cruising are going on to look at future river cruises.

The river cruise update revealed that Australian cruisers visiting Europe tend to combine a seven night cruise or longer with a land holiday. The Black Sea area is popular.

Debra Fox APT river cruising

Debra Fox, CCO for APT Travel Group stated that cruisers from Australia, New Zealand and Britain have very similar tastes when it comes to river cruising. The river cruise line markets its cruises exclusively to these countries. Debra has seen a growing interest from APT cruisers in areas of wellness such as relaxation, exercise, yoga and food.

Despite the growing popularity of river cruising, Debra from APT is not expecting a huge surge in Millennials trying river cruises. She has seen a growing number of people in their 50s taking a river cruise for the first time and groups of friends celebrating a special occasion together.

Looking ahead to the near future, APT has three new ships based in Europe, which will focus on attracting more people in their 40s and 50s to river cruising. These ships will have a less formal atmosphere and feature an Irish pub onboard. Outside of Europe, APT has a new luxury ship at that will be ready to cruise the Mekong at the end of this year.

Debra Fox was pleased to announce that singer, Aled Jones, will be onboard a special cruise on the Rhine in April 2021. Passengers on the new Travelmarvel Capella river ship will be able to enjoy talks and presentations by Aled Jones as he reads from his autobiography, plus an exclusive private concert in Cologne.


Giles Hawke, CEO of Avalon UK and an executive of the CLIA River Cruise Committee, spoke about future challenges to the river cruise industry. During the webcast, Giles was sporting a beard that he is growing during the lockdown to raising money for the NHS.

Giles Hawke Avalon river cruise update 2020

Giles is confident that US citizens who already take river cruises will still cruise once the restrictions are lifted as they are accustomed to travelling. He believes there will be a pent up demand for bookings in 2021 but 2020 is going to be an interesting challenge for Avalon.

Avalon is well-known for providing active excursions on its river cruises. Giles said that this has attracted people who are more active but not necessarily younger. People who have been more active during the Covid-19 lockdown may look towards booking active river cruises in the future.

active river cruises

If you’d like to learn more about active river cruises, you can read about my experience of active river cruising with AmaWaterways.

Giles Hawke praised CLIA for helping to dispel negative messages about cruising, which has come under criticism during the Covid-19 pandemic. CLIA professionals are working together with combined knowledge to ensure the industry gets through this difficult time.


During the river cruise update, Ellen Betteridge, Global CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, gave an honest and reassuring approach to the impact of Covid-19 on the river cruise industry. The Uniworld crew is ready to go once river cruising resumes and Ellen stated that the key to getting through this period is communication and keeping things positive.

Ellen Bettridge Uniworld river cruise update 2020

Uniworld have been staying in touch with its cruise customers through social media and has released online recipes and cocktail recipes for people to try at home.

Uniworld is preparing to cruise again but understands that things will need to be done differently when river cruising resumes. The cruise line is exploring new ways of operating to keep crew and customers safe. Practical solutions are being discussed with a consultant in Germany who specialises in the safety of cruise ships. Practical implementations being considered include:

  • Keeping luggage separate on cruise changeover days
  • The front desk on river cruise ships being fitted with a screen
  • Staff wearing gloves
  • Mobile phones being used instead of key cards
  • Guests receiving dining plan for the week to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to

Throughout the interview with Lucy Huxley, Ellen was hopeful for the future of river cruising. She has been in touch with CLIA, which is suggesting that some European countries may start to re-open in May 2020. We could see European border re-open in June, followed by US travel restrictions in July. This could mean that river cruise ships that are based in one country may begin sailing first. Uniworld has river ships in France, Italy and Portugal that cruise solely in one country and Ellen believes that these ships will be easier to manage.

river cruise ship amamagna

River cruising before ocean cruising?

Ellen Bettridge is optimistic that river cruising will return to operating quicker than ocean cruising.

“River ships are smaller, always close to land and easier to maintain.”

Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld

It’s unlikely that river ships will be operating at full capacity on during the intial start-up phase but sales of 2021 Uniworld cruises are looking good. Ellen wouldn’t give any specific details of introductory offers for cruise bookings but anticipates that some incentives may be given to help invigorate the market.

river cruise ship on the Danube river

River Cruise Update: Trends for 2020

Overall, the river cruise industry has observed a growing interest in wellness on river ships, particularly those that offer active excursions.

In terms of river cruise destinations, the Danube is as popular as ever for its appeal to ‘city breakers.’ Interesting to note is the huge interest in river cruises in Russia.

river cruise update 2020

River cruise lines are seeing a rise in inter-generational cruising, also being experienced by the ocean cruise industry. More families are choosing to cruise together, with grand-parents, parent and children. River cruise ships are being built with family rooms and adjoining cabins to accommodate this demand.

River cruising generally offers a more casual and relaxed feel than ocean cruising. It’s this that is attracting more people to try river cruising for the first time.


Laura is a UK cruise blogger based in Cornwall, UK. She founded Cruise Lifestyle in 2016 to share useful advice about cruising, destinations and food.
Last port visited: Bridgetown, Barbados
Next port of call: unknown, but she can’t wait for cruising to resume safely!

Find me on: Twitter


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