Are river cruises safe from Covid? Here's everything you need to know

Are river cruises safe from covid? We investigate
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A river cruise offers a taste of life in the slow lane, offering a much more intimate experience than vast ocean cruises. The appetite for river cruising is clearly apparent, with a third of ocean cruisers now considering a river cruise for 2021, according to research carried out by Riviera Travel. But are river cruises safe from Covid?

2020 was the year we all saw our travel plans go up in smoke, making travelling something many of us are approaching with trepidation. But that’s not to say that in our new world we can’t still embark on an adventure; it just may take a little more forward planning.

It’s no secret that immersing ourselves in nature and taking some respite from our often hectic lives is important for our wellbeing. A river cruise offers the chance to experience a slower pace of life, experiencing multiple destinations while taking the scenic route. But are river cruises safe from Covid, and will a river cruise still be as enjoyable with restrictions in place?

Are river cruises safe from Covid?

Like with any public space, social distancing and safety guidelines must be adhered to in order to protect your health and the health of those around you. All businesses have had to adapt in order to adhere to Covid-19 safety measures, especially those within the tourism and hospitality industry, meaning there have been strict measures in place on board for your protection.

“My advice to anyone contemplating such a trip is to liaise with the operator to find out what steps have been taken to try and minimise the risk,” said Katherine Allen, a Partner at national law firm Hugh James specialising in travel litigation. “Only you can decide whether the risk has been minimised sufficiently to entice you on board.”

Dr Giuseppe Aragona, GP and Medical advisor for Prescription Doctor advises that those embarking on a river cruise should aim to spend more time outside to limit the spread of infection. “If the guests on the boat were able to socially distance outside as opposed to below deck then this would be advisable,” he told woman&home.

Can going on holiday abroad still be enjoyable in the age of Covid-19?

We’re all facing uncertain times and it can be difficult to know whether travelling abroad will be worth the hassle. But while there may have to be more forward thinking when it comes to planning your holiday, it’s still possible to have a relaxing, stress-free time away outside of the UK. Keith, who travelled on the Lake Como, St Moritz & the Bernina Express Riviera Travel tour, was impressed by the safety measures carried out on the tour. He said, “Right from the start this was going to be a difficult experience due to Covid-19 and to add to the difficulties, Boris decided we couldn't travel to Switzerland the highlight of our holiday but despite all this we had a brilliant time.

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“Matt Purse, our tour manager, was excellent; informative, organised, sympathetic. There was only a group of twelve but he made our time based in Lake Como fantastic. The Hotel Grand Cadenabbia was an excellent base. The staff there made our stay relaxing and enjoyable. We had temperature tests at every meal time. All the staff wore masks at every meal. The food was great and the room was nice with a great view over the lake. Definitely recommend Riviera and can't wait for next year’s trip.”

Alan, who travelled on the Lake Garda, Venice & Verona Riviera Travel tour had a similar experience. “An excellent tour if you haven’t been to this area before. Excellent guides everywhere we went,” he said. “It was great to see Venice and Verona practically empty! Those who were there generally followed all the Covid rules - face masks and distancing - do it now before the crowds return.”

While it’s important to be aware of the risks, there are also numerous benefits to getting away for a well-earned break, especially where we’re able to be immersed in nature. “Research shows that simply being by the water makes people feel happier,” said Richard Parry, chief executive at Canal & River Trust.“We believe waterways have the power to make a difference to people’s lives and that spending time by water can make us all healthier and happier.”

What safety measures will be in place on a river cruise?

Do you really need travel insurance?

Person lying on inflatable toy in pool

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If your holiday plans amount to sunbathing by the sea or lounging by a pool, you may think of travel insurance as a needless expense, but it can give you peace of mind should the worst happen on your travels. A travel insurance policy will cover things like lost luggage and trip cancellations, as well as emergency medical expenses and the cost of getting you home. You can even get specialist cover for a specific type of trip, such as cruise travel insurance.

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To ensure the health and safety of everyone on board a Riviera Travel river cruise, the company have recently announced that they will require every single guest to be either fully vaccinated against Covid, or to have presented a negative test, before travelling. 

This means that every guest will have either had both of the necessary doses of the coronavirus vaccine a minimum of seven days before travel, or will have had a negative result from a test before getting on board. And, if there is a cost involved in having a test, Riviera will take care of it.

To give you the utmost peace of mind, Jim Forward, Riviera Travel chief commercial officer explained, "We’ll also ensure the same precautions have been taken by the people that you are likely to have most interaction with on your holiday, which will include the crew on our cruises and our tour managers." All crew members will also have additional daily temperature checks and ongoing health screenings.

"And as the situation evolves, we’ll adapt these policies in line with the latest government guidelines, so you can be confident we’ll always put your wellbeing first."

So as well as testing, what other Covid safety measures you can expect to see on board? They include:

  • Crew and staff wearing face masks at all times, as well as gloves in hospitality areas.
  • Hand disinfection in the restaurant and lounge, as well as entry and exit points.
  • Signposts for defined walking direction on the sun deck, marked with arrow signs around the floor.
  • Regular temperature checks (usually once a day, but potentially more if there has been a day excursion).
  • Spa and gym sessions appointment-only. Sauna and steam rooms closed.

There will also be new measures in place for excursions. On buses and coaches it is compulsory to wear a mask for the duration of the journey, in addition to usually every second seat row being empty.

Will I have to wear a mask on board a river cruise?

As is the case in all public spaces, you are obligated to wear a mask on board a river cruise ship, with the exception of when you’re in your sleeper cabin, or eating and drinking in one of the venue’s restaurants.

You won’t be required to wear a mask outside, or on the sundeck, but it is still advised that you do wear a mask wherever you can’t keep a safe distance from other passengers.

You will also need to make sure that the countries you visit during the cruise are safe to travel to. The frequently-changing list of destinations can be tricky to stay on top of, but all the information you need is available on can view the list of exempted countries and territories that no longer pose a high risk for British travellers. Please note that this list is under constant review.

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You will need to check what restrictions are in force at any places where the river cruise is expected to dock, together with any entry requirements and rules about quarantine as these things may prevent you from going ashore,” Katherine told us. “Depending on the location, you may also have to quarantine on your return. You should also check whether you need to complete a passenger locator form on your return - if you have travelled outside of the UK then this will be required.”It’s also important to brush up on your insurance policy before travelling. “Liaise with your travel insurer to check the position under your insurance policy. The other thing to bear in mind is that if you are travelling to a location which is not on the list of exempted countries and territories published by the FCDO, your travel insurance may not cover you.

“Speak to your travel insurer to check you are covered, including in the event that you develop symptoms of Covid-19 while you are away. River cruise operators will need to stick to the guidance in the same way that any other tour operator/travel provider will have to. Therefore, stricter safety protocols, social distancing and the wearing of face masks are likely to be features of the holiday.”

What about UK river cruises?

For a more low-key travel option, you could also get a taste of the river cruise experience on the UK’s waterways. TheCanal & River Trustcares for and brings to life 2,000 miles of canals and rivers across England & Wales, ready to be explored on organised river boat trips, or at your own leisure.

Riviera Travel have recently launched anexciting staycation offering, with tours around the most stunning parts of the UK.

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From the heather-wreathed glens of the Scottish Highlands to the stunning Yorkshire Dales and picturesque lakes, to the quaint fishing villages of Cornwall, Riviera is offering the best the UK has to offer, with well-balanced itineraries which mean you can discover our country like never before. You can find out more at the Riviera Travel website.

Now all that's left to do is get planning your next adventure...

To request a brochure or more information on the trips please visit or call 01283 742348 and quote WAH

Lauren Hughes

Lauren is the former Deputy Digital Editor at woman&home and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren worked on the woman&home brand for four years before going freelance. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine.