Cruise ships return to Danube with strict safety rules on board

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - River cruises are making a quiet comeback on the Danube after the COVID-19 pandemic brought global tourism to a standstill and forced companies to suspend voyages.

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Holiday makers are adapting to strict new safety measures on the elegant ships with Germany’s Nicko Cruises the first to restart Danube trips on June 22.

The company is now operating three vessels for the six to eight-day trips from Passau, in Germany, to Budapest, passing scenic hills and old castles along the way.

“Normally, we have 90% occupancy, this year we have around 70%. There are no limits to how many guests you can have on board, so we are glad for every guest we have,” said cruise manager Alexander Steiner on board the vessel NickoVISION which was docked in central Budapest.

Guests come mostly from Germany, Austria and Switzerland as there are still travel limitations on groups coming in from the United States, United Kingdom and Israel, he said.

Passengers must take a COVID blood test before coming onboard, and wear masks when moving around. Tables are placed well apart with dividing screens and waiters wear masks and gloves.

Guests have their temperatures checked daily, and special safety rules apply for excursions.

“I don’t think they booked the cruise fully ... it seems like it is a safe experience so I don’t have any worries,” said Kilian Weber, an English teacher from Switzerland travelling with his partner.

Another couple from Germany, Pia and Michael Rusp, booked their trip in January, well before the pandemic started spreading in Europe.

As experienced cruise vacationers, the only thing they miss are the buffet breakfasts, which have been dropped due to the danger of spreading the virus.

“Otherwise, it’s almost as it always was, apart from the requirement to wear masks. But otherwise it is ok. Like before, in fact,” said Pia Rusp.

(This story corrects third para to say Passau is in Germany)

Writing by Krisztina Than, editing by Ed Osmond