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Monday,  May 20, 2024 8:17 AM 

What’s the plan for river cruises during the Paris Olympics? Ama cancels, others in wait-and-see mode


What’s the plan for river cruises during the Paris Olympics? Ama cancels, others in wait-and-see mode
River cruise lines are weighing their options ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. (Rendering/olympics.com/Paris 2024)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

This article was updated on Wednesday, December 13 at 4:32 pm EST.



Intense preparations are underway in Paris, France as the City of Light gets ready to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event that will see 15 days of Olympic competitions and 10 days of Paralympic games.

The historic event – which first took place in Athens, Greece in 1896, and was last hosted in France 100 years ago – will unfold from July 26 to Sept. 8, 2024, in venues not only in Paris, but in 16 French cities, including one overseas region (Tahiti).

From a tourism standpoint, if you thought Paris was already busy, just wait until the Olympics roll into town.

In July, the city's tourism office revealed that up to 15.9 million people could visit the Paris region from July to September when the games (and other festivities) take place.

“Paris 2024," as the games are commonly known, is unique as organizers take events out of stadiums and place them in public spaces, where iconic monuments will serve as a backdrop.

A venue concept for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (paris2024.org)

Up to 600,000 spectators will be accommodated for the Olympics’ opening ceremony in Paris on July 26, and for the first time in history, this event won't take place in a stadium, but outdoors, along six kilometres of the Seine River through the heart of the city.

(The opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games will be on Aug. 28 from the bottom of the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde, with an expected audience of 65,000 spectators).

Meanwhile, spaces that usually host throngs of tourists, like park space near the Eiffel Tower, will be transformed into sporting venues.

Paris is already rammed with tourists during the summer months. Add the Olympics – an event that will inevitably restrict access to some parts of the city with heightened crowd control and security measures – and space will be tight.

What about river cruises?

It’ll be one thing to navigate Paris by foot, but what does this all mean for river cruises?

One of the best parts about river cruising is that ships take you directly into the centre of a city so you can focus more on exploring and spend less time getting to the destination.

READ MORE: Ahead of Summer Olympics, France urges trade to “think differently,” consider new itineraries

In the world of river cruising, when it comes to ports, it’s all about location, location, location, and in Paris, where ships glide up and down the romantic Seine River, on various itineraries, companies go to great lengths to get that picture-perfect docking spot (ideally, near the Eiffel Tower).

River cruise lines also invest heavily in their shore excursions, ensuring passengers have lots of culture-rich choices.

But the 2024 Summer Olympics, with its array of logistics, could potentially get in the way of operations, PAX has learned.

“We don’t have the full picture”

Last week, PAX reached out to river cruise companies to get a sense of what the plan is for Paris-based voyages for summer 2024, and the responses we received were mixed.

Pam Hofee, president of Avalon Waterways, was the first to get back to us.

“At this time, we don’t have the full picture of what we will and won’t be able to access in Paris during the games,” Hofee wrote PAX in an email. “As of now, we’ve advised guests who are booking that ‘during the Olympics and Paralympic games, some venues and areas might be closed or not accessible to groups, therefore the program might be subject to change.’’

“As we know more, we’ll update guests and potential cruisers with information about our plans.”

The Avalon Tapestry II photographed in Paris. (Avalon Waterways)

Paris has multiple locations where river ships can dock. Avalon’s ships typically park at Port de Javel Bas, which is within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower.

Hofee says Avalon is waiting for official word on where its ships will be allowed to go.

“We expect to receive news this month to understand if ships will be allowed central docking positions or need to stay outside of the city,” Hofee told PAX. “Our team has been making contingency plans to operate from a non-centrally location position if needed, but we do not yet know if that is the case.”

As access in Paris during the Olympics isn’t 100 per cent clear yet, Hofee also isn’t sure how excursions will be impacted.

“Our team is working on alternate Avalon Choice excursion programs for our guests, to be ready, if needed,” she said.

This wait-and-see approach is also the case at Uniworld

In a statement to PAX, The Travel Corporation-owned company said it is working with global city officials “to best understand how the games will impact sailings, from docking procedures to off-ship excursion experiences.”

All of Uniworld’s Paris itineraries are, as of now, operating as scheduled during the Olympics with no deviations or adjustments, the company said.

Viking is also planning to operate all itineraries featuring Paris as a port of call as scheduled.

The company told PAX that it will offer guests a range Paris land programs during the Olympics. 

"At this time, we do not anticipate significant disruptions for planned excursions," said a Viking representative who was not named. "During this time, Viking will offer guests two new land extensions that explore Paris and beyond, including Lille and Bruges, as well as a two-night tour of Brussels." 

Demand for sailings on the Seine in 2024 remains strong, the company added. 

"We continue to see strong demand for sailings on the Seine River in 2024. Departures in July and August are very well sold, similar to Viking’s other popular river itineraries during this timeframe, but there is still limited availability." 

"Should travel advisors have clients who are interested in traveling on a Viking river voyage next summer, we encourage them to book as soon as possible while there is space available."

CroisiEurope isn’t making any public statements at this time as it’s still in the negotiating stage of its Olympics strategy.

Viking Longships on the Seine River are built to navigate into the heart of Paris. (Viking)

Atout France, the country's tourism development agency, says the plan for river cruises in Paris during the Olympics is still being reviewed.  

A period of assembly and disassembly “is to be anticipated,” along with a planned clearance of boats along linear quays of the Seine during the opening ceremony, as well as during and after the games, reads a statement.

River cruise ships, at the very least, will likely have to boogie for the opening ceremony. 

Olympic organizers released their concept for the event in July, saying that a parade of athletes will be held on the Seine and that it will involve boats for each national delegation. It sounds like there won't be a lot of room. 

The opening ceremony for Paris 2024 will take place on the Seine River. (paris2024.org/Rendering)

This parade will end its six kilometre route in front of the Trocadéro, where "final elements of the ceremony and the celebratory shows will take place," the committee says. 

AmaWaterways pulls out

AmaWaterways, meanwhile, has made the call, telling PAX that it will suspend some of its Paris-based sailings during the Olympic games.

In a statement, Jon Burrows, Ama’s chief operations officer, confirmed that seven departures from Paris during the games have been cancelled “due to the uncertainty over availability of our usual convenient docking locations.”

The cancelled cruises fall between the dates July 18 and August 18.

“2024 Summer Olympic activities and sporting events planned for along the Seine River in Paris could greatly affect access to convenient docking locations, which would have a significant [and] negative impact on our guests’ experience,” Burrows said.  

The Olympics will have no impact on Ama’s river cruises in other regions of France, including the Rhône and Saône rivers, and along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in the Bordeaux region, Burrows said.

Sports where you wouldn’t expect

The pure vastness of the 2024 Summer Games is eye-popping.

As per a media kit distributed by Atout France, Paris 2024 has more than 13 million tickets for sale, involves some 45,000 volunteers, and will welcome 14,900 athletes who’ll compete in a total of 54 sporting events (inclusive of the Paralympic games).

The vision is to host sports in places where you wouldn't normally expect them. 

The base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, for example, is where beach volleyball and paralympic football events will face off.

Areas around the Eiffel Tower will host volleyball and paralympic football events. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

Grand Palais, an historic building constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, will host taekwondo, para-taekwondo, fencing and wheelchair fencing competitions.

At Place de la Concorde, there’ll be 3x3 basketball, BMX freestyle and skateboarding events, in addition to public celebrations.

The large lawn at Esplanade des Invalides, the site of a former military hospital built by Louis XIV that now exhibits monuments linked to French military history and houses Napoleon's tomb, will host archery, para-archery, the start of the marathon and road cycling events.

Grand Palais will host taekwondo, para-taekwondo, fencing and wheelchair fencing competitions. (Rendering/Atout France)

Even the opulent Palace of Versailles (also built by Louis XIV) will be a sports venue, hosting horse riding, para-horse riding and modern pentathlon events.

In other words, tourist attractions and iconic locations won't be operating as normal. 

Of course, traditional stadiums, such as Stade de France, Roland Garros, Yves-du-Manoir, and other large venues, will also be used for competitions. 

Outside of Paris, the games will extend from Bordeaux to Saint Etienne, Lyon to Marseille, Nice to Nantes and Lille to Châteauroux, and go as far as French Polynesia, where the waves of Teahupo'o will host the surfing category.

Roland Garros stadium will host tennis, wheelchair tennis and boxing events. (Atout France)

Remember: “France is big”

Atout France is obviously excited about the Summer Olympics and how they will bolster France’s reputation as a world-class destination.

But they’re also aware of how the games, and the dense crowds it will bring, could potentially deter people from visiting France next year.

Melanie Paul-Hus, director for Canada at Atout France, photographed in Toronto in November. (Pax Global Media)

Speaking to PAX at an event in Toronto last month, Melanie Paul-Hus, director for Canada at Atout France, urged travel advisors to consider booking itineraries outside of the capital, because “France is big.”

“There's going to be a lot going on in Paris,” Paul-Hus said, “but there's also plenty going on elsewhere in France. So, think differently, hack the system, and find ways to bring the diversity of France to your communities.”


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