Your River Cruise Was Affected by High/Low Water Levels—Now What?

Rivers are an increasingly popular, care-free way to tour Europe. And yet—like all other travel—they’re subject to nature’s whims, as we saw this summer, when parts of the Elbe Rhine and Danube were affected by drought-induced low-water levels. This sort of curve ball can upend everything from touring to whether a ship can sail at all.

So what do you do if you spent a lot of money on your first (maybe only) river cruise, and find out that the itinerary may change due to water levels?

Here’s what you need to know.

First, note that all rivers are subject to water-level fluctuations, and the number of cruises actually impacted is small. In general, water levels affect roughly 5 to 10 percent of cruises; and when they do, it’s usually for limited portions of the route—often those that lack man-made controls, such as the Danube between Regensburg and Passau in Germany or between Turnu Magurele and Giurgiu in Romania

Low water levels typically occur in mid-to-late summer—especially if it’s been severely hot and dry, as it was this summer. In Europe—where the vast majority of river ships are positioned—conditions like those recently on the Rhine, Elbe and Danube last occurred in July/August 2015.High water levels/flooding are more likely in spring, when snow melt and seasonal rains feed rivers, making it difficult for ships to navigate unpredictable currents through locks and beneath bridges. This hasn’t happened in Europe since 2013.

The most reliable time of year to cruise Europe’s rivers is fall, when the weather is more stable—but again, nothing is guaranteed.

Because water levels can be a wild card, cruise lines outline the possibility of changes or cancellation in the fine print of most contracts (usually under an “Acts of God” clause) and in FAQ sections on their websites. If, nearing your departure date, it looks like water levels will be an issue, most lines will alert passengers via email and online notifications.

Still nature can throw curve balls, forcing cruise lines to make last-minute adjustments. Each river is unique and presents different challenges and solutions. With water levels, they can be a bit unpredictable and the cruise lines adapt on a week-to-week basis and sometimes on a day-to-day basis.

The best advice is to stay informed by monitoring emails and communication as your departure nears.

River cruises aren’t cheap, so it’s natural to stress over the idea that your trip might be cancelled or turned into a bus tour. But water levels can change dramatically and quickly; if a couple weeks before your cruise you’re notified that the itinerary may change, you’ll probably need to go with the flow and hope for the best. Calls to the cruise line beforehand generally won’t help, nor will complaining get you special treatment.

In select cases, when the line has to extensively amend an itinerary or time on-board, it may give you the option of rescheduling. If you opt to cancel on your own within 30 days of sailing, you’ll forfeit your entire cruise fare (partial amounts if cancelled further out). Travel insurance isn’t likely to cover you unless you purchased a “cancel for any reason” waiver. Some cruise lines offer a “cancel for any reason” waiver in their Travel Protection Plan that provides a combination of refund and vouchers for another cruise to be taken within 12 months of issue.

Cruise lines do have contingency plans designed to preserve as much of the original itinerary as possible—albeit often with less smooth sailing. However, some cruisers had to change ships three times and take a ferry through the Rhine Gorge. In other cases, guests took buses to some areas for sightseeing and returned to overnight on a stationary riverboat or in a hotel.

If your itinerary is significantly altered by water levels mid-cruise—what then?  Because you agreed to the cruise line’s terms of contact, unless your cruise is cancelled (upon which you should receive a full refund or vouchers for a future cruise) any conciliatory compensation is up to the discretion of the cruise line.

Your best bet: Ask about the cruise line’s water-level policy up front before booking, and if you’re concerned shell out for trip cancellation insurance with a “cancel for any reason” waiver. If you feel your cruise was negatively impacted by water levels, make your dissatisfaction known during the cruise, so the line is aware that you expect compensation for the inconveniences. Like the weather, compensation can’t be guaranteed, but cruise lines that value their passengers will likely try to offer some amends.

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade! “ Wise words to live by, but I believe when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party!

Click here to see a video diary of Grand European Tour, a cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam (12.10-26.10 2018)

Click here to see a video diary of Passage to Eastern Europe, a cruise from Bucharest to Budapest (5.10-12.10 2018)

~ by Leonard69 on November 15, 2018.

3 Responses to “Your River Cruise Was Affected by High/Low Water Levels—Now What?”

  1. Leonard,
    It was great meeting you on the Bucharest to Budapest sailing Nov 15. I am hoping you are still considering sending digital memories of the cruise especially the EU presentation and, if possible, the slide presentation the last evening of all of us. I’m willing to send you funds for equipment and postage.
    Becky Poiet

  2. We took the Grand European Tour on July 2018 and we had a lot of water level problems. As you say, this is not a cheap cruise and it was our first river cruise. The cities we visited were beautiful, but we had been in most of them, we were so very excited by the romantic idea of a river cruise. The highlight of our cruise was your positive and fun spirit. We really enjoyed your work, Mario and I always say you were fabulous. But the cruise itself was a huge disappointment. We realized we are not happy cruising. We like much better traveling on our own. Staying longer in each city. But it was still worth it. Wanted to thank you for your unshakable good humor and fun personality and your great presentations. You did an amazing job.
    Cristina Manole Sujoy.

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