Updated: 7:42AM PST 8/06/15 to include Emerald Cruises and Scenic.
Low water woes are continuing to plague river cruiser’s on Europe’s Danube and Elbe rivers.
This summer season has been particularly bad for water levels across numerous European rivers. Repeated heat waves coupled with very little precipitation have compounded to create a low water situation that has dragged out, on-and-off, since June.
Water levels are difficult to predict. A good rain storm can raise water levels back to the point where river cruise ships can continue to operate, and as we’ve seen in this instance, it’s not the entire length of the Danube that has been affected; merely a portion between the cities of Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau remains unnavigable.
Think of it this way: you’re driving down the highway, when suddenly you come to a bridge that has washed out. Now, your car is fine, the road is fine, and you are fine – but the bridge is still out. How do you get around? Did you know the bridge was going to be out? No. So now what?
For river cruise lines with numerous ships in the same area, you swap passengers from one ship to another and continue the journey that way. But for cruise lines that operate a number of different ships featuring very different styles or accommodations, swapping ships isn’t a good choice. Less-educated guests rail on social media about the “bait-and-switch” that’s just occurred because their replacement ship was built in 2009 instead of 2014. Someone complains about the decor being different. And on and on.
Alternatively, turning a river cruise into a bus tour seldom sits well with guests, and many lines are opting to pull the plug on entire sailings rather than force guests into a vacation option they didn’t choose.
So why don’t cruise lines know what water levels are going to be like? Because, simply put, water levels can change in mere hours. A waterway that’s navigable today could be impassable tomorrow – or even this afternoon. Much like the weather itself, water levels are always subject to change.
It’s also important to remember that everything about river cruising takes place in the margins. These aren’t like big oceangoing cruise ships that have hundreds, if not thousands, of feet of water beneath the keel. On some stretches, river cruise ships can have less than a foot of water underneath them – on a good day. Any less than that, and you start scraping bottom in a hurry.
The inverse is just as bad, though: if too much rain falls and water levels swell, you could find your river cruise ship is unable to pass under the numerous low-hanging bridges that line rivers like the Danube, Main and Rhine.
So when guests call or Facebook the cruise line and get a vague, wait-and-see answer, it’s because the lines most likely don’t have any concrete information, either. You might as well be asking for Friday night’s lotto numbers.
Don’t think that it is only passengers who are affected; situations like this cost cruise lines hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, compensation, last-minute hotels, berthing space, and redirected provisioning orders. In short, the lines themselves are as unhappy as their affected guests are.
As of today, August 5, river cruise lines are continuing to make adjustments as needed to future sailings and notify affected guests. Below are those lines who have come out publicly to state whether their ships have been affected or not:
AmaWaterways has, curiously, said very little about these delays. Responding to a poster on the line’s Facebook account on August 3, the line stated that, “our cruises are not currently affected by water levels.”
“Low Waters Update: August 1, 2015
Unfortunately, the water levels did not remain high enough this weekend for the Visionary and Luminary to pass through Regensburg. As a result, both ships remain docked in Regensburg. We are monitoring the situation closely and hope to get both ships through the area tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday. In the meantime, contingency plans are in place and we are providing refunds to travelers for missed sailing days.”
At this point, the situation probably hasn’t changed much. It is reasonable for the foreseeable future to expect delays or alterations to sailings scheduled to pass between Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau.
Scenic plans to do a ship-swap for guests aboard Scenic Crystal and Scenic Jasper will perform a ship-swap on August 10th in Passau in order to continue their respective itineraries. Planned excursions to Regensburg, Weltenburg Abbey and Nuremberg will take place from Passau.
Scenic tells us that decisions regarding sailings for the period between August 13 – 18 will be made next week.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Once again, guests scheduled to sail aboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection‘s latest-and-greatest, the gorgeous S.S. Maria Theresa, have found themselves in a disappointing situation: due to the low water situation on the Danube, the line was forced to scrub the upcoming August 9 European Jewels sailing aboard her. The itinerary is an ambitious one, and Uniworld didn’t want to subject guests to the hotel-and-coach-based tour it would have become.
Guests sailing on other vessels have been somewhat luckier. Ship-swaps will occur for some vessels, while revised sailing schedules (and, presumably, ports of call) will make itineraries operationally feasible.
“In response to the current low water level on the Danube River between Regensburg and Passau, Germany, Uniworld has implemented contingency plans that include revised sailing schedules and, in some cases, moving guests from one vessel to another to allow the cruise programs to continue with minimal delay. This applies to the following itineraries:
- August 5, 2015 River Princess sailing, Delightful Danube & Prague
- August 5, 2015 River Empress sailing, European Jewels
- August 2, 2015 River Ambassador sailing, Danube Discovery & Prague
- August 1, 2015 River Duchess sailing, European Serenade
- August 9, 2015 River Ambassador sailing, Danube Discovery & Prague
- August 14, 2105 River Duchess sailing, Grand European River Voyage
It has also become necessary to cancel the European Jewels August 9 departure on the S.S. Maria Theresa as the only alternative to operate this cruise was to incur a significant amount of coaching and hotel stays which we did not believe was in the best interest of our guests. We have contacted our guests and travel agent partners to inform them of this change.
We continue to monitor the situation very closely with our nautical team in Europe, and we hope to see improvement in the water level in the near future. Until then, please be assured that the safety of our guests, crewmembers and vessels is our highest priority. We sincerely appreciate the understanding and support our guests and travel industry partners have shown during this challenging time.
These are currently the only cruise programs that have been affected by the low water situation on the Danube. We will update this page as new information becomes available. For questions about an upcoming sailing, please contact your travel agent or Uniworld at 1-800-733-7820. To contact Guest Relations during your trip or after you return home, please email [email protected].”
Viking River Cruises
Viking River Cruises has set up a dedicated page here that lists any and all sailings currently affected by the low water situation in Europe. At this time, only the line’s Elegant Elbe itineraries are listed as being affected, though it is worth noting that water levels remain extremely low on the stretch of the Danube between Regensburg and Passau, so interruptions on Danube-bound itineraries traversing that stretch of water wouldn’t be unexpected.
We’ve listed the affected Elbe departures below, current as of today (August 5):
- August 7th Elegant Elbe (Berlin to Prague) aboard Viking Fontane – This cruise has been cancelled.
- August 7th Elegant Elbe (Prague to Berlin) aboard Viking Schumann – This cruise has been cancelled.
- August 9th Elegant Elbe (Berlin to Prague) aboard Viking Astrild – This cruise will have an itinerary adjusted to the low water conditions. All included excursions will operate. Details will be determined by the nautical team and communicated to you by the Program Director at one of the evening briefings while you are onboard.
- August 9th Elegant Elbe (Prague to Berlin) aboard Viking Beyla – This cruise will have an itinerary adjusted to the low water conditions. All included excursions will operate. Details will be determined by the nautical team and communicated to you by the Program Director at one of the evening briefings while you are onboard.
Viking notes, in bold, that “These are currently the only sailings we expect to be altered by the low water on the rivers.”
Updated information on the water levels in Europe will continue to be updated here as it becomes available.