This is a summary of 167 comments and the conversation thread on River Cruise Advisor with regard to water levels of European rivers, covering a three-month period from late July to late October of this year.
The extreme heat and lack of rain for months this summer across Europe caused drought and rivers to drop to record levels. River cruise vessels were reportedly scraping the bottom of riverbeds or unable to continue on their journeys. For three months, many cruises were canceled, rerouted, or passengers were bused for several days of the cruise.
This article features a compilation of comments and anecdotes from passengers who found a common forum to support one another on our website. These comments shed light on their disappointments, frustrations, or praise for how the cruise companies handled these unfortunate circumstances.
Questions and concerns began to arise at the end of July about how low water levels were affecting cruises. In fact, cruises were already being affected by then. Many commenters reported that half of their cruises were spent by bus and not on the river, and the passengers were not given notice prior to the cruise. There is even a report from as early as late June that one ship sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest was the last ship to “scrape through”on the river.
All summer saw a flurry of questions and comments expressing confusion: Has anyone heard about cruises or water levels on the Danube? The Rhine? The Main? The Elbe?
We quickly learned, though more than 150 comments, that not all passengers believed that cruise companies were doing their best to inform guests about the situation on the rivers.
Many customers were expressing disappointment. Their dissatisfaction was not about water levels, but about the way some cruise companies managed the situation and how they treated their customers. Consistently, people described scenarios where they tried to contact the cruise company in advance of their cruise and received no response or warning, or the low water levels were minimized.
Viking appears to have been the worst offender among those who commented. Viking was accused of knowing in advance that its river cruises would have to stop along the river and dock in industrial ports and then bus their passengers. Some report spending six hours on the bus. Passengers said they received more information from the ship crew, bus drivers and tour guides than they did from cruise representatives. The staff said there had been no rain, there would be no rain, and cruise companies across the board were bussing or canceling cruises for months. Some cruisers left their journeys midstream due to dissatisfaction. Others warned travelers not to go at all. At the end of October, customers were continuing to call Viking “disgraceful and disrespectful.” The company offered little to no compensation for guests, according to the comments.
There is a conversation from mid-October where a guest scheduled a Viking cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. The customer stated they were told by Viking that it was raining and ships were cruising. Another person responded that this was false, and that there was no rain anywhere and none in the forecast. No ships were sailing and everyone they met at the airport indicated the same. We have no way to substantiate these statements.
In mid-October, people were still reporting drought and little rain in the forecast. As the drought continued into Autumn, cruise companies started notifying customers and answering questions, although often with short notice. Even by mid-September, two months after the low water levels started becoming an issue for travelers, passengers were stating that cruise companies were only giving last-minute surprise arrangements, but seemed ill-prepared and were not communicating with clients.
Clients consistently indicated that they were only informed about low water levels and changes of itineraries, hotel stays, and bussing at the last minute. With notice being given as short as 4-5 days in advance, or as Avalon did, according to one reader – 10 p.m. the night before their cruise. Someone reported they only received an email from Viking the afternoon prior to their flight.
Some people stated they only got results and responses when they went to the company Facebook page and started posting complaints. People were also requesting compensation, refunds in part or in full, as they would not be able to take the trips they eagerly booked.
One guest described that they had paid extra for a pricey French balcony, only to look out at other cruise ships parked at industrial docks. When they asked for balcony price compensation, Viking’s offer was 25 percent off a future cruise. This occurred more than once.
Upon hearing these comments, one passenger wrote: “You always have the option of canceling at any time with Viking, as long as you buy insurance. If you don’t buy insurance, shame on you.” Several passengers responded that they did purchase insurance; however, reimbursement depends on how far in advance you cancel, and with cruise companies giving less than one week notice, or in some cases only a 24-hour notice, insurance companies will not reimburse, or if they do, the refund will only be partial.
This being said, most passengers lost the opportunity to seek adequate compensation, plus they were out the cost of the travel insurance as well. Another couple did cancel with Viking one month in advance of their cruise and only received a 50 percent refund. Others recommended travel insurance and found asking their travel agents for assistance to be effective in pursuing some type of compensation.
Some cruise lines seemed inconsistent in their replies to guests. In early August, a client complained about Emerald Waterways lack of information and planning, but stated they were offered a partial refund of $175 per day that they were not on the boat plus credit toward a future cruise. Another commented that while Emerald notified some customers about the problems with their cruises via mail or e-mail, they failed to notify others. Although, this is less important, as Emerald does provide all passengers with a travel guarantee.
There were mixed reviews about AmaWaterways. While there were complaints about lack of informing or timing of notice, others praised AmaWaterways for their dedication to customer satisfaction, keeping people informed, and compensating passengers.
Avalon Waterways also had mixed reviews regarding their handling of the situation. Some guests received short notice, while others stated they were given a week’s notice. Avalon provided optional arrangements with expenses paid and compensation of days they were not on the river. A guest stated they would certainly cruise with Avalon again. They were pleased with the captain and the cruise director keeping them informed and letting passengers know the next day’s plans.
Riviera was another cruise line with mixed reviews. There were comments that Riviera was not giving enough notice or full disclosure. However several passengers remarked that Riviera did provide a full refund within a day, and they felt Riviera dealt with them promptly and fairly.
While most of the comments about the way cruise lines handled the situation were negative, a few cruise lines were given positive reviews during the crisis.
Crystal was reported to have given their guests more than a week’s notice about low water levels. In addition, Crystal provided their guests with options on how to proceed. One of the options was to cancel with a full refund. In a comment, one couple shared that they were pleased with the handling of the situation, and chose to cancel and reschedule for next year.
Another guest described a positive experience with Uniworld, with the help of her travel agent. She said she thought Uniworld was fair. She could have requested a full refund but opted for a modified version of her trip instead. Even with the modified trip, Uniworld provided compensation for hotel stays and offered discounts for a future cruise.
Scenic was also given praise for the lengths the crew went to ensure the ship would sail on a cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam in October. In addition, guests were provided multiple options and alternative excursions by Scenic. A substantial credit was also included due to changes in the itinerary. The passenger who commented about Scenic also encouraged travel insurance.
Through reading a summary of the comments about water levels in Europe, we hope that you take away some tips. Because there are so many inconsistencies with how the cruise lines handled the low water levels, it is hard to say which cruise lines to avoid if this becomes an issue again. Viking appears to have handled the situation poorly, but it is a fairly mixed bag for the others.
It is important to make sure that you do your research before you go on a river cruise so that you don’t end up in a situation where your trip has been canceled and you do not get compensated. Whether that is choosing a certain cruise line, or purchasing travel insurance, the choice is yours.
For more information about water levels in Europe, click here.