When talking up the benefits of river cruising, we might mention calm waters (compared with ocean waves that can lead to seasickness) or the lack of hurricanes that will wreck your itinerary and drench you with rain. So imagine my surprise, on my first ever river cruise, a Rhine run on Scenic Cruises‘ Scenic Jewel, when the cruise director and captain called everyone to the main lounge to tell us that we were stuck in Middelburg, Netherlands, because of high winds.
Then we learned an interesting thing about river ships and wind. Every river ship gets a certificate, allowing it to sail in certain levels of wind. Nearly all river ships are certified to sail in winds up to Level 6. Ships, though, can only get this certificate after one month of sailing; recent launches, such as Scenic Jewel, are only classified at Level 3. So even though our ship can safely sail through the Level 4 to 6 winds blowing about — we are stuck. And there’s nothing so galling as getting stuck in port, while the Viking ship next to you pulls in, docks for a while, then happily sails off to its next destination.
But what happens to a river cruise itinerary when you have a forced overnight in port? Here’s how our trip played out:
We were meant to sail from Middleburg to Antwerp, then on to Amsterdam for one last day and debarkation. Given that river cruise ports aren’t so far apart and are usually connected by land (or some bridges in between chunks of land), the cruise director arranged for all of the following day’s tours to take place — but instead of walking out the door to meet the guides, we’d be bussing to our meeting spots.
In the morning, the winds finally died down, and as soon as the last passenger was onboard the coaches, the crew untied the ropes and the ship was off … even before the busses hit the road. The captain would get a head start, and we would meet up with him not in Antwerp (our original destination) but in another city that was more convenient for getting us to Amsterdam on time. It just meant that after our tours in Antwerp and Bruges, we had a slightly longer bus ride to reach the ship.
All went as planned until the tour busses returned, all the passengers boarded … and still the ship didn’t sail. We were stuck again, this time in a small town and now with embarkation day looming. So the cruise director juggled again. Good-spirited passengers boarded coaches for a two-hour bus ride each way to Amsterdam for tours that would last only 1.5 to 2 hours — only to set off again on a long bus ride to the airport the next morning. Several people booked last-minute hotels in Amsterdam, choosing to swap their last night onboard for more time in the city and to incur additional expenses. And a handful of us stayed onboard and used the ship’s bikes to fight the blustery winds to check out a little town we’d never heard of — which turned out to have the best souvenir shopping I’d found all trip.
Some people certainly complained, but I found it all a great adventure — and a chance to see a part of Europe we wouldn’t visit otherwise. But the moral of the story is that even on a river cruise, you never know when weather will affect your itinerary. Keep an open mind and view it all as another new and interesting experience — your cruise staff will do its best to ensure your time abroad isn’t wasted.
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