It’s not the email you want to receive ahead of your cruise:
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to make some changes to TUI Skyla’s current itinerary due to the water levels, therefore the ship will be berthed in Cologne on your arrival on Sunday.
“We have made arrangements to reroute your flight and you will now be flying into Dusseldorf rather than Frankfurt so you can join the ship there.”
We’d heard that water levels had risen and that the cruise would be affected, but we didn’t expect to be flying into a different airport.
But in fact, the decision to fly us elsewhere was the best TUI could have made, as it meant we would at least be able to enjoy part of the cruise as scheduled.
By definition, this would not have been possible on a scheduled flight and we would likely have been stuck in Frankfurt and taking long bus trips to get to where we needed to – as has happened to a number of other river cruise lines.
In other cases, cruise lines have had to cancel cruises as there are no berths available.
So what’s going on?
First thing to know is this is not unusual, and water levels fluctuate throughout the year (the opposite happens in summer, when levels sometimes get so low the ships can’t sail).
In our particular case, a heavy thaw following the cold snap in early December, which saw much of Europe covered in snow, plus heavy rains has led to water levels on the Upper Rhine (roughly Koblenz and above) rising drastically, meaning ships can’t get under bridges.
And as a result, the number of moorings has been severely reduced, which means lines are jostling to find what ones are available.
All we knew as we landed in Dusseldorf was that we would be bussed to Cologne, where we assumed we’d spend the night and the following day, as Cologne was on our original itinerary (Mainz, Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Koblenz, Mainz).
It all went seamlessly: TUI representatives from the three ships were at the airport to greet us and the company had organised buses to take us from Dusseldorf on the 45-minute journey to Cologne.
Once we got to the ship we spotted an all aboard sign – which meant we were leaving Cologne, we just weren’t sure where to yet.
We found the very helpful Cruise Director, Daisy, who told us we were in fact heading south – to a tiny town called Anderach. If you haven't heard of it before, neither had I.
We learnt more the following morning at the briefing: Bonn had been so badly affected by the water levels that just one berth was usable, and that currently had a Viking ship moored there.
Anderach it turned out did have a usable berth, which may well have been because no other line wanted to go there.
Its main highlight was a geyser (and a geyser museum), but both were inexplicably closed (I’m still not sure how you “close” a geyser, maybe it ran out?). The town centre was shall we say quiet, and the Christmas market was somewhat limited.
But hey, we got here on a river ship rather than a bus, and our view was the start of the spectacular Rhine Gorge, so no one was complaining.
In fact, everyone onboard has been completely understanding of the situation and regarded it as a bit of an adventure.
Back onboard for the port talk with the Captain, and he confirmed that the itinerary was back on track and we were headed to Cologne.
So far, so good, but after a bright sunny day yesterday, there are ominous clouds over Cologne, with rain forecast for the rest of the week.
Thanks to quick thinking by TUI, we’ve managed to have a river cruise, which can’t be said for everyone at this time.