Europe River Update: December Cruises and Compensation Packages Remain Uncertain

December 4, 2011
budapest-danube Passengers embarking on Christmas markets cruises on Europe's Rhine and Danube Rivers are still facing uncertainty as to whether their ships will actually sail, due to low water levels on these rivers. While many river cruisers worry about the possibility of their cruise turning into a bus tour without any additional compensation or advance warning, at least one line is reaching out to travelers.

Viking River Cruises posted on Cruise Critic's message boards, "The magnitude of this late-season drought was not immediately apparent, but we have made adjustments each day in an effort to continually provide you with our very best. For each of the Danube and Rhine sailings that are affected in December, we are providing shipboard credit, complimentary optional excursions, and credit to use on a future cruise. Should you decide instead to not join us, we will provide you with a credit for 100 percent of your cruise fare towards a future cruise." The line is also addressing the concerns of travelers whose November cruises were impacted and will be sending them credit for a future cruise, as well.

Uniworld allowed passengers to cancel and receive a full refund on one Rhine cruise, but does not have a blanket policy allowing cancellations. Company president Guy Young told Cruise Critic in an e-mail that "we are assessing the cruises on a case by case basis and certainly if we expect to be able to operate the cruise as per the normal itinerary we will not allow clients to cancel and receive a full refund."

We've reached out to spokespeople at Avalon Waterways, AMAWATERWAYS, Tauck River Cruises and Scenic Tours for updates on their cruises and news of any compensation packages, but have not heard back at this time. Two lines are posting updates about itinerary changes on their Web sites: Viking and AMAWATERWAYS.

And just to make things more interesting for travelers, the low water levels have revealed unexploded World War II bombs in the Rhine River. Nearly half of the population of Koblenz, Germany, was evacuated today while the bombs were defused.

Issues with water levels -- too low in the winter making passage impossible, too high in the spring preventing ships from going under low-lying bridges -- is a unique challenge to river cruises. Unlike on ocean cruises, where a ship can simply divert to another port, river ships that can't proceed must send their passengers onto buses or, in some cases, another river boat. Though the lines are covered in their fine print regarding making necessary diversions, most river travelers, especially experienced ocean cruisers, aren't expecting to have to pack up their stuff and move to a hotel. Not only are the river lines not delivering the experience customers expect, but as it costs more to take a river cruise than a bus tour, they're also not necessarily getting what they paid for.

Cruise Critic sources are telling us that cruise lines are expressing optimism that the current situation, which is admittedly fluid, may well be looking up and re-routings may not be necessary after this week. We'll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can join the discussions on Cruise Critic's River Cruises forum.

--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor

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