Christmas river cruises in Europe scuppered by low water levels

Holidaymakers who have booked river cruises to enjoy the European Christmas markets might find most of their time is spent on land rather than water.

Water levels in the Rhine and the Danube rivers, already low after a long, hot summer, have struggled to recover following a dry autumn.

Cruise companies are warning customers that this may affect itineraries. In several cases, the only solution is for passengers to be bussed between cities and stay on a different boat in each destination – a practice known as “ship swapping”.

On the forum, user “cruzn4fun” shared a letter they’d received from Viking about their cruise starting 14 November – half the altered itinerary involved coach rides and ship swaps.

“This message is to update you regarding low water levels on the Danube river and your embarkation,” reads the letter.

“As water levels have not yet improved, your ship will not be able to reach its regular embarkation port. In order to stay as close to your original itinerary as possible, you will now embark Viking Bragi in Budapest on day one and be welcomed on board Viking Vilhjalm in Vienna on day two.”

It went on: “On day two, after completing your Budapest shore excursion program, you will transfer by motorcoach to Vienna (150 miles) for embarkation. On day three, you will travel to Bratislava by motorcoach (50 miles) to continue your shore excursion programme and return to your ship in Vienna. Your standard itinerary will resume from day four.”

Many river cruise companies have issued warnings on their websites about the impact water levels could have on travellers’ trips.

Scenic said in a statement: “Parts of central and northern Europe have experienced hot and exceptionally dry weather conditions. 

“As a consequence, the water levels in sections of the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers and their tributaries are low and are impacting navigation of all river vessels. 

“Therefore, it is possible that unavoidable impacts to the safe navigation of vessels on the rivers will continue, and may require Scenic to modify ship deployments, to enact ship swaps or to amend or cancel itineraries on short notice.”

“Select itineraries may be affected in the coming weeks,” said Uniworld. “If deviations are necessary on an affected itinerary, additional motor coach travel or other tour adjustments may be required.

“Due to the unpredictable nature of river conditions, we are actively evaluating the situation and developing contingency plans at all times.”

Tauck, meanwhile, has remained optimistic: “These low water levels have the potential to impact our upcoming Christmas market river cruises, but at present it is far from certain if those cruises will actually be affected, or what any specific impacts might be. 

“Conditions along the river are subject to change with short notice, and itinerary alterations – should they occur – could be minimal or more material, including additional motor coach travel or other adjustments.”

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