What is a cruise without water? A ruined vacation. A hot, dry summer has left European rivers with record-low water levels this year, causing travel disruptions and other challenges to cruise companies who operate on the Danube, Rhine, and Rhône rivers.
Jana Tvedt, vice president of Riviera Cruises’ US branch, told The New York Times that the unpredictable water levels can be a nightmare for cruise operators. “Sometimes it’s tough to decide if we should cancel before a trip starts,” she said. “You think it’s going to work one way and then two days later it’s totally different.” Cruise companies like AmaWaterways compensate passengers with a 15 percent discount off a future trip, for each day the cruise deviates from its planned itinerary. If a cruise is cancelled completely, cruise lines will typically issue a full refund.
This uncertainty is even worse for travelers who might not know until the day before their trip if it’s been cancelled. Carol Milsoch, who lives North Carolina, was looking forward to cruising down the Rhine this October when she received a disappointing email. “We got an email three days before we were supposed to leave,” she said, “with the option to cancel for a full refund.” She ended up touring the countryside by bus instead, “but it just wasn’t the trip I spent nearly a year imagining.”
Another way cruise companies are dealing with unexpectedly low water levels is by transferring passengers from one ship to another, mid-voyage. “Ship swapping” has actually become a relatively common way of navigating through low water levels on the Danube, Rhine, and Elbe.