A blistering hot, dry summer has seen water levels on a number of rivers in Europe drop drastically. Water levels dropping during the height of summer heat is not out of the ordinary, but this year might be extraordinary indeed.
CNN reports that it may be “the continent's worst drought in history. Around 63% of the land across the EU and UK had either drought warnings or alerts, according to the EU's European Drought Observatory last week.”
Water levels have dropped so much on the Rhine in Germany, that, as Reuters reports, commercial shipping can no longer operate and media images show vast open, dry river beds with only a trickle of water in the middle.
UPDATE: While heavy - in fact, damaging - rains did sweep through some areas of Europe this week, reports say some of the most popular cruising rivers remain in dire straits.
The low water crisis is sweeping European river cruising, just coming back after 2 years of the pandemic, in its ‘wake.’
Open Jaw reached out to a number of popular river cruise lines for word about how their operations are affected, how they’re managing - and what travel advisors need to know for booked or booking guests.
River cruise operators, used to dealing with annual bouts of low water, seem pretty ‘even-keeled’ about coping with even record levels of drought. Everyone is keeping their eyes on the weather forecast, and with rain expected this week in some key areas, the situation might be alleviated soon.
In the meantime, there seem to be few cancellations at this point, with some cruise lines able to ‘leapfrog’ over low-water areas by transferring guests from one ship to another beyond the low water to continue on their journey.
The Scenic Group, which includes Scenic Luxury Cruises as well as Emerald Cruises, shared with Open Jaw a statement dating from the end of JUL, when water levels really started dropping. It’s held pretty much the same since then, we’re told by SVP of Sales & Marketing, Lisa McCaskill.
“Due to the ongoing record high temperatures across Europe, some stretches of river in areas we sail are experiencing low water levels. As river conditions can change relatively quickly, and to ensure as little disruption as possible to our guests' experience, we are closely monitoring the situation and proactively planning to revise the routes of some cruises.
Where possible, we will ensure the ports of call are not impacted by these changes, and our team are working hard to find the best possible solution for each individual cruise. As a last resort, if there is no other viable option, guests may be asked to transfer to another sailing.”
Avalon Waterways has had to cancel some recent sailings and is making decisions on a day by day, week by week basis as the region waits for rain, Stéphanie Bishop, managing director of the Globus family of brands in Canada, told Open Jaw.
“Current low water conditions on certain segments of the Rhine is something Avalon and all other river cruise lines are managing around at the moment. Thankfully, Avalon has the ability to arrange a “ship swap” to an identical Suite Ship to help navigate these conditions. In rare cases, further itinerary adjustments have been necessary, including two cancellations,” for the week of 15AUG.
“When there’s any change to an itinerary, we reach out directly to affected guests and their advisors to communicate the change and provide them options,” she added.
AmaWaterways tells Open Jaw that all of its ships are still sailing as they monitor the weather and water levels closely, Rudi Schreiner, President and Co-Founder of AmaWaterways, told Open Jaw.
“Our experienced teams have alternative plans in place whenever the local authorities temporarily curtail or halt river traffic on any portions of the rivers. These plans include alternative ports of call, modified shore excursions as well as ship swaps, if necessary.
“As the water levels on the rivers can change quickly depending on local rainfall, we have a dedicated communications team in place to alert our guests and valued travel advisors if there are major modifications affecting their upcoming river cruise vacations and assist with any changes that may be required. Whatever itinerary our ships sail, our staff and crew around the globe remain dedicated to ensuring that our guests have the most enjoyable vacation possible while river cruising with AmaWaterways.”
Tauck spokesperson Tom Armstrong told Open Jaw this week that, "to date we’ve cancelled one cruise on the Danube and have made a few mostly minor alterations to a small handful of cruises on the Rhine.
"As you’d expect, and like other river cruise lines, we’ve dealt successfully with low-water situations in the past, and we have a variety of strategies that we can deploy as necessary. Unlike other river cruise lines, however, we’re very fortunate that we also operate numerous land tours throughout the region, so we have a fantastic network of local supplier-partners that we can leverage as necessary should alternate arrangements become necessary."
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises president and CEO Ellen Bettridge says that the river cruise line has "made adjustments as necessary with current low water levels caused by the staggering summer heat.
“While we may have to make changes to some of our itineraries and have had to cancel a few voyages, impacted guests and travel partners have and will receive transparent updates and the opportunity to re-book onto another sailing. Guests can be assured that we will still provide the 5-star Uniworld experience that they know and expect.”