Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

According to Rudi Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways, there are two causes for concern about water levels on European rivers this summer: Extreme heat and lack of rain.

Currently, stretches of the Danube and Rhine rivers are getting low enough that river cruise vessels may find they can't pass if the weather doesn't turn around.

But so far, no river cruise lines have reported having to make any major changes to their itineraries.

AmaWaterways hasn't had to significantly alter any of its river sailings - on one recent cruise, passengers disembarked in Vilshofen, Germany, instead of in Nuremberg, which is about 130 miles away, due to low water levels on that portion of the Danube. And Schreiner said the only other possible disruption would be a ship swap the company might have to do with passengers on two vessels that will be sailing the company's Magnificent Europe cruise, about 10 days from now.

Other lines have also reported that despite the extreme heat and lack of recent rain they've been able to avoid any major disruptions.

Ellen Bettridge, CEO of Uniworld Boutique River said that "while temporarily low water levels have been reported along small sections of rivers in Northern Europe most of our itineraries are unaffected. We will of course continue to review each day and proactively share updates with guests and partners affected."

For its part, Viking River Cruises has a section of its website devoted to informing passengers about possible itinerary changes, on which it states that the Danube, Elbe and Rhine rivers are currently experiencing low water levels and that several cruises may experience deviations (the page lists which itineraries and departure dates might be affected). But the company said it hasn't yet determined the exact ways in which these particular sailings might need modification.

Viking said it's monitoring water levels "minute-by-minute," and that guests and their travel agents will be notified if and when an itinerary is impacted.

Viking's senior vice president of marketing Richard Marnell said that Viking strategically launches sister ships at the same time, on the same itinerary, but sailing in opposite directions.

"In the event of low or high water, this tactic allows us to implement a ship swap [during which both passengers] and their luggage are able to be transferred to their exact, identical stateroom on a sister ship that was purposefully sailing on the other half of the river in preparation for such a disruption," explained Marnell.

Both Tauck and Avalon Waterways said thus far they've only experienced some minor disruptions on some small stretches of the Danube.

Needless to say, the river cruise lines are likely doing some rain dances in their offices these days to hopefully bring about some precipitous relief to help them avoid some of the larger water level headaches they've experienced in previous years. Schreiner said that last year was a "perfect year" when it came to water levels, and AmaWaterways didn't experience a single water level-related issue. But he also recognized that with unpredictable weather patterns, starting with not knowing how much snow melt the rivers will get at the beginning of the season or how hot the summers will become, river cruise lines never really know how the year will ultimately shake out and what kind of water level challenges will arise. But at least they've become much more transparent and proactive in addressing them of late.

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