Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Save for a few, short low-water spells on a small section of the upper Danube, Europe's rivers have been flowing steadily this year, keeping the river cruise lines mostly on schedule.

But the ebbs and flows of high and low water that can disrupt sailings continue to dog at least one line, the Australian-based Scenic, which recently got hit with double legal whammies resulting from its handling of disrupted itineraries.

According to the Australian outlet River Cruise Passenger, Scenic last month lost an appeal over compensation for 1,000 passengers affected when high water levels disrupted their cruises in 2013.

And now, a group of passengers who says they were given substandard substitutes to their promised five-star cruises after low water forced them off their ships and onto buses and hotels during last year's hot, dry summer in Europe have won a court order for Scenic to hand over documents that will allow lawyers to assess their chances of winning a class action.

According to River Cruise Passenger, the lawyers will be arguing that "despite their experiences with the 2013 cruises, Scenic again did not cancel tours and refund money to passengers."

Instead, the passengers say they weren't notified of problems until after they had arrived or already begun sailing, and then as a substitute put on buses and hotels and provided cheap meals and only one or two drinks per meal when they had paid for all-inclusive gourmet experiences.

Regardless of the quality of accommodations a line provides when passengers are forced off ships, one thing the threatened suit again underscores is the importance of advance planning and communication by river lines about unpredictable water levels. Because no matter what they do, passengers are never going to be happy.

"We spent roughly around $37,000 (Australian) on our holiday and out of a 14-night, 15-day cruise, we spent only five days and four nights in total on our ship. What we are most disappointed about is the lack of forewarning and disclosure by the staff," passenger Darren Kelly told the publication.

Indeed, that was a complaint by passengers across lines operating in Europe last year when rivers hit historic lows, and there were multiple reports of people landing in Europe to find their sailings had been cancelled or dramatically altered.

The good news is it seems there were lessons learned. This year, it appears at least some lines have become more transparent about disruptions and begun planning and notifying passengers further in advance of potential problems.

For example, Viking, which was among those criticized for lack of warnings to passengers about low water last year, began notifying clients scheduled for October sailings about a temporary low spell on the upper Danube in September --  even as plenty of rain was predicted and sailings were ultimately resumed fairly quickly.

In a statement, Scenic said it had improved its communication about water-level issues and their potential impact on customers since 2013. It also noted that "no guests have come forward in relation to a class action for weather conditions in 2018. Scenic has been advised to provide documentation for some cruises affected by low water in 2018.  Scenic is reviewing our right to appeal this decision."

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