Weekend rain a godsend for river cruise lines

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, a major attraction on Danube cruises.
The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, a major attraction on Danube cruises.

A weekend of rain over Central Europe helped river cruise operators avert major headaches.

AmaWaterways president Rudi Schreiner said on Monday that all routes were running on schedule, thanks to the rain. An extremely hot, dry summer has caused low water levels, forcing operators to pull out their contingency plans, including the practice of ship swapping.

For instance, when sister ships AmaPrima and AmaCerto recently were sailing toward each other but couldn't cross the upper Danube, the crews swapped the ships while the passengers went out on regularly scheduled excursions to Salzburg from nearby ports. The guests came back to the same cabins on different ships in different ports to resume their sailings. The ships were swapped back on their return cruises.

Schreiner said that while ship swapping is a common practice in low waters for lines that run a lot of 14-day cruises, most of AmaWaterways' itineraries are seven days, and this was the first back-to-back ship swap this year.

Last week, when ships were unable to get into Budapest, AmaWaterways put guests in a hotel overnight while finding another ship to ensure they didn't miss the traditional, must-see nighttime illumination cruise past Hungarian Parliament. The next day, guests were bused to Vienna to embark their ship.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises CEO Ellen Bettridge said they were also having "slight deviations with low water but nothing too extreme."

While such disruptions often irk customers, Schreiner shared an email from one couple who, recognizing the logistical hoops the company had to jump through, called their ship swapping experience the "holiday of a lifetime." 

"We will forever compare future vacations to our time with AmaWaterways: you are our new standard of excellence," the couple said.

It was the first season since 2015 that river cruise lines have faced so many issues, Schreiner said.

"Last year was perfect," he said.

Fortunately, rain over the weekend cleared things up.

Because the ships have such low drafts, Schreiner said, the difference in being able to sail or not comes down to matter of just a few inches.

"If we had not gotten rain now, it would have gotten serious," Schreiner said. 

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