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Rhine River water levels could fall below critical mark, risking some cruise itineraries

  • Cruises
  •   08-12-2022  12:05 pm
  •   Pax Global Media
Rhine River water levels could fall below critical mark, risking some cruise itineraries
The Rhine River. (File photo/Unsplash/J M Fisher)
Pax Global Media

This story was updated on Friday, August 12 at 5:02 p.m. EST. 

Water levels on the Rhine River may reach critically low levels any day now as Europe struggles with a dry spell that has lasted for several weeks.

German officials said Wednesday (Aug. 10) that the drought has made it increasingly difficult to transport goods along the famous river.

"This is particularly the case for the Rhine, whose nautical bottleneck at Kaub has very low water levels but which remains navigable for ships with small drafts," said Tim Alexandrin, a spokesman for Germany's Transport Ministry, as reported by the Associated Press. 

The German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration tracks the Rhine’s levels and it expects the high mark near Kaub will drop to below 16 inches on Friday (Aug. 12).

This could make it tricky for barges – including river ships – to sail through the region, which is west of Frankfurt and south of Bonn and Cologne.

The forecast says levels could dip further later in the week and go down as far as 14.5 inches on Saturday and then below 13 inches (33 cm) on Monday (Aug. 15).

The situation could potentially disrupt river cruise itineraries along the Rhine, a popular route, but cruise companies typically have a plan in place for when things don't work out. 

In a statement to PAX on Friday (Aug. 12), Stephanie Bishop, managing director of Avalon Waterways, said the 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,” Bishop told PAX. “In rare cases, further itinerary adjustments have been necessary, including two cancellations for next week.”

Bishop said that when there’s any change to an Avalon itinerary, the company reaches out directly to affected guests, and their travel advisors, to communicate the change and provide them with options.

On Uniworld’s website, where it notes that travel can sometimes come with “unexpected surprises,” the company says that it keeps guests informed on “significant deviations,” such as unusually low or high water conditions.

In such cases, a statement will be posted on its advisory page to inform guests of the river conditions.

“In the case of a significant deviation or full cancellation, you will be notified at the email address you provided at time of booking or on your Passenger Information Form,” Uniworld says.

The Scenic Group, which includes Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises, recognizes that some stretches of river in areas it is sailing are experiencing low water levels "due to ongoing record high temperatures across Europe." 

"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," the company said in a statement to PAX on Friday. "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. We will always do our utmost to deliver the best experience to our guests." 

AmaWaterways, which also sails the Rhine, told PAX that all of its river ships are currently sailing. 

"We are monitoring very closely the situation on certain sections of the Rhine and adapting our schedules as needed," Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways, told PAX in a statement on Friday. "Safety remains our top priority and 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 water levels on rivers can change quickly depending on local rainfall, AmaWaterways has a dedicated communications team in place to alert guests and valued travel advisors if there are major modifications affecting an upcoming river cruise vacation 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," Schreiner said. 

This is a developing story. 

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