When The Rivers Run Low: Part 1
I could probably write pages and pages about river cruising and what happens when the river levels are too low or too high to float a river ship. I won’t do that because I don’t want to lose your attention in the first 30 seconds of this week’s blog story but what I have to say is important so please stay with me.
Surprise! Guess what, there is no standard policy and it is nearly impossible to know in advance if your river cruise itinerary will be affected by low or high water. Perhaps your first thought is, “that’s impossible, I have to know before I fly all the way to Europe” but it is true. In place with all the major river cruise companies however is Plan A, Plan B and perhaps even Plan C.
How will you know? Well, if you booked yourself online, good luck. If you booked with a professional travel advisor who has excellent relationships with their suppliers, you’ll know or at least Collins and I will be keeping you in constant contact about the possibility of change.
Fitzgerald Travel also has a special tool that monitors the water levels in real time. We do our best to stay on top of what is happening in Europe. Sometimes the decision to set sail or not set sail happens up to the very last moments before embarkation. Case in point, my clients cruise just two week ago had a high probability of interruption. I knew that while they were in flight and was able to communicate the last-minute change in real time so there was no surprises and they had time to absorb the change and what it meant to their vacation experience.
Here is the deal, it is not the river cruise company who makes the decision to halt a sailing. It has nothing to do with them and they are often too waiting on the edge of their seats with every departure date especially when it has been a very long hot summer as it was this year in Europe. To sail or not to sail is completely dictated by the Harbor Master & River Authority.
FUN FACT: Did you know that most river ships only need 3 feet of water to float? Low water is different than low water caused by a drought. Low water makes it difficult to navigate the pier.
I hope this week’s story helps you to get a better idea of what happens when the rivers run low (or high due to flooding). The next obvious question would be, “What happens now that I am booked”? A lot can happen, and I have experienced three completely different scenarios just this October because of the low water levels on the Danube with my clients.
We know and appreciate the sizable investment you have made to experience this travel style. The river cruise company absolutely understands and respects that. They want you to have the river cruise experience you have always dreamed about too. They do their best to ensure you have a great time and make their change of plan decision with you, the client, in mind.
What you can’t do is just cancel your trip and expect your financial investment back or to be refunded for your airline tickets. The only way you would see that happen is if you have purchased travel insurance with the added premium called “Cancel For Any Reason”.
Why can’t you just cancel? Because when you booked your cruise and if you booked with a professional advisor, you would understand in advance what is in the Cruise Contract and in the Terms & Conditions of the river cruise company. Every river cruise company uses their own verbiage, but the message is the same regarding the itinerary and will use words like "Itinerary/Right-To-Change/Detention". When you make your deposit for a river cruise, you enter an into a agreement with the cruise line. They are allowed to make any changes.
When you have a great travel advisor, we review this in advance and educate you on the subject. Even if you are not a client of Fitzgerald Travel, I encourage everyone I know to always read Terms & Conditions and to understand the Cruise Contract and the Cancellation Policy.
So, let’s talk about what can happen when the rivers run low. A variety of options can occur. Here is a list of a few things I have personally experienced with my clients
Longer Stays in the port of your embarkation with bus tours on motor coaches to deliver you to your promised tours on your original itinerary
Swapping Ships. This is often the solution for the river cruise company that owns a ton of ships in Europe which is a benefit because if the water is too low on some points of the river, you will be bused to the next ship that still can sail.
In extreme circumstances, the river cruise company will contact the advisor before your departure and offer the client a full future cruise credit.
River Cruise company may offer the client a full refund, though that doesn’t happen often, and I have only had that happen 1 time in my 24 years of service
Some river cruise itineraries are completely changed to luxury motor coach tours with hotel stays rather than using the ship as the accommodation.
Some river ship companies will offer partial refunds directly back to your original form of payment for the disruption or offer you future travel vouchers to give river cruising another try in the future.
The good news is that only 5 to 10% of river cruise itineraries are affected and there are many, many departures a day in Europe. The probability of this happening to your future river cruise looks improbably with those odds. The point is when you have an expert river cruise advisor booking your vacation, you know all these things up front so that if there are water level issues by the time your cruise comes around, it is not a shock to you and you will know what to expect.
Stay with us next week for Part 2 which will be about the 5 things I wish I new before I took my first river cruise