|Danube River // All photos by Susan J. Young|
It’s been a rough week for river cruise companies and agents with guests booked on select Danube or Rhine river cruises. Devastating flooding has hit Austria, Germany, Slovakia and other areas of Eastern Europe.
Among the hardest hit river cruise ports are Budapest in Hungary, Bratislava in Slovakia and Passau in southern Germany. “It is our understanding that the Passau water level is at its highest in 600 years,” said Scenic Cruises (www.scenictours.com) in an e-mailed statement to Travel Agent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured flooded areas within southeast Germany earlier this week. She pledged $65 million to assist the flood victims.
Prague, a popular pre- or post-stay for guests on a Danube cruise, is also seeing severe flooding, as is Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cesky Krumlov’s raging river was documented in these photos posted by the Hotel Bellevue Cesky Krumlov earlier this week on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.198414666974545.1073741827.127832610699418&type=1
Because this situation covers so much territory and the flooding is so severe, the situation is unprecedented, say river lines. Some are putting guests onto other ships, some are adapting itineraries or shortening the cruise. Some are shifting guests onto land tours.
Others have cancelled cruises and are providing full refunds and some incentives for guests. River vessels are safely docked awaiting the water level on the rivers to drop.
“Due to unprecedented high water levels in Central Europe, we have had to make the difficult decision to cancel the May 30 and June 6 departures of “The Blue Danube” [itinerary] and will be providing a full refund,” Tauck (www.tauck.com) said in a statement.
Tauck departures currently operating include the June 2 departure of “Amsterdam to Budapest by Riverboat” and the June 2 departure of “Grand European Cruise."
For currently operating cruises which may be affected - such as by a change of ports or shortened itinerary, Tauck is giving guests the choice of sailing on an altered itinerary or departing early with a full refund. The line said the safety of guests is its top concern.
Scenic Cruises has not cancelled any cruises as yet, because it’s using ground transportation to continue the guests’ vacations. Four of its ships are docked waiting for water level to drop.
“As Scenic Cruises is part of Scenic Tours, one of Australia’s largest tour operators, the company has its own fleet of luxury coaches so guests are continuing to enjoy their vacation as they are transported on scheduled excursions and exclusive events,” the company said in a statement e-mailed to Travel Agent.
Bobbye Haupt, a CruiseOne franchise owner in Newark, DE, has a client in Europe on an Avalon Waterways voyage and is receiving updates from the line. Based on e-mails she has received from her client, Haupt says Avalon is trying to make the experience as good as possible for guests.
“Avalon hosted all passengers for two days in a castle, which definitely improved their view of the situation,” said Haupt. “My client sent another update yesterday saying they were enjoying themselves and 'having a ball.'"
Avalon Waterways Changes
Patrick Clark, managing director, Avalon Waterways (www.avalonwaterways.com) told Travel Agent that the unprecedented water levels and rain in central Europe has caused disruptions to the normal Avalon operations. “The most affected rivers are the Main and parts of the Danube,” he said.
Cancelled Avalon Waterways cruises include the following departures: June 7, “Blue Danube Discovery,” Avalon Luminary; June 7, “Jewels of Central Europe," Avalon Luminary; June 8, “Magnificent Europe,” Avalon Tranquility; June 9, “Magnificent Europe,” Avalon Vista; June 10, “Austrian Highlights and Bavaria,” Avalon Affinity.
For guests booked on those voyages, the company is offering a full refund; a full refund on air tickets including change fees, for all Avalon travelers who booked through the company; change fees for passengers who did not book air with Avalon; and a $500 credit on a future Avalon cruise.
Clark said his line’s call center representatives have been calling agents and clients to notify them about cancellations. The line will continue to post updates at www.facebook.com/AvalonWaterways.
For passengers currently sailing on Avalon Waterways, there have been some necessary alterations. In some instances the disruptions have been minimal, Clark said.
"For example there are Avalon ships on either side of the Main-Danube canal and we have been able to “swap” vessels and transfer passengers from one ship to another so they could continue sailing," Clark said. In other instances there have been cruises consisting of a partial sailing combined with hotel stays.
Clark also said that in many instances the ports, excursions and highlights are still being visited or experienced by passengers. And the line is also providing compensation for those passengers depending on the number of cruising days impacted.
Viking River Cruises has made a total of 15 shifts or changes in voyage itineraries or swaps of ships to operate voyages. It’s an extensive list so agents may view the complete update for all impacted Viking voyages at www.vikingrivercruises.com/about/vikingnews_v2.aspx.
In a story in the United Kingdom's Daily Online Mail, Wendy Atkin-Smith, managing director of Viking River Cruises UK, said her line was in constant contact with its Swiss operations team.
With Viking’s large fleet and in-house nautical and operations team in Switzerland, “we are able to continue operating our itineraries through careful planning and switching of sister ships,” Atkin-Smith said.
Agents may read that article and see photos here: www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2335665/Heavy-flooding-Europe-forces-river-cruise-cancellations.html#ixzz2VHhw9nUG.
AmaWaterways (www.amawaterways.com) said that, thus far, it’s not cancelled any cruises, but that its teams in Europe and Los Angeles are closely monitoring conditions across Europe. In several cases, the line will put up guests in a hotel, rather than on the river vessel for one night; guests will enjoy their embarkatiion city sightseeing prior to boarding.
For AmaCello, the “Enchanting Rhine,” set to embark June 7, may begin with a one-night hotel stay in Amsterdam with a sightseeing tour of the city on June 8 before guests transfer to the ship, the line said. The line will contact agents today about this alternative start to the cruise.
On the Danube, AmaPrima’s “Blue Danube Discovery” cruise embarking June 5, will begin with a one-night stay in Bratislava at the Austria Trend Hotel. Then guests will spend the morning of June 6 sightseeing in Bratislava, followed by lunch and a transfer to the ship.
For that vessel’s “The Legendary Danube” cruise embarking June 12, guests will check-in as planned in Prague on June 9, and embark the ship in or near Nuremberg depending on water levels.
On AmaLyra’s “Blue Danube Discovery” cruise embarking June 11, the line said guests will check-in as scheduled on June 9 at the Sofitel Hotel in Budapest. Agents who have guests booked on the cruise, but without the pre-cruise extension in Budapest, should check back on June 7 for a further update.
Uniworld had previously cancelled the “Grand Danube & Prague” departure of River Ambassador from Prague to Belgrade on June 7, and that ship’s “Danube Discovery & Prague” departure from Prague to Vienna on June 7.
It had also cancelled the “Enchanting Danube” departure on June 9 from Passau to Budapest on River Beatrice. Guests on those three departures are receiving a full refund and $500 future cruise credit.
Yesterday the line said it had completed an updated review of all sailings scheduled to depart between June 10 and June 16, 2013.
“Unfortunately we are forced to cancel one additional sailing — June 16, “European Jewels” departure on the River Empress.”
In a Web site statement at (www.uniworld.com), Uniworld said the ship is currently in Budapest and, given the current conditions on the rivers, cannot reach Amsterdam by the June 16 embarkation date.
The line said it considered several other scenarios, such as using a different ship or changing the embarkation port. “Unfortunately, we could not come up with an acceptable alternative itinerary for our guests,” the statement said.
Uniworld said cancelling now will give guests time to rebook an alternative departure date; they may also receive a full refund if desired. Either way, they’ll also get a $500 per person future cruise credit.
“With careful planning by our European operation team (and in some cases with us swapping ships) we are scheduled to operate all the remaining cruises scheduled to depart between June 10 and June 16,” the line said.
Uniworld also said some cruises already in progress have been impacted; itinerary deviations are under way, and in some cases the line will cancel the remainder of a cruise. If so, it said guests will receive a full refund and a future cruise credit.
“Our guests will be given the option to stay onboard the ship while we assist them in securing alternative arrangements or flights home,” the line's statement said.
Future River Travels
Several lines expressed that their thoughts and prayers were with the residents of the ports impacted by the flooding. All said the safety of passengers and guests was their top priority in making decisions about shifts or cancellation of certain voyages.
Scenic Cruises said the Rhine, Main and Main Danube Canal may be navigable again soon. It also said the stretch between Kelheim and Melk is expecting to reopen by this weekend.
But the line cautioned that the estimates are provided by the waterways authorities who dictate whether or not navigation is possible and if ships must remain docked.
Even when the boats are able to sail once again in the hardest hit areas, Uniworld noted: "We're likely to see some ongoing impact as some of the worst affected ports will need time to recover."