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What happens when your river cruise is impacted by water levels

by Staff

On the penultimate day, as an alternative to a three-hour-each-way coach ride to Frankfurt and city tour, they offered a new excursion to Regensburg (a lovely town in the opposite direction to where we should have been heading) or a short cruise along the canal to Roth, where we would pick up those who had toured Regensburg and sail back to Nuremberg.

Many opted to stay onboard and it was terrific to see new pals from Tasmania who had never done a river cruise excited to be moving, transiting locks and learning how they worked.

My only hope is that they will give it another go. It was not the holiday we expected, but despite all the problems, after spending every Christmas bar two (blame lockdowns) since 2012 on a river ship, I can’t imagine a better place to be.

You want to know if I had a great Christmas? You bet I did. 

If you are worried about your cruise being impacted by water levels, here are a few things to know.  

Does high water happen often?

The flooding we experienced was extreme – we saw just how bad things were when we visited Wurzburg. Here, Viking and Scenic river ships were also stuck and the lock that vessels use to bypass a weir was completely under water. However, disruption due to high water is not an unusual occurrence.

In extreme situations, a few companies can get around the problem by swapping passengers between vessels (this is what happened with Viking), but more often than not water levels usually result in just a few changes to the ports.

For example, on a Rhine cruise in 2012, we should have been in Strasbourg for Christmas Day but the river was too high to get under the bridges close to the city, so we were coached there from Mannheim instead. Our vessel was turning around in Strasbourg anyway, so only that day was disrupted. 

What’s the best time to avoid high water?

It can happen at any time, but spring is always a gamble as rivers can be hit by the double whammy of melting snow in the Alps and rain. Europe had a lot of snow in early December and that, combined with heavy rain before Christmas, caused the Main to burst its banks.

Is low water also an issue?

Yes, but unlike floods, the situation can change in a matter of hours. One summer, an overnight storm meant that a transit through the Rhine Gorge that had been impossible just a few hours prior due to low water was suddenly back on.

Low water is more likely in summer, but it has been known to happen at Christmas. Most companies avoid the Elbe river in Germany altogether because it regularly runs out of water, whether summer or winter. 

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