A heatwave in Europe is causing major issues along the Rhine River, which is experiencing some of its lowest levels in over a decade.
According to RhineForecast.com, a website that tracks water levels at various stations along the Rhine River, water levels have been dropping since earlier in July and some forecasts expect them to drop even further at most points, including at Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Kaub, and Bonn.
The German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, as of Friday, is reporting low levels along the Rhine in cities including Oberwinter, Andernach, Sankt Goar, and Kaub, all cities along the Middle Rein, along with Worms and Nierstein-Oppenheim in the upper Rhine.
The low levels are the lowest seasonal levels in at least 15 years, according to Bloomberg.
River cruise lines, some of which are finally operating their first full summer season since the pandemic shut down the industry in 2020, speaking to TMR this week said they are preparing for disruptions. However, contingency plans should low levels prevent sailings from moving ahead as planned, differ based on how each line is operating.
A spokesperson for The Scenic Group, which includes both Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises, confirmed that some stretches of the Rhine are experiencing low water levels and said that some routes may be “revised” to deal with the issue.
"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 spokesperson said, adding that the team is “working hard to find the best possible solution for each individual cruise.”
Ellen Bettridge, president, and CEO of river cruise company Uniworld, also said that it expects to make adjustments, with daily itineraries possibility being impacted. However, Bettridge added, “we will still be operating.”
“The nature of rivers is that they ebb and flow with the seasons, and we will make adjustments as necessary with current low water levels caused by the staggering summer heat,” she said.
“Our guests are always our first priority, and we continuously monitor water levels along all of our routes and proactively share updates to our impacted guests and travel partners when available. While we may have to make adjustments to our daily itineraries, guests can be assured that we will still be operating,” she said.
Uniworld’s Travel Information page tracks any significant changes from schedules and promised to “keep you posted on significant deviations.” Uniworld also promises email notifications if there are any major changes prior to sailing.
Avalon Waterways told TMR that so far, guests have only experienced minor alterations, but there are plans in place should the situation get worse—“ship swaps.”
“Should any portion of the Rhine become impassible, we have contingency plans that include ship swaps for our guests,” Pam Hoffee, president of Avalon Waterways said.
The ship swaps allow for guests to be moved to another ship, past the low point of the river, with identical accommodations, and for the sailing to resume, almost uninterrupted, from there.
Aside from the ship swaps, Hoffee also said that guests on cruises that are “greatly impacted” are given other options “to ensure the quality of their vacation.”
Tauck’s river cruises have yet to be impacted—a spokesperson told TMR that it is currently operating normally on the river. However, the company is monitoring the situation, but how it would respond to a low-level situation depends on where it takes place.
“Our goal is to always do right by our guests while doing all that we can to preserve their travel experience. Like other river cruise lines, we’ve dealt successfully with low-water situations in the past, and we have a variety of strategies that we can deploy as necessary,” the spokesperson said.
Tauck, unlike some other lines, is also operating land tours in the area, which could come in handy should river sailings be thwarted by low levels.
“We’re very fortunate that we also operate numerous land tours throughout the region, so we have a fantastic network of local supplier-partners that we can leverage as necessary should alternate arrangements become necessary.”