Low water levels affect European river cruises

Earlier this month, I took my very first river cruise along the Rhine, with an itinerary that included stops in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland. I was looking forward to exploring the many museums in Amsterdam and strolling through the wine villages of Alsace. But as we embarked on our trip to the Netherlands, one thing became a constant during the cruise: a thick white waterline along the seawall that followed the river from Germany to Switzerland. It served as a grim reminder of where the water once was and where it is now – of a depressing depression.

To make sure we could continue without running aground, our ship sailed slowly and carefully, as parts of the Rhine are notoriously difficult to navigate due to treacherous hidden rocks, especially with so little water. While I was still able to do and see the things I had hoped for along the way, eventually the entire cruise itinerary ended up being affected, and we had much less time than usual in ports because of the slower pace. My Rhine sailing with AmaWaterways was one of many river cruises this summer to feel the effects of climate change which has led to extreme drought conditions and staggeringly low water levels this summer in Europe.

Across the continent, a historic heat wave And one Gulf stream increasingly unstable– which typically brings wet weather and rain to Europe – has caused many inland waterways to dry up, affecting both cruise and commercial ships. Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian authorities guarding the Danube, one of Europe’s largest and most important cruise arteries, have already started carrying out emergency dredging (the removal of sediment and debris) from this river to keep ships moving. Italy’s longest river, the Po, is also in trouble and has completely gone in parts, northern Italy is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 70 years.

The Upper Middle Rhine valley is famous for its panoramic views of vineyards and villages. It is also known to be treacherous at sailing.

Photo by Shutterstock/Kanuman

The Rhine, which regularly sees freighters carrying wheat, gasoline, steel and coal moving up and down the river, has also been badly affected, with water levels dropping. underneath 16 inches in some key navigation areas. Experts warn that the river could reach extremely low levels it could affect trading and cruising in just a few days, potentially shutting it down altogether. And the European Commission Joint Research Center warned this week that drought conditions will worsen over the next few days. Under normal weather conditions on the Rhine, around 2,100 gallons of water flow through a point per second – the flow has now dropped to zero gallons in some places, according to the Associated press.

Although European river cruises are in full swing this season, passengers with upcoming departures should be prepared for possible last-minute changes to itineraries and bookings, as well as cancellations if the situation continues to escalate and that ships just can’t navigate for a while because ships rely on real-time river conditions. During times of drought, it is not uncommon to be bused between ports in hotspots, nor is it uncommon to do what is known as a “ship swap”, when passengers on two ships Separate ships that can no longer sail due to low water levels will disembark, get bused to another ship, and swap ships belonging to the same river cruise line so they can continue their itinerary.

During my trip, passengers on board the new AmaLucia we still had a wonderful time and managed to get through all the stops on our route, but at a slower pace. However, be prepared for shorter excursion durations and potential ship swaps. Since low water levels are more of a concern in late summer, consider booking a spring or early summer cruise for added safety.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

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