River Cruising in Europe – Part One

A Cautionary Tale, Part One

Longboat Danube River in Budapest
Longboat Tied-up on the Danube in Budapest
The Grand Europe Cruise

We had planned a river cruise across central Europe about a year and a half ago. You have to book way in advance as these cruises fill up. As trips go, this was the most per-day cost we have ever spent traveling, but everyone we know kept saying we must do it. This excursion was on Viking and went from Budapest to Amsterdam and was to be two weeks.

Early on in the planning we found that water levels in the rivers can be a problem – mostly the issue is high water. We have travel friends who had done this same trip a few years ago and almost never got on the boat. For them it was high water and the boats couldn’t get under many bridges. Their trip was two weeks of buses and hotels – nice buses and first-class hotels – but not what they had signed up for.

All summer I had watched the weather and it looked as if flooding wasn’t going to be a problem. We made our final plans which included spending a week in Budapest with a train excursion or two using Budapest as a base before the cruise. Two days after getting to Budapest we got messages from Viking informing us that low river levels was now a problem and our trip was going to experience some modifications.

As it turned out that was a major understatement. First our longboat couldn’t get up to Budapest so we were going to be put up in a hotel and bused to Vienna the second day. On the bus ride to Vienna we were told that our boat couldn’t make it to Vienna so we would drive past Vienna to Melk to catch the boat. After we had been on the boat for a few days we were then told that the Rhine River was closed to boats our size due to very low water. Two days later we spent another day on a bus to transfer to another boat that was nearer the Rhine. The new boat sailed thru canals for a couple of days and than we were stuck. After that we were taken on a bus trip thru the middle Rhine valley with a boat excursion, but no Rhine River cruising and because of that we also couldn’t get to the canals in Holland to sail past the iconic windmills. The trip ended with an all-day bus ride with a tour stop in Cologne followed by a very late arrival in Amsterdam.

The Viking Modi tied-up on a foggy day in Passau Germany
Three longboats tied-up at Melk Austria

At this point we need to be fair and comment on what these cruises can be. If we hadn’t encountered extremely low water it is easy to see how wonderful this could have been. Most of these boats are absolutely beautiful. In our case, the crew couldn’t have been nicer or offered any finer service. The meals were absolutely fantastic and we loved the lounge and the music in the evening. The sections of the rivers where we did sail and the towns that we docked at were a great experience. Had we been able to stay on the boat for the whole trip and tie-up at more towns the experience would have been everything we had hoped for.

This brings up the big question – what can be done to prevent this from happening? In most cases not much, be we do have some ideas leaned from hindsight. We will be more specific and offer some ideas in part two Here.

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