Update: December Cruises and Compensation Packages




Will Your River Cruise Sail as Scheduled?

River cruisers booked on popular Christmas Markets sailings this month on the Rhine and Danube Rivers are anxiously watching weather reports and -- in a rare cruising turnabout -- hoping for rain. Why? Water levels in Europe have been unseasonably low, wrecking havoc on river cruise itineraries the last few weeks. Some passengers have had to switch ships halfway through their cruise; others found themselves "cruising by bus" as rivers became impassable.

Uniword

Situation: Company president Guy Young told Cruise Critic in an e-mail that all Uniworld departures this week are expected to operate as normal, with the exception of S.S. Antoinette. Passengers on the December 7 voyage began their river cruise in Basel aboard River Princess and will transfer to S.S. Antoinette in Strasbourg on December 9 for the remainder of the cruise.

Notification: Uniworld directly contacted passengers on the December 7 cruise or their travel agents prior to departure to alert them to the ship switch. "As water levels continue to be monitored, each cruise will be evaluated case-by-case and should any changes become necessary, Uniworld will continue to proactively contact guests should those changes occur," says Young.

Compensation: Uniworld is not allowing guests to cancel for a refund at this time; however, if a major itinerary disruption is necessary, the line may offer a refund or a future cruise credit. On last week's Rhine Holiday Market cruise, when S.S. Antoinette guests also had to spend some time aboard River Princess, guests were notified in advance and were offered the opportunity to cancel for a refund. Compensation is also being provided for this week's S.S. Antoinette passengers.

Viking

Situation: Danube cruises that departed last weekend had to contend with hotel stays and bus tours around Budapest, which ships can't access, and Viking Legend and Viking Prestige passengers will switch ships between Regensburg and Passau/Melk. Rhine cruises will have to swap to bus tours between Heidelberg and Basel. Marnell reports that with rain in the forecast, conditions are improving and next week's cruises should need fewer alterations if any.

Notification: Viking is contacting its passengers via mail, e-mail and phone calls, and is posting information on its Web site and Facebook page. Even passengers departing in the next few weeks have been alerted to the possibility that low water levels might impact their cruise.

Compensation: The line is adjusting its compensation packages according to the severity of the itinerary interruption. A Viking representative explained the policy on Cruise Critic's posted on the message boards: "For each of the Danube and Rhine sailings that are affected in December, we are providing shipboard credit, complimentary optional excursions, and credit to use on a future cruise. Should you decide instead to not join us, we will provide you with a credit for 100 percent of your cruise fare towards a future cruise."

Avalon Waterways

Situation: Avalon Waterways has just has one ship sailing currently -- Avalon Panorama on the Danube. "We haven't had to change any recent itineraries," writes Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways, in an e-mail to Cruise Critic. "Our current group of cruisers on the Avalon Panorama embarked on their cruise in Vienna, as scheduled, and are currently in Melk, as scheduled." Should water levels get too low, the line's contingency plans include lightening the ship's load or switching to sister ships through the shallowest sections.Clark's point about itineraries may be accurate, but it's importa nt to note that the earlier Christmas markets cruises were significantly impacted because passengers who'd booked on Panorama, the fleet's newest and first all-suite boat, were required to pack up and debark, boarding an older Avalon ship (with much simpler accommodations) to continue the trip.

Notification: Clark says that the cruise line has "been in contact directly with any affected agents and their clients…. For us, it's important to have a discussion versus pushing out a general announcement."

Compensation: When a change of ship becomes necessary, Avalon has a compensation plan in place. Though Clark did not give details, Cruise Critic member Bpcruiser was on a cruise with a ship switch and posted on the message boards: "Avalon offered us a full cancellation refund before we even departed the U.S. They also offered for those who decided to stay with the cruise on the Tapestry a USD 400 per person refund to our credit card used for trip payment as well as a 100 Euros/pp on board ship credit."

Grand Circle

Situation: Grand Circle's Christmas cruises are operating with only a few minor modifications, Priscilla O'Reilly, vice president of public relations, told Cruise Critic in an e-mail. "While we've had to assess the situation day-to-day, we've been very lucky in that we've been able to deliver everything on our itineraries," she says.

Notification: O'Reilly did not say how the line was keeping travelers informed of any changes.

Compensation: Grand Circle has not made any major changes necessitating compensation. However, the line is doing what it can. For example, O'Reilly told us that repair work on a canal lock on the Rhine resulted in a traffic jam that forced Grand Circle travelers to miss a planned restaurant meal. The line reimbursed guests so they could get their own food when the ship could dock.

Source: cruisecritic.com. Written by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor.

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