Doing some water-level damage control

By Michelle Baran

Any river cruise enthusiasts who saw the images of France’s Seine River creeping towards the tops of Paris’ elegant bridges last week probably had the same thought I did — this can’t be good for the river cruise business.
River cruise lines admit that the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris dealt a pretty harsh blow to their 2016 France bookings and that the March attacks in Brussels didn’t help either. But slowly, sales were coming back.
And then the rains came, pushing the Seine so high last week that iconic institutions such as the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay museums in Paris temporarily closed.
Obviously, no river cruise vessels were able to sail under those Paris bridges for a time.
But as it turns out, the flooding was relatively short-lived and the water levels are receding. The Louvre reopened on Wednesday, and the river cruise lines reported minimal disruptions and anticipated that sailings would return to normal in line with the receding water levels.
What was likely more disruptive were the images of the floodwaters in Paris, which isn’t the kind of marketing the river cruise industry — especially in France where bookings are still fragile — needs right now.
But river cruise lines have been learning how to cope. Over the past several years they have taken a fair amount of flak for a lack of transparency and clear communication about water level issues, and they are working on being much more open about exactly how high and low waters are impacting their sailings.
Viking, for example, now how has a dedicated page on its website where travel agents and passengers can see all updates on disruptions, no matter how big or small. Because the Viking fleet is so large and its operations so vast, this page can actually serve as a comprehensive resource for anyone with concerns about water levels that wants to check up on a river they plan to sail.
A river cruise tour guide has also put together a website documenting water levels in Europe throughout the season. Though by no means a comprehensive or official source, this is another good place for concerned passengers and travel sellers to check.
But ultimately, river cruise lines themselves should be and increasingly are the go-to source for questions about high and low waters and specific changes to itineraries, as each line has different contingency plans in place. The good news is that while water levels will always be a nagging problem on rivers, at least river cruise lines are learning how to do more and better damage control, which will ultimately mean smoother sailing through the issue than in the past.