Q – Our family of six has been interested in the concept of a river cruise for more than two years. We felt we were getting nothing but highly exaggerated sales pitches until we found this site. Now, we’re not sure if we wish to proceed as the water level unpredictability issue really stymies us. It just seems that when you take a river cruise in Europe you assume a certain risk that the thing won’t even operate. Wondering if you have any stats that will help people like us decide which river carries the lowest risk? We would almost certainly be traveling in mid-summer and we’re not looking for the cheapest anything.

A – Your premise is not inaccurate. The river boat lines we’ve interviewed place the cancel or adjust itinerary rate due to water levels as somewhere int he range of 5%. We think it is a bit higher than that – closer to 8%. But the lines are getting better at informing guests in advance and they are also improving the quality of their land arrangements in the event that a ship cannot navigate the river. There is one more component to this: the lines that cater to Americans are on a growth tear. This means that the percentage of guests in a flood or draught situation who can be moved to another one of the company’s boats keeps growing.  So we are seeing some better outcomes when water levels are an issue.

Specifics regarding the relative risks sailing Europe’s major waterways are rare. We have found some good ones, however, from one of the major companies that provides risk and security consulting to some of the major players. Currently, water level threats are greatest, according to these reports, on itineraries along the Rhone, Saone, and Bordeaux waterways. But there are not major statistical differences unless you look at the rivers with the smallest chance of disruption. Studies show that these are the:

Rhine    Main    Danube     Moselle    Volga

Finally, let us point out that your question is based on, what might be, a false assumption. We handle upscale vacation arrangements worldwide – many of them not involving travel on rivers or oceans. There is a statistical possibility of cancellations, weather-related interruptions, strikes, or terrorist threats no matter where or how in the world you travel. Yes, river boating has this built-in anomaly, but it also has an extremely high “satisfaction score” when compared to other vacation options. As one of our first time river cruise guests told us when she returned, “We’ve been traveling the world for the past twelve years and I finally found a type of vacation where the pace seemed almost perfect.”  One of the secrets behind the success of river cruising is the pace of the vacation experience. It is worth the “8% risk”.