Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the pandemic-snarled water, Europe is having another cataclysmic summer. This time, it’s not pandemic red tape, but what looks set to be the continent’s worst drought in history. Around 63% of the land across the EU and UK had either drought warnings or alerts, according to the EU’s European Drought Observatory last week – and that figure was issued before the UK declared a drought in eight out of 14 areas. New alerts are pouring in every day.
While the landscape is tinder-dry, water levels are plummeting. Rivers and lakes are drying up – and as well that having devastating effects on trade and industry, it’s also hitting a sector that was already on its knees thanks to the pandemic: tourism. Worse, experts say that this is a worrying sign of things to come.
Drama on the Rhine
The Rhine is now so low that commercial shipping is unsustainable.
The 766-mile Rhine is one of Europe’s most important trade routes, with container ships plying their way around its looping bends.
It’s also a classic cruise itinerary. But now some of those waterway dreams seem set to run aground.
On Saturday, the water level at the German town of Kaub – a critical juncture – slipped to just 36 centimeters, or 14 inches, according to official figures. That’s devastatingly low – at 40 centimeters, commercial shipping becomes unprofitable.
None of this is news, says Clare Weeden, principal lecturer in tourism and marketing at the University of Brighton.
“Anybody who operates river cruise boats would have had an understanding of this because of the way the climate has changed in the last 20 years,” she says, adding that low levels on the Rhine and Danube have seen incidents of passengers being bussed from one destination to another for the past five or six years. But while the cruise companies may have foreseen this, clients haven’t.
“River cruising is becoming much more popular, particularly for active people,” she says.
“You dock early, spend all day enjoying a city, then go back to the boat at the end of the day and sail on. It’s much quieter [than mass cruising]. But drought and climate change has coincided with the increase in river cruising.”
But she warns that, with the climate crisis, Europe’s traditional river cruising is “definitely going to suffer” and predicts “the industry is likely to reset as a result.”
A booming business – for now
The Rhine is a classic destination for river cruising in Europe.
Helen Prochilo of cruise specialist Promal Vacations calls European river cruising “the hottest thing we are selling this year.”
A little too hot: Although none of her clients have been affected yet, she says that among her fellow agents, one had a client’s cruise canceled this week, and another had their itinerary adjusted. River cruise alterations tend to be very last-minute, because they depend on water levels and rain.
Prochilo says that many river cruise boats are specifically built with flatter hulls to deal with low water levels. If in difficulty, those with swimming pools on board can empty them. Railings, furniture and even the captain’s bridge are designed to be lowered, while passing under bridges in high water, adds Rob Clabbers, president of Q Cruise + Travel, a Virtuoso member agency in Chicago.
Not that that prevents problems. In 2017, Prochilo booked a Rhine sailing herself with Emerald, only to find “very low levels” of water.
“The ship emptied the pool to lighten the load and we could actually feel the ship tapping the bottom of the river,” she says.
“We never saw the captain after the first night. He stayed on the bridge to ensure the ship was carefully handled.”
Others weren’t so lucky. Prochilo says that they floated past another cruise line offloading their passengers onto buses.
“The ship build and experience of the captains is very important when the weather is like this,” she says. And she’s not taking any chances – watching the water levels drop on the Rhine over the past month has made her advise would-be bookers to wait till next year.
“I’m also advising them to cruise earlier in the season as the river levels don’t seem to be a problem if traveling in May or June versus July or August,” she says.
For those who’ve already booked, she makes regular calls to the river cruise lines checking the conditions.
Those conditions are pretty devastating – levels are “exceptionally low” in some areas, German officials told CNN on Friday.
In fact, Weeden believes that Rhine cruises “will be a thing of the past” before too long.
So what will happen this year? CLIA, which represents cruise operators, says:
“River cruise operators … are monitoring the situation and responding appropriately in liaison with the relevant authorities.
“The safety of guests and crew will be central to any decisions relating to itineraries. Where any changes are planned, operators are working hard to minimize any disruption.”
River cruise specialist Riviera Travel said in a statement: “We have seen minimal disruption so far as we have put measures in place, such as ship swaps and minor itinerary changes, to ensure guests can still make the most of their cruises.” A ship might leave a destination a couple of hours early, for example.
Viking Cruises’ website states that “low water levels will affect select river itineraries.” Impacted travelers will be contacted by the cruise line.
To mitigate issues, Viking runs sister ships sailing the same itinerary, but in opposite directions. If there’s a problem on one side of the river, guests can transfer to the other ship.
Clabbers says that “many lines” do this. “If low (or high) water prevents passage at a certain point, the line simply moves the downstream sailing passengers (and their luggage) to the upstream ship and vice versa. The ships turn back to their point of origin with their ‘new’ passengers who simply continue their journey without too much interruption.”
And if all else fails, they use the boat as a hotel, and bus travelers to their destinations each day. It may not be as romantic, but it’s effective.
“The distances traveled by river cruise are not very long, so sometimes passengers will even get to see more as buses travel faster,” says Clabbers, from personal experience.
“On a Uniworld cruise a few years ago, high water kept the ship in Vienna for three days, and the company did a fantastic job in setting up additional tours that showed us sights that were not included in our original schedule.”
Got a Rhine cruise booked for this year? Don’t cancel, he says – you may be penalized. Just try to go with the flow. But if you haven’t yet booked, and want to travel this year, he suggests looking at alternatives like the Seine or the Douro.
No river unscathed
The Danube has dropped in Budapest.
Not that they’re much better. The picture is bleak for all Europe’s rivers.
In the UK, the source of the Thames has moved five miles downriver for the first time in history.
And of course there’s the Danube. The situation on Europe’s other prime tourism river is looking blue, too. Emergency dredging is currently taking place on the lower river, in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Although there are “no problems” on the Austrian stretch, authorities told CNN on Friday, the situation in Hungary – perhaps the most famous part of the Danube – is more concerning.
The drought is already devastating for trade – an average 1,600-tonne vessel can now only navigate the river without any cargo, according to the Hungary Tourist Board. So far, the situation for tourist boats is holding out. The Mahart Passnave Passenger Shipping Ltd., which runs river cruises, is still operating all the way along the Danube, although some stations are closed north of Budapest. Between Szentendre and Visegràd, around 15 miles north of the capital, the river takes a major loop. “Some stations [there] have been closed for about a month, as ships cannot moor due to the low water level,” says a representative of the Hungary Tourist Board.
But not all companies are managing to navigate the river – and not all of those are having as good an experience of bussing as Clabbers did.
“I had travelers whose ship couldn’t make it to Budapest – they had to board their ship in Komarno” – about an hour away in Slovakia – says tour guide Julia Kravianszky.
“Travelers flew to Budapest, from where they were taken to Komarno by bus, and they were bussed back to Budapest the next day for their city tour, only to return to the ship by bus after the tour.”
Things are already looking different in Budapest, perhaps the most beautiful city along the river.
“The Danube is visibly lower at the moment, it’s been really low for two or three weeks now,” says Kravianszky.
“Margaret Island looks bigger, because all the rocks at the bottom of the river are visible now. Some parts of the old Margaret Bridge destroyed in World War II are visible now, too.”
But don’t cancel your trip just yet. The river still “looks large and majestic – it doesn’t really give the image of a dried-up river,” she says. For now, it’s the locals who can tell the difference.
‘If it’s like this next year, I’ll retire’
In Italy, the Po is unnavigable in parts.
And then there’s Italy, where the Po River is at historic lows, and has close to disappeared in places. It’s disastrous news for the entire country – and has also put an end to tourism on parts of the river this summer.
For the past 20 years, Stefano Barborini has rented boats and taken visitors out on his stretch of the Po, near Parma. This year, he hasn’t been able to manage even a single outing.
“I’ve been on the Po for 40 years, and this has never happened before,” he says. “We’ve had droughts before, but this low – never. There’s been erosion of the bottom so the river has actually got deeper. Usually it’s navigable year-round.”
This year, he says, “It started very early – there was no rain and everything dried up.”
His small boats usually dart all over the river, and up close to the beaches, to see things – Barborini usually points out medieval remains, and has found things like buffalo bones and even mammoth teeth, he says, while out on excursions.
He normally rents boats to fishermen but, he asks, “Where would they go to fish?” Anyone using a boat in the Po needs to be extremely experienced right now – even professional fishermen are not able to navigate, he says.
Barborini has 30-odd excursions lined up for September. By then, he hopes that the water levels will be higher. Even then, it could be difficult to load and unload passengers, as they’ll have to navigate steep walks on and off the boat.
“If it’s the same next year, I’ll retire,” he says.
Lake Garda water levels have plummeted in places like Sirmione.
It’s not just rivers. Italy’s largest lake, Garda, is nearing its lowest ever levels, adding a stretch of land around the peninsula of Sirmione, which famously ends with some impressive Roman ruins – or did, until now.
And parts of Lake Tisza, Hungary’s largest artificial lake, are no longer accessible by boat, according to Kravianszky. “In Abadki [a popular rental spot] the water level is 50 centimeters [20 inches] lower than the minimum required,” she says.
“They stopped renting out boats, and many owners were forced to remove their boats from the water. The Tisza lake cross-swimming event scheduled for the 13th of August was canceled.”
Tisza borders the Hortobágy National Park, a landscape of plains and wetlands, that has UNESCO World Heritage status. Animals have been brought here to graze for around 2,000 years.
“It’s one of [Hungary’s] defining characteristics… it’s heartbreaking to see how it slowly dries up, how the birds have started avoiding the area or nesting less around the National Park,” says Kravianszky.
From drought to flash floods
Las Vegas has been hit by flash flooding this week, following drought at nearby Lake Mead.
The other side of drought is flash flooding – something that has hit the US in the past few weeks, with Yellowstone suffering a once-in-500-years incident in June, and two people being killed in Las Vegas this week.
Barborini says that he’s worried for the Po this fall. “Two years ago the water levels were high in January and February, because when the snow fell on the Alps it immediately warmed and came down in levels that weren’t normal,” he says.
“The climate has changed a lot in the past five or six years.”
An uncertain future
The Elbe is also at historic low levels.
“Travel has a front row seat as climate change unfolds in the destinations we visit and, if this becomes a standard summer, it will massively impact our industry. Unless urgent action is taken on climate change, the reality is that extreme weather is going to have an impact on the destinations and communities we visit.”
That’s the opinion of Susanne Etti, environmental impact manager at Intrepid Travel, who calls this summer “a wake-up call for the entire sector.” She’s not alone.
“The places where we can ski have shrunk – the same will be true for river cruising in 20 years. There won’t even be (environmentally damaging) snow cannons to help out,” says Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel.
Weeden thinks that as Rhine tourism dries up, river cruising companies will look elsewhere. “Ships are mobile, companies are not loyal to destinations. They will move and find new areas for river cruises beyond the traditional European ones,” she says. They’ll also look beyond rivers. Market leader Viking, she says has been “heavily investing in ocean cruising these past few years.”
This year, she says, has shown us that “climate change isn’t just about heat, but also about water.
“As the weather becomes more unpredictable, I think there’s going to be some kind of reset.”
Main photo: Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)
Lack of snow and dry conditions in some parts of Europe are raising concern about a summer drought that could affect river cruising and other water-dependent activities.Are the rivers in Europe drying up? ›
Four of the major rivers that are drying up in Europe are The Danube River, The Rhine River, The Loire River, and The Po River. What is the second longest river in Europe? The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe. How long is the Danube River?Is it safe to go on a river cruise in Europe? ›
The safety record on river ships is impressive. You are even safer cruising the Rhine than you are flying to Dubai, and a long international flight is one of the safest things you can do. Almost nothing is as statistically safe as flying on a commercial jet. But river cruising is even safer.Are European river cruises currently operating? ›
To date, all cruises are continuing to operate as normal -- in what is the first full sailing season following the COVID-19 pandemic -- but lines are making plans to alter itineraries if needed. Water levels are currently lowest near the popular port of Koblenz, Germany.Is it safe to cruise the Danube now? ›
As Pam Hoffee, the company's president, put it: "There are no travel warnings about coming to the Danube. There is no reason not to come. In fact, there's a big reason to come." As for COVID-19, Avalon has had plenty of practice at creating a safe space for guests.Are Viking river cruises being affected by the drought? ›
The new Viking Mississippi has had to cancel her current sailing and future cruises may be in Jeopardy due to drought and low water levels.Are US rivers drying up? ›
Bodies of water all over North America are drying up due to drought, climate change: Experts. Riverbeds that used to be covered in ample water are now dehydrated by drought. Bodies of water all over North America are drying up as a result of drought and a decrease in precipitation, experts told ABC News.Which largest river in the world is drying up? ›
The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third longest river in the world. Rainfall in the region is at its lowest since records began in 1961, according to China's Ministry of Water Resources, causing some sections of the river to almost completely dry up.Is Europe facing water shortage? ›
Climate change threatens to reduce further the availability of freshwater resources mostly in southern, western and eastern Europe and to exacerbate the natural fluctuations in seasonal water availability. As a result, it is expected that the frequency, intensity and impacts of drought events will be increasing.Are Danube river cruises affected by drought? ›
Drought in Europe is just one example of the weather affecting travel plans. Here's what to expect if your cruise can't run as planned. Danube cruises are among those that have been impacted by drought conditions.
We would like to put the safety issue to rest once and for all – there are no personal safety issues that would prevent anyone from booking a private yacht charter in any of the popular cruising destinations in the Mediterranean at this time.Is the water level low in the Danube? ›
As the continent faces a severe drought, companies have had to use buses to transport passengers along parts of the Rhine and the Danube, where water levels have become too low for riverboats.Is NCL Cancelling European cruises? ›
Norwegian Cruise Line has cancelled all Northern Europe cruises on Norwegian Getaway for 2023. Guests already booked on the cruises from mid-April to the end of October next year have been notified of the cancellation, according to Cruise Hive.Is Rhine River still low? ›
The reference water levels in the last northern sections of the river suffering from shallow water have now returned to normal, including around Cologne and Duisburg, brokers said.What is the weather like on the Danube in July? ›
The average temperature in Danube in July for a typical day ranges from a high of 85°F (29°C) to a low of 63°F (17°C). Some would describe it as pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze. For comparison, the hottest month in Danube, July, has days with highs of 85°F (29°C) and lows of 63°F (17°C).Is Viking cruises in financial trouble? ›
Meanwhile, one of the largest European operators, Viking River Cruises, has been having a bumpy ride financially. A planned funding deal this past spring to cover expenses has fallen through. But—unsurprisingly—Viking claims it is in sound financial condition, reports The Travel Insider.Are Danube cruises affected by Ukraine war? ›
“Aside from the Trans-Siberian rail itinerary, we do not have any cruises operating in the affected areas this year and are operating all of our Central European cruises, including those along the Danube, as planned. Ultimately, the confidence and safety of our guests and crew remain our top priority.Will the war in Ukraine affect cruises? ›
With Russia invading Ukraine, the cruise industry is already being impacted by falling cruise stocks, fuel prices and Black Sea itinerary changes.What is the status of Viking River Cruises in Europe? ›
At this time, we expect the ship will resume its scheduled operations on February 18, 2023. Guests on affected departures—and their travel advisors—have been notified directly.Are Viking River Cruises sailing now in Europe? ›
May 20, 2021 — Following the May 19, 2021 signal that Europe will allow fully-vaccinated travelers to enter EU countries without the need to quarantine, Viking Cruises is relaunching five European river cruises beginning in July. Starting in July 2021, five of Viking's most popular European river cruises are back.
23, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The global river cruises market is expected to reach an estimated value of US$ 1.71 Bn in 2032, with sales growing at a stagnant CAGR of 2% over the forecast period of 2022 to 2032. In 2022, the river cruises market will likely reach a valuation of US$ 1.45 Bn.Where in the U.S. is water plentiful? ›
Alaska has the most water
The state with the largest total area of water is Alaska, which has 94,743 square miles of water. Alaska contains approximately 12,000 rivers, 3 million lakes larger than 5 acres, and numerous creeks and ponds, accounting for more than 14% of the state's total area.
Climate models suggest that if warming continues, the river's flow could be reduced by 30 per cent by 2050 and 55 per cent by the end of the century.What happens if Lake Mead dries up? ›
What happens if Lake Mead dries up forever? If Lake Mead were to run out of water, the Hoover Dam would no longer be able to generate power or provide water to surrounding cities and farms. The Colorado River would essentially stop flowing, and the Southwest would be in a major water crisis.Which river carries the most fresh water in the world? ›
The Amazon River carries 20% of the planet's fresh water to sea. At 6,400 kilometers, or 4,000 miles, in length, the Amazon River is the second longest river in the world.What happens if the Colorado River dries up? ›
If water levels fall too low in these reservoirs, they could reach “dead pool.” That's the point when water would be effectively blocked from passing Glen Canyon Dam (on Lake Powell) and Hoover Dam (on Lake Mead) — cutting off the lifeline to some 25 million people who get water from Lake Mead.Which river is the world carry the most water? ›
The Amazon River carries more water than the water carried in any of the worlds other rivers.What country has the biggest water problem? ›
Qatar. Compared to all the countries in the world, Qatar is by far one of the most water-stressed countries. The need for water is extremely high, while water availability is scarce. This country is a desert without a single river to help sustain the population.What country is at the most risk for a water shortage? ›
|Rank||Country||Baseline water stress|
Viking Ocean and River is currently operating all upcoming scheduled itineraries.Which side of ship is best for Danube River cruise? ›
People sometimes ask us, “What side of the ship should I book my stateroom?” The answer is: it doesn't really matter. There's no difference between a cabin on the port side or starboard side because it's likely your river cruise ship will dock on both sides.What is happening to the Danube river? ›
Poor planning and inadequate protection of natural areas mean we can no longer assume that water will flow forever, says the global conservation organisation. Over 80 per cent of the original floodplain area along the Danube and its main tributaries has been lost since the beginning of the 19th century.Which part of the cruise ship is safest? ›
This is because this part of the ship, its lowest and most central area, is the most stable during rough sea conditions.
The risk of a COVID-19 outbreak is higher when a lot of people share a common space, like a cruise ship. Most cruise lines have dropped vaccination and testing requirements. Consider your risk level based on your health status before booking a cruise, and take precautions while on board to avoid getting sick.What is the best month to cruise Europe? ›
The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are practically the best time to explore Europe via cruise holiday. So, ideally, you should book your cruise to Europe in April and May or September and October. This is if you wish to enjoy smaller crowds, decent weather, and reasonable prices.Is it safe to swim in the Danube in Vienna? ›
The water is very clean and it is quite simple to find a spot by the river to lay down a blanket or towel and slide right into the water. Be careful, though, because close to the shore the rocks are covered in algae and kelp, while farther in, the riverbed also has long tendrils of kelp.Why is the Danube River so polluted? ›
Europe's second longest river, the Danube, is being polluted by unfiltered wastewater from Serbia's capital Belgrade. The daily operation, during which trucks queue up to dump waste into the picturesque river, is not a secret but it could hold back Serbia from joining the European Union.What month is best for Danube River cruise? ›
The Danube River is a charming destination to visit at almost any time of the year, though most travel experts agree the that best times to take a Danube cruise are Spring (April and May) and Fall (September and October).Will Norwegian Cruise Line survive? ›
Norwegian Cruise Line is still in the middle of its pandemic recovery. While the Company is putting in its best performances since the Covid 19 pandemic, there's still a long way to go. We shouldn't see revenue rise above 2019 highs until the end of 2023.
Norwegian Cruise Line Cancels Most, But Not All, of Ship's 2023 Sailings. Norwegian Cruise Line has sent out a letter to travel partners informing them that most 2023 sailings for Norwegian Sky have been canceled.Is cruising back in Europe? ›
A growing number of cruise ships also are restarting operations in Europe and other destinations around the world, and small vessels have resumed operations on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waterways. Still, only a very small fraction of the world's cruise vessels are currently back to sailing.Which rivers in Europe are drying up? ›
Which rivers are drying up in Europe? Four of the major rivers that are drying up in Europe are The Danube River, The Rhine River, The Loire River, and The Po River. What is the second longest river in Europe? The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe.Is it safe to cruise the Rhine River? ›
The safety record on river ships is impressive. You are even safer cruising the Rhine than you are flying to Dubai, and a long international flight is one of the safest things you can do. Almost nothing is as statistically safe as flying on a commercial jet. But river cruising is even safer.Can you swim in Dubai in July? ›
Yes, swimming in Dubai in July is one of the best ways to stay cool in the hot weather. The water temperature is 32°C, making it relatively cool and pleasant for a swim in July. Yes, July is sunny with 12 hours of daylight and extremely less chance of rainfall in Dubai.Is Dubai too hot in July? ›
Dubai gets even hotter in July – days of 40⁰C are common and getting around can be unbearable for most travellers. We recommend avoiding travel to Dubai in July unless you can stand extreme heat.Is the Mediterranean sea rough in July? ›
The Mediterranean Sea Can Be Surprisingly Choppy Year Round
The biggest offender is the Mediterranean, which tends to be roughest in the fall and winter, due to winds and storms. However, avid cruisers have experienced rough seas in the spring and summer, so be prepared for anything.
Viking Ocean and River is currently operating all upcoming scheduled itineraries.Is the Rhine too low for cruise ships? ›
Europe's hot, dry summer means that the water level on the Rhine, Western Europe's most important waterway, is at a record low, making it too shallow for many ships to pass — a problem for a country that depends on the river for 80% of its water freight.Is there a water shortage in Europe? ›
Europe is on the verge of a catastrophe as groundwater reserves dry up, scientists have warned. During the summer months of 2018 and 2019, there was a severe water shortage in Central Europe. Since then, there has been no significant rise in groundwater levels, which have remained constantly low.
Although there is a mix of ages on the Viking River ships, most passengers are 60 plus, and many are retired, especially those favoring the longer voyages.Is Viking River Cruises financially stable? ›
Viking has adequate liquidity, including cash of $1.4 billion at June 30, 2022, or $1.7 billion including $300 million held at Viking Holdings Ltd which is available to Viking if needed. Moody's expects this level of cash is sufficient to cover the company's cash needs.Which side of the ship is better on a river cruise? ›
People sometimes ask us, “What side of the ship should I book my stateroom?” The answer is: it doesn't really matter. There's no difference between a cabin on the port side or starboard side because it's likely your river cruise ship will dock on both sides.Are Danube River cruises affected by drought? ›
Drought in Europe is just one example of the weather affecting travel plans. Here's what to expect if your cruise can't run as planned. Danube cruises are among those that have been impacted by drought conditions.Has the Rhine ever dried up before? ›
In February 1585, the River Rhine at Basel became a runnel, leaving large parts of the river bed com- pletely dry - a memorial shooting competition was held on the desiccated part of the river, and the famous physician Felix Platter even wrote a few verses about the unusual aspect of the Rhine (Pfister & Dietrich, 2006 ...Is the main river in Germany drying up? ›
Experts say climate change is making extreme weather, including heatwaves and droughts, more likely.What countries are at risk of running out of water? ›
- Lebanon. Last summer, UNICEF reported that more than 71% of Lebanon's population faced critical water shortages. ...
- Pakistan. ...
- Afghanistan. ...
- Syria. ...
- Turkey. ...
- Burkina Faso. ...
- Niger. ...