River cruise became bus tour

By Mel Moss
This item appears on page 23 of the November 2015 issue.

My wife, Jacquey, and I traveled to France for our first river cruise with Viking River Cruises. On our 8-day cruise, “Portraits of Southern France,” the Hermod was scheduled to sail May 3-10, 2015. We had also signed up for Viking’s 3-day Paris package that preceded the cruise.

When we checked in to our hotel in Paris, we were told that instead of being transferred to Chalon-sur-Saône, the original point of embarkation for our cruise, we would be bused to Lyon to embark the Hermod on the Rhône. This was due to high river levels, which prevented the ship from passing under certain bridges. (Upon returning home, I noticed that the company had sent us an email, after we had left Phoenix, advising us to meet the ship in Lyon.)

During the week our cruise was scheduled in France, we traveled by bus a lot. Each evening, we were told that maybe we would sail the next day. 

After three days with the ship still in Lyon, we were told at 6:45 p.m. that we had to pack up that evening to be bused the next morning to one of their sister ships, the Buri, in Avignon. We left early and it was an all-day bus ride. 

Toward the end of a week of touring, always returning to Viking’s nonmoving ships, we noticed that some ships from other lines were shifting positions so their passengers who had paid extra for balconies with a view would have a chance to see something other than another ship. Our ship did not switch positions, and we never did sail.

I can understand that companies have to deal with whatever situation the river may present, but we’ve discovered that the problem with high river levels is not unusual at that time of year. We feel sure that with Viking’s experience with water levels, they would have known we wouldn’t be sailing that week.* If Viking had told us in the days before the cruise that we would not be sailing at all, some of us might have made other plans or rebooked the cruise at a better time.

Also, our trip insurance was not applicable because there was no coverage if the tour operator did not officially cancel any or all of the cruise.

We had signed up for a river cruise, not a bus tour. We do NOT sign up for bus tours because my wife’s legs swell very badly if she sits for hours on a bus. In fact, we weren’t able to take part in some tours that required busing, and my wife came home with a medical problem with her legs.

We sent a letter to Viking after we returned home. We have not had the courtesy of a response. 


Sun Lakes, AZ

ITN emailed copies of Mr. Moss’ correspondence to Viking River Cruises (5700 Canoga Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91367) and received no reply.

On July 24, Mr. Moss wrote, “Since we had purchased the Viking River Cruises tour package through an AAA travel agency, we had copied AAA on all of our correspondence, and they wrote to Viking about our case. 

“Just last week we received a call from a Viking representative. He sounded profusely sorry for the problems we had encountered and the way we were handled, and he offered a 50% discount on another Viking cruise. I explained to him that, after the way we were treated by Viking, we would not be interested in even a free cruise with them. I said I felt a refund was in order.”

*ITN printed another subscriber’s complaint about a similar situation with a different cruise-tour company in the April 2011 issue (“Tour’s Cruise Itinerary Switched” by Barbara Porter). It discussed options that both the tour operator and tour members had. In the same issue, the “Eye on Travel Insurance” column discussed the types of travel insurance that would have applied, and the “Boarding Pass” column provided information regarding cruises curtailed due to changing river levels. Quoted within the latter, a representative of a third tour operator told ITN, “Predicting whether or not a ship will sail can be extremely difficult, as a change of as little as an inch of water can make the difference between sailing or not.”

More recently, as news agencies reported in May 2015, heavy spring rains and snowmelt caused river levels to rise significantly throughout Europe, forcing at least six river cruise lines, including Viking River Cruises, to take alternative measures in order to complete itineraries.

Soon after, in July and early August, drought conditions in Europe caused river levels to drop dramatically, forcing cruise-tour operators to alter itineraries throughout their fleets. Avalon Waterways, Scenic, Tauck River Cruises, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises all found it necessary to move some guests via coaches from port to port or, in some cases, cancel river cruises entirely. Other workarounds included moving passengers to other ships, since portions of rivers were too shallow to sail, and swapping ships for other ships with shallower drafts.

Rains in mid-August temporarily returned rivers to navigable depths, although drier-than-normal conditions returned to Central and Eastern Europe in September.

A spokesperson for Avalon Waterways explained how difficult it is to predict whether or not a ship can follow its planned itinerary during a low-water period, saying, “The situation changes daily — sometimes hourly — and we continue to monitor the low waters,… providing our current guests and future travelers regular updates….”