Best Time of Year for a European River Cruise
What is the best time of year for a European river cruise?
This can be a very tricky question to answer. And to be frank, even the most experienced travelers are going to be disappointed from time to time.
Sure, there are “experts” out there (like this guy pictured to the right), but the truth of the matter is: specific weather patterns are very difficult to predict six to twelve months out.
Our Sad Story
Carol and I tend to like to travel to Europe in the shoulder seasons (May, Sept, Oct). The weather is generally cooler, the massive summer crowds gone, and you can often get more bang for your buck.
Just a month ago, Carol and I flew off to the south of France for a long-awaited river cruise with our friends at Viking River Cruises. As we landed in London to swap planes and head to Marseilles, we got an email from Viking telling us that our river cruise was going to be disrupted by high water levels. You can read the whole story by clicking here.
When we got to our starting point in Avignon, Viking offered their clients the option of leaving the sailing with a refund of the unused portion of their cruise, or continue on with the hopes of lower water levels in the coming days. We opted to stay, and as it turned out, we never got to sail and wound up using our cruise ship as a hotel with luxury coach excursions to and from our ship each day. But, at the end of this experience, even though we did get to see nearly all of our desired locations, Viking still offered their guests a 50% discount off of a future sailing. Very generous, indeed. You can read about that by clicking here.
So, if we got foiled, what’s a person to do? When is the best time of year for a river cruise?
Well, before I make an attempt to offer a few tips on this subject, let’s take a peek at a helpful video from our friends at Tauck River Cruises:
So, as you can see in this video, high water, low water, and broken locks can disrupt a river cruise. While these things are definitely not the norm, what can we do to stack the odds in our favor so that these river gods and nixes don’t disrupt our vacation?
While not all high water occurs in the spring, spring rains and snow melt are generally the culprits for most springtime high water events. If you look at the map I’ve included, you can see which areas of Europe are most prone to flooding.
And, oh look, there’s our Rhône river in France! It’s highly prone to high waters as the French Alps are nearby and shedding snow melt into the river.
Now to make this even more difficult, we don’t know when this spring snow melt is going to occur. We interacted with a couple on our Facebook Page who had taken our same exact cruise a week prior, and had absolutely no difficulty. And, I suspect that the group behind us enjoyed smooth sailing as well.
Travel Tips: Best Time of the Year for European River Cruises
- If you’re river cruising Europe in April, May, and even early June, the rivers flowing through the darkest regions in the map above provide the greatest opportunity for high water levels. These include the Rhône, and certain portions of the Rhine. We had clients sailing the Rhine while we were sailing the Rhône. They had to swap river cruise ships one afternoon, but other than that, the rest of their journey was just fine.
- Alternatively, if you’re river cruising in the spring, the Bordeaux region of France, the Seine around Paris, and the Douro River in Spain might make good options for less high water probabilities. It looks like the Rhône is best in the late-spring, summer and fall.
- Predicting low water levels? No can do. It totally depends on the summer weather and each individual country’s management of the water levels.
- Predicting broken locks? No can do. When we sailed the Danube, we sailed through 11 different locks. We encountered no problems, but it must happen on occasion and back up the river traffic for a bit.
- European summers are a very busy time for travel and river cruises. Most of the river cruise lines completely sell out in the summer months, requiring that you book at least a year in advance.
- European summers can be hot and posses very large crowds in the popular cities. But, this is also the time of year when you find many fun festivals to visit. So, maybe hot weather and fun festivals is more your cup of tea.
- Fall can bring beautiful foliage, lower temps, and again, the large crowds will be gone.
- Christmas cruises on the Rhine and Danube can be wonderful times. The temps will be towards the cold side (layer your clothing), but the cities are absolutely beautiful all dressed up for Christmas. We did the Danube in very early December and completely loved the experience.
I know that this wasn’t a very definitive answer to my initial question. But the truth is, I don’t have one of those goofy hats (pictured at the top of our article), and therefore, I’m not a river cruise climatologist and don’t have a definitive answer.
Your best course of action? Be certain to include water level probabilities in your discussions and be aware of the possible risks. No one can ever promise you absolute perfection with every travel experience. Airline strikes, volcanoes, floods, and stifling hot weather are just a few of the things that can pop up to make a mess of your vacation. Do your best to contemplate the things that can go wrong, and then be flexible. You can’t predict all things, but you can decide to make lemonade out of lemons. Right? 🙂
Are you thinking about a fun European river cruise? Give us a call at (480) 550-1235 and we can help you sort through the options, discuss potential obstacles, and book a wonderful sailing. When you book with us, the price is never higher than doing it yourself, and many, many times we have special pricing options available that are not widely known to the general public.
If you prefer, you can also use our online information request by clicking here.
If you enjoyed this article, sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep abreast of our best travel tips, on-location reviews, exclusive travel offers, group travel events, and much more.