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First things first: This is a story with a happy ending.
Flying out to Regensberg, Germany, I believed I was going to join U by Uniworld’s The A for The Danube Flow itinerary. However, the titular river was not quite behaving according to navigational requirements. As it turned out, the water levels were too low to safely head toward Budapest, Hungary, as expected, but the fledgling brand — with great knowhow and support from parent company Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection — had an alternative. We would instead set sail on U’s Germany’s Finest itinerary, which concludes in Frankfurt.
This kind of change doesn’t happen regularly, but when it does, it’s usually because drought conditions or flooding caused a river to be too low or too high. As svelte as riverboats appear, they do require certain clearances below their keel and above their sundeck. Without such leeway, they can run aground or get stuck at a bridge.
Our captain further explained that we could have attempted to cruise as originally planned in hopes of making it over a sandbar, but another riverboat had tried and was still perched atop one. Instead, crew members wisely hedged their bets and opted for the sure thing — or so they thought. (But more on that later.)
Some were disappointed by the fact we would no longer be stopping at the likes of Vienna and Bratislava, Slovakia, but U sweetened the blow by extending a complimentary unlimited drinks package to everyone (a $340 value). Many of us took advantage of the situation by booking a seasonal shore excursion that would not have been available on our initial itinerary. Neither my friend nor I had experienced Oktoberfest in Munich, but we were thrilled to have the chance before departing on our makeshift sailing.
U was doing a fine job of making up for a sour start — that is, until we reached Nuremberg. In order to proceed beyond, our riverboat would need to be weighed down with water to clear upcoming bridges. Alas, our captain came to us again, saying that not one, but two, of our vessel’s ballast pumps had sadly failed. Now we were riding too high in the water. At the beginning, we experienced a river level that was lacking, and now we were experiencing what equaled a river level in excess.
With the ship not able to move at all, we were bussed into our next port of Bamberg. We took it in stride as the crew worked to repair the mechanical problem, and by the time we returned, the vessel was fixed, and the extended news was even better: River levels were now such that we could turn around and make Budapest as originally planned.
We would be getting the best of both itineraries, with an added cherry on top. And in a show of superlative customer service, one of our ace U Hosts said we would also be getting a bonus free cruise for enduring all the course changes. (Of course, any compensation from the line is officially distributed on a case-by-case basis and may differ for each unique circumstance.)
River cruising is unpredictable; it’s improvisation.
So, off we went once more on a scenic day on the river. We needed to catch up before the next morning’s bus ride to Vienna by way of Durnstein, Austria, a bonus not included on either itinerary. The added transportation allowed us a stop in the beautiful region and to arrive in the Austrian capital prior to the ship itself. Another modification was the required omission of Slovakia, but we did arrive on time for afternoon and evening touring of Budapest before disembarking the following day.
“River cruising is unpredictable; it’s improvisation,” admitted Caspar, one of our U Hosts. “This time it’s been particularly crazy.”
But all of this just goes to show that when you go with the flow, you’re often rewarded for it. In fact, perhaps that should be the given name for our enjoyable hybrid itinerary: Go With the Danube Flow.