ON THE DANUBE RIVER, Germany - We finally made it to our European river cruise, but not exactly according to plan.
Our trip along the Danube, from Germany to Hungary, began in Augusta, Maine, on a nine-seat plane that would bring us from our home state to Boston, where we were booked for our overseas flight.
Everything was fine as the small plane taxied down the runway. But then the pilot stopped, turned the plane around and took us back to the terminal. Heavy rain had closed a runway in Boston, and our plane had no clearance to land. The scene was set for what travellers most dread: A missed flight, caused by events beyond your control, that threatens an entire vacation.
Lucky we had travel insurance.
When we booked the trip a half-year earlier, we paid $798 to Travel Guard through our travel agent, not a piddling sum but prudent, we reasoned, for a major ($7,856) trip.
Our itinerary called for me and my wife Betty to take an evening flight to Paris, followed by another flight to Nuremberg, Germany, to start the cruise. With the Augusta delay, we hopped in the car and sped to Boston. By the time we found the right ticket counter, it was too late. The final boarding call had already been announced.
This prompted a frantic call to the travel agent. The next available flight was that night — but we were told it was unlikely we'd get on that one. Another flight was scheduled for the next afternoon; that's the one we ended up on.
The travel agent contacted the airline about rebooking our missed flight, reserved a hotel room for the night in Boston, and sent a message to Viking River Cruises. She also got the insurance paperwork going.
Her calming, after-hours assistance served as a reminder that having a travel agent and insurance can be well worth it when you get into a stew.
The insurance reimbursed us for an unplanned night at the Boston hotel, parking fees and meals, and a lost day aboard ship, for a total of $530, and we paid nothing extra for the rebooked flight. In the end, all we missed was a tour of Nuremberg before our ship, the MS Bolero, left its berth. As it turned out, our Boston-to-Amsterdam-to-Nuremberg flight got us to the dock a half hour before the ship, part of the Viking River Cruises fleet, left port. On board, we became known as "The Couple Who Missed Their Flight." It was a real conversation-starter.
Folks who plan ocean-going cruises might also want to consider travel insurance, said Michael Driscoll, editor of industry journal Cruise Week.
"I don't think you're going to find anyone in this business who wouldn't say that it seems a wise decision to buy travel insurance during hurricane season for Caribbean/Atlantic cruises given what has happened over the past 15 years," said Driscoll.
Some travel insurance vendors offer coverage online with trip cancellation allowed for any reason, with conditions. You can buy coverage for medical treatment and assistance, lost luggage and expenses related to other types of emergencies, such as itinerary changes caused by weather. The online Travel Insurance Review says more than 124 million travellers in the United States are covered by travel insurance or emergency services every year.
Depending on the terms of the coverage, insurance can run 4 to 10 per cent of the cost of a trip. Travel agents can help you choose the right policy, but if you're booking your own itinerary online, some websites have an automatic option for adding travel insurance. You can also buy travel insurance after you've booked your trip. To get a quick comparison of quote estimates from a variety of companies — including well-known providers like Travel Guard and American Express — visit Travel Insurance Review's Squaremouth.com site.
At worst, had we missed our ship at the first port, a taxi ride would have gotten us to the next port, Regensburg, over lovely German countryside. I secretly smiled at the prospect, though we ended up seeing plenty during our Danube stops. That's one of the beauties of a river cruise: The stops come one after another, rather quickly compared to an ocean cruise.
The travel nightmares faded as we visited the medieval city of Regensburg, with its 12th century stone bridge and towering structures built by merchants of eras past. Stops also included Passau, where the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers meet. We opted for a side tour on a separate boat through the Danube Gorge, where towering cliffs loom over the river, and Kelheim, where we sampled beer which has been brewed at the Weltenburg Abbey since 1050.
In Vienna, the city's easily navigable metro system could be accessed a pleasant walk from the ship to the city's centre. Another stop was Melk in Austria, and finally Budapest, whose breathtaking sites are too countless to list. The Central Market Hall is one stop that shouldn't be missed.
Along the Danube, the ship manoeuvred through a series of locks that raise it to the high waters at the continental divide, before lowering it stage by stage as the Danube works its way to the Black Sea.
The return journey from Budapest to Amsterdam to Boston was trouble-free, no cancellations.
That was not the case on our previous trip to Europe.
When returning from Italy, we were told by the airline at London's Heathrow Airport that our confirmed flight to Boston had been cancelled. The clerk handed us a plastic bag with overnight toiletries and chits for a hotel, bus rides and meals before the next day's flight.
She didn't mention the European Union's Compensation Claims program for such instances, but a British passenger who had been scheduled on the same flight brought it our attention. In the end, we were mailed a check for $1,700 for our trouble. No need to access the insurance that time.
If You Go...
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Squaremouth.com offers quote estimates from a variety of companies.
VIKING RIVER CRUISES: http://www.vikingrivercruises.com