Three years after heavy rain and flooding across parts of Europe dampened their spirits, more than 1200 holidaymakers have taken leading Australian travel company Scenic Tours to court.

A class-action lawsuit against the company began in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday, with travellers who paid for places on 13 river cruise tours that were scheduled to begin in May and June 2013 arguing that they were forced to swap their luxe lodgings for "substandard accommodation" and bus travel.

Alister Abadee, acting for the plaintiffs, told Justice Peter Garling that internal Scenic documents suggested that senior company figures knew in advance that the swollen state of the continent's rivers could interrupt tours, and considered the possibility of cancelling cruises and offering refunds to affected guests.

But instead, Australian tourists who expected to travel by river between the sights and enjoy five-star on-board accommodation endured long coach rides and inferior hotels, he said.


"The consumers did not pay for a backpackers' Contiki tour," Mr Abadee said.

However, Scenic Tours has argued that the weather conditions were beyond its control, and that the terms and conditions to which passengers signed up when they booked their tickets included an acknowledgement that the company could vary cruise itineraries "due to high or low water levels (or) flooding".

Documents filed by the company show it also denies that it "knew or should have known by about 3 May 2013 that the rising river levels would, or were likely to, substantially disrupt ... the enjoyment of passengers scheduled to embark upon river cruises".

In court on Tuesday, defence barrister Greg McNally SC admitted the "majority" of passengers were not given the option to cancel their trips.

Had the 13 tours been cancelled, he said, hundreds of passengers would have been "stranded in Europe".

The court heard that lead plaintiff David Moore and his wife had splashed out about $26,000 for what was to be a relaxing, once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Mr Moore, a Lake Macquarie high school science teacher, gave evidence on Tuesday that he was not broadly aware of the terms and conditions of his travel when he paid a $500 deposit for a "Jewels of Europe" cruise.

"You must have understood that there would be terms and conditions in relation to any contract you entered into with Scenic Tours?" Mr McNally asked him during cross-examination.

"Not at that time," Mr Moore replied.

"At the time of booking ... all we thought about was 'You beauty'."

The case continues.