European Waterways - River and Canal Cruises
Instead of whirling through 15 countries in 10 days, many sophisticated travelers today want to savor a small part of Europe. An, increasingly, these savvy travelers are choosing to experience Europe from the deck of a small vessel floating on its inland waterways - the canals and rivers that criss-cross the continent. Barging and river cruising seem to be among the faster—growing segments of tourism. Last year, more then 12,000 Americans cruised on barges in France, an increase of 15% from the previous year, according to the Hotel Barge Association of France. Year ago, many people included a short three- or four- day cruise on the Rhine in their European tour. Now, there is a generation of travelers who have been to Europe once or twice, but now they’d like to revisit Europe and they have discovered the pleasure and convenience of a river cruise. This is a really wonderful experience for people who has already done a lot of traveling and looking for more authentic travel experience.
There is everything for different tastes and budgets, from ultra-deluxe to self-chartered boats. Barge trips can also be customized. For example, for wine enthusiasts there could be done special itinerary including trips to the vineyards and on the barge there will be a special collection of wines.
See our reports on barges November 2001 to France and July 2003 Amsterdam and Bruges
Barge Cruising Vs River Cruising - very different experiences. Which one is right for you?
Barges float on manmade canals that have no current, covering just 30 to 50 miles per week. They move so slowly that passengers can step off the barge, walk or bike into town, and catch up again with a barge. Barges accommodate from 4 to 24 passengers, which makes them ideal for family or friends who want to occupy the entire vessel. You can go with a chef on a market and participate in shopping to tonight’s dinner… The cuisine and local wines are usually of high quality, but entertainment is minimal.
River cruises, on another hand, sail at a faster speed and can traverse one or several countries a week, stopping in a heart of cities, like Cologne or Budapest. It is really like a cruise ship, only smaller. They have all amenities, a restaurant, lounge, entertainment in the evening. They have a big deck and some of them have swimming pool. These ships accommodate from 100 to 180 passengers.
Barging is a clearly slower pace with an in-depth view of the countryside. It has its own pace to it, and, yet, they take you out to see sites, and you come back and have all your meals onboard the barges. You can get off when traveling and bike or walk little country roads. You can be sedentary, if you want. If you like to have more entertainment, see more cities, then probably river cruise will be for you.
There are several different kinds of barges.
Deluxe boats have larger cabins (roughly 120-150 sq feet in size), with nicer bathrooms, a roomier lounge, maybe a swimming pool, American-style A/C, that really works and a crew-to-guest ratio 1:2. They have better wines, pay more for chefs and you have a choice of twin or queen beds. First class boats tend to be older boats and have smaller cabins (80-100 sq feet). They are generally twin-bedded. They are still nice boat, though and provide and excellent value. All of them serve great food with wines and have great local guides.
When to go?
Book in advance. Especially themed cruises (golf in Ireland, wine in France.. etc) sell out quickly since the size of the barge is small.
The high season, unlikely with other travel to Europe, is not July and August, but May, June, September, and October. The low season is April, July, August and the beginning of November. Bargers do not consider themselves tourists. They do not want to go to Europe in July and August and perceive that Europe is overcrowded with tourists.