Barge cruising was quite popular early on in the small ship cruising trend, but considered limited when compared to the river cruises. And the word ‘barges’ does put a certain image into your head that doesn’t translate well to river cruisers. BUT! What we’ve learned recently is that European barge cruises are luxurious niche experiences, completely unique and charming!
A few British people had the idea to buy old WWII-era cargo boats and transform them into luxury floating hotels. Now, the barge owners have created their own niche market, with a global rating system and fantastic crews to guide you. The owners of the barges are often the operators – possibly your Captain or Chef. And they take care when hiring the rest of their crew, because their crew becomes like a family during the season. The rating system for barges refers to the cabin size and luxury expectations for each barge.
- Boutique: This cruise is about the experiences, not the amenities. Cabin sizes are smaller, but that won’t matter to you because you’re more interested in the authentic onshore participation in French life. We do not have any boutique level barge cruises on our website. Please call our agents if this experience interests you: 800-578-1479.
- First Class: The cabins get a little bigger in this category, and the experiences get more eclectic. You’ll enjoy delicious meals onboard, paired with fantastic wines. To see First Class barges, check out the Luciole and L’Art de Vivre.
- Deluxe: Deluxe cabins are spacious, usually with your choice between queen or twin beds. Onboard amenities could include a hot tub. Deluxe barges on our website include the Rendez-vous, L’Impressioniste and the Shannon Princess.
- Ultra-Deluxe: The premier level of luxury, service and accommodations. Onboard amenities could include an open kitchen or grand piano. The highest quality of cuisine and wine will be served with every meal. Our Ultra-Deluxe barge is the Prosperite, which is an 8-passenger barge available for charter only.
Where Do Barge Cruises Go?
Parts of Continental Europe have very elaborate canal systems, originally built in the 1600’s to transport produce, wine, and other products between villages. Alongside the canals are towpaths, intended to help pull boats of grain but now are perfect for morning strolls. During your 6-night cruise, your barge will only travel 30-50 miles. Instead of hitting as many sites as possible like a river cruise would do, barges allow you a more intimate look at a small region.
There are barges that travel in the UK, Ireland, France, Holland, Italy and Germany. On our website, we feature three cruises that travel in Southern Burgundy, two in Northern Burgundy, and one in central Ireland. Even though these barges are covering the same region, they’re itineraries are each distinct. For the most part, the itinerary consists of morning cruising down the canal, then getting off after lunch and exploring a nearby village or town. Your barge will not be moving while you are sleeping.
How Do I Choose a Barge?
The rating system is a good place to start. Consider your travel preferences: what level of luxury do you expect from a hotel stay? If you don’t care about the room because you’re all about getting out there and seeing the destination, a Boutique or First-Class barge would fit your style. If you would be content to spend the entire week lounging while someone pours you continual glasses of wine, and demanded the highest quality cabin with space comparable to a hotel suite… you’re definitely Ultra-Deluxe, but could probably survive the Deluxe barges, if you had to. (I’m only teasing. The Deluxe barges are amazing!)
Another item to consider: how many people are traveling? Is it just you? (The Luciole has two single cabins, with no single supplements!) Is it a romantic getaway just for two? Do you have a few couples with whom you like to travel? Could this be the vacation where you take many family members, to celebrate your retirement, a special birthday or your 50th wedding anniversary? Two of our barges are charter only, meaning you can’t just book one cabin (unless you really want the 8-passenger Ultra-Deluxe Prosperite all to yourselves!). The charter-only barges are 6 or 8 passengers. You can charter the larger barges as well, or, if you don’t mind other passengers being on board, only book the number of cabins you need.
Your interests should always play a part in deciding which cruise is right for you. Do you properly ‘geek out’ over Irish history and culture? The Shannon Princess will take you to ancient villages and castles (some haunted), and an authentic Guinness pub. Are you a modern ‘foodie’? Take the Rendezvous. Are you a more continental ‘foodie’? Try L’Art de Vivre! Do you like to bike? The crew on L’Impressionniste will escort you on or provide biking plans for you to explore the French countryside. Interested in European history or a solo traveler? We’d recommend the Luciole.
What Are the Accommodations on a Barge Cruise?