Barge Cruise Tips
Barge cruises are often not well understood. Don’t barges carry cargo?
Well, originally the flat-bottomed boats were used for carrying freight, typically on canals and rivers, either under their own power or towed by another.
Then back in the 1960s, when the need for commercial freight-carrying barges on the canals of Europe declined, many of the barges were converted into “hotel barges” for luxury passenger cruising — some posher than others. The Rest is History.
Today, a network of hotel barges operate on the canals and rivers of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, with the majority on French waterways.
The re-purposed barges focus on high-end food and wine, and leisurely visits to ports along the way, passing by pastoral and rustic countryside, with occasional industrial areas part of the mix.
Barge cruises are an intimate and pampered holiday — promising the ultimate in slow travel.
One of the top brokers of Europe barges, Barge Lady Cruises curate barge cruises from a pool of about 50 luxury barges they represent (about half are individually-owned) that traverse 30 waterways across eight European countries.
After recently sampling a 6-night barge cruise on the Marne River aboard the 6-passenger Johanna in July (2018) through Barge Lady Cruises, Ben Lyons and his mother Jane share their barging cruise tips.
Barge Cruise Tips & Basics
➢Barges carry between 2 and 22 passengers, with the vast majority in the 6- to 12-passenger range.
➢The smallest carry 2 to 6 passengers and are often in the Canal du Midi; one of the oldest and smallest of the canal systems.
➢Go with a small 4- or 6-passenger barge only if you’re traveling with friends or family, then the intimacy is ideal. (If you don’t know the other couples, the risk of friction with one possibly incompatible couple is real.)
➢If traveling as a couple only, it’s best to book a barge that carries at least 8-12 other passengers.
➢Most barge cruises are 6 nights long.
➢Larger barges may have amenities like hot tubs.
➢Barge cabins are cozy, compact and charming with en-suite bathrooms, plus toiletries, hair dryers and daily maid service.
➢An English-speaking crew includes a chef, hostess/host (manager), captain and tour guide. On smaller boats, two crew will wear several hats and handle everything, with a guide meeting passengers each day for the excursions; on larger boats there may be four to six crew.
➢Excellent food and wine — and presentation — at breakfast, lunch and dinner is a main focus on a barge cruise. The more crew members onboard, the more you can expect in terms of quality and variety. A dinner or two in a restaurant on shore is often part of the itinerary (and included in the fare) affording passengers some local flavors.
➢Because barge cruises are small and intimate, individual dining preferences can be easily accommodated.
➢On barges, everything is included, from wine to shore excursions — except for the substantial crew tip. Barge Lady Cruises recommend a tip of 5-10% of the cruise price per person.
➢Barges cover about 50 miles over the course of a week at the canal speed limit of 4 miles per hour.
➢The barging season in Europe is April through October.
➢Seasickness is simply not a concern on a barge. The rivers and canals are smooth as mirrors.
➢Barges carry bicycles on board for use in port; you can pedal along the tow path or further afield, it’s up to you.
➢The barge will always tie up for the night. Barges never sail during the evening hours.
➢Often, you will tie up in the center of a town and be able to walk directly into the town square. However, this isn’t always the case; due to logistics, sometimes barges tie up in industrial docks outside of town. This is a good question to ask before you settle on an itinerary.
➢Barge Lady Cruises categorizes their offerings into 4 groupings based on level of luxury and price — from 3 stars, starting at $4,000 per person to 6 stars, starting at $7,500 per person.
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