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Quirky Cruise
June 15, 2018

Small Ship Cruise Line Review: Barge Lady Cruises

Barge Lady Cruises

Barge Lady Cruises, the inland waterways operator, has been around for three-plus decades expanding its reach throughout western Europe, the UK and Ireland, almost wherever their shallow craft can navigate. Europe is blessed with natural waterways and a heritage of canal building that goes back a couple hundred years to facilitate commerce and travel. Today, commercial traffic exists on some rivers and canals, though private yachting, barge travel, and on the larger canals and rivers, riverboats dominate.  

Barge Lady Cruises

AMARYLLIS -6- star barge cruises in France. * Photo; Barge Lady Cruises

Barge cruising may be the slowest form of cruising (a walking pace), hence sightseers are rewarded with an up-close and highly personal take on the region chosen.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

The fleet numbers 50 moored all over Western Europe — some conversions from cargo barges and others newly-built specifically for passenger use. Berth capacities range from 2 to 22. The smaller capacity barges are popular for chartering by families, good friends, affinity groups, etc. The firm will gear the itinerary to specific requests such as vineyard visits, historic destinations, birding, cycling, golfing, hiking, walking and so on. Otherwise the vessels operate as hotel barges where you book your cabin or cabins and share the experience with others.

Wine on deck anyone? * Photo; Barge Lady Cruises

Passenger Decks

Two or three decks; cabins, indoor public spaces and possibly a third open deck. Naturally, no elevators.

Passenger Profile

Anyone who wants to leisurely see a specific region, comfortably and close up without the hassle of having to cope with driving, trains, and dealing with an unfamiliar foreign tongue. Language on board is English, though the crew will speak the local language too.

Price

$$ to $$$entirely dependent on the star classifications. See explanation under cabins.

Itineraries

All cruises last six nights/seven days and cover about 50 miles. Barge Lady craft cruise virtually every region of France where canal and rivers exist; Holland (especially in the bulb season) and some venture into Belgium’s dense network of waterways; Germany along the Mosel to Luxemburg City and Trier (canal locks); Italy following the Po River and Bianco Canal from Venice to Mantua; England along the busy Thames lined with attractive villages and historic riverside pubs, all just west of London; Scotland’s cross-country Caledonian Canal that links four lochs (including Ness); and Ireland’s eternally-green landscapes bordering the Shannon River.

Barge Lady Cruises

Germany – cruising the Mosel River * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Included Features

Pre-arranged pickups and drop offs include nearby railways stations, hotels or rental car offices; open bar and paired wines with lunch and dinner; daily escorted sightseeing and entrance fees; and WiFi. Suggested tipping is 5-10% of the fare.

Why Go?

Barging is leisurely cruising par excellence. Travel on waterways at the pace of a fast walk, a bit faster by following the towpath on a bicycle, and dead stop in the evenings. You are amidst beautiful landscapes when under way, and when tied up, close to lovely villages for after-dinner strolls. Daily excursions with no more than 20 people, often less, take you to beautiful spots, vineyards, chateaux, artisan workshops, and local produce and craft markets.

Barge Lady Cruises

Barge trips begin in Venice to travel inland along the Po River. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

When to Go?

While the barge cruising season runs from April to October, there are seasonal plusses and minuses. Early and late in the season will see fewer tourists at the most popular sights and fewer private craft on the waterways. However, it may be too cool to remain on deck when underway and in the evenings when tied up. The beauty of barging is that you’re mainly cruising in the countryside, which substantially lessens being beset by teeming crowds.

Cabins

The cabin sizes generally dictate the star rating, with 3-stars at roughly 100 sq. ft.; 4-stars at 125-200 sq. ft.; 5-stars at 200 sq. ft. with hot tub; and 6-stars at 250 sq. ft. with hot tub. Because barge cabins are located at the waterline, they have portholes or small windows, not big picture windows as with riverboats.

Barge Lady Cruises

A cabin on the Amaryllis. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises                                                                     

Public Rooms

Barges have a lounge, possibly a second semi-partitioned seating area; dining area; forward outdoor seating on the same deck; and perhaps additional open and/or covered seating above the public spaces. Small book collections will reflect the cruising regions, often along with reading left behind by past passengers.

Barge Lady Cruises

Cruising the Canal du Midi in southern France. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Dining

Food is most definitely a major attraction and will reflect the country and region. Breakfast and lunch will be buffet and dinner served with paired wines. Cooking and presentation will be of a high standard, and catering is for a few not hundreds or thousands as on ocean-going cruise ships. Often the chef will introduce the evening meal. A cocktail hour with canapes precedes dinner.

Barge Lady Cruises

Wine and cheese from France aboard Barge Lady cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The cruising day may start with an excursion, then return for lunch, cruise in the afternoon, and tie up at night or cruise in the morning with lunch aboard and an afternoon excursion. There may be evening musical entertainment and often a chance to visit the town on foot from the landing. Leisure time is spent viewing the scenery at four mph, reading, socializing, and watching videos (not all barges).

Special Note

If barging is of interest and you are a neophyte, compare how barge cruising is different or similar to riverboat cruising to determine if it fits your travel style.

Along the Same Lines

There are many barge companies and others will be added. Abercrombie & Kent gets a brief mention on QuirkyCruise as they charter some of Barge Lady’s vessels.

Contact

Barge Lady Cruises, 101 West Grand Avenue #200, Chicago IL 60654; 800-880-0071; bargeladycruises.com.

Barges often tie up alongside a village landing, where you want to be. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Barges often tie up to a village landing, just where you want to be. * Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

 

— TWS

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Europe, Rivers Ship & Line Reviews


2 Comments

  1. Angela Rowland - 4 weeks ago

    I am arthritic and cannot walk long distances and may be traveling alone. Is barge traveling a good idea?
    Artificial knees and hips are my problem. I have been on my sons boat but need assistance walking a gang plank but am able to maneuver once on board.
    I appreciate your honesty
    Angie

  2. Jane Lyons - 4 weeks ago

    Dear Angie,
    I did a barge cruise this summer despite one very arthritic hip and one mildly arthritic hip. (I’ll have the first hip replaced in January.) On my particular vessel, the JOHANNA, 5/6 relatively steep steps separate the salon/cabin deck from the top deck. With the help of railings, these were easy enough to navigate. As for the gangplank, it was narrow but mostly level, not a problem. For the off-barge sections of the cruise, my hip certainly prevented me from enjoying prolonged strolls through villages or exhibits. However, the guide was careful to eliminate as much walking as possible for me and I was able to manage without undue discomfort. I should add that I did bring a collapsible cane and it was helpful at times.

    In short, I concluded that barge travel, especially with its many hours of leisurely lounging, was well worth the occasional mobility issue. Of course, disability challenges vary from person to person. The other female passenger on our recent barge cruise had two artificial hip replacements and she had no difficulty at all.

    Good luck!

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