As European river cruising booms in popularity, another alternative way to experience the waterways of Europe has started to grow in France - barge cruising.
Riverboats are already much smaller than the giant ocean liners that cruise the Atlantic and Caribbean, but they can still be characterized as floating hotels, complete with several dining areas or bars, multiple lounges and social areas, occasionally a pool, hot tub, or spa, and occupancy for up to 200 or more guests.
Barge cruises, on the other hand, are much smaller than even the riverboats, often with occupancy for just 24 guests (and there are several barge cruises that accommodate just 12 guests). Think of a barge cruise as a boutique bed & breakfast river cruise.
So what is a barge cruise?
If you’re from North America, you’ve likely seen giant barges ferrying freight down the major rivers. In France, some barge owners have gone to great lengths to convert their freight transporting vessels into well-appointed and comfortable passenger boats.
What to expect on a barge cruise:
Barge Cruising FAQs:
- Intimacy - With room for less than 30 passengers, you can expect to get to know the other passengers as you share meals with them and explore each site in their company.
- Slower pace - We mean really slow! Some week-long cruises may cover just 70 miles as they float with the flow of the river. This gives travelers plenty of time to take in the scenic valleys, stunning cities, and quaint towns as you pass by. This also means that you will visit fewer destinations along the way, but you’ll get to know each one better.
- No seasickness - If you’re worried about getting motion sickness, river cruises in general are a great alternative to small seagoing yachts because there is much less rocking with the current; barge cruises - with their large flat bottoms and snail’s pace - are an even better option, and barge travelers might not even notice they are on the water.
- Gourmet food - If France is known for its fine dining, then perhaps nothing highlights that better than a barge cruise, whose chefs will likely buy the ingredients for each day’s meals early in the morning to prepare them fresh.
- Prices - Range from $2000-$5000, right on par with other river cruises in Europe.
- All-inclusive - All meals, drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), and daily activities are all included in the price.
- Cabins are smaller - Don’t expect big cabins, but you can count on cozy and comfortable cabins with en-suite bathrooms. Size ranges from about 60 sq. feet to around 300 sq. feet in the luxury cabins.
- Comfortable lounge and sun deck are typically the only social areas on board.
- Locks, locks, locks! Even at the slower pace of barge cruises, you will pass through a series of many locks, from modern ones to more traditional hand-crank locks that you might be allowed to help operate.
- What is the best time to barge cruise? Late spring or early autumn.
- Are barge cruises good for families? Sure! In fact, a big family or two small families could even charter the whole boat.
- What isn’t included? Airfare, insurance, and gratuities are not included in the ticket price.
- Are they suitable for people with disabilities? Probably not - river ships may or may not be able to accommodate passengers with disabilities, but you should always check with your travel agent or the operator to make sure that the boat is accessible.