What image comes to mind when you hear the word barge? Most likely, an American will visualize a long low-slung cargo vessel situated on a river or the Great Lakes, dirty and loaded with coal or iron ore. The idea of a barge cruise may be reminiscent of an old black and white movie where the hero leaves home at a young age on a cheap tramp steamer to seek his fortune in the great world beyond. Or a barge cruise might bring to mind long-haired hippies of the 1960's traveling through Europe on $3 a day. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The only resemblance between an American cargo barge and a European cruising barge is the long low-slung shape and overall proportions. A European cruising barge is, in reality, an exclusive and elegant means of travel. These barges are also called floating hotels due to the preponderance of amenities and staff.
Forget the thought of a tiny pigeon-hole stateroom just above the waterline of a 2,000 passenger cruise ship. All staterooms in a floating hotel are spacious and well-appointed, more like suites that you find on a cruise ship. Staterooms typically feature twin beds and a private bath. On luxury barge cruises, you will find even larger cabins and modern conveniences such as TV, jacuzzi, and computer hook-up. You have all the amenities of home, including air conditioning, carpeting, a commons area, a dining area and, of course, a bar.
The European barge cruise is an intimate and personal experience as barges typically accommodate as few as 4 people up to as many as 24. Each barge is staffed with a personal chef who prepares gourmet meals from locally purchased ingredients to please guests as well as a captain who pilots the vessel and stateroom staff. A cruise with 6 people can be served by as many as 4 staff members.
Barge cruises are available on most of the rivers and canals in Europe. You can experience up-close the beauty and cultural sites of Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, or Scotland. The pace of a barge cruise is leisurely. The itinerary includes stopping at historic and cultural places of interest along the cruising route. You can sightsee on foot or on bicycles that are available onboard. On barge cruise operator even provides an air-conditioned touring bus to takes passengers to local points of interest at each stop along the way. What a change of pace from the hotel hopping of a bus trip! Just depart from the barge in the morning, enjoy a day of sightseeing and return to the quiet of a private dining room where a gourmet meal is waiting.
The price of a European barge cruise, like all other cruises, varies based upon the cruise line, the accommodations selected, the area visited, and the season (high or low). However, a quiet and personal barge cruise can be had for a price competitive with a Caribbean cruise, without airfare of course. The barge cruise price usually includes accommodations, 3 meals a day, beverage service that includes wines and spirits, and pre-arranged sightseeing tours. And these barge cruises cater to the American tourist by providing English speaking crew members.