Barge Cruising: A Guide for First Timers
Barge cruising is one of the most relaxed and luxurious ways to see the European countryside. Barge cruises are vastly different than other types of voyages such as a river, small ocean or windjammer cruises.
First-time barge cruisers will find the ship similar to a small floating boutique hotel. Barges hold anywhere between 2-22 people and have a very high crew to passenger ratio. In addition to the Captain, chef, first mate, and service staff, you will have a dedicated tour guide. He or she doubles as your private driver and will travel with you for the duration of your voyage. You can expect flawless service from the entire crew throughout the trip.
Barge cruises also don’t cover a lot of ground. Typically, they travel no more than fifty miles per week along the canal. That does not mean you won’t see a lot. As you meander down the canal there will be plenty of opportunities to get off, stretch your legs, and go sightseeing.
Thanks to Barge Lady Cruises, I recently boarded the Prosperite, an ultra-luxurious 5-star barge for my first canal cruise. We traveled for a week through Southern Burgundy, France. Not really knowing what to expect, I will admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by my experience. I cannot wait to go again.
Life Onboard a Barge Cruise
Unlike other cruises, barge life is leisurely, and the pace is set by the passengers. There is never a strict schedule. In fact, the crew often asks you what time you would like to dine, have your cabin serviced or even depart for the daily outing.
One of the most notable differences from other cruises is that barges sail in the morning, not at night. This means you will never feel rushed to get out to explore the port or join an 8:00 am tour. Daily excursions do not happen until after lunch has been served onboard.
Additionally, the day begins when you are ready. As there is no rush to get off the boat which means you can give yourself permission to sleep in. With the luxury linens on the king-sized bed in your stateroom, you might even want to set an alarm. I was so comfortable in my spacious cabin I almost slept the day away.
A buffet breakfast of French pastries, fruits, yogurts, and coffee are set out by the staff for you to enjoy whenever you wake up. Spend the morning enjoying an extra cup of coffee and fresh croissant on the deck or take a dip in the private hot tub.
The morning offers an opportunity to enjoy the ship and its amenities. Read, catch up on email (there is WiFi), or converse with the other passengers in the salon. You are likely to find your shipmates worldly and well-traveled.
This laid-back daily routine is just slow enough to truly make you feel relaxed enough to really this vacation.
While cruising throughout the morning the captain must stop the barge at regular intervals in order to go through the locks. This is an ideal time to get off the barge. Walk along the towpath or use one of the ship’s bicycles to ride beside the canal.
The boat cruises slowly at approximately four miles an hour. This allows passengers to easily hop back on at the next lock, or if you prefer, several locks further down. This is an excellent opportunity to work off some of those extra calories consumed throughout the week!
Fair warning, there is a lot of food on a barge cruise. Be prepared for epicurean overload. Not only does your private chef prepare three-course meals for both lunch and dinner, but you will also enjoy daily wine and cheese pairings. Throughout the week, we sampled more than thirty different kinds of cheese and tasted more than twenty varieties of wine.
One afternoon we were treated to a cooking demonstration. We met the chef in the open kitchen just before lunch. We learned how to prepare a whole baked salmon in salt with a buerre blanc sauce. Little did we know we were actually making our own lunch.
You also will have the pleasure of dining with the Captain on the last night of the cruise. Although barge attire is never formal, for the Captain’s Dinner you might opt to wear something a bit nicer. This night is a farewell gathering with the other passengers but it is likely not good-bye. We are still in touch with the other couples we met onboard.
There is no better place to taste wine than at the actual vineyard in which it was produced. Throughout the week you’ll visit several family-owned vineyards during your trip for wine tastings. These private tours offer more than just sipping and swirling wine a tasting room. They include visits to the actual cellars and a comprehensive overview of how the wines are made.
The vintners will take their time to educate you about the region and the wines they produce. You’ll surely leave with a better understanding of the difference between a Grand Cru and a Premier Cru Burgundy
If you are not in the vineyard, you might be at Les Halles Market in Dijon. Here you’ll have an opportunity to see where the locals shop for their produce, fruits, cheeses, meats, and flowers.
The Prosperite’s itinerary also includes one meal on shore. We were treated to a very special night out at The Abbey de la Bussiere, a Relais & Châteaux hotel. We enjoyed a spectacular dinner at their Michelin Star restaurant, Le 1131.
Tips for first timers
No hidden charges – If you are at all hesitant to try barge cruising, take this into consideration — everything is included. You won’t find any of the wine you enjoy at lunch or dinner added to your bill. Nor will the afternoon cocktails or evening aperitifs from the bar stocked with top-shelf liquors. There are no extra charges for the chauffeured transfers, wine tastings, museum fees, onshore meals or use of the barge’s bicycles. With the exception of airfare, travel insurance, and the discretionary crew gratuity, you will not pay for another thing.
Try a 3-Star Barge Cruise – There is a considerable price difference between a 3 and 6-star barge cruise. All of them are equally wonderful. However, if you don’t mind slightly smaller accommodations or require certain amenities like a hot tub, take a look at the 3-star barge cruises. Know that the style and service of cruising remain consistent across all Barge Ladies cruises.
Value Season Pricing – Barging season is April through October. However, discounts are offered during the first few weeks in April and the last week in October. Additionally, the Barge Ladies often run cruise specials that extend an extra 10-20% off regular cruise prices.
Should I go on a Barge Cruise?
If you enjoy luxury service, unique itineraries, great wine, and excellent food, I would say yes! No matter which Barge Ladies cruise you choose, know that you will want for nothing. The crew anticipates your every need and you may be spoiled for life. In fact, in the future, you may never want to cruise any other way.
Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations, meals, activities and some transportation were provided by Barge Lady Cruises. No other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.