You probably never thought you'd hear the phrase "luxury barge cruise", or even hear the words "luxury" and "barge" used together, did you? But these cruises are becoming hot commodities and sell out quickly.
Barge cruises usually sail on European rivers, canals, and waterways. For centuries, rivers were the main mode of transportation. We've all seen pictures of the gondolas in Italy, but most other countries utilized their waterways on a daily basis, as well.
Barges typically accommodate from 5 or 8 passengers to fifty. The longer the barge, the more room you'll have and the more amenities can be placed on board. However, a longer ship will have to stick to longer, straighter waterways. A 200-foot-long ship can not turn on a dime!
Most cruises are seven days, six nights in duration, beginning on a Saturday or Sunday. Of course, you'll need to get to your departure destination, and if you're crossing multiple time zones to get there, an extra day or two on each end might be a good idea. The scenery is so awesome on barge cruises that it would be a pity to sleep through some of it due to jet lag.
The idea with barge cruising is to sail in comfort, but be able to see the countryside up close. Luxury cruise ships have to stick to deep water, and sailing up a river or canal is simply out of the question. With a barge you get the great food, wine and service of the larger ships, but the more intimate vacation experience of a land vacation.
There are them barge vacations, such as wine tours that sail through the Bordeaux or Champagne regions of France. There are also barge cruises that focus on wildlife. One sails the Caledonian Canal in Scotland, another cruises the River Shannon in Ireland. For you history buffs, The Barge Lady offers a Scottish cruise that moors near ancient castles and battlefields.
There are even a few luxury barges that sail eastern Europe. The Barge Company operates a barge sailing from Dresden, Germany to Prague, in the Czech Republic.
What will your barge cruise experience be like? Luxury abounds on these cruises. Since the ships are much smaller than the giant ocean liners, you'll get to know the crew on board the boat. They're likely to be locals, and can point out attractions as you go along. Most speak English, but be sure to ask about that when looking for your cruise or booking.
You're close enough to shore on your barge cruise to wave at people as you pass by. The barges typically stop each day so passengers can get off, walk or bike into town, shop and sightsee. Of course, you're always welcome to remain on board and just relax. The fresh air may lull you to sleep, though!
On any luxury barge cruise you'll be treated to top-notch cuisine. Most barge cruise prices include all your meals and wine, and some even include an open bar. Meals are planned, but there is always a great selection of outstanding cheese, fruit and other snacks available at any time.
Prices vary wildly from company to company, and even between barges within the same company. Once you decide where you want to go and when, take a look at the amenities offered between the different classes. For instance, you may decide the standard First Class cabin is a little too small, and upgrade to the larger Deluxe level of service. On some barges there is only one level, though, so know in advance what's important to you when you sail.
Luxury barge cruises are gaining in popularity. The time to experience one is now, before the wait gets as long as the river.