8 Ways a Canal Barge Cruise is Different to a Regular River Cruise

8 Ways a Canal Barge Cruise is Different to a Regular River Cruise

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You’re about to discover the important
differences you need to know between a European river cruise and a European
barge hotel cruise. I’m Gary Bembridge, and this is another of
my tips for travellers. I’m just back from a barge cruise through the waterways of
France, and I thought would be a great opportunity to talk about the
differences between going on a river cruise in Europe or going on a barge
cruise through Europe. The first key difference is around the type of
waterways, and the range of options available to you. 95 %
of barge cruises go on man-made canals rather than rivers. These are
canals that were built, largely in the 18th century before railways were
widespread, to move goods around a country. Most of the barge cruises
that you look at in Europe will go on canals, although some of them do go on rivers.
For example, I was on the CroisiEurope Deborah barge on the Yonne and
Seine Rivers because the water levels were too low in the canal. So, we
did more of a barge river cruise, but you’ll normally find that 95% of the
cruises on a barge will be on canals. The barges travel much less distance, so
while on a river cruise you could go through four or five countries and travel
hundreds of miles, a barge is very different. It will only travel around 50
to 70 miles, for example we did about 76 miles on our trip over six nights. Barges
go much slower, and cover much less ground, unlike a river cruise where you
can go through multiple countries in the space of a week. The range of places you
can go to is much more limited than on a river cruise. River cruises are available on
pretty much every river of any note in Europe, but barges go where there are canals. So, you’ll find them in much
fewer places. For example, there’s a lot of them in
France, you will find them in England, Scotland and Ireland, and
you’ll also find more limited ones in other parts of Europe like Holland
and Belgium. The second key difference between a
barge and a river cruise in Europe is the amount of options and choice. On a
river cruise you have a huge amount of cruise lines, ranging from very premium
to more value. You have a huge amount of rivers you
can choose from, and there are loads of permutations of itineraries. However, when
it comes to barges you’re going to have much less choice. There’s very few
operators of barge cruises in Europe. I went on CroisiEurope, and
there’s probably only two or three other real players if you want to go on a
barge cruise. There’s much less
choice. A river cruise offers you a huge option of different lines, lots of
different rivers, lots of different itineraries and multiple countries you
can go to. if you choose to go on a barge cruise you’re going to have much less
choice of both lines and countries that you can go to on a barge cruise versus a
river. The third, and probably one of the biggest differences, between a river and
a barge cruise in Europe is the pace. A river cruise can be pretty frantic, and
certainly one things I discovered when I started river cruising is it’s a much
more full-on trip. You get up early, you have breakfast, you go
excursions, you come and you might cruise a little bit and then they’ll have another
excursion, then you’ll have dinner, some entertainment and a have briefing,
and it is pretty full on. A barge however slows that down completely, and
that’s for a couple of reasons. First of all, the barges go much
slower and cover much less distance, and importantly barges do not cruise at
night. They only cruise during the daylight hours. What normally happens
is you’ll have half a day of excursions and half a day of cruising, and then
you’ll be docked somewhere at night. So, straight away the whole pace slows down
because half of the day you will spend on the barge just relaxing as you sail
through the landscape that you’re going through. The barges themselves do go much slower. For me the next one is probably the most
obvious of all of them, and that’s about the size of the ship. A river cruise can
hold between 120 up to 200 guests. Barges are much smaller, so for
example, the Deborah barge that I was on had a maximum of 22 guests. It’s
dramatically smaller. You have six crew on board, so we
had the captain, a sort of first mate who helps the captain, a cruise director, waitress, a chef and
a housekeeper. The crew:passenger ratio is very high on a barge.As the
ships is much smaller, you have much less facilities than you
would have even on a river cruise, which again is pretty limited. On the barge,
for example, you normally have the cabins on the lower
level, ten of the eleven cabins on Deborah were on the lower level. On the
main level you have a dining room, a seating area sort of a lounge
which has a little bar, then outside you have an open deck, which on Deborah
had a hot tub as many of the barges do. You also have an upper level, although often the upper level is closed when
cruising along canals as the bridges tend to be
pretty low on many of the canals around Europe. The facilities are much less, and
you’re not going to have a choice of dining, a fitness centre or a spa. Some river cruise ships even have swimming pools, but you’re
not going to find any of that on a barge. Not surprisingly, because of the nature
of the waterways that barges cruise on, it’s a much smaller vessel. The next key
difference is linked to that and let’s talk about the cabins themselves. On a
river cruise, many ships give you a huge choice including
suites, balcony cabins and then you can have cabins
which you only have water views which normally tend to be slightly below the
water level. You have a wide range of cabins and while the cabins on river cruise boats are still quite small but are quite spacious,
however on a barge your bedroom really is a place to sleep and get ready. The
cabins are pretty small so again we’ll just take an example of the one I had
on Deborah where there were two single beds, lots of storage space very
cleverly put in above the bed, a little seating area with a dressing
table area and a bathroom. The bathroom was a shower room. The
cabins are pretty small, and it’s not a place that you’re really going to want to
necessary spend a lot of time in. That’s important because you spend
half the day cruising and the cabins themselves are
actually below the water level, about 2/3 or 3/4 of them are below the
water level, and when you are cruising along they can be relatively
noisy ( in my view), so it’s not sort of place you’re likely to want to spend a
lot of time in. Certainly one of the key differences is you can have cabins that you
might want to relax and spend time in on a river cruise, but on a barge it’s a
much more practical sleeping and getting ready space. The next key difference is
around food and drink. On river cruises you have incredible food with large
menus and on some you have choice of dining venues with lots of choice. It’s different on a barge cruise. The food on a barge cruise is
impressive and gourmet like, the meals are big and long and
really they do go to town! Let me give an example of what we had on the CroisiEurope Deborah, which is pretty typical of other barge cruises that you could go
on. Breakfast would be the most informal of all the meals and that would
be a buffet breakfast, so you’d have pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit and
that kind of thing and then normally there’d be an egg of the day like scrambled eggs one day, omelet another. It was a buffet style
breakfast. Lunch was probably the main meal of the day, and a lot was made of
lunch. It would be a four-course meal with starter, main
course and then, being France, you would have a cheese course and every day two
different cheeses were introduced we’d be told the story of the cheese, and then there’d be a dessert. In the evening it would be a
three-course meal of starter, main course and dessert. An important thing to note
is this is a set menu. There are not choices and options. If you have dietary
issues like you’re vegetarian, vegan gluten-free or whatever, it is very
importantly when you make the booking that you work with the company you’re
going with to ensure that they know that you have dietary issues, and when you get
on board make sure that the chef knows. The chef can be pretty flexible
because they do buy a lot of stuff along the way, but you’re not going to have a
big choice of menu. On river cruises you’ll have choices of starters,
main courses and desserts, but normally that’s not the case on a barge cruise.
Food quality is very high. What’s importantly on barges is
your drink is included. All of
your drink is included on a barge cruise. The next key difference is around fares.
River cruise and barge fares are largely all-inclusive. On river cruises lines it
differs a little bit about what and is and isn’t included. Let me talk a little
bit about what a barge cruise will normally include. If I take the
example again of the cruise I was on, transfers to and from Paris were included,
on barge cruises transfers are normally included, your accommodation, your food
and your drink as I’ve already discussed are all included, Wi-Fi is included,
excursions are included and depending on the cruise line you are gratuities are
either included or not included. On CroisiEurope Deborah gratuities were
not included, so the only extra expense during that whole week that I was on
were the gratuities – everything else was included. My first barge cruise was a
great experience and those differences that I found were quite intriguing between that
and river cruising. River cruising is fantastic and definitely barge
cruising is fantastic. I hope you found those differences between River and
barge cruising helpful and interesting. If you want to find out much more, I have
loads of videos about cruising river cruising and barge cruising so why don’t
you watch another one of them right now?

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17 Comments

  1. Thank you for the content. Great info that has directed me to a river cruise instead. 20 years from now probably a canal cruise 🙂

  2. “How is a barge different from a river cruise?” would be a better title (in the thumbnail).🙂 Great video as always, many thanks Gary!

  3. That was very interesting. Did you see somebody having a different menu than the rest? as vegan, who finds it ok to have some milk in coffee, but definitely wouldn't eat a cheese course and no dessert because of the sugar, I wonder, if that kind of diet would challenge a french cook? even, if I would say, I can go without dessert. just give me an extra salad or a bigger portion of the main course, most cooks don't know, how to deal with vegans. I wonder, if it would be too much to ask for?

  4. I would love to try barge cruise however am currently in a wheelchair so I fear that it wouldn’t be possible! We did do a two week river cruise in 2013 and it was amazing, however so busy and I really wish there was just like you say half a day to just sit and enjoy the scenery and relax…!

  5. I did not know that those kind of Cruises exist but i have to say your Video made me very interested in trying one out

  6. I understand the excursions and alcohol,etc are included in all the river cruises and there is less people on the cruise, but it is extremely pricey in something like four times the cost as a regular cruise ship charges and has less amenities. What is your explanation to believing it is worth the price that justifies the cruise lines cost?

  7. Gary, your videos are great. You should do a video about getting seasick and how to deal with it on a cruise. Thanks again for your insight.

  8. Thanks, Gary. I was wondering if you were going to cover this interesting option, as I remember a travel documentary from some years back titled “Barging Thru Europe”, which was quite interesting.

  9. My mother-in-law rented a small barge in France with 6 friends. They ate breakfast on the barge then bicycled to a preset spot to meet the barge for lunch. After lunch they biked to their dinner spot, and spent the night.
    They had a chef making amazing food, and a small crew taking care of them.

  10. Another great video… However such a lot of this stuff was absolutely obvious… Smaller boats barges cannot provide the facilities of all of those huge cruise ships… I much prefer a smaller boat but had an unfortunate experience on a barge

  11. I haven’t been on a river cruise but did a barge cruise on the Loire river in France some years ago. It was so relaxing, the tempo just right. Sometimes my land tours leave me feeling exhausted but not this one. I can recommend this way to travel. Thank you for your very informative cruise info. I’m looking forward to my first ocean cruise to Alaska next year.

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