Hi Wendy, I have enjoyed reading all of your travel advice on your new site. Thanks! Can you give me your take on river barges? Our family of 12 adults is planning a river trip in France, and I have done some research on the barges. I wonder if booking the entire barge would be right for our family, rather than a typical river cruise. We enjoy good food, wine, travel and much needed time together. However, we do enjoy some luxuries as well. Any suggestions? Thanks! –Debbie
Debbie, I absolutely recommend opting for the barge. You’ll have just your family onboard—as opposed to 150 other people—and you’ll get to dictate your schedule and call the shots. You’ll get to see off-the-beaten-path villages and countryside that would be hard for you to see any other way (vs. on a river cruise, where the cities along the river are easy to access in other ways). And, if you choose the right barge, you’ll find excellent food, wine, and “luxuries.”
Read our Insider’s Guide to European Barge Cruises and you’ll get a feel for the biggest differences between barge trips and river cruises: First of all, barges ply canals, which are narrower than rivers and give you a more close-up view of the sights you’re floating past. Second, barges move much more slowly, which gives you time to really soak up the landscape and get perfect photos. Third, barges are much smaller than river ships. They’re usually 8 to 14 passengers, as opposed to 160 passengers on river ships.
Our Insider’s Guide to European River Cruises should also be helpful to you as you compare the two modes of travel. My sense is that river cruises might hold more appeal for first- and second-time travelers to Europe who have a to-do list of famous landmarks they want to see (because river cruises cover a lot of territory and tend to include a hit parade of popular sights), whereas barge trips are more enticing to travelers who have been to Europe several times and now are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
The very best advice I can give you is to reach out to Ellen Sack, the most expert travel agent I know when it comes to barge trips. She’s inspected and tested them all, and she can work miracles for you. The best way to contact Ellen is via this trip-request form. That way she’ll know you’re a WendyPerrin.com traveler and make you a priority (she’s very busy).
Have a wonderful trip! I’m awfully jealous!