What is the difference between a river cruise and a barge cruise?

What do you think when you hear ‘barge cruising’? Perhaps a little ‘narrowboat’ dawdling along an industrial canal, with nothing but a teapot and a stove for comfort? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong – hotel barge cruising is nothing like this!

You may think that only river and ocean cruises are synonymous with a premium experience, but hotel barge cruises are every bit, if not more, luxurious. Think, lavish cabins with plush beds and en suite bathrooms. There’s a sundeck (or two) for you to sink into a sunbed, with a glass of fizz or cocktail in your hand. There’s even a hot tub to take a dip in!

This blog will highlight the main differences between river cruises and hotel barge cruises, to help you decide which one is right for you. We hope we can win you over and help you choose your perfect cabin on one of our hotel barges…

Spirit of Scotland drone photo Caledonian Canal

River Cruise or Barge Cruise?

River cruises tend to be undertaken by larger vessels which can’t travel on the smaller waterways because of their width, height, and depth and cruise major arteries of Europe such as the Rhine or the Danube. By comparison, hotel barges can cruise smaller rivers and canals that are often inaccessible to big boats.

Barge cruises often take guests along historic routes that were built in the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries, before the concept of leisure canal cruises existed. Guests travelling aboard hotel barges therefore have an opportunity to see less built-up areas and experience unique bridges, aqueducts and other engineering feats. For example, European Waterways hotel barge, Panache, transcends the incredible boat elevator at Arzviller, which is a truly unique experience.

Another advantage to cruising on smaller canals is that barges can navigate the many captivating locks. One feature not to miss is the incredible 9 locks of Fonserannes, which is accessed via Southern France’s Canal du Midi. Travel aboard hotel barges Athos, Anjodi, or Enchanté, to experience this impressive phenomenon and rise or descend over 300 metres in your barge.

More Passengers or Only a Handful of Guests?

Whether you’re travelling solo or as a pair, barge cruises are perfect for anyone seeking more meaningful interactions with fellow passengers. With river boats having the capacity for between 100 to 250 passengers, it can be difficult to make new acquaintances or form friendships. By contrast, hotel barges take much fewer guests. European Waterways accommodate a maximum of 20 passengers on barge cruises – with an average of eight passengers on most routes – and have a minimum capacity of six guests on the smallest barge.

The much smaller number of passengers means that barges often have a higher guest to crew ratio. European waterways cruises have a maximum passenger to crew ratio of 2:1, ensuring attentive and personalised service for our guests, whatever your needs may be.

Privacy is another advantage of cruising aboard a barge, rather than a river boat. At European Waterways, all our hotel barges are available for private charters, making it possible for you to hire a barge for an intimate gathering with family and friends. This allows you to put your own spin on your itinerary, with our crew free to cater to your every need.

Guests aboard hotel barge Enchante (1)

How fast do hotel barges cruise?

Cruising rivers means that larger river boats have a large distance to cover, so the average speed of a river cruise boat is 10-15 miles per hour. Barge cruises, on the other hand, safely cruise the historic, narrower waterways at a much slower speed. Barges cover a much shorter distance, at no more than 4 miles per hour.

The pace aboard a river cruise is usually faster as itineraries are packed with activities, and staff are managing passengers on and off the ship at different stops. By contrast, the pace of a barge cruise is much slower and calmer, with time for immersion in the local culture, history and gastronomy and more scheduled stops. Barges only cruise for a few hours during the day and moor overnight, often on their own in picturesque places with magical scenery and views, unlike the river port overnight stops for the larger vessels.

Bike Cruises

Bustling Nightlife or Extravagant Evenings?

Many river cruises follow busy waterways used by cargo vessels. Locks, bridges and ports are on a vast scale. Canals are far quieter, with very little other water traffic or tumult. Being waterways that are mad-made and fed by their own water supplies, they are less subject to drought or flood than natural rivers.

If you prefer a faster pace with larger groups and lots going on, then a river cruise is for you. However, a barge cruise is much better suited to those looking for a quiet break or relaxing holiday. In the evenings, guests aboard European Waterways’ barges are cooked gourmet meals enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere of conversation with fellow guests, either on deck on a balmy summer’s evening or in the cosy salon.

Cuisine served on board

Why should I book a barge cruise?

The small number of passengers on a barge, its slow-pace and calm atmosphere aren’t the only factors that make a barge cruise attractive. Cruising aboard a hotel barge, guests are only ever a few feet from the towpath, making it easy to step off and explore the rolling countryside on foot or by bicycle. However, if you prefer to sit on the barge in the comfort of the lounge or on the deck in the spa pool, you can enjoy quaint countryside views as you sip on your favourite tipple.

Passenger enjoying the spa pool aboard hotel barge Anjodi

Luxury Barge Cruises with European Waterways

The slow travel of a hotel barge allows you to experience incredible itineraries that will fulfil your sense of adventure. Enriching excursions are in small groups to off-the-beaten-track areas, allowing you to take in the sights in an environment where you can receive expert guidance from our professional guides. Visit impressive castles and historic buildings, museums, and cathedrals. There’s so many stunning towns and villages that will take you back in time – European Waterways has options for cruising across the expanse of Europe, so there’s something for everyone.

When you’re onboard your hotel barge, meals are prepared by a gourmet chef. Produce is fresh and sometimes bought from the markets visited on excursions during the day. Wines and cheeses are often from the cruise region, allowing you to really focus on the cuisine of an area. Is there a better way to experience a place than through its gastronomy? European Waterways offers cruises in many of the greatest wine regions of France, like Burgundy, Alsace & Lorraine, and Champagne. If that doesn’t take your fancy, then how about the whiskies of Scotland aboard on a cruise with Scottish Highlander or Spirit of Scotland?

Have we tempted you over to the luxuries of a hotel barge cruise? If you’d like to find out more about our cruises, then order a brochure today. Your ideal itinerary is waiting to be discovered!

Anjodi crossing the orb aqueduc in beziers

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