Barge Cruising in Europe

Adapted from an article authored by Susan J. Young

"Family travel with an exploratory twist" is how many travel professionals describe what's happening on the world's rivers and small waterways. Long the bastion of seniors and couples, river cruising and canal barging are now increasingly welcoming multigenerational families. For families celebrating grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, Mom and Dad's vow renewals, or even a destination wedding in Europe, a barge or river cruise makes for a great floating hotel.

If intimate is what you want, there are fleets of four- to 20-passenger vessels, ideal for families wishing to charter an entire barge. In addition, honeymoon couples may book a full-barge charter - reserving it just for themselves - and walk hand-in-hand off the boat to explore Europe's quaint cities and towns, minus the crowds.

For example, European Waterways offers a full-charter Venetian barge cruise -- designed for just one honeymoon couple-- on multiple sailing dates in August. The honeymooners are treated to champagne dinners, pampering service and and Venice's romantic aura. Charter cost ranges from $14,000-$15,000 for six nights.

Most barge voyages operate in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, UK and other European countries. Many barges cover just a small area of a country, such as a six-night journey through romantic Burgundy or Provence in France.

A full-barge charter allows small groups of family members in a celebratory mood to have "run-of-the-ship feel" during their time abroad.

Family groups appreciate the safe environment of the smaller canals and the service delivered by a high crew-to-passenger ratio. Grandparents, parents and grandkids cycle or walk the towpath, relax in the spa or study medieval defenses of castles and chateaux that are visited during the journey. It is soft adventure with history, sport and gastronomy thrown in.

Barges range from the affordable to very luxurious, so travel on small waterways can be tailored to the specific group's activities and the occasion for celebration. Generally, the barge voyage is leisurely, covering only a few miles a day, if at all. Barges often sail narrow canals with locks. Guests get off in the morning, explore villages and sites, and often walk or bike back to the vessel. Wine tastings, culinary programs and cultural diversions may be included.

Not all barges are created equal. Barge fares range from $2,200 per person for a "casual class" barge experience, to $6,500 per person for an ultra-deluxe barge vacation. It is important that you check with your agent for photos and nitty-gritty details of the individual barges and their offerings.

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