European Waterways touts the joys of ‘hotel barging’
While definitely growing in popularity, luxury barge cruises are nonetheless still described as one of the cruise industry’s hidden gems.
One of the leaders in this market is European Waterways. John Wood-Dow, director of the luxury hotel barge operator, recently spoke with Canadian Travel Press and said that despite seeing double-digit growth in the past few years, barge cruising is still a product not well known in the mainstream travel market.
“It’s cruising for non-cruisers. It’s like a floating boutique hotel with eight to 12 people aboard,” he said. “It’s very informal. You cruise slowly, perhaps 60 miles in a week. You eat well and drink well. For us, it’s more about the destination, it’s all about the experiences.”
The barges, which once carried textiles, farm products, coal and ammunition, cruise on a network of smaller canals, taking in more of the countryside. You won’t find them on big rivers like the Danube or the Rhine. They go slow enough that guests can hop off and on as they please, often choosing to walk or bike alongside.
Wood-Dow added that for the most part European Waterways’ clients have seen the big sights and are looking for new, exclusive experiences. They are experienced and sophisticated travellers looking for something different, informal and out of the ordinary.
He said that families and small group bookings continue to grow, with groups often chartering an entire barge to focus on their specific interest, whether it’s family excursions, golf, biking or wine and food.
Barge cruising is intimate, with a six- to 20-person capacity (eight to 12 is the average) and 1:2 crew ratio. Wood-Dow noted there are no casinos, and there are not five restaurants in which to eat, just an on-board chef – described as very interactive – serving local fare.
“It’s eight to 12 people sitting together at the table, eating together, relaxing, happy in the company they’re with,” he said.
European Waterways’ sailings are all-inclusive and basically include everything, but gratuities. This includes transfers and excursions, which can range from lunch with a countess, private tours with owners of aristocratic estates, afternoon tea with canal lock keepers, to falconry and private concerts.
For single travellers, Wood-Dow said it’s a very social experience, with group dining around the same table and escorted excursions ensuring that everyone is welcome.
For agents, bookings can be quite lucrative with the average all-inclusive cruise fare in the neighbourhood of US$5,000 for a week.
For 2020-21, European Waterways recently announced the availability of its new brochure featuring a wider range of experiential excursions across the company’s fleet of 17 hotel barges on the canals and waterways of Europe, including France and Italy, as well as England, Ireland and Scotland.
Among the highlights is an extensive array of themed cruises that are now available for booking, such as wine appreciation, golf, walking and whisky trail, as well as new e-bike options.
The brochure also features a comprehensive “When to Cruise” two-page spread that looks at the unique advantages of a luxury barge cruise on any given month.
“We are looking forward to a great cruising season in 2020 that includes exclusive excursions and enhancements to our itineraries that raise the bar in luxury barge cruising and experiential travel,” said Derek Banks, managing director for European Waterways. “Whether it is private tastings at renowned wineries and champagne houses, sampling oysters by the sea or exclusive chateaux tours, lunch with a countess or tea with a local lockkeeper, every cruise is a true immersion into the tradition, the culture and cuisine of the region.”
European Waterways pays 10% travel agent commission on all bookings.