There’s no denying the excitement, wonder and appeal of river cruise ships. Longer than a football field and able to carry up to 400 passengers, river cruise ships come with amenities that include sun deck whirlpools, gyms and libraries.
With an abundance of staff, 5-star chefs and itineraries that include some of the best sights Europe has to offer, surely river cruise ships would win over their smaller, humbler cousins, luxury barges?
It all comes down to personal preference. River cruise ships appeal to a completely different holidaymaker than luxury barges. To help you decide which is a better choice for you, here are some of the main differences between the two.
Location, location, location
As a general rule of thumb, barge tours tend to be restricted to the canals of France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Scotland, England and Ireland. This is because barges are better suited to smaller waterways and don’t move as fast as river cruise ships, which are capable of covering vast distances.
For this reason, river cruise ships tend to cast a wider net, with cruises available as far south as Italy, and as far north as Poland and even Iceland. If the thrill of reaching speeds of up to 30 knots (34.5mph) on the open water appeals to you, then cruise ships are a great option.
However, if you prefer kicking back and watching the world drift by at a leisurely pace is more appealing, then barges are your best bet. Speaking of meandering along at a leisurely pace…
The motion of the ocean
Ok, so river cruise ships don’t quite venture out to sea, BUT they do tend to affect people who are prone to motion sickness.
Not so with barges. In fact, because barges are so much smaller than river cruise ships, they don’t have the same sway, in fact they hardly make waves at all as they glide along the glassy surface of Europe’s canals and waterways.
So, if you’ve always dreamed of a holiday on a “floating hotel” but are worried about seasickness, there’s an extremely slim chance you’ll experience that on a barge.
Less is more
One thing that almost goes without saying when it comes to comparing river cruise ships with luxury barges is that, due to the huge difference in average capacity (150 passengers for river cruise ships vs roughly 20 for barges), the overall experience of cruising in a barge is far more intimate.
The smaller group size means people tend to make fast friends with their fellow passengers as you eat nearly every meal together which, when mixed with the relaxed atmosphere of barges and the plentiful supply of delicious local wines and beers, is the perfect set of circumstances for getting to know your fellow passengers.
The first choice for foodies
This next point might be considered controversial by river cruise ship-lovers, but generally speaking the food on smaller barges tends to be fresher and of a higher quality.
This is of course a sweeping generalisation. There are river cruise operators that go to painstaking lengths to ensure their food meets the most stringent quality standards, but it stands to reason that a kitchen that has to cook for 150 people vs one that has to cook for 20 are going to be vastly different.
At CCE, the food we pride ourselves on the fact that our world-class chefs prepare fresh meals every day onboard one of the Magnifique ships that are served with the finest wines and beers Europe has to offer. All our ingredients are locally sourced and delivered fresh to the ship each time it docks along its journey.
Quality over quantity
A complaint that people who go on river cruise ships sometimes have is that the itineraries tend to be quite rigid with little flexibility to pick and choose where exactly you go and what you do. This appeals to some people who don’t mind the rush of moving from one place to the next and enjoy packing their holiday itineraries with as many activities as possible.
The pace of life aboard barges is far more relaxed and there is total freedom to stay on the barge if you’d prefer to skip a certain leg of the tour. Alternatively, if you’d like to go the other extreme, most barge tours include a biking element and take guided cycling tours through leafy lanes, quaint towns and lush forests.
Of course, the choice at the end of the day is entirely yours, but if it’s quality over quantity you’re after, luxury barge tours will not disappoint!