Barge Cruising: A Guide for First-Timers

Barge cruising is one of the most relaxed and luxurious ways to see the European countryside. Barge cruises are vastly different than other types of voyages such as a river, small ocean, or windjammer cruises.

First-time barge cruisers will find the ship similar to a small floating boutique hotel. Barges hold anywhere between 2-22 people and have a very high crew to passenger ratio. In addition to the Captain, chef, first mate, and service staff, you will have a dedicated tour guide. He or she doubles as your private driver and will travel with you for the duration of your voyage. You can expect flawless service from the entire crew throughout the trip.

Barge Cruise

Barge cruises also don’t cover a lot of ground. Typically, they travel no more than fifty miles per week along the canal. That does not mean you won’t see a lot. As you meander down the canal, there will be plenty of opportunities to get off, stretch your legs, and go sightseeing.

Thanks to Barge Lady Cruises, I recently boarded the Prosperite, an ultra-luxurious 5-star barge for my first barge cruise. We traveled for a week on the Canal de Bourgogne through Southern Burgundy, France. Not really knowing what to expect, I will admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by my experience. I cannot wait to go again.

What is a Barge Cruise?

Unlike other cruises, barge life is leisurely, and the pace is set by the passengers. There is never a strict schedule. In fact, the crew often asks you what time you would like to dine, have your cabin serviced or even depart for the daily outing.

Daily Routine

One of the most notable differences from other cruises is that barges sail in the morning, not at night. This means you will never feel rushed to get out to explore the port or join an 8:00 am tour. Daily excursions do not happen until after lunch has been served onboard.

Additionally, the day begins when you are ready. As there is no rush to get off the boat which means you can give yourself permission to sleep in. With the luxury linens on the king-sized bed in your stateroom, you might even want to set an alarm. I was so comfortable in my spacious cabin I almost slept the day away. Plus there is plenty of storage for everything you packed for your cruise.

Prosperite Stateroom

A buffet breakfast of French pastries, fruits, yogurts, and coffee are set out by the staff for you to enjoy whenever you wake up. Spend the morning enjoying an extra cup of coffee and fresh croissant on the deck or take a dip in the private hot tub.

Barge Cruising

The morning offers an opportunity to enjoy the ship and its amenities. Read, catch up on email (there is WiFi), or converse with the other passengers in the salon. You are likely to find your shipmates worldly and well-traveled.

Barge Cruising

This laid-back daily routine is just slow enough to truly make you feel relaxed enough to really this vacation.

The BEST Travel Credit Card for Beginners. Learn How to Apply


While cruising throughout the morning, the captain must stop the barge at regular intervals in order to go through the locks. This is an ideal time to get off the barge. Walk along the towpath or use one of the ship’s bicycles to ride beside the canal.

Barge Cruise Biking

The boat cruises slowly along the canal at approximately four miles an hour. This allows passengers to easily hop back on at the next lock or, if you prefer, several locks further down. This is an excellent opportunity to work off some of those extra calories consumed throughout the week!

Gourmet Meals

Fair warning, there is a lot of food on Barge Ladies Cruises. Be prepared for epicurean overload. Not only does your private chef prepare three-course meals for both lunch and dinner, but you will also enjoy daily wine and cheese pairings. Throughout the week, we sampled more than thirty different kinds of cheese and tasted more than twenty varieties of wine.

Cheese Pairing

One afternoon we were treated to a cooking demonstration. We met the chef in the open kitchen just before lunch. We learned how to prepare a whole baked salmon in salt with a buerre blanc sauce. Little did we know we were actually making our own lunch.

Barge Cruise Cooking Demonstration

You also will have the pleasure of dining with the Captain on the last night of the cruise. Although barge attire is never formal, for the Captain’s Dinner, you might opt to wear something a bit nicer. This night is a farewell gathering with the other passengers, but it is likely not goodbye. We are still in touch with the other couples we met onboard.

Captain's Dinner Barge Prosperite

Barge Excursions

There is no better place to taste wine than at the actual vineyard in which it was produced. Throughout the week, you’ll visit several family-owned vineyards during your trip for wine tastings. These private tours offer more than just sipping and swirling the wine in a tasting room. They include visits to the actual cellars and a comprehensive overview of how the wines are made.

The vintners will take their time to educate you about the region and the wines they produce. You’ll surely leave with a better understanding of the difference between a Grand Cru and a Premier Cru Burgundy

If you are not in the vineyard, you might be at Les Halles Market in Dijon. Here you’ll have an opportunity to see where the locals shop for their produce, fruits, cheeses, meats, and flowers.

The Prosperite’s itinerary also includes one meal onshore. We were treated to a very special night out at The Abbey de la Bussiere, a Relais & Châteaux hotel. We enjoyed a spectacular dinner at their Michelin Star restaurant, Le 1131.

Barge Cruise On Shore Dinner

Barge Cruising Tips for First-timers

No hidden charges – If you are at all hesitant to try barge cruising, take this into consideration — everything is included. You won’t find any of the wine you enjoy at lunch or dinner added to your bill. Nor will the afternoon cocktails or evening aperitifs from the bar stocked with top-shelf liquors. There are no extra charges for the chauffeured transfers, wine tastings, museum fees, onshore meals, or use of the barge’s bicycles. With the exception of airfare, travel insurance, and the discretionary crew gratuity, you will not pay for another thing.

Barge Cruise Review

Try a 3-Star Barge Cruise – There is a considerable price difference between 3 and 6-star barge ladies cruises. All of them are equally wonderful. However, if you don’t mind slightly smaller accommodations or require certain amenities like a hot tub, take a look at the 3-star barge cruises. Know that the style and service of cruising remain consistent across all Barge Ladies cruises.

Value Season Pricing – Barging season is April through October. However, discounts are offered during the first few weeks in April and the last week in October. Additionally, the Barge Ladies often run cruise specials that extend an extra 10-20% off regular cruise prices.

Check out our voyage on the Barge Meanderer, a premier class Barge Lady Cruise.

Should I go on a Barge Cruise?

If you enjoy luxury service, unique itineraries, great wine, and excellent food, I would say yes! No matter which Barge Ladies cruise you choose, know that you will want for nothing. The crew anticipates your every need, and you may be spoiled for life. In fact, in the future, you may never want to cruise any other way.

Luxury Barge Cruise France

Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations, meals, activities and some transportation were provided by Barge Lady Cruises. No other compensation was received for this barge cruise review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.

Commenting area

  1. I love the large room and king sized bed! Sleeping in is a luxury for me, I love not feeling rushed. Adding Barge Lady Cruises to my wish list!!

    • Dana Freeman July 1, 2019 at 5:23 pm · · Reply

      Knowing how tall your partner is, you guys would love the king sized bed as well as the stateroom 6′ 7″ ceiling height. The staterooms are big with 270 square feet. Ample room for two.

  2. Steve Frank July 5, 2019 at 4:27 pm · · Reply

    Nancy and I took this trip last September with 3 other couples from the Greater Cincinnati area; I can’t recommend this trip any more highly. The Prosperite’, the Captain and Crew, the food, the wine, the ambiance…most delightful.

  3. Wow, this looks amazing! I was so shocked at this size of those rooms, I always thought they would be tiny.

    The food and wine also look amazing! What a nice journey.

  4. OMG ! This is totally for me ! I am always skeptical about the comfort of accommodation on cruises. And this looks pretty good. Love that you highlighted the crew to guest ratio is higher, means better service, and better food ! Look at those cheeses ! Also love the idea of getting off and riding a bicycle next to the canal for abit ! Will definitely give this a try !! Thanks for sharing ! =)

    • Dana Freeman July 7, 2019 at 2:10 pm · · Reply

      These were the largest cruise ship cabins and bathrooms I have ever experienced. We even had a full bathtub and separate shower.

  5. This looks like a very private and nice way to take a boat trip. I could imagine that this would be something my husband would do a “cruise” with. Thanks for this great tip.

  6. This is something I would love to do. Seems like a very relaxing holiday. The meals sound amazing, with a private chef preparing you 3 course meals for lunch and dinner. Wow!

  7. I would love to pamper myself by going for a barge cruise. I have never been on one before and yes, I enjoy luxury service, unique itineraries, great wine, and excellent food. So this one is surely for me. It is great to know that barge cruises are more about activities in the day time and relaxing at night. This will be a complete new experience for me.

    • Dana Freeman July 9, 2019 at 3:21 pm · · Reply

      Barge Cruising it certainly unique and different than other types of cruises. I think you would really enjoy it.

  8. We’ve looked at various barge cruises over the years, especially the ones that provide a bike and barge combination. They sound divine with the right amount of exercise and relaxation built in. Barge Lady Cruises look a step above in terms of epicurean and cabin quality than what we have seen. LOVE the hot tub on the deck and the fact the price is all-inclusive. Might have to add this to our wish list.

  9. I did not know Barge cruising was a thing. It looks so relaxing with beautiful views, yummy food and activities to do! Would love to try it sometime.

  10. I’ve always wondered about barge cruises, and now, I’m definitely going to check out Barge Lady Cruises. I love the fact that it is meant to be a leisurely vacation. I am not a morning person, but there’s always the fear of missing out when other cruises dock in a new place early in the morning. The food, with the 3-course meals, the wine and cheese pairings and the on-shore Michelin star restaurant, sounds heavenly!

    • Dana Freeman July 10, 2019 at 3:21 pm · · Reply

      I really think you would like this cruising schedule then if you are not a morning person. And the food was soooo good!

  11. This looks so incredible, Dana. I’ve read about these before but your post is the first that makes me really want to do a barge cruise. It’s quite nice that there’s no pressure to be up early in the morning to do activities the way there might be on other types of cruises, and tasting that many different types of wine and cheese sounds heavenly! The countryside looks so beautiful and it’s nice to know that there are no hidden fees. I’m glad to hear there are multiple options for different budgets as well. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Dana Freeman July 14, 2019 at 11:28 am · · Reply

      I am so happy to hear that Kevin! I was really impressed (if you can’t tell already) by barge cruising. It is really different than other types of small ship sailings I have been on before.

  12. I soooooo want to go on a barge cruise! Thanks for sharing these fantastic tips as I will most certainly be a first timer. ~ Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer

  13. Hello Dana, I enjoyed your article on barge cruises, but I thought you might want to know the Canal du Midi is hundreds of kilometers from southern Burgundy or Bourgogne It is in the very south of France between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. But your description of the experience is accurate.
    All the best.

    • Dana Freeman March 3, 2021 at 3:54 pm · · Reply

      Hello Eric-
      I very much appreciate your geographic catch and the correction has been made. We cruised along the Canal de Bourgogne. I do hope you consider chartering a barge in 2022 with Barge Lady Cruises. They are the absolute best to work with in the industry!

  14. Paul and Peggy Pace August 26, 2022 at 5:40 pm · · Reply

    What about from Paris and return to Paris

    • Dana Freeman August 27, 2022 at 1:30 pm · · Reply

      Hi Paul & Peggy,
      These types of barge cruises travel approximately 50 miles on France’s smaller canals. Although guests do fly into and out of Paris and the Barge Lady includes this as part of the cruise fare.

      If you are interested in cruising from Paris to Paris, I suggest looking at a river cruise. I cover several of them in this article and suggest a Paris to Paris intineary on Scenic River Cruises.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>