NEW YORK -- This year marks the debut of a new generation of luxury
barges, as untying locks and navigating canals become increasingly
attractive to U.S. travelers bound for Europe.
During the late 1970s, luxury hotel barging began in the
Burgundy region of France, where the majority of deluxe barges is
still concentrated. During the 1980s, the luxury barge cruise
experience amounted to a mere flash in the pan in the vacation
But as awareness and audience grew, and as more barges were
converted to deluxe canal and river cruisers on a variety of
continental waterways, a product developed that is finding a wider
audience, according to industry sources.
That audience is comprised of upscale, well-educated travelers
in general, with groups of friends and families for charter barges
While France is still the leading barging destination, there is
a good market for hotel barge cruises in Holland and England, and a
few vessels are available for cruising in Scotland and Ireland.
As barging has become more popular, it also has diversified.
This season marks the debut of several special-interest cruises
that cater to families, golfers, wine lovers and antique and opera
Premier Selections of Harrison, N.Y., reported that the company
saw a 25% upturn in luxury barging in 1999, growth that president
Michael Wellner credited to the strength of the U.S. economy, a
strong dollar and low air fares.
"Confident people spend money on travel," said Wellner, and
"that confidence continues to show in strong advanced bookings as
well as a continuing upward trend in bookings among passengers in
their 40s and 50s, in addition to the more mature traveler."
Other new trends in hotel barging are a "much broader, more
mainstream type of traveler and a growth in repeat barging
travelers trying new vessels and new routings on European
waterways," according to Naomi Kabak, marketing director for
B&V Associates in New York.
She reported that the company's canal cruises business increased
30% in 1999, and said that "we also had good success last year in
marketing an expanded season in cruises operating in March and
Kabak pointed out that one of the biggest problems facing many
agents is being able to differentiate between what's out there in
the market, especially among the many independent, small hotel
barges, "often described as 'luxury' or 'gourmet' without [these
terms] having much connection with reality."
B&V has introduced a three-tier grading system designed to
clarify for agents some of the differences in hotel barges that
accommodate up to 12 guests:The platinum category features top-of-the-line barges for up to
eight guests. The cabins are deluxe and spacious, with marble
On-board furnishings include antiques, tapestries and oil
paintings; hotel-style amenities and facilities are offered such as
terry-cloth robes and deck-top hot tubs.The Gold category refers to barges for six to 12 passengers,
with nicely appointed, moderately spacious cabins with private
bathrooms; wood-paneled salons, contemporary furnishings and a spa
or Jacuzzi.Silver barges accommodate six to 12 passengers in comfortable
cabins with private bathrooms, a salon, contemporary furnishings
and wood paneled interiors.
Another major luxury barge cruise operator is Abercrombie &
Kent, Oak Brook, Ill.
The tour operator is offering departures on 22 barge and river
cruisers this year. The company has exclusively reserved all
departures of L'Abercombie and Lafayette, both of which carry 22
passengers and cruise April through October in the center and lower
Burgundy regions, respectively.
B&V, Premier Selections and Abercrombie & Kent all book
the barge fleets owned by two French-based companies: European
Waterways (featuring the smaller barges) and Continental Waterways
(accommodating from 20 to 50 passengers).
Many other travel firms in the U.S. also market cruises aboard
French Country Waterways, also based France, is unique in that
it directly markets its vessels in the U.S.
The firm whose deluxe vessels carry from eight to 18 passengers,
offers cruises on Burgundy, Upper Loire Valley, Champagne, Moselle
Valley and Alsace-Lorraine routes .
Abercrombie & Kent
Phone: (800) 323-7308
Phone: (800) 676-6613
French Country Waterways
Phone: (800) 222-11236
Phone: (800) 234-4000