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European Waterways review

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Unique hotel barge cruises through canals and bucolic rivers.

These are slow-moving, serene voyages through the European countryside. But those looking for a large-ship experience might steer clear.

17 ships

Number of ships

No

Price matches

Details

Target demographic Seniors
Number of ships 17 ships
Contact options Phone, Email
Payment options Visa, Mastercard, American Express
Deposit required Deposit at checkout
Deposit required No price matching
Food Food included
Drink Alcohol included
Room service No free room service

Expert review

Amy Stoltenberg

Review by


Amy Stoltenberg writes about lifestyle and money for Finder, researching the best options for shopping, banking, insurance and authentic travel experiences. After studying writing and fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked designing apparel at a corporate behemoth before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop’s closed, she can be found wandering the streets looking for happy hour and hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Expert review

On intimate voyages to lesser-known towns and villages throughout the European countryside, you’ll tour off-the-beaten-path castles and wineries and indulge in a leisurely pace of life.

I can confidently state that there is nothing else like these cruises on the market.

To me, European Waterways epitomizes the gratifying nature of slow travel. You get to really dig into the culture of each region — rather than skim the surface. You’ll experience the soul of Europe as indigenous people have for centuries. Artfully-prepared meals paired with local wines only enhance the sights and sounds encountered each day.

Still, European Waterways cruises aren’t for everyone. If you aren’t big on socializing, you may feel overwhelmed by the small quarters and chatty atmosphere on the small hotel barges. Also, these aren’t necessarily luxury cruises that cater to your beck and call. For instance, you might get frustrated with the small menu and few drink options.

Finally, cruises are pricey — especially when you factor in airfare.

Simply put, European Waterways offers deeply satisfying sojourns, not quick-and-lively getaways. Whether or not it’s worth your dollar depends on the type of vacation you’re craving.

European Waterways ships

European Waterways’ fleet of “barge hotels” are more akin to houseboats than typical cruise ships. There won’t be more than 20 passengers on board — some only have room for six, plus the crew. Still, the decorations are comfortable and thoughtful, with white tablecloths on dining tables and leather couches to curl up on after a day of exploring.

Each barge is designed specifically for the region it sails: The elegant and airy L’Impressionniste winds through the vineyards of Burgundy, while the dark wood-paneled Scottish Highlander cruises through the Great Glens of Scotland. Most have a hot tub on deck, so you can relax and unwind while the countryside passes by.

Departure ports

European Waterways cruises tend to depart from smaller port towns around Europe. Usually, the itinerary actually begins at a hotel or restaurant in a major city like London, Paris or Dublin so you can meet the crew and travel to the port together. These transfers are complimentary on private chauffeured vehicles and usually include a tasty beverage or two.

Destinations

Not surprisingly, European Waterways primarily sails around Europe. Its itineraries include rural ports that even small luxury cruise ships can’t access. You’ll get up-close-and-personal with medieval villages and stately châteaus with private, guided tours through each stop. Keep in mind that most of its trips are scheduled between April and October, so each itinerary only has a handful of departure dates to choose from.

It also has themed cruises available for private charter. So wine lovers, golfers and more can indulge their hobby in the company of like-minded friends.

Here’s a general taste of where European Waterways cruises can take you:

  • Belgium, France, England, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Scotland

What’s included on my European Waterways cruise?

European Waterways cruises cost a bit more up front, but your fare covers the gamut:

  • Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks
  • Alcoholic drinks — open bar policy
  • Shore excursions
  • Bicycles to use when exploring port
  • Transfers to and from the port
  • Wi-Fi when available

Pretty much the only thing your European Waterways fare doesn’t cover is gratuities. If you’re satisfied with the service, it’s recommended that you tip about 5% of the cruise fare.

However, unlike many major cruise lines, European Waterways won’t automatically charge gratuities to your onboard account. Instead, you’ll tip the captain directly to share with the crew.

Why you should (or shouldn’t) cruise with European Waterways

Before funding the fare, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of European Waterways:

Pros

  • Very unique cruising experience — fewer tourists allow the authenticity of each locale to shine.
  • Gourmet food inspired by the itinerary
  • Expertly guided tours
  • All-inclusive
  • Transfers to and from the port included
  • Each ship is designed to reflect the nature of its environment

Cons

  • Pricier than regular large-ship cruises
  • Itineraries tend to be seasonal, so options are sparse from November to March.
  • Ships may feel claustrophobic for folks that prefer big-boat cruising.
  • Fewer onboard activities than larger cruise lines
  • No US departure ports

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