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After going on a river cruise around Paris and a luxury French barge cruise in the Burgundy region within a year of each other, I’ve been sold on canal cruising in France! It’s a great way to vacation, especially if you don’t want to switch hotels every few days, lug your baggage around and maneuver getting from city to city all on your own.
Nonetheless, there are a ton of seemingly endless options for cruising in France, which can be overwhelming. Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about cruising the canals of France, which will cover your budget, type of experience you’re looking for and even the French region you may want to visit.
River, Barge & Self-Driving Cruises: Different Ways of Canal Cruising in France
There are mainly three different ways to enjoy canal cruising in France: on a river cruise, a barge cruise, or driving your own boat! Each has its own perks depending on the type of holiday you’re looking for. Here’s the defining factors of each cruise.
River Cruises in France
River cruises in France are one way to explore a larger region of France. Because of its sheer size, river cruises cover more distance than barge or self-driving cruises (relative to the same number of days that they all travel).
The boats tend to be larger with multiple decks and ability to hold over 100 passengers. They all have a separate restaurant and lounge area while some even have pools, jacuzzis, gyms and bikes for use.
River cruises tend to be all-inclusive with meals, drinks and daily tours included, but may have the option to purchase premium or additional options such as an open bar or additional tours not included in the standard itinerary.
We recommend river cruises for first-time France travelers who care about seeing many cities and towns and wanting a more social aspect to their trip. Food and wine may not be as much of a priority.
Barge Cruises in France
Barge cruises in France hold about 24 passengers or less with the better cruises holding about eight or less. Because of its size, barge cruises cover less mileage but do offer more of a bespoke experience.
What a barge cruise may lack in distance, it makes up for in the quality. Many barge cruises offer a private chef, personally-recommended wines, an attentive hostess and small-group tours.
Despite its size, some barge cruises also have a jacuzzi for use on deck, a patio, and a lounge/bar area to enjoy. They even have bikes for use, which you can take out at any point such as when the boat is cruising to its next destination and you want to meet the boat there.
Barge cruises tend to be truly all-inclusive with meals, drinks and daily tours without the need to purchase premium or additional options.
Read more about our experience with cruising the canals of France with Grand Victoria Cruises.
We recommend barge cruises for the discerning traveler of any age who wants a slow-paced, relaxing vacation and cares more about local food and wine than seeing as much of France as possible in one trip. It is a quality over quantity type of trip.
We also recommend chartering an entire barge cruise for a group of friends or family members as a way to spend quality time together; although booking for a couple, for example on a honeymoon, is a great option too.
Grand Victoria Cruises is a wonderful option for a luxury barge cruise focused on food and wine. It is the only family-owned and operated barge cruise in the region, which means the utmost care in the food, wine and care provided.
Self-Driving Cruises in France
Self-driving cruises are exactly what they sound like! It’s when you rent your boat and drive it yourself on the French canals.
Many self-driven cruise boats hold about six passengers or less and involve taking a quick course offered by the boat rental company to get a temporary permit for a boating license. This means that most likely you do not need as boating license in advance.
Because it is self-driven, that means many aspects of boating are taking care of by you from driving to cooking. However, the boat rental company will give you amenities such as linens, cookware and even guidance on where to drive your boat.
We recommend self-driving cruises for families or couples who want a DIY experience and ability to explore France at their own pace.
Costs of Cruising Experiences in France
Each type of cruising– river, barge & self-driving– can be broken down further into luxury, boutique or economy cruises. Here’s how much each of these cruising experiences cost.
Cost of Luxury Cruises in France
Luxury cruises in France are admittedly the most costly of all the cruises with costs running about $1,000+/person/day, but the benefits justly match the price as these cruises often come with butlers, high-quality food and wine, bespoke experiences, and even laundry service.
For example, on Grand Victoria Cruises, we had Michelin-quality meals prepared daily, all wine and alcohol included, trips planned, small-tours and luxury amenities.
Considering how much other barge cruises cost, the cost of the wines from the owner’s own wine cellar, the price of a Michelin-meal and intangible costs of planning your own trip, we found Grand Victoria Cruises to be one of the best value luxury cruises in France.
Read about our wonderful experience cruising the canals of France with this luxury barge cruise.
Cost of Boutique Cruises in France
Boutique cruises in France range from $500-$1000/person/day. Most of them includes meals, drinks and tours, but may charge extra for premium alcohols and drinks or even additional tours.
Tip: When looking at boutique, mid-tiered cruises, make sure to add on additional tours or food/drink packages that you may want. Then compare this to luxury cruises, which are wholly all-inclusive. You may get a better deal and more comfort on a luxury cruise!
Cost of Economy Cruises in France
Economy cruises in France may cost less than $500/person/day, which make cruising practically a steal. These cruises tend to have more à la carte options or food and drink at a lesser quality but are still a great option for getting around France with ease.
Best Regions to Cruise in France
Where you visit in France will completely change up the type of cruise you go on. Here’s our top five places to visit with a cruise in France.
Paris & Normandy
Paris to the Normandy region is a must-visit for first-time France travelers as you’ll visit popular places surrounding Paris.
Cruises in this area often visit Giverny where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into one of Monet’s painting inside his garden, explore the grandiose Versailles palace, or experience a bit of history on the beach of Normandy.
Dijon & Burgundy
The Burgundy region is a fantastic place to visit for pinot noir and chardonnay lovers as these are the two main grapes that this region produces. Cruises in this region like Grand Victoria Cruises visit chateaus, vineyards, wineries, markets and famous sites in Burgundy.
Champagne is the only region in the world to produce the bubbly wine, Champagne, so it’s a must-visit if you love Champagne and want to learn what it takes to produce this labor-intensive wine. After visiting region, you’ll have a much deeper appreciation for this type of wine.
Camargue is a natural region in the south of France rich of flora and fauna. It’s a great region to go for drinking wine and observing wildlife.
Provence is a region in southeastern France near Italy best known for its beautiful lavender fields in the summertime. It’s also home to diverse landscapes such as pine forests, olive groves, and of course, rolling vineyards.
How to Get to Your Cruise in France
How to get to your cruise in France really varies on the type of cruise you’ll take. The best way to find out how to do this is to get in touch with your booking company for insight, but here are some ways you might get to your cruise.
- Some cruises offer a flight and cruise package all-in-one. That means they’ll book your flight for you when you book your cruise, and when you arrive to Paris or whatever airport you fly into, they’ll be there waiting for you to take you to your cruise.
- Some cruises may NOT book your flight for you but will include an airport transfer. So when you book your flight, they’ll be at the airport waiting for you to take you to your cruise.
- Some cruises may NOT book your flight NOR include an aiport transfer. So after arriving at an airport, you may need to book a train or call an Uber to get to where your cruise is.
If the type of cruise you’re taking doesn’t book your flight for you, then we recommend flying in a day or two early to get acclimated to the local time and rest after such a long journey! Then you’ll be totally refreshed and ready for your cruise in France.
Booking.com is a great search engine to use to compare multiple hotel rooms for price, location, amenities and more. Here’s a search engine for your convenience.
What to Pack for Cruise in France
What you should pack for your cruise in France depends on the type of cruise your taking and how long your cruise is, but here are the basics that we recommend.
- Important Must-Haves
- Credit card and debit card with travel alerts on them
- Euros (although you won’t need cash on an all-inclusive, it is always good to have a bit)
- Cell phone data or a portable pocket wifi that multiple people can use
- Travel documents such as airplane tickets
- Universal travel adapter
- Wires and battery chargers for your phone/camera
- SD Cards
- Bathing suit for the jacuzzi/pool
- Good sneakers for exploring
- Clothing for exploring and outings in cities/towns
- Clothing and shoes for nice dinners on the boat
- Proper outwear for rain or cooler weather
- Binoculars to watch wildlife
- Dual-voltage hair straightener or blow dryer
*Note: If you don’t bring enough clothes, luxury cruises like the Grand Victoria cruise will have laundry service for you whereas boutique cruises may have a laundromat for you to use. Also luxury cruises may have these miscellaneous items available for use.
Thanks for making it all the way down to the end of the post. I’d love to connect. If you found any of this post to be helpful or want to share your cruising experience, please comment below or come say hi to me my Instagram @sarchetrit.
Till then, thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!
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Please note: Grand Victoria Cruises provided with a barge river cruise so that we could experience the cruise for an open and honest review. All opinions are our own, and yes, we were truly head over heels for this barge cruise.