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As You Like It: European River Cruising
The Easy-Going, Easy-on-the-Budget Way to Tour Europe
By Mike Thiel

With the dollar getting ever weaker, it seems river cruising is the best value-for-the-dollar answer for Americans still needing their European "fix." This method of touring has been gaining in popularity with each passing year. Why? Because it offers a great way to explore some of Europe's most historic cities and quaint villages while experiencing scenery that ranges from bucolic to dramatic--without language difficulties, without getting lost, and without much effort.

In fact, in most cases you'll be traveling in the lap of luxury. And your budget will no doubt be relatively fixed, as these inland river voyages are more or less all-inclusive.

You'll find several ways to experience Europe afloat, because rivers and canals have been a key to transportation within the Continent for centuries. The classic way has been a barge vacation, of which there are three types. The first is the self-hire, self-drive on a mostly modern fiberglass cruiser; you dictate the itinerary, do the boat handling, shop for and cook meals, and enjoy local activities and cuisine ashore. Alternatively, you could charter a more traditional barge, usually a vintage cargo vessel converted to passenger use, with modern (often luxurious) amenities and usually accommodating four to eight people. These are all-inclusive and come complete with captain, crew, chef, and often an accompanying van for side tours. The final choice is the hotel barge, usually a larger converted cargo vessel--a bigger version of the charter barge--operating on a relatively set schedule. You can book one of perhaps four to a dozen cabins on this vessel. In the end, the common characteristic of all barge vacations is that they ply the tranquil, narrow canals or smaller rivers of Europe, covering about 10 to 15 miles a day.

January 2008



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