First of all, a barge carries only 6 to 20 passengers aboard, against 100 to 200 on a river vessel. Of course this gives you the opportunity to charter, and travel with just a few selected family or friends, but you can also travel with strangers, and in our experience this gives an amazing house party atmosphere which is more enjoyable than you might ever have imagined. What's more, with a tiny crew of matching size to look after you, the care and attention to detail on a barge is very personal indeed.
A barge is slow moving, cruising gently at around 3mph. This means you explore a very small area in depth, way off the beaten track, on tiny rivers and canals, enabling you to enjoy total immersion in the gentle pace of a specific region. On a river boat, you cover much larger distances on major rivers, whilst still enjoying a leisurely cruising speed of about 10mph, and your ports of call are likely to be very significant towns and cities, with lots of sightseeing opportunities, enabling you to take an organised shore excursion, or indeed to take a bike or explore independently on foot. On a barge, you might hop on and off at every lock, for a stroll along the tow path, or a cycle ride to a local village to take a look at the church or sample the delights of the boulangerie. Time ashore on a private excursion will most likely be to a chateau, vineyard or mediaeval village where you will meet the locals, with not another tourist to be seen.
Dining is going to be an important part of your trip, whichever mode of transport you choose, but whilst a river vessel will offer an excellent choice, often buffet style, of international cuisine, your barge chef is cooking to order: join him as he shops in the local market, and enjoy the presentation of local wines and cheeses at every meal. In short, when you consider river cruising versus barging, you are really looking at the water-based equivalent of choosing an international city centre hotel against a privately owned rural inn - both fantastic options, but presenting a very different holiday experience.