Before we say goodbye to summer and pull on our flannels and break out the pumpkin spice, Tamara and Kim are back with a recap of Tamara’s European summer travels including a month spent exploring France by river and barge cruise!
Tamara first spent two weeks in the United Kingdom, on a road trip through both Scotland and Wales with two other travel writers. She then took the Eurostar down to France and spent one week cruising through the Canal Nivernais on the Hotel Barge Elisabeth. Next, she went to Bordeaux and her husband joined her for a weeklong river cruise with AmaWaterways. Tamara finished up her summer of cruising with another canal barge cruise with European Waterways on the Canal du Midi in Southern France.
The Mavens break down the differences between river and barge cruising and what to expect on each.
Mentioned on the Podcast:
- 2 Days in Edinburgh itinerary
- Wales road trip itinerary
- Prettiest villages in Wales
- Cruising through Burgundy, France on the Hotel Barge Elisabeth
- Barge Lady Cruises – travel agency specializing in barge cruising
- Things to do in Bordeaux, France
- Guide to a Bordeaux river cruise with AmaWaterways
- European Waterways
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00.000] – Kim Tate
Find out three ways to cruise through France.
[00:00:02.660] – Tamara Gruber
Welcome to Vacation Mavens, a family travel podcast with ideas for your next vacation and tips to get you out the door. Here are your hosts, Kim from Stuffed Suitcase and Tamara from We3Travel.
[00:00:29.780] – Kim Tate
Hey, Tamara. Long time no talk. We talked at the beginning of the summer, and now it’s the end of the summer. It’s like, where did time go?
[00:00:38.140] – Tamara Gruber
Well, it’s not just you. I pretty much didn’t talk to my family or hardly anyone for about six and a half weeks. It’s really crazy to think I missed the entire summer here in New England, but I had a very busy and exciting summer. I think we alluded to it on our last podcast, but then it got even busier with some last-minute editions.
[00:01:01.110] – Kim Tate
Yeah, you really embraced the whole Empty Nest, solo Gen X woman exploring the world. You headed out, first of all, I know you went and met up with a couple of friends and toured a bit of Scotland and saw some really cute Scottish highland cows, which is one of Mia’s favorites. But then I know that you headed into Europe, into France more specifically, and you had quite the little adventure. So do you want to tell our listeners all about that today?
[00:01:27.260] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. Well, the good thing was I was in Europe for a six and a half weeks, but I only took a flight there and a flight back, which was nice. That’s an affordable way to do it. I can tell you about a lot of train stations. I have a lot of experience there. But yeah, I flew to Edinburgh and we did a road trip around Scotland and then a road trip around Wales, which Wales, by the way, we won’t cover it on this podcast, but such an underrated, really wonderful destination that is affordable, not crowded, not crazy hot, just all these great things about it. I have a blog post on my website that I will link to in the show notes about how to do a road trip around Wales. One for Scotland will be coming soon, but it’s not there yet.
[00:02:13.230] – Kim Tate
Awesome. Do you think the Wales one, is that an alternative to Scotland or an alternative to England? Or what would you say it’s a good like, Hey, if you want to save money and avoid the crowds, go here instead of there.
[00:02:25.120] – Tamara Gruber
What would you say it’s going to be? I would put it more as an alternative to England. They have this wonderful coastal path and they just have these beautiful cliffs and just coastal towns, really beautiful seaside towns. Whereas Scotland is a little bit more rugged and green and just magical in that way. I would say an alternative to England, but it’s easy to get to, easy to get around. I really loved it. Awesome. But then we took the train from Cardiff in Wales, which is the capital where we ended up over to London. I stayed with my friend Katya for a couple of days. Oh, yeah. I like Katya if you’re listening.
[00:03:06.340] – Kim Tate
And then I took the… Yeah.
[00:03:08.140] – Tamara Gruber
Then I got to go see our kids in a dance recital and everything. We had a lot of fun. Then I took the Eurostar down to Paris to start my month in France. That’s amazing. It was all about cruising, which is so different for me. I’m sure our listeners think, Well, Kim’s been on a lot more cruises than Tamara, but different cruising.
[00:03:29.970] – Kim Tate
Yeah, exactly. Not ocean cruising.
[00:03:32.270] – Tamara Gruber
A lot smaller. If you guys remember back, it was probably 2019 or maybe early 2020 before the pandemic, when we had Dana Freeman on and she talked about small ship cruising and she had mentioned barge cruising, which was something I had never heard of before. But I ended up taking two different barge cruises and one river cruise. Each was a different experience, and I’m happy to talk through what is a barge cruise? Because I feel like that’s still unheard of here in the US. Then how does that compare to a river cruise and get into it a little bit?
[00:04:13.370] – Kim Tate
I mean, it’s a unique aspect that I think people don’t consider. I saw some of your posts on the whole idea of the canals and the rivers, and it’s really cool. I think it’s a very different expectation of travel than ocean cruising. I definitely want to hear all about it because you went… The other thing is you went on a couple of different lines and then a couple of different classes of service. Did you want to talk about river versus barges or do you want to talk about your first experience, what you did? Or how did you want to dive into it?
[00:04:42.060] – Tamara Gruber
Maybe I’ll talk about barges and explain that a little bit and then go into river cruising, and then we can compare the two different ones. Perfect. The barge cruising really started in France, down in southern France in the Canal du Midi. It was really that they have all these canals that were used for transportation, and they had barges that were used to transport goods. Then once things moved to rail and road, it was like, What are we going to do with these barges? And people turned them into hotel barges and started taking tourists around on them. There’s a couple of cruise lines that do barge cruising. One of them that I did was European Waterways. European Waterways has something like… I’m going to say I probably should look it up, but I think it was like 17 or 27, one of those numbers, different barges that they are corporate run and those are throughout Europe. I think there’s seven or eight different countries that they have barges in, including Scotland and Ireland and Italy and some other places. But France is like the hub of canal barge cruising. There’s another barge company called French Country Waterways.
[00:05:53.240] – Tamara Gruber
But then there are a lot of just independently-owned hotel barges. It’s a little bit a lot to sort through if you’re interested in wanting to do a barge because there’s some barges that are only three cabins. Some have up to 10 cabins. There’s your cozy, classic one that has smaller cabins and not as many amenities. Then you have your very high-end barges that are run by the Belmont Hotel Group. Those are ultra luxury with large state rooms and suites and things like that.
[00:06:27.890] – Kim Tate
But all of them are pretty small groups, it sounds like.
[00:06:32.190] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. It could go from two people to 20 people. But I think most of the time, a barge is going to be about eight people. Definitely, it’s more like a yacht charter or something like that.
[00:06:45.010] – Kim Tate
Yeah, almost like an extended family would get the whole boat or whatever and have a little multigen vacation or something.
[00:06:52.840] – Tamara Gruber
I think once I talk through it, if you’re interested in this type of travel, the people to go to are Barge Lady Cruises. They’re actually a travel agent that handles… All they sell is barge cruises. Oh, good. They do.
[00:07:07.130] – Kim Tate
All the research so you don’t have to deal with who’s who.
[00:07:09.570] – Tamara Gruber
And what’s what. Exactly. They know the independent ones, they know the corporate ones. They know if you’re looking for this or that, whether it’s itinerary or style or room or amenities or whatever you’re looking for, they’re going to help point you in the right direction. They were the ones that invited me on my first barge cruise, which was through the in Burgundy. That was with an independently-owned hotel barge called the Hotel Barge Elizabeth. It’s owned by two guys that are just wonderful. One is the captain, Captain David, and one is the chef, Chef Matthew. And so when you have an independently-owned barge, I think like your… Think about it with anything. Like if you have an independently-owned restaurant and it’s the owner chef and you have people that care so much about the level of service and everything being very high quality. And so whether it’s small cabins or big cabins, it’s like the service is where it really stands out. And then the second barge that I did is with European Waterways, and that’s corporate-owned. On that barge, for example, we had a substitute captain. Even though he had been captain on barges for 14 or 20 years or something like that, he was filling in for another guy.
[00:08:29.970] – Tamara Gruber
He had never worked with this crew before. Service was wonderful. It was fabulous. But it’s just slightly different when you have corporate-owned versus privately-owned.
[00:08:40.430] – Kim Tate
Probably staying at a hotel versus staying at a little privately-owned BNB or something like that. It’s a little different.
[00:08:47.300] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, exactly. I tried to think because I had these conversations with people when I was on board too, and I tried to think like, How do you really explain barge cruising? It doesn’t really compare to cruising as much. If you think like, Oh, well, ocean liners or even a river cruise, it’s not the same product, it’s not the same thing. First of all, it is one of the most relaxing ways to travel that I’ve experienced beyond just like going and sitting on a beach at a resort somewhere. I found it so chill and so slow paced, but with such amazing service and fantastic food. You know that I’m a foodie, but oh, my goodness, the food was like beyond. That’s awesome. That’s beyond, especially on the Hotel Barge, Elizabeth. So, so good. It’s just catered to you so nicely. Just to back up. The first one that I went on was Through Burgundy, and that was the Hotel Barge, Elizabeth. That was the privately-owned one. They only do charters, typically. They won’t do where you can just book one cabin. Got you. I happen to be on a media crew, so I was with another writer and I was with a PR person, so it was a little bit different.
[00:10:08.990] – Tamara Gruber
But typically it would be like I have a group of friends, I have a family, multigener or whatever, or even they’ve had couples just take the whole barge just for a honeymoon or something like that. They only do charters. Honestly, I really think that that’s the way to go if you can afford it because it’s a small group. The other one that I did was on the Canal du Middy, and my friend Michelle came with me. That was with European Waterways on the barge on Jody. That had four cabins, but only three of them were full. We were with a couple and the other cabin was two friends. All four of them were from Australia, and then it was Michelle and I. You’re spending a lot of time with strangers. These meals are incredible, but they’re also long. So you’re eating with people and you’re doing your outings with people, and then you’re in a relatively small space with people that are strangers. You have a dynamic there that could work or could not work, depending on how people gel. Whereas on a larger cruise ship, you’re always going to have ways to get away from people or there’s more people that you could mix with.
[00:11:25.390] – Kim Tate
Well, and there’s more activities. So even if you have to have one meal together, you’re busy the rest of the time. You’re not seeing other people very often or something.
[00:11:33.260] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. I think it’s nice that there is an opportunity with these companies to just book a cabin to try it because not everyone can charter a boat or has people to travel with. But I think that if you really want the best experience, chartering would be the way to go. European Waterways definitely will charter as well, but they also offer individual cabins. Whereas the Hotel Barge Elizabeth, at least this privately-owned one, only does charters.
[00:12:01.430] – Kim Tate
Like I said- Some people might like being with strangers and chatting. I just traveled with our friend, Lindsay, and she loves beating new people when she travels and talking to new talking to people. Some people are like that. I’m not like that.
[00:12:15.320] – Tamara Gruber
But some people are. Right, exactly. I think that that’s something to think about for sure. The other way that I describe it is that it’s like renting a villa where you have a private chef and you have a housekeeper and you have a private tour guide that comes every day to take you on really cool excursions. It’s just that that villa is like floating on a canal.
[00:12:37.590] – Kim Tate
Yeah. Okay, good to know.
[00:12:39.170] – Tamara Gruber
Because it’s a lot more of that experience than your typical cruise-feeling experience.
[00:12:44.490] – Kim Tate
Go ahead. I was going to say are they typically a week long? Is that…
[00:12:48.790] – Tamara Gruber
Yes. Okay. Yeah. So you board, at least both of the ones that I did, and I think it’s pretty typical, you board on a Sunday and you get off on a Saturday. Okay. So Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning. So you have five full days of being on board with excursions and stuff. And basically, there’s a captain or a captain and a pilot, the guy that drives the… I shouldn’t say guy because they’re women captain. I’m just saying. The person that drives the boat and manages the whole boat. Sometimes there is a crew, like a deckhand. There’s always at least one host or hostess, and that person is responsible for serving meals, cleaning the cabins, and basically catering to your every need. It’s really high service. It’s amazing. You’re sitting up on deck and somebody’s like, Would you like a drink? But in a non-obtrusive, non-annoying, just in a very high service way. Nice. Then there’s the chef. I’m sorry. Then there’s also a tour guide. I was.
[00:13:51.170] – Kim Tate
[00:13:51.490] – Tamara Gruber
Going to get it. The tour guide doesn’t typically stay on board, but they show up every day and they take you on an excursion.
[00:13:59.490] – Kim Tate
It’s a set excursion for everyone they go with the- It is.
[00:14:02.850] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, okay. Yeah, and there’s no choice to it. It’s just like, This is what we’re doing today.
[00:14:08.550] – Kim Tate
Which is nice.
[00:14:09.380] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, if you didn’t want to do it, I guess you can stay on the boat, but the boat’s just going to be sitting there. You go out. Some of the things that we did on the first one, we went to a town where we had a little guided walking tour of the town, and then we had free time to ourselves. We did like a one day we went to these caves where there are prehistoric cave drawings in there, and we had a private tour of that. One day, we had a full-day tour of where it was like a wine tasting in town and another wine tasting. We had lunch in town in Sheblee. They tend to do one meal off the barge for each week, each excursion, and then another town. It was like a mostly half-day. One thing I really liked about the Elizabeth is that it alternated. It was not like every other, but some were morning excursions, some were afternoon excursions, which was really nice because then you’re like, Oh, I’m going to sleep in today. I’m just going to relax. I also found.
[00:15:11.180] – Kim Tate
That- Yeah, that’s one thing about cruise excursions I hate is you get into port and it’s like, You got to get up and go. You got to get up and go if you want to take part. That was one thing we noticed with European Ocean Cruises is you’re, Go, go, go, because you have a port every day and you want to get the most out of the port days.
[00:15:27.130] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, and you have to… It’s just nice to feel like you can do things in your own time. On the Elizabeth, it’s like breakfast will be out here at 8:00 and it’ll be here until 10:30. So it’s like come out when you want and have it when you want. Then lunch is at a certain time and dinner is at a certain time. In the evening before dinner, they’ll serve you their cocktail and a little apurtivo. But when you’re sailing or cruising, it’s very slow, so it’s really peaceful. The canal is very, very calm.
[00:15:59.700] – Kim Tate
Yeah, it’s going to be no issues. No seasickness.
[00:16:02.300] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, that’s awesome. Definitely not. Super calm, really slow, chill. I brought a book up onto the deck. I’m sitting in this comfy couch, like outdoor furniture. I’m thinking, I’m just going to sit here and read a book. I couldn’t even read a book because it’s just so cool to watch the landscape of the bottom of the bone. It has vineyards and fields of sunflowers and things like that.
[00:16:25.630] – Kim Tate
I would have so many video time lapses and stuff.
[00:16:29.220] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, I do. Because you’re going through the locks, which are really fascinating, too. When we were on the European waterways and the Canal du Middy, we do this one thing where it’s seven locks and it’s basically like an elevator. So it has to raise you a huge amount, but you do it through this series of seven walks. And all these people come and stand on the edges to watch the boats go through.
[00:16:53.780] – Kim Tate
We do that in Seattle. We have the Ballard locks here. We used to always take our family. That’s our tourist thing is to go watch some Ballard Locks. It’s pretty cool. The Panama Canyal is probably one of the most famous ones.
[00:17:06.580] – Tamara Gruber
I loved, especially when I was on the Elizabeth, if I wanted to get off and walk, we’d stop at a lock and I’d just hop off the boat and I’d be like, Okay, I’ll meet you at the next one. Oh, I wondered.
[00:17:17.690] – Kim Tate
About that. I just take a walk. I remember Dana talking about that, how you could just scroll along and see it cruising along next.
[00:17:23.980] – Tamara Gruber
To you. I walk pretty fast, so half the time I got there first. But there’s always a toe path and you’re just going past fields and stuff. They do have bikes. You just have to give them a little more notice. If you want to ride the bikes, they’ll take them off and you can go for a longer bike ride and then meet back up with them. That’s amazing. You stopped each night in a small village. Some of these villages were teeny, tiny. It’s like a cluster of houses and maybe there’s a belangerie. That’s it. Some of them were a couple of larger towns where you could walk into town and do some shopping or something like that. But most of it was just like a little village, but you could walk along the canal and there’s little cafes alongside, and it’s just really peaceful.
[00:18:11.630] – Kim Tate
Yeah, you’re like, Selling me. I think it sounds like Paul’s ideal way to travel. He would love it as long as we didn’t have to be with other people. It’s just like, Okay, Paul, we just have to be rich enough to be able to charter a barge cruise. I mean, you.
[00:18:24.840] – Tamara Gruber
Know what they say about cruising is the nice thing is you get to see things without moving and unpacking and all that. I really feel like in the barge, it’s really like that. I mean, the downside is the cabins are small, for sure. They range anywhere from 100 square feet to 250 square feet, but that’s on the ultra-luxury ones. I think mine, not sure how big it was on the Elizabeth. The one on the Anne Jody was definitely a little under 100 square feet. It was tight with two of us in there. It didn’t bother me at all on the first one, I had my own room. I had a clean bed. I had a nightstand on either side, so there was room to walk along that side and a little bathroom and I had storage. But it’s smaller than a river cruise ship cabin, and it’s smaller than most other oceanline or cabins. But some of them have different amenities. The Elizabeth, for example, didn’t have a hot tub or a little pool, but I really love the outdoor seating that they had because it was really comfortable lounge seating. But on the Anne Jody, they had more of a picnic table with chairs, but they did have a hot tub.
[00:19:38.750] – Tamara Gruber
You have these trade-offs and it just depends on what you want to do. But to be honest, because the Anjodi is in Southern France, it was a lot hotter. We went on the hot tub one day, but then it was a little too hot for the hot tub. But yeah, I would just say it’s really relaxing. It’s really nice if you could do it with a group of friends or family that you know. It is on the pricier side, but you think about the things that are included. I mean, the food, like I said, gourmet, exceptional, just meat. It’s as if you’re going to just a wonderful restaurant every day. Whereas larger cruise ships, it has to be made in a much bigger quantity. It just can’t be the same quality. And just the level of service was just fantastic. I mean, to me, our hosts like Matthew and David, I want them to come visit me and stay at my house. They made it wonderful. It was just like a really wonderful crew. It was just a really great… Both of them were really, really great experiences. In New York…
[00:20:45.780] – Kim Tate
[00:20:46.030] – Tamara Gruber
[00:20:47.030] – Kim Tate
I was just going to say is it all-inclusive then, except for assuming then tipping? Do you tip? Who would you.
[00:20:52.290] – Tamara Gruber
Then tip? You tip, yeah. That’s not included. Typically, they say like 5-10% of your crews.
[00:20:58.150] – Kim Tate
Would be- And it goes to everyone or it’s- And.
[00:21:00.320] – Tamara Gruber
It gets split between everybody.
[00:21:02.100] – Kim Tate
Okay, good. Because I hate that like, Oh, tip this much to this person, this much to the guy.
[00:21:06.710] – Tamara Gruber
This much. This person, yeah. Okay. It includes all of your private excursions. You think when we went to go see the cave drawings, we went in after a group, like a public group that was like 50 people. Then we went in, like the four of us. You’re getting these private excursions. You’re getting transfers, you’re getting the food, you’re getting obviously the accommodation. The wine was incredible. I was like, I can’t have any more wine. It was too much wine because at lunch, they were ready to serve you a different wine with every course. I’m like, I cannot have wine at lunch and go do something. It’s not happening. But then dinner, it was like, Here’s your… With your starter, because they did beautiful wine pairings. But by the end, I’m like, I don’t like sweet wines or fortified wines anyway. I’m good. But all of your drinks, whatever you want the whole time it’s included, so you don’t need to ever think about things like that. Awesome.
[00:22:02.960] – Kim Tate
Very, very cool. Then let’s contrast it to river cruising because you did one or two of those?
[00:22:10.370] – Tamara Gruber
I did one river cruise. One, okay. This is the very first time I’ve done a river cruise. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I cruised with Amma Waterways, which is one of the pretty well-known river cruise lines that are out there. They have tons of different itineraries all throughout Europe. They even have, I think it would be really cool to do one on the Nile. They have one in Aden. They’re introducing some in Colombia. They’re definitely, like I said, one of the very well-known brands when it comes to river cruising. I’ve heard really good things about the food, too. I was very excited. Glenn and I have looked at doing different ones. The Danube is the most popular route, and a lot of people like to do it for the Christmas markets.
[00:22:51.880] – Kim Tate
That’s what I was going to say. I want Christmas market, River Cruis. That’s mine.
[00:22:55.080] – Tamara Gruber
I’d still love to do that as well. I’ll do that with you any day.
[00:22:58.600] – Kim Tate
We need to make it out, make it happen because my family is not going to go with me. They’re like, Ah. Those trips, you want to spend the money when people really want it.
[00:23:09.060] – Tamara Gruber
Glenn and I have looked at this years and years ago. We looked at this taste of Bordeaux River Cruise because we like wine, we like wine regions. This came up, and I just wanted full disclosure, I was hosted on all of these experiences. I paid for my own air, fair, and tips, and things like that. But the taste of Bordeaux was something that we were interested in, so we decided to do that one.
[00:23:31.400] – Kim Tate
It’s nice that your husband got to see you at one point during your two months’ sojourney.
[00:23:36.870] – Tamara Gruber
I know. I hadn’t seen him for a month. I know, it was good. He met me there. We did that. We went to Biarritz on the Coast of France for a few days, and then he flew home and then I went into the other barge.
[00:23:50.580] – Kim Tate
Yeah, it was nice.
[00:23:51.140] – Tamara Gruber
Sorry. Anyway, let’s go ahead. River Cruise, the ship that we were on was called the Amadolche, and it holds, I think, 144 passengers. Oh, that’s significant. But yeah, it’s so funny because on the second barge, people were like, Well, I wouldn’t do one of those giant river cruises. I’m like, giant? Have you seen the 5,000-person ships that.
[00:24:10.520] – Kim Tate
Are out there? I know, exactly. Meanwhile, I’m about to go. I have a small ocean trip coming up that’s 320 some passengers. I’m like, Oh, it’s so tiny.
[00:24:23.110] – Tamara Gruber
Anyway, sorry, go ahead. I mean, river cruise boats are smaller, so you don’t have… It’s definitely a different dynamic. Look, I’ve done a few ocean cruises, and it’s a different dynamic than the big ships. Our ship was only half-full, so it’s only 63 passengers. Oh, wow. We had tons of.
[00:24:43.430] – Kim Tate
Space to sleep in. I was just going to say lots of space just in the community.
[00:24:45.970] – Tamara Gruber
Areas and space. Yeah, you never had to worry. Even our excursions were sometimes only seven or eight people on our excursion. In terms of what’s similar, with a river cruise, all your excursions are included, at least on the waterways, all of your excursions are included. It’s usually like you can choose one of two or three a day. Sometimes there are two a day, but you always have a choice of different types of things that you can do. Your wine and beer is included at meals as well as they have a sip and sale cocktail hour and they have a signature cocktail every night. Your alcohol is included during that time as well. It’s a little bit more inclusive than some of the cruise ships that people might be familiar with. Yeah, like cruise.
[00:25:34.000] – Kim Tate
Ships, yeah. But not as all-inclusive as you don’t have to ever think about it.
[00:25:40.030] – Tamara Gruber
Right. Okay. Which honestly, they kept saying, Oh, if you want to put your credit card down. I was like, Well, why do I need to put a credit card down? I’m not paying for anything. Then one night we were in the lounge late at night and Glenn ordered a scotch. We were talking to some people and there was a bill. I’m like, Oh, you do have to pay. But usually I’ve had with dinner and I’m done. I don’t need a drink after that. I never even realized until the fourth day of the cruise that you actually had to pay occasionally. I mean, like I said, there’s plenty of opportunity to have drinks. It was not…
[00:26:13.800] – Kim Tate
Is it like you get one beer or wine at dinner? Oh, no. Oh, okay. Just as long as you’re sitting at the dinner table, they’ll just keep it coming. But if you want to go have your scotch afterwards, then that’s okay.
[00:26:24.740] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, the cocktail hour before, it’s like whatever, I would get a glass of wine at the cocktail hour, then I would go down to dinner and then it was whatever wine you wanted there. Then one time I carried my wine to the lounge afterwards. Okay, cool.
[00:26:38.320] – Kim Tate
So not really a not… I mean, unless you really just… Then you belong on a different cruise ship, if you need more than that.
[00:26:48.070] – Tamara Gruber
There’s one guy like that. Yeah, exactly. I bet. There’s one guy at the very beginning where I was just like, All right, the guy with that hat, let’s just stay away from this.
[00:26:57.600] – Kim Tate
I’m ready for a party. This is my vacation. Situation.
[00:27:00.590] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. But look, River Cruises, I have an article out, which I’ll link to in the show notes, which explains everything about it. But I think one of the things that people want to know is what is the demographic? Because they have a reputation of being older. And so it definitely is like an older crowd. I would say the majority of people were probably 60 and up. Glenn and I were in our 50s, so we were part of the slightly younger crew. The youngsters. But there was two couples in their 30s, and then there were a couple like multigen families that had adult children who were probably a fair amount younger than us. So there is all kinds of different dynamics like that. And it was really funny. The first night we sat down in the lounge, introduced ourselves to this couple, and they were like, Oh, we thought this would be much older. I looked over at them and I’m like, Huh. Because you seem much older than I do. But I’m just feeling-.
[00:27:56.990] – Kim Tate
They thought you guys were so young. They’re like, Oh, man, we thought we’d be speaking with people older than us.
[00:28:02.180] – Tamara Gruber
But I will say it was a very active fit group. That’s awesome. They have a few different types of excursions. They always had a bike tour, and the bike tour was the most popular tour every time. There’d be like 20 people on the bike tour. I mean, props to all those people that want to get out there. Were they E-bikes? No.
[00:28:25.090] – Kim Tate
I just had this conversation with my daughter about when I was older, I want to get an E-bike. She’s like, At that point, mom, you really need to be doing the whole bike experience.
[00:28:33.520] – Tamara Gruber
[00:28:34.940] – Kim Tate
Like, Oh, okay.
[00:28:36.080] – Tamara Gruber
Well, I did one of the bike tours, and it was about eight miles. There were some hills and there were some… We were going through vineyards, so it was like a dirt road with potholes and rocks and stuff. It was a little like… Like bumpy. Then Glenn, he’s a peloton guy, so he wanted to do more of the bike stuff. That afternoon, they were doing another bike tour. It went from one town to the other town because the boat was going to sail during that time. It was like, there’s no turning back. You have to get to the next step. That was a 17… Now I’m like, it was a 17 kilometer, but it was a longer but much tougher one. He was even like, Man, I barely made it up that last hill. Oh, my goodness. I’m like, I am so glad I stayed back and went to that one.
[00:29:24.410] – Kim Tate
That’s interesting. Okay. It’s really.
[00:29:26.900] – Tamara Gruber
Nice, though, with Amma Waterways, when you get your packet or if you use the app for all the excursions, it will tell you a difficulty level and how far it is. It gives you a lot of information so you can choose what you want to do. Then for the walking tours, there was also always a gentle walkers group. For someone that didn’t have the same mobility, couldn’t walk as much because you’re in France, it’s like, cobblestone streets, there’s hills, all of that. They would have something that was a little bit more driven with just a little bit of walking. I also thought it was really nice. When you left the boat, they had, I should say, ship, I guess. But when you left the ship, they had a little stand where there were umbrellas, there were walking sticks, and then there were these little canes that had a fold-out rest where you could rest your knee. I thought that was really thoughtful. They were very considerate of different levels of mobility. That’s awesome.
[00:30:25.550] – Kim Tate
You said those were all included, all the.
[00:30:27.530] – Tamara Gruber
Excursions were included. Yeah, all included.
[00:30:29.540] – Kim Tate
Yeah. There was maybe what, three or four each day to choose from? Two or three?
[00:30:33.580] – Tamara Gruber
Usually two or three to choose from.
[00:30:36.010] – Kim Tate
Always a bike. Always a walk.
[00:30:38.000] – Tamara Gruber
Always a bike. Something always involved wine because it was a Bordeaux, River Cruise. There were usually a wine tasting. Sometimes you could bike to a wine tasting, you could ride back, or you could do this wine tasting or that wine tasting. There were different options. Some days there were two excursions in a day. One night, there wasn’t… There was something wine-related during the day, but they also had this… In town, they had this wine celebration where they basically had us come into a restaurant where there were multiple smaller wine producers that were doing tastings of their wine. Then they had performers. Every night at the end, it’s not like a big ship where you’re going to have shows necessarily, but every night in the lounge, they would have some type of local performer come on board and do whatever they do. There was a trio, there’s a duo, there was one guy that was doing all classic rock songs, and I actually liked him a lot. There was something to do and then on board, I just spend Instagram real about it, but there was a hot tub. Some river cruises, I think, have a little pool, but there was a hot tub, there was a small gym, there was a sauna, there was cornhole and a putting green and those life…
[00:31:55.680] – Tamara Gruber
Not life-size, but those big chess.
[00:31:57.300] – Kim Tate
[00:31:58.710] – Tamara Gruber
Chess boards. There’s like a sun deck that has a lot of lounge chairs. There’s like a little walking track around the sun deck, which we’re laughing because it’s like, I don’t even know how many times you’d have to go around to make it a mile. But there were people out there and they actually have a fitness instructor on board too. The fitness instructor, I felt a little bad for him because he was always like, We’re going to be doing this on deck. But he actually got a lot of people to participate usually. But he did dance classes or yoga, so there was really quite a bit to do on board. I was surprised also. One of the other things that was nice about it compared to normal cruises, not normal cruises, but larger cruises, is that there was free WiFi because I feel like most cruises charge for WiFi. Then in the cabins, there were an entertainment system where you could watch movies and stuff like that on-demand, and that was all free.
[00:32:50.330] – Kim Tate
Okay. I’m assuming then that you also had said the cabin was more spacious. What was the bathroom situation in the barge cruise versus with the river cruise? I didn’t even think about asking that.
[00:33:02.530] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah, the bathroom on the barge cruise was tight.
[00:33:05.950] – Kim Tate
But it was still individual in your cabin?
[00:33:08.330] – Tamara Gruber
Oh, yeah. Okay. Yeah, still a non-sweet bathroom. Just small, limited storage space, more of a shelf and just like a small shower where if you’re a large person, you’re going to have a little bit of trouble in the smaller shower. You’re going to be rubbing everything. Yeah. In the River Cruz, I mean, our cabin was 170 square foot, which I had looked up recently and that seems to be fairly common for a standard Ocean Cruz cabin as well, considering that I’ve never spent the money on the larger suites and things. But one thing that I really loved about the river cruise is there was tons of storage. There’s a closet for hanging clothes, another closet had a lot of shelves. There were some drawers in the desk. There was a pull-out drawer under the bed. The bed itself was high enough that you could store your suitcases under it, just like I have done in Ocean Cruz. Then in the bathroom, there was an opening medicine cabinet that had a couple of shelves. Then underneath the sink, there was another cabinet that had a couple of shelves. To be honest, it had more storage than a lot of bathrooms and hotels because you know how bathrooms and hotels these days, sometimes there’s nowhere.
[00:34:26.710] – Kim Tate
To put anything.
[00:34:27.970] – Tamara Gruber
It had an amazing shower. It had a shower with all these different settings and great pressure. Oh, nice. Really good pressure. I think the bathroom on the river cruise.
[00:34:38.370] – Kim Tate
Was great. Awesome. Did either of them have… I’m trying to remember your pictures. I know on the barge cruise, you just had a porthole or a window. What about on the river cruise? Was it the same? Are there balconies on either those ships or is it all just like a window?
[00:34:53.820] – Tamara Gruber
Yes. The barge cruise, both of them just had port holes. But the river cruise, ours had a French… They call it a French balcony, but really it’s a big sliding door that opens all the way, but it’s just a railing, so there’s nothing to step out onto.
[00:35:08.760] – Kim Tate
Okay. Not even a Juliet. It’s like a…
[00:35:10.930] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. It’s really just like you can get fresh air and lean your head out and look around. But I mean, that’s the Amma Dolce. It might be different on some of the other Amma waterways. I know when we were in Bordeaux, I saw a couple of other river cruise brands there, and some of them had more like balconies where you sit out on them. So it’s something that you can look.
[00:35:34.260] – Kim Tate
Into for sure. Then what was the dining like with Amma Waterways?
[00:35:39.330] – Tamara Gruber
The dining, it’s really hard to go from the barge cruise to the river crews.
[00:35:45.340] – Kim Tate
Yeah, private chefs at your whim with four other people.
[00:35:50.360] – Tamara Gruber
It just can’t compare. There’s that for me to keep in mind, so it’s hard to separate. I will say most of the people that we talk to, including ones that have been on other river cruises from other brands, really like Amma Waterways is food the best. The food was good. I think my expectations… It’s all about expectations. My expectation was that it would be a very French-trained chef with French dishes, really portraying the local because it was called the Taste of Bordeaux River Cruise. When I got there, I was like, Oh, okay, this is a cruise. This cruise could be on the Danube, it could be on the Rhine. There are some French dishes, but it’s not about Bordeaux. The wines were about Bordeaux and the excursions were about Bordeaux, but the food was like.
[00:36:46.180] – Kim Tate
This is river cruise. This is the Amma Waterway menu. Yeah. Okay.
[00:36:50.220] – Tamara Gruber
What I appreciated a lot was that things were really fresh. I would get a salad every day and the greens were super fresh, the veggies were super fresh. It was good quality food and there was a lot of it. Glenn and I would joke that the servers were disappointed in us because at lunch, there would be a four-course thing. I’d be like, Can I just get the salad and this other thing? They were like, Don’t you want the that? I’m like, No, I don’t want the salad plus the cream soup plus the entree plus the dessert. No. For lunch. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it was just like there were a lot of things, but there was choice. When it comes to the dining, it was open seating. You can go in, you can sit with others if you want. You can get a table by yourself if you want. I was.
[00:37:34.050] – Kim Tate
Just going to ask about that. Yeah, okay.
[00:37:35.940] – Tamara Gruber
We ended up meeting some people where we had dinner with them a few times. A couple of times we had dinner by ourselves. A couple of times we had dinner with other people. It was really like whatever you want. You don’t have to socialize with people. You can socialize with people if you want. I think people are open to it. I liked that aspect of it. You didn’t have, like I said, an assigned table. Lunch was served at a certain time, but say, dinner was served at 7:30, if you walked in at 7:45 or eight o’clock, it was no big deal. It wasn’t like line up at this time to be ready. It had a certain amount of flexibility. Even in the morning, breakfast is in the main dining room from this time to this time. If you get up early or if you get up late in the lounge upstairs, they’re going to have a little buffet. I liked that a lot. It felt like you had flexibility.
[00:38:31.940] – Kim Tate
[00:38:33.220] – Tamara Gruber
Like I said, there was plenty of food. Every day, there was a choice of a couple of different entries. There was always a vegetarian menu option. Then there was this section of the menu that was always available. In other words, if you don’t like these two things, you could get a steak, a Caesar salad, or lunch. It was like you could get pizza or a hamburger, things like that. The food, was it the barge cruise? No, it was not. But it was good. It was plentiful. There were choices. Oh, I almost forgot. One really good thing. Another thing that’s included on the Amma Waterways cruise is they have a special restaurant in the back called The Chef’s Table. You can go to it. It’s included in your cruise. You just need to sign up for it when you get there. Then it’s a much smaller experience and they have a little open kitchen there and it is a tasting menu. You have a seven course tasting menu. I thought the dishes there were really good. It was more of that fine dining presentation and stuff like that.
[00:39:40.070] – Kim Tate
Is that limited? Only once a day or once a trip? Or you can do it anytime you want or first come, first serve? Or how does it work? It’s first.
[00:39:47.820] – Tamara Gruber
Come, first serve in terms of booking it. When you get there, you should book it whatever day you want to do it. It was never full when we were there because the cruise was only half full. The thing is, I heard someone asking, Well, can we do it twice? They’re like, You can, but it’s the same menu every day.
[00:40:03.070] – Kim Tate
Oh, right. Yeah.
[00:40:04.170] – Tamara Gruber
It’s a chef’s tasting, but it’s like, Yeah, this is the menu. I guess you could do it twice. Maybe if there wasn’t someone else waiting, but you’re going to be eating the same thing. Yeah.
[00:40:17.090] – Kim Tate
Well, good enough. Okay, that’s still cool. But it’s a smaller environment, so that’s why you can’t. Yeah. Okay, very cool.
[00:40:24.400] – Tamara Gruber
But I loved our excursions. The crew was fantastic. I have no complaints about anyone that we encountered on the Amma Waterways. Housekeeping, the cruise manager was amazing. The hotel manager was the happiest, nicest, friendliest guy. Everyone was really fantastic. They would remember the waiters. Also, it’s not a huge ship, so they would remember what you like in terms of your wine or something like that. That’s awesome. I think service, everything. I think if you’re interested in a river cruise, I would 100% recommend Amma Waterways. I think my comparison between the two is like, even though a river cruise is much smaller and very different in that you have so much longer in port because you are often docking there overnight, it’s still a cruise in terms of like, Okay, let’s meet tonight and we’re going to go of our itinerary for the next day and your excursion leaves at this time, group A, group B. It has more of that cruise feel. I guess you do that on a barge cruise, but it’s more like the tour guide comes in and he’s like, Hey, this is what we’re going to do tomorrow. We’re going to leave about that time.
[00:41:35.960] – Tamara Gruber
Does that work for you? Any question? It’s just so much more casual because it’s more intimate.
[00:41:40.300] – Kim Tate
Yeah, because you had said the barge was so laid back and it’s the most relaxing thing. The river cruise, upped it up again a bit where you’re like other people and there’s a set schedule and you got to be on it a little bit. I get what you said, but I think you can definitely see how it tiers up to then ocean cruising when you’ve got 1,500 to 5,000 other guests. It just starts getting a lot busier. Right. Right. Would you say the other thing you talked about with barge cruising was that you visited the small towns, but sometimes they were cities since you’re along a river, is it like… Because you said a lot of times you’re stopping overnight. So what was it like with your stops? Were you going to pretty popular destinations that people would maybe want to go, like tourists would go visit? Or were they still off the beaten path type places?
[00:42:26.110] – Tamara Gruber
So for the taste of Bordeaux River cruise that I did, it was still a little bit more off the beaten path. Bordeaux is a city, first of all, I loved it. I stayed there for three or four days in between the first canal cruise and the river cruise because I needed a place to go. I loved it. It’s like a little Paris, fabulous place to visit. So, Bordeaux, yes, you absolutely want to go out in the town and experience the town. Even though one of your days of excursions is within Bordeaux, you still want to do a little bit on your own. The other towns that we visited, it’s like a lot of it was you could see during the excursion or during the day, your free time during the day, I didn’t need to go back out at night. I think I heard one person being like, Oh, we went to go see if there was a bar open at night and there wasn’t. I’m like, Well, okay. I wasn’t going to go do that anyway. When I was on the barge cruise, I loved every night, I just had to go for a walk because the meal was a lot of food.
[00:43:27.040] – Tamara Gruber
I’m like, I cannot walk 10 feet down to my cabin and go to bed. I need to.
[00:43:31.850] – Kim Tate
Move around. I know you and I have always said that we like to go.
[00:43:34.710] – Tamara Gruber
Walk after we eat. Yeah. I would have dinner, and even though it was getting dark by the time we were done, I would just take a walk by myself either through the town or along the toe path, as long as it was light, just to have a little bit of a walk. I didn’t do that really on the river cruise. There’s also we would go up on deck and watch the moon or the sunset. There’s more spaces to go to. I think with Bordeaux, a lot of what you want to see are the chateau that you’re going wine tasting, and you need transportation for that. But I think it’s very different because if I was to do the Danube and I’m in Vienna and Budapest and Prague, you’re like, Yeah, I’m totally getting off and doing more. I think it depends on the itinerary. Okay, good to know. But you have the option.
[00:44:24.210] – Kim Tate
Yeah, of course. You don’t have to do the short excursion. You could do your own thing or whatever.
[00:44:28.220] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. There was someone one day they were like, We just want to not rent the bikes. We just want to borrow the bikes and do our own, not do the bike tour, but just go. They’re like, Yeah, sure, here you go.
[00:44:38.380] – Kim Tate
Cool. Well, before we wrap up, any other comparison, contrast, or any other things you want to share about the two experiences?
[00:44:46.850] – Tamara Gruber
I would just say with the European Waterways, one that I did in Southern France, that on the Canal du Middy, the Canal du Middy is a lot… It’s where barge cruising started. So it’s a lot busier, it’s a lot more popular. There’s also more famous sights to see. I really loved in Burgundy, we went to see a couple of towns that were the cutest, most adorable villages I’ve ever seen. But if you’re looking for more famous sights, like the Canal du Middy with European waterways, we went to Carcasson, we went to Narbonne. Now, I’ve been to this region before, so it’s some of the things that I have done already. But we also went to a truffle farm. It’s not in season, but they gave us a demonstration of how the dog looks for truffles. But they also have an olive oil farm, so we did an olive oil tasting. I feel like when you look at the itinerary, like with European Waterways, you might be more impressed because you recognize more things, if that makes sense. You’re like, Okay, here’s a wine tasting. Here’s a truffle farm. There’s a lot of things where you’re like, Oh, I’m really looking forward to that.
[00:45:50.720] – Tamara Gruber
Whereas the one in Burgundy, at least for myself, I’d heard of Shiblee, but I hadn’t heard of some of these other villages, so it came as just a nice surprise. But they were smaller villages. I will say I know I talked about the differences between corporate or independent, but I still had amazing food on the European Waterways one, the yanjodi. To the point, the chef, he was such a sweet guy. We learned that he used to work in a Japanese restaurant, and so we were like, Oh, we mentioned how we love ramen. The last night, for all of these, the last night is like the captain’s dinner. It’s a little more festive on the river crews, but on the barge crews, the way it works is you have champagne or sparkling wine with the entire crew. Then on European Waterways, the captain had dinner with us. On the other one, they took turns where each crew member would have a course with us. Then the last one was the chef. It’s a cool way to get to know.
[00:46:53.590] – Kim Tate
Send it off.
[00:46:54.290] – Tamara Gruber
It was like a nice little… Everyone got a little more dressed up and that thing. On the captain’s dinner, he made a little ramen for us. One of the excursions that we did on European Waterways is we went to the market in Norbonne, which is a very famous French market. He asked us, If you see something you want, let me know. We mentioned, I forget what we had asked for, but he got it. Then he put it out for us for our little happy hour. Oh, fun. It’s just little things like that that are so nice. The hostesses were like fabulous. They took care of everything, always smiling, very friendly, always getting you what you want. They soon learned that I drink a lot of water. They were always bringing me the full picture with ice and just all that thing. I would say both of those experiences were really fabulous. It’s just like there’s just slight differences between a corporate-owned versus the independent-owned and chartered versus cabin with the.
[00:48:04.250] – Kim Tate
Other people. Very cool.
[00:48:07.150] – Tamara Gruber
Now I’m officially a cruiser. Yes.
[00:48:09.970] – Kim Tate
That’s pretty exciting. You’ve got more experience than me now.
[00:48:14.160] – Tamara Gruber
Well, just in those kinds of things.
[00:48:15.530] – Kim Tate
Well, that’s pretty good. I mean, having the variety of them is good because you’ve also done your scooner, like sailing cruise things. So you’re doing good.
[00:48:25.500] – Tamara Gruber
I think the moral of the story is that you can’t be like, Well, cruising is not for me. Maybe it never is, but there might be a style of being on a boat that is for you. Yeah.
[00:48:40.090] – Kim Tate
Well, I’m very excited. I don’t even think you know about this, but I just got confirmation that in December, I’m going to be going with Windstar Cruises on one of their ships to the Middle East. I’m going to be doing a sparkling sands 10-day cruise with them and getting a feel for experiencing that smaller ocean ship-using and then also getting to experience the Windstar brand because they are of a unique name in the industry, I think. But I’m.
[00:49:07.410] – Tamara Gruber
Excited about that. And what a unique destination as well.
[00:49:09.460] – Kim Tate
Yeah. Well, that’s part of one of the things is because it’s an area of the world that I think that a lot of people want to travel to. But I think especially for Americans, there’s a lot of hold-ups or maybe concerns or wonders about like, Well, how do you put together? And especially as a female set, because I’ll be traveling alone. And so I said, One of the reasons I’m covering it is from, like you said, an empty nester type, even though I’m not quite empty nester yet, but taking our own trips, how to do it and feel like you’re a little more safe or it’s a more controlled environment. I think cruising offers that as a great opportunity for solo women travelers or women who want to travel with girlfriends. That’s what I’m going to be checking out for, so I’m really looking forward to that one. I fly into Mascot, Oman, and then out of Dubai and visiting a few places around there like Abu Dhabi and Doha and all that. Wow! Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. But that’ll be my smallest ship I’ve ever been on, which is 320-something.
[00:50:07.110] – Tamara Gruber
I’m sure it’ll feel a lot different than a lot of the.
[00:50:10.540] – Kim Tate
Ones that you’ve done. I’m very excited. I know that Windstar also, while they typically have a higher age as their typical demographic, they have water sports and stuff. They have a water sports platform off the back. I know they want to attract some more older families, older kids type thing. I get a feel for it that way as well as being the parent of teenagers, what that looks like.
[00:50:36.540] – Tamara Gruber
Cool. Well, I have a bunch of articles that I’ll link to in my show notes about these different experiences.
[00:50:43.690] – Kim Tate
Yeah, I’ve seen something like going up on your social. I’m sure people check that out. Of course, I know for some of you, maybe you haven’t checked on Instagram, but at your time to fly, that’s where she’s at on Instagram. She shared a lot of little things and some great stories that were really some beautiful scenery and had me dreaming of being in Europe again.
[00:51:03.480] – Tamara Gruber
Good. Well, I look forward to catching up next time. Who knows where the world will take us in between now and then. But thanks, as always, for listening. For those of you that are still subscribed, we thank you.
[00:51:15.750] – Kim Tate
Yeah, thanks, and we will talk to you again later.