Keep in mind when selecting a barge

This year we got stung with a barge trip in France and learned a couple of things that are important.

First, where you go makes a difference. Much of the Briare Canal from Montargis to Châtillon sur Loire is like a green tunnel and the view doesn’t change very much. Indeed, it can be an uninteresting bore. The foliage is thick and you don’t see through it. It was quite different from what we saw last year from the barge La Reine Pedauque on the Burgundy Canal and of which I remarked that every prospect pleases (Feb. ’07, pg. 32).

Second, the design of the boat makes a difference. Always consider what it will be like if it drizzles. Can you be out of the rain and still see? And how will it be under a blazing sun? Can you sit in the shade and still see? On both of these points, La Bonne Amie with a roofed observation deck should be a clear winner over Le Bon Vivant. I say “should be” because we were on Le Bon Vivant and only saw La Bonne Amie as we passed it by.

Bad weather made the lack of a covered area from which to see a real disadvantage during our two weeks.

It is hard to know facilities ahead of time, but travelers who read have special needs that, unmet, can spoil a trip: comfortable chairs, reading lights, and bed lights good for reading in bed.

On Le Bon Vivant we rearranged the furniture in the lounge so that both of us could use the one suitable lamp, and we brought an armchair in from the dining area.

In my cabin, the bed light switch was not within reach unless I got out of bed. I had to sit on the edge of the bed to read.

These things make or break the trip if you have a run of bad weather. We had lots of it. The deck on our barge could not be covered because the pilot sat aft.

Then there is the matter of the welcome ceremony with introductions of the staff and champagne. I prefer that it be omitted. I am 90. After a transatlantic crossing I am tired, and what I want is to go to my cabin and settle in, usually to take a nap.

While barely aboard, we were introduced to the staff all in a bunch with the bright light behind them. When I go to a hotel, I don’t expect to be introduced to the chef at the curb with my bags at my feet. I will meet staff when it is appropriate and they can introduce themselves. Then I can get the names straight.

Next time I will ask ahead of time that I be excused from a welcome ceremony and be taken at once to my cabin. The same goes for departure. Also, I do not like being pressed to sign the Book of Gold. Pushy!

The Air France round trip, New York JFK to Paris CDG, cost $1,250 and the barge trip cost us $13,000 per person, single occupancy (there were two of us, but we are not a couple). This was not cheap, but I have never been better fed. There were no choices of entrée offered, but my request for an egg dish was filled beautifully. Breakfasts were better than Continental but undistinguished.

Everything from pickup at CDG to delivery back to the airport was included, as were all meals, excursions, entry fees, wine (very good) and whatever we wanted at the bar. The only extra was the industry standard 5% “gratuity.” I added an extra tip to the lady who did my shirts.

For the first week there was another couple with us, but on the second week we had the barge to ourselves — in addition to the pilot, the chef and the house lady/food server. (Sometimes they hired a van driver.) The staff used cell phones a lot; in fact, we called them from the airport on arrival after a terminal mixup.

The agent we dealt with was France Cruises (6703 Munich Rd., San Antonio, TX 78256; 866/498-3920 or 210/698-1235,


New York, NY