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European Waterways is upbeat about the coming season, with the company reporting near-record bookings amid “dissipating” concerns about Omicron, which has caused considerable turmoil for the travel industry since surfacing late last year.
Company director John Wood-Dow says the company’s benefitting from an upsurge in interest in travel from people who have been kept at home by the pandemic.
“We’re expecting an excellent year, based on current booking trends,” he says. “Most of our customers who could not make the cruise last year due to government lockdowns have rescheduled for 2022, while many who have not travelled for two years decided that it was finally time to ‘get out into the world again’ and have booked cruises for this season. They have been waiting for years to take a barge cruise and they’re eager to finally ‘check it off’ their bucket list!”
European Waterways operates 17 vessels in such destinations as France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the U.K., and its fleet is continuously expanding as the popularity of hotel barging grows.
The company describes hotel barges as the equivalent of self-contained ‘luxury villas on the water.’ European Waterways’ six-night, all-inclusive cruises include bicycles for pedaling on the canal towpath beside the hotel barge or through “charming, picture-postcard villages.” Gourmet meals are prepared and served onboard by a master chef, with lunch and dinner featuring at least two “fine vintages selected from regional vineyards.” Most of its vessels hold just six to 12 passengers, enabling them to offer private and often exclusive excursions that include wine tastings, tours of castles and royal residencies, falconry demonstrations, and “even dining with countesses!”
The Omicron outbreak created concerns for European Waterways in December and early January, “but that seems to be dissipating,” Wood-Dow reports. “Hotel barging is especially attractive at times like these because they offer the perfect ‘travel bubble’ for families, small groups of friends and like-minded guests. They can charter the entire vessel for a six-night, all-inclusive cruise and have it all to themselves, cruising together through the less populated countryside in the safety of a single group. They’ll enjoy private and often exclusive excursions that immerse them in the gastronomic traditions, cultural heritage, and rural splendour of the European countryside. These qualities are moving hotel barging out of the niche market and into the mainstream.
“For travel in the ‘age of Covid’, hotel barging is the perfect way to go. Most of our vessels cruise the smaller waterways of Europe at about three miles per hour, making them the ultimate in ‘slow travel,’ so that guests can enjoy the view and soak up the ambience.”
Wood-Dow labels the health and safety of guests a “top priority. We have strict protocols that include screening crew and passengers before boarding. We also perform regular deep cleaning and disinfecting of all cabins and public surfaces. As well, our guests are personally chauffeured in private transport for all excursions, usually avoiding the crowds and heading to exclusive locations off the beaten track. Government regulations in countries such as France require that everyone on board be vaccinated, so we thoroughly discuss our guests’ status to minimize any inconvenience before their visit.”
Wood-Dow says European Waterways is finding that people who call it have already decided upon traveling.
“They’ve usually done their homework about the destination they wish to visit, and Europe has strong appeal,” he says. “The European health system is known to be strong, so guests are assured of the best quality care, should it be needed. They just want our assurance that we will be diligent about observing necessary health protocols while maintaining the unique atmosphere of a hotel barge cruise. We take their concerns very seriously, because they are trusting us with the important responsibility of making their unique, once-in-a-lifetime hotel barging experience as enjoyable and worry-free as possible.”
European Waterways’ 2022 season starts in late March. The company is offering travellers an opportunity to secure remaining space on some of its hotel barge cruises in Europe, with up to 20% off on select cabins and full-boat charters. The specials are valid when booked by Feb. 21.
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