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With the pandemic far back in the rearview mirror, 2023 is proving to be another year of “revenge travel,” while advance bookings continue to surge. Industry surveys show that travelers are more confident about booking their dream vacations many months and even years in advance to secure their spots for the most desirable experiences. The trend is benefiting companies like European Waterways, a luxury hotel barge cruising specialist, which is reporting advance booking increases of up to 25 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“Whether you call it ‘revenge travel’, ‘Fear of Missing Out’, or simply a reflection of continuing, pent-up demand, our cabins and charters sold faster and more consistently through 2023, and they continue strong through 2024, 2025 and beyond,” said Derek Banks, managing director of European Waterways. His company’s extensive fleet cruises the canals and smaller rivers of Europe and the UK.
Banks noted that European Waterways is well-positioned to welcome these travelers. The company’s small, intimate vessels cruise through some of the world’s most picturesque countryside, some with spectacular and unspoiled views that have not changed for centuries. Their daily excursions introduce guests to elegant estates, castles, wineries, and unique, local personalities ranging from aristocrats to canal lockkeepers and gardeners — who might share a meal or afternoon tea, or offer them a private tour while regaling them with tales steep in romance, intrigue and old-world lore and traditions.
“These are the types of in-country cultural immersions that travelers are seeking now as they finally emerge from their pandemic ‘lockdowns’,” said Banks. He also noted that the company recently added a new vessel, Kir Royale, in the Champagne region of France, to meet growing demand.
Raising a Glass
The Burgundy region of France is world-renowned for its exquisite wines and elegant vistas that are steep in romance and history. European Waterways’ flagship hotel barge, the eight-passenger Renaissance, cruises one of the country’s oldest canals, the Canal de Briare, which connects the Rhone and Saône rivers and Seine valleys. The cruise treats passengers to a countryside dotted with sophisticated chateaux, quiet villages, and the rolling limestone hills of Sancerre, which many claim produce “the ultimate French Sauvignon Blanc.”
Among cruise highlights is a wine tasting at La Perriere winery, known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There is also a cooking demonstration at the privately-owned Château de La Bussière. Called “the fisherman’s castle”, its immaculately restored interior features an extensive collection of fishing-related artefacts. Another highlight is a cruise across Gustave Eiffel-designed aqueduct over the River Loire and the seven-lock flight at Rogny-Les-Sept-Ecluses, which is listed as a national historic monument.
In addition to its classic cruises on the Upper Loire and in Western Burgundy, Renaissance offers themed cruises for families, sports enthusiasts and wine lovers, among others.
A Higher Ground
The Scottish Highlands are among the most iconic and most dramatic regions of the world, with a fascinating history that has inspired countless works of literature and art, and today continues to attract millions of visitors every year. Its striking natural vistas and deep-water lakes — or lochs — have earned it a designation as one of the “Best of the World” destinations in 2023 by National Geographic.
One of European Waterways’ newest vessels, the purpose-built 12-passenger Spirit of Scotland features an open-air upper deck that is ideal for admiring the beauty of the region as the vessel cruises the spectacular Caledonian Canal. An incredible feat of engineering that opened in 1822, the canal runs from Inverness to Fort William, passing picturesque villages and serene lochs that include the famous Loch Ness.
Itinerary highlights include a falconry demonstration on the banks of Loch Ness; a tour of Ben Nevis whisky distillery, followed by a private tasting; visits to castles such as the iconic Eilean Donan, mysterious Urquhart, and Cawdor, with its colorful gardens. Among the memorable outings is a tour of the Culloden battlefield, where in 1746 British government troops defeated the forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who was attempting to reclaim the throne as the rightful king.
In addition to the classic cruise, the Spirit of Scotland offers themed cruises for families and golf enthusiasts, as well as garden cruises and whisky trail cruises.
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