By Suzanne Le Mignot


CHICAGO (CBS) — The sudden cold and snow has many of us dreaming of vacation, and here is an option you may not have heard of – barge cruises.

As CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot reported, a boutique travel company run by a woman here in Chicago can get you on board. But you need to act fast.

“It’s really an addiction that’s difficult to shake once you’ve done it one time,” said traveler Ashley Hutchinson.

A photographer, Hutchinson reminisced about her recent vacation on a barge cruise through France. Her customized trip was created by the niche Chicago travel agency Barge Lady Cruises, a family business spanning more than three decades.

“My mother Ellen Sack is the barge lady, I am a barge lady, my sister is another barge lady, and we have deputized a group of other people, both barge lads and barge ladies to be honorary members of our little tribe” said Stephanie Sack, marketing maven for Barge Lady Cruises.

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Representing 50 vessels with 75 itineraries, the Barge Ladies help people travel through channels in eight European countries.

“You are on an old cargo boat that has been built for the canals many moons ago; but have been tricked out into floating boutique hotels with beautiful kitchens, lovely cabins, wonderful public spaces,” Sack said.

The cruises are intimate, with only 4 to 12 passengers. There’s a full crew, with a chef at your disposal, and plenty of liquid pleasure.

“They’ll go to the store, and pick out foods specifically for you as they learn what you like,” Hutchinson said. “It’s such a beautiful experience having that food, all those cheeses, those wines. It’s something that every age should experience once.”

While Sack acknowledged some of their cruises carry exorbitant prices, she said most are priced affordably because all of the amenities you need for your vacation – lodging, food, and activities – are included.

“When you break barge cruising down, on a day-to-day-basis, on a meal-by meal basis, on an hour-by-hour basis, it is actually one of the most value-driven luxury vacations on the market today,” Sack said.

Hutchinson said having everything included in the trips takes a great deal of stress out of planning a vacation.

“I didn’t have to worry about a single thing, and that was truly the way to escape mentally and physically,” Hutchinson said.

It’s also the slowest form of cruising, basically at a walking pace, allowing passengers to really see the countryside by boat, or get out and explore through a personalized itinerary.

“It’s almost motionless; which is really appealing to people who are interested in boating, but can’t or won’t do it due to claustrophobia or – more often – motion sickness,” Sack said.

The cruises are six nights, seven days; and cover about 50 miles of countryside. The season runs from April through October. Prices start at $4,000. Head to the Barge Lady Cruises website for more information.