We had several reservations about booking this trip, but our travel agent's endorsement, along with glowing reviews in the NYT and Huffington Post, convinced us. And we are so glad we did. This was an incredible, delightful experience. I'll start by giving our reservations, and why they turned out to be groundless, and then add whatever is not covered that way.
1. The rooms/boat will be cramped, uncomfortable and/or shabby. This was based in part on our experience on the Le Ponant a couple of years ago, and partly on the company's online photos. Turns out, the Nenuphar was beautifully updated, and much, much nicer than the Le Ponant. In particular, the bathroom was much more spacious, with the shower being about twice the size of the one on Le Ponant. The bedrooms were small, but we had a king, and it was so well laid out that there was actually enough room for two full-sized adults to get around in--even at the same time. The public rooms were similarly comfortable, with the right amount of seating and space. The finishes were also lovely, with dark wood and granite in the bathrooms and on the bar, and really lovely cherry walls and ceilings. (You'll have to take my word for it--the photos don't do it justice.)
2. The food will be mediocre. This was based on experience with Celebrity, which ranged from bad to better than average, and the Le Ponant, which was average to somewhat above average. In contrast, the Nenuphar's food was generally excellent to really superlative. I can be a bit demanding, but I had no reservations whatsoever, and in fact, I still fantasize about the incredible lunches we had every day. In addition, every lunch and dinner includes very thoughtfully selected white and red wines from the region, including premier and grand crus both red and white. Lunch and dinner also includes three cheese selections, which are presented with a discussion of their origin, history and flavor (which is done with the wines as well).
3. Our fellow passengers will drive us crazy, and there will be no escape. Turns out that our fellow passengers were by and large lovely, and I'd jump at the chance of travelling with most of them again. And again, we can be a bit hard to please, so I'm not just being a Pollyanna here. I will note that, human nature being what it is, a couple of folks had some quirks, but there was enough space that the quirks did not become overbearing. (Fortunately, we're free of quirks ourselves!) I think that there's some self-selection going on here--discussions with fellow passengers who were veterans of FCW said that the experience of good fellow passengers is the norm.
4. The boat will be claustrophobic. This was my husband's worry. He really struggled with the idea of a barge that only goes 100 miles in a week. Turns out there's plenty of opportunity to get off the boat as there is a tow path the entire route and passengers walk, run or bike ahead of the boat. In addition, there is an outing to a winery, historic site or town planned for every day of the trip, so this further reduces the time on the barge.
5. The French crew / the French people will be snobbish. The crew were amazing--fun, smart, incredibly helpful--regardless of nationality. And they all spoke excellent English. Really, I've never had more helpful crew on a voyage. As for the French people we encountered off of the ship, they were as friendly and helpful, or more so, than the people I encounter in Austin or Houston. Certainly, they were more tolerant of my mediocre foreign language than most Americans...
6. Daily sightseeing excursions will be overwhelming. Sightseeing excursions lasted four hours at the outside, and involved a minimum of walking and driving, so they were actually pretty relaxing. Two of them involved visits to wineries, where the hardest work was going down to see the wine cellar. Another visited the hospice at Beaune, followed by some shopping in the area. Tough, but we managed it. And finally, if you manage to get worn out by even this relaxed pace, you have the option of staying with the barge.
Final notes: This was an incredibly relaxing trip, with the right blend of history, culture, food and countryside. There are a few things you should know before you go: 1) You will have to be up, dressed and out of your bedroom by 9:30 every morning (9:15 if you want breakfast). This is due to the need to clean rooms. Generally, everyone is asleep by midnight, so this tends not to be an option. 2) The food is fantastic, but as there are 12 passengers max, there are no menu options--you get what the chef makes. (There is, however, an opportunity before you arrive to inform them of food allergies, which they will then make every effort to accommodate. At least, that's my understanding.) 3) This is a very comfortable cruise, but it is not like a big ship--no entertainment, no spa, no pool, etc. It's very comfortable, but it is not a big, luxury, suite-type experience.
But that being said, we're ready to go again.