Panache Review

Jeannine Williamson

Panache is a stylish 12-passenger hotel barge that is part of the fleet operated by U.K.-based European Waterways.

Like the majority of the other vessels in the fleet, it was originally a working barge dating back to the 1950s and was given a new lease of life as a hotel boat after being totally restored. With a 2:1 crew-to-passenger ratio, the two-deck Panache has six cabins that measure 150 square feet. Each can be configured as twins or doubles.

All the cabins are very well equipped and include ample closet space, a large fixed window and bathrooms fitted with two sinks and oversized walk-in showers with massage jets. Robes, towels, hair dryer and bathroom products are provided. The onboard voltage is 220v and 240v and passengers need to bring adapters for the European-style two-pin sockets. Cabins have bedside tables with reading lamps, a writing desk and chair and a TV/DVD player mounted on the wall.

The upper deck saloon, which doubles as a lounge and dining area, has panoramic windows and is decorated in traditional yacht style with brass and mahogany fittings. There is a small library of books and maps, board games, an electronic piano and music system.

Outside is a large sun deck, with a hot tub, plus 12 complimentary bicycles for passengers to use to explore the towpaths and surrounding villages. Fares include all meals, snacks, unlimited tea, coffee, soda, alcoholic beverages, excursions and Wi-Fi.

Onboard meals are freshly prepared by the chef. Days begin with a continental-style breakfast with fresh breads and pastries, cereals, freshly squeezed orange juice and hot beverages. Lunch is usually a buffet, with salads, pates and cold cuts accompanied by a hot soup or entree, desserts and a selection of regional cheeses. Dinner is a candlelit four-course gourmet experience with a set menu. Dietary requirements such as vegetarian and vegan, can be catered with advance notice at the time of booking. Both lunch and dinner are accompanied by quality wines paired with each course.

European Waterways markets the cruises to international English-speaking passengers and fellow cruisers are mostly from North America and the U.K. Primarily 50-plus, they are well-educated and well-traveled

Life onboard is very relaxed and casual. There is no dress code, although some passengers like to dress up for the captain's dinner on the last night.

From March to early May Panache sails six-night itineraries in Holland, including a springtime Dutch bulb field cruise, and excursions include the Keukenhof gardens with the world's largest display of flowers, Royal Delft pottery and Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt. From June to October, there are six-night itineraries in Alsace and Lorraine, which take in the city of Strasbourg, the Alsace wine route and an ascent or descent of the

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