Just wanted to share my trip quickly (ha!) with y'all in case anyone is considering this unique form of travel.
Background: You can rent boats (not just here but all over France and Europe) and do self-drive canal and river cruising - or even in the bay around Venice. No special license is required. This was our second trip - the first one was 4 years ago, covering most of the same route.
-This kind of vacation is at a very unique pace. The boat moves slower than a bicycle but a little faster than a fast walk. So it's a way to really slow down and experience scenery without the same kind of physical effort involved in a hiking or cycling vacation.
-It's also a little bit like being on a slow-moving RV in that your boat is your home, with a kitchen, toilets, etc. There are frequent areas to moor up, either in a port, often with electricity, water, off-boat bathroom facilities or a "nature mooring" which can be just about anywhere with some safety restrictions in certain areas. So you can really set your own itinerary.
-Depending on the route chosen, it can be an interesting mix of an active holiday or a very relaxing one - again, you can choose your route, set your pace, etc. It lends itself well into a deep-dive exploration into a relatively small area.
-Handling the boat isn't easy. In addition to just driving straight (boats don't behave like cars!) you have to do the work of handling lines to moor up, and in most cases, going through locks. On certain routes, there are days that are going to be very active for 2-5 people depending on the size of your boat and the number of obstacles, which can also include extremely low and tight bridges from the 17th century, other boats, intersections with fast moving rivers, even tunnels! So you'll need to have at least a few people who are willing to do the work, are good at communicating with each other, and are reasonably competent with decent mobility.
-The cost isn't cheap. I haven't done the math yet but it would be difficult to make the trip cheaper than a more normal trip staying at mid-range hotels or flats with a rental car or bike. You can of course cook on the boat, but it's not particularly easy compared to a normal kitchen, and your transit is included but you're going such short distances that say, a biking trip would certainly cost less. But it's not horrifically expensive either.
-You're cooped up in a relatively small space with other people (I wouldn't recommend a couple get a boat on their own the first time - couples alone seemed to be very experienced.) You should like the people you're with and still expect tempers to flare and frustrations to occur. I would never do this trip with strangers, and I did do it with one person I hadn't traveled with before despite knowing well for years and I still learned things that I'd rather have not known about their personality! It's a good option for a family with older kids and teenagers that get along and are used to doing activities that require teamwork and cooperation, or couples. Not great for a group of singles unless you're willing to share a real small room with your friend.
-A bit of a corollary to the last point: you will get to know your shipmates intimately, or as I told my friends, "By the time this is over, we will all know too much about each other's pooping habits." Halfway through the trip, I was right.
In summary: I really love this style of travel. It's a bit stressful, but in a good way - I barely thought about my normal obsession, US politics, the entire time because I was just too busy handling lines, planning stops, preparing apertivo plates, to be able to worry about anything but our next part of the trip, and there is a real zen that comes with that.
Onto the trip itself!