Great river cruises of the world 16


I always thought I hated cruising – until I went on a cruise. I fell in love with the simple joy of watching dolphins play in the boat wake from our balcony, the camaraderie with our fellow passengers, and the convenience of visiting a variety of destinations while only cracking open a suitcase once.

Recently, I took to the water for a second time, only this time, the water was a river rather than an ocean and the dolphins were pink instead of gray. Sailing on Aqua Expedition’s The Aria was one of the most fabulous travel experiences of my life. For four days we explored the mighty Amazon from the luxury of one of the most beautifully designed temporary homes this travel blogger has ever had the pleasure to know. I trekked through the rainforest, spotted sloths from the skiff, went fishing for piranhas and watched the sun rise over the river every morning from the floor-to-ceiling picture windows in my private cabin – just one of sixteen onboard. The small gym on the third deck was in the running for most scenic treadmill views of all time, and it was a good thing, because the menu designed by Peru’s famed chef Pedro Miguel bordered on too delicious. And Miguel isn’t the only celebrity name on the Aria’s roster – the ship was designed by local design world darling Jordi Puig.

When I disembarked back in Iquitos, I promised myself it wouldn’t be long before I’d be back on a boat. Recently, I started daydreaming about where I might return to river cruising, and these floating boutique hotels were the ones that made it onto my someday-sail list.

The Aria by Aqua Expeditions

The Aria by Aqua Expeditions

The Aria by Aqua Expeditions

The Aria by Aqua Expeditions

The Aria by Aqua Expeditions

  1. The Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau in Egypt

What better way to explore one of history’s greatest civilizations than aboard a traditional bespoke dahabiya? With just two suites and four cabins, The Sanctuary Zein Nile epitomizes small sailing luxury. Each of the six staterooms is custom designed and completely unique, inspired by Egypt’s art and culture – I had a hard time picking which one I’d select for my own week-long fantasy cruise.

One thing I love about all the cruises in this post is that excursions are included (as are all meals and many a cocktail too!). But Sanctuary takes it a step further – excursions are led by expert Egyptologists, well-versed and highly educated on the sights, culture and history of the Nile. These specialty guides will help guests settle on a custom-designed itinerary of sights like the Valley of Kings of the Temple of Karnak and tailor it to their interests. A bespoke itinerary led by brainiacs, and an Arabian-themed sun deck to return to? Book me on the next flight to Cairo.

Sanctuary Cruises

Sanctuary Cruises

Sanctuary Cruises

Sanctuary Cruises

  1. The Zambezi Queen in Botswana

Don’t even think about calling the Zambezi Queen a cruise. Its creators have crowned it a “river safari,” and with game drives, fishing, abundant elephant sightings, and local village visits on the two and three night itineraries, I see no reason to contradict them.

The Chobe River is the perfect location for an aquatic adventure – and in landlocked Botswana, it may just be the only one. But not more than 80km by road lies one of the greatest water-based wonders of the world, the majestic Victoria Falls – a perfect compliment to this river safari. A bonus feature that made me swoon? The Zambezi Queen is committed to sustainability in travel, with solar-heated water, jet propulsion instead of propellers, limited air-conditioning, and as all should be (but aren’t) it is one of the best wheelchair accessible cruises in the world.

The Zambezi Queen

The Zambezi Queen

The Zambezi Queen

The Zambezi Queen

  1. The Aqua Mekong in Cambodia

Southeast Asia is my spiritual home, and so I could barely contain my excitement at Aqua Expedition’s announcement that they were launching a Mekong edition of the Amazon cruise that won my heart. The soon-to-be-completed ship will travel from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Saigon, Vietnam and back again with three, four and seven day itineraries available. In addition to twenty design suites, the boat will boast a private screening room and, like its Amazon sister ship, a plunge pool in the outdoor lounge.

Though I have explored both Cambodia and Vietnam fairly extensively by land, I would love to return someday and watch them float by via the might Mekong. Excursions will include visits to stilted and floating villages along the Tonle Sap, the glittering Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, and the French-architecture laden towns of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

The Aqua Mekong

The Aqua Mekong

The Aqua Mekong

Have you ever taken a river cruise? Which one would you choose?


About Alex Baackes

Alexandra Baackes is a travel writer and blogger with a passion for aquatic adventures. A New York native with a background in design, she's spent the past three years living nomadically and sharing her stories of hopping across the globe. You can find her spilling secrets on Alex in Wanderland, talking sea creatures and security lines on Facebook, and posting photos of fried rice and festivals on Instagram.

16 thoughts on “Great river cruises of the world

  • Lauri Wakefield

    I love this article, the pictures and the way you shared your experience. River cruising isn’t for everyone. You chose some more exotic cruises, which is really kind of cool. I generally recommend river cruises in Europe – the Rhine, Seine or Danube – for someone who has never taken a river cruise. You just dove right in. 🙂

    • Alex Baackes Post author

      I definitely have a taste for exotic destinations! I’m sure the European river destinations are by far the most popular, but these just capture my imagination!

  • Larry

    Aria’s boats look like a seaworthy version of a low rise condo (compliment) … seems like a supremely comfortable way to explore some of the world’s most intriguing regions…!

  • Jen Seligmann

    They all look amazing but an absolutely must for me is the Zambezi Queen in Botswana. To be honest I’d happily pay whatever they wanted me to for this cruise. It looks like an incredible experience. While I’ve never taken an overnight cruise before, I do always try to get out on the river when visiting cities that have a river running through them. Its a great way to get a different view of the city and a relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon.

  • Carmen

    Wow. I was never really into cruising either until we recently went on a cruise in the Galapagos. Mind blowing – it was amazing! The Amazon cruise looks fab. We are off to the Amazon on Thursday – although staying in an eco-lodge, not cruising. Can’t wait!

  • Michael

    We love cruising. We haven’t done a river cruise, but have 3 ocean cruises under our belt. It’s a great way to see several places in a short time without having to worry about how to get there, while having great food and entertainment. It really is stress free and if you like a place, you can come back later.

    • Alex

      That’s so true — in fact, I’m heading back to Greece this summer after realizing how much I loved it on a cruise!

  • Lauren Meshkin

    Wow! A floating boutique hotel sounds pretty damn awesome. I’m not a huge fan of boats but I definitely want to drive river cruising in Europe. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Happy travels 🙂

  • Brad Bernard

    Wow, that’s amazing! I had no idea river cruise boats were that nice. I was thinking they were all rusty barges. I need to rethink my aversion to cruises. Thanks for sharing!

  • Suki F

    Those actually look great! I never really liked how those large cruises look like. There is something about them that I don’t like. But these aren’t your common cruises.

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