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The best luxury river cruises in the world

If you’re the type of traveller that likes exploring a destination at a relaxed pace, one of the best ways to do this is on a river cruise. Not only does this offer a more peaceful mode of travel, it also allows you to view a country from a completely different perspective, experiencing things not always possible when travelling by car or train. From a timeless cruise along the Nile, to exploring the Backwaters of Kerala in India, a river cruise is sure to captivate the imagination and rejuvenate the soul. Here are my favourite luxury river cruises from around the world. The Zambezi Queen, Namibia Meander down the mighty Chobe River aboard the luxurious Zambezi Queen. This beautiful boat has 14 ensuite cabins each with its own private balcony, and the upper deck features a dining room, private pool and bar, as well as a stunning lounge with a wood burning fireplace. The whole boat also has mosquito screening. Zambezi Queen The river itself divides Namibia’s Caprivi Strip from Botswana‘s Chobe National Park and wildlife spotting opportunities abound here. The National Park is home to one of the largest populations of elephant in the world, while hippo and crocodile are just some of the animals likely to join you in the water. Keep your eyes peeled for buffalo, waterbuck and giraffe, along the banks of the river too. The Orcaella, Burma The Orient Express group is synonymous with luxury and the Orcaella boat in Burma is another fine example from their portfolio of accommodation options. The Orcaella The boat itself is fairly small, meaning it’s able to negotiate areas of water along the Ayeryawaddy and Chindwin rivers not accessible to larger vessels. This offers travellers a real insight into a side of Burma away from the well-trodden tourist routes. 25 cabins with floor to ceiling glass doors and balconies are available aboard this four-deck cruiser, each with air conditioning and en suite facilities. The boat also features all the facilities you could want, including a lounge and bar, restaurant, fitness centre, treatment room, small pool, and two small shops. Oberoi Vrinda, Kerala, India The tranquil backwaters of Kerala offer a peaceful respite from the colourful and frenetic cities of India, and there is no greater way to explore than aboard a luxury vessel. Oberoi Vrinda The Oberoi Vrinda is one such option. On the lower deck of this small boat are just eight luxury, ensuite cabins, all with a king size bed, TV and DVD player, whilst the top deck houses a lounge and bar that offer spectacular panoramic views. Don’t miss out on some tasty South Indian cuisine while on board, masterfully created using local ingredients, and enjoy breakfast on the sun deck with the beautifully peaceful surroundings of the backwaters as your backdrop. Steam Ship Sudan, Egypt Famous for its links to Agatha Christie and her book, ‘Death on the Nile’, which was penned after the novelist spent some time aboard the boat, the Steam Ship Sudan is perhaps one of the most well-known and best loved river cruises available today. Built in 1885, for King Fouad, this steamship has just 24 cabins, five of which are suites. Each is furnished with period furniture giving a the boat a timeless and classic feel. Steam Ship Sudan A lovely sun deck provides you with the opportunity to relax and enjoy your surroundings, while a stylish bar and dining room are also at your disposal. Dinners are a fairly formal affair and are usually a set, four-course meal. Volga Dream, Russia The Volga Dream is a boutique river cruiser that navigates the waters between Moscow and St Petersburg. This is a really unique way to view the Russian countryside and experience a different side of this colossal country, famed for its grandiose cities and political history. Volga Dream On board you can expect an entertainment programme that includes lectures, cooking lessons and Russian language classes. This isn’t just a whistle-stop tour that scratches the surface but a true cultural tour that gets to the heart of Russian culture, history and religion. Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer, China For a touch of exclusivity and luxury on the Yangtze River in China, you can’t go far wrong with the Yangzi Explorer. This boat is the smallest of all Sanctuary Cruises’ fleet and offers a delightful way to explore the Three Gorges region. Yangzi Explorer As part of your cruise you can enjoy numerous on board activities and facilities, including educational lectures, video libraries and internet access, as well as the discreet yet attentive service. The Jayavarman, Cambodia Enjoy the mighty Mekong in unparalleled comfort and luxury aboard the Jayavarman in Cambodia. For those looking to enjoy a good chunk of time on the boat, an eight day cruise is available between Saigon and Siem Reap, whilst those short on time can explore the delights of the river on one of the many shorter options. Jayavarman Take the opportunity to explore on shore with excursions that are tailored to your preferences and interests, before hopping back on board to relax in the stylish surroundings of your vessel. Facilities include a small spa and bar as well as a spacious sundeck, whilst all 27 rooms and suites panoramic doors that open onto private balconies. Craig Burkinshaw is a Founder Director of Audley Travel.

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  1. You should try a luxury river cruise in the Amazon River. Departing from the peruvian city of Iquitos, you may have a trip right into Pacaya Samiria National Park. It’s an outstanding tour.

  2. Hi Juan, that sounds like a wonderful tour. There are some great luxury Amazon River cruises and another of our favourites is the Amazon Clipper Premium, which starts and finishes in Manaus, Brazil.

  3. Hi Craig – A nice list for sure, but I can assure you that the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer is not the most luxurious ship on the Yangtze, I have travelled on her and her competitors and the Viking Emerald delivers much better on every conceivable luxury matrix with the exception of cabin size. The food and staff on Viking blow the Explorer out of the water…

  4. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your comment, I’ve heard of the Viking Emerald, although it’s not one I’ve experienced personally.

    Sounds like you’ve visited the area quite a few times – have you spent time exploring other areas of the country, too?


  5. Stunning photos. The wife and I will probably try at least one river cruise. I am pretty sure we will do at least one cruise from north to south in the US and then possibly the Danube and the Rhine in Europe.

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