The popularity of river cruises has skyrocketed in the past few years, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The ships, which have become increasingly luxurious with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and wraparound verandas, also provide easy access to city ports. And oh, the places you can go — the newly opened Burma, perhaps? Or how about a grand tour of Europe along its most famous rivers? If the idea of gliding past medieval castles and ancient temples floats your boat, check out these luxury river cruises.
Take a sail on the Orient Express’ Road to Mandalay ship. The seven-night Ayeyarwady Adventure begins in Bagan, an ancient city in Burma, where you can see the thousands of pagodas and temples and visit the market to see craftspeople making Myanmar’s famous lacquer. From there, it’s on to Mandalay and Mingun, as well as a traditional Burmese village and other places you might never see on your own. The Orient Express also offers the 11-night Gorges of The Far North, which heads north along unique gorges to Mingun, Mandalay, Bagan and charming villages with colorful markets and ancient religious towers. The company’s newest riverboat is the Orcaella, a 50-passenger vessel that will also drift down the Chindwin River and visit a candlelight street market, monasteries and other sites.
For a short-and-sweet cruise, book a stay at Inn at Palmetto Bluff near Hilton Head and take in the charm of the Lowcountry on the property’s antique motor yacht Grace. The 60-foot ship is named after Palmetto Bluff’s former owner’s sister, who was also the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt, III. The yacht offers tours or private charters along the May River. Scenic early afternoon cruises take you past the last operating oyster company in the southeast and the Barataria Islands while spying for dolphins. Evening wine cruises are also available, and there’s a mid-morning sail every Sunday with a continental breakfast and mimosas.
With Uniworld’s boutique river cruises, voyage to Italy and disembark daily to see frescoes and amphitheaters and taste your way through food markets. Its latest offering is a river cruise along the Po River and Venice Lagoon. The eight-day cruise includes onboard gourmet dining and live entertainment as well as full-day excursions in Ravenna, Bologna and Verona. Other new routes for 2013 include a cruise of the Danube, with ports of call in Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, and an Eastern European expedition, which includes Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. The company also has new ships sailing in Portugal, China and Vietnam, many of which include hotel stays at luxury properties such as Ritz-Carlton and Shangri-La.
Viking River Cruises launched six new longships for 2012 and is rolling out 10 more in 2013. The new ships hold 190 passengers and will sail the line’s most popular European routes, such as the 10-day cruise of Amsterdam, eight-day Rhine getaway and 15-day grand European tour. New cruises for 2013 include a visit to Portugal, and an 18-day journey in China, which takes you to Beijing and Shanghai, and includes a six-day Yangtze River cruise. Downton Abby fans will love a tour of Highclere Castle, which is used as the set for the show, during a Paris–Prague or Paris-Normandy excursion. If you want to see and do it all this year, book the 22-day Grand Rivers of Europe, which will have you witnessing everything from Dutch canals and tulip fields to Roman ruins and baroque architecture along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.
Photos Courtesy of Uniworld River Cruises Inc. and Palmetto Bluff