Zambezi Queen is owned and operated by The Mantis Group, which has hotels and eco-lodges worldwide. The boat is also featured by luxury river cruise line AmaWaterways, which sells four nights onboard as part of extended Africa packages. The vessel itself is stunning, all done up in tasteful neutrals with African artwork, zebra rugs and faux (of course)-leopardskin cushions. Service is exceptional, the food is superb and there is an open bar serving quality South African wines.
Zambezi Queen doesn’t have air conditioning; each cabin has sliding shutters and mosquito screens, and comes with a fan. The whole upper deck lounge/dining area has mosquito screens, too, and is open to river breezes from end to end. At 10pm, the power switches to backup, the main lights go out and you fall asleep to the whirring of your fan, the noises of the African night and the occasional grunt of a hippo. Needless to say, with no lights for miles around, the stargazing is spectacular.
Don’t expect a typical river cruise. The Zambezi Queen only sails a 25km stretch of the Chobe River and potters slowly between the same mid-river moorings all the time. There are no ports of call and no river traffic; there aren’t even any towns here apart from the nearby gateway of Kasane. Once you're out on the river, it's just vast expanses of open space.
You can do a two-night, three-night or four-night itinerary (AmaWaterways passengers do the four-nighter). We'd say three is ideal; Zambezi Queen is so relaxing and the river so beautiful that we could have done with an extra day onboard, just gazing at the scenery, as we were away from the boat on a morning game drive and a separate sunset cruise for most of our middle day. You see elephants, hippos, crocs and birds all the time from the mother ship and we even spotted two leopards coming down to the river to drink.
You have to slow down in Africa and adjust expectations of service, understanding your accent and so on. The 47 Namibian crew on Zambezi Queen have been expertly trained by Vicky Nel, the South African hotel manager and were outstandingly professional, but these are very gentle people with their own particular hierarchy and on or off the boat, you can't speak fast, or get impatient, or bark orders, as you'll draw a blank. It's not as though winding down is difficult, in any case; it's amazing that this level of food, service and accommodation can be achieved in the middle of the African bush.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic contributing editor