Getting to Namibia wasn’t the easiest experience in the world, as I detailed in this post, but it was fun. It was fun to get out of my comfort zone and see parts of Africa I never thought I’d see. That doesn’t mean though that I wasn’t thrilled to be welcomed aboard the luxury ship the Zambezi Queen after a long, dusty day on the road. I knew the boat was supposed to be nice, but I didn’t realize just how nice it was or how the cruise was about much more than spending some time on a luxury boat in the middle of a Namibian river. I was the guest of the Zambezi Queen, asked to visit along with some other bloggers in order to share with the world what it’s really like to experience living as close to African wildlife as is possible without sacrificing any creature comforts. It’s not hard to be impressed though with the entire shipboard experience.
As the runabout sped across the waters I could see the sun begin to make its slow progress below the horizon and all around us birds of every shape and color were taking flight. I’d never been to Sub-Saharan Africa before and I certainly had never been in the bush, but so far it had lived up to all of my expectations. I couldn’t believe my eyes though when I first caught glimpse of the luxury river boat the Zambezi Queen and standing next to it on a sandbar were elephants, casually grazing. ELEPHANTS! Real, honest to goodness wild elephants that weren’t in a zoo, private park or tour. I could barely wait to see what else Namibia had in store for us.
The spit of water in which we were anchored divides Namibia’s Caprivi Strip from Botswana’s Chobe National Park and its exotic banks boast one of the densest populations of wildlife on the African continent. This became evident right away when in addition to the elephants we were soon joined by buffalo and those cranky river dwellers, hippos. Before I even put my bags away, I sat in the comfortable lounge staring transfixed over the balcony at the live action Lion King playing out before my eyes. It was a dream come true and I was soon in a state of total and complete contentment.
The boat is more than the views and animals of course, and as a luxury vessel the Zambezi Queen lives up to whatever high expectations guests may have. The boat was designed to be intimate and exclusive; there are only 14 cabins so at full occupancy there will never be more than 28 guests on board the Queen. Given the size of the ship I was prepared for a closet-like room, but was shocked to find a spacious and comfortable cabin. All cabins have their own balconies and the decor was tasteful, elegant and comfortable.
One of the nicest features of the cruise was the communal nature. There were three separate groups on board and within a few hours we had all become fast friends. It’s just nicer to experience something as remarkable as being in the heart of Africa with like-minded people who want nothing more than to see the best of African wildlife. Meals are communal as well and instead of bland, boring meals every time we gathered to break bread we discovered new and delicious culinary adventures.
The most important part of the cruise experience though was viewing wildlife in as natural a way as possible. The Zambezi Queen offers two and three-day sailings, and our two-day option meant we had to be well organized in order to see and do as much as possible. The kind staff aboard the ship has the experience down to a science and we never wanted for things to do. Our first evening was spent on the runabout for a wildlife viewing at sunset. The next day we all gathered to make the short trek to Chobe National Park in Botswana where we spent the day looking for and finding giraffes, elephants, hippos and many other animals. That evening we enjoyed another sunset game drive by boat where we had one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever encountered.
We were on the river looking at a vast herd of elephants when we heard a commotion behind us. Two elephants had left the safety of shore and were swimming out to the sandbar in the middle of the river. I sat there in shock watching the enormous and beautiful animals swim across the river just a few feet away and shake the water from their backs before rejoining their herd. This wasn’t just an incredible opportunity; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s what the entire stay on the Zambezi Queen felt like, an unbelievable dream trip made suddenly into reality.
I’m always totally objective when I write these reviews and usually I can find a con here and there to point out to prospective guests. But the Zambezi Queen didn’t afford that opportunity; the entire stay was perfect from start to finish. So if you’re looking for a different way to experience wildlife in Africa, I highly recommend you take to the water aboard the Queen.