The Zambezi Queen is a luxurious, triple deck river cruiser based out of Kasane
Zambezi Queen: Our full report
The luxurious Zambezi Queen offers two- and three-day cruises on the Chobe River beside Botswana’s Chobe National Park. At 45m long and three storeys high, this river cruiser provides a relaxed way to explore the Chobe River away from the many lodges and hotels in the Kasane area. Its base, not far from the Victoria Falls and very close to Kasane International Airport, makes the boat a convenient addition to trips to Botswana's Okavango Delta, Namibia's Caprivi Strip or Zambia and Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls.
The Zambezi Queen has two mooring points along the river. Because of its shallow draft in the water, it is susceptible to wind and so sometimes needs to remain moored at one when the winds pick up. On our recent stay on the ship, we had a rather exciting and admittedly, nail-biting close encounter with the riverbank when we were cruising – but the crew were quick to respond and we were soon enjoying sightings of elephant, buffalo and other wildlife as we cruised to our next mooring point.
The team of the Zambezi Queen aims to be as flexible as possible with activities, so these will vary on a day-to-day basis, taking into consideration the needs and interests of all their guests.
The two-night cruise departs on a Monday and Wednesday, and activities will usually include a morning game drive in Chobe National Park, as well as an afternoon/sundowner boat cruise. Note that you will need to clear both Namibia and Botswana immigration each way when taking a game drive. We left the houseboat on one of the tenderboats and then changed over to a large double-storey game-viewer boat for our sundowner cruise. While quite conspicuous, we found the views from our raised vantage point were a definite bonus.
On a three-night cruise, guests may also have the chance to visit a local village, – and the school, if you’re there on a weekday. In addition, there may be the opportunity for catch-and-release fishing and birding excursions on the tenderboats.
We discovered that the time spent getting to the park and back, as well as clearing immigration, made game drives rather tiring and lengthy excursions. Instead, we’d suggest using your time on board to explore the Chobe River itself, particularly in the dry season when wildlife – especially large herds of elephant and buffalo – congregate in high densities near the water’s edge. It’s not unusual for guests to do this, excusing themselves from activities and simply enjoying the splendid views from onboard.
There are 14 cabins spread across the two lower decks of the boat, each with either a double or twin beds and river views from a private balcony. Four of these cabins are larger 'master suites' and have their own private outdoor area complete with sunloungers. Two of these (24 and 26) have a sleeper couch that is spacious enough for one child (but likely to feel quite cramped with two). Each suite has an en-suite bathroom with a flushing toilet, handbasin and a surprisingly well-proportioned shower cubicle.
The Zambezi Queen's interior is designed to feel light and airy, and the décor is distinctly stylish. Ceiling fans and specially designed shutter systems help to keep the rooms cool, even during the warmer summer months, as we discovered on our most recent visit in September 2012.
At the top of the Zambezi Queen is the entertainment deck, where you’ll find the dining room, a lounge with several sitting areas and a well-stocked bar. The dining room was specially designed to provide 360° views of the Chobe River and National Park, and the food – provided by top-quality chefs trained at a well-respected academy in Cape Town – was superb!
Also on this level is a sundeck with sunloungers and a small swimming pool. Because the water is pumped from the river, it’s likely to appear murky, but it’s filtered first so is perfectly fine to swim in.
The lower deck currently has a small reading room, where a few curios are available to purchase. We understand that there are plans to make this a more substantial curio shop and possibly to add a desk and computer for guests to use. We found that while the boat had limited WiFi, most of the time the signal wasn’t very strong and this could become frustrating.
Our viewThe Zambezi Queen offers an intimate and luxurious way to escape, to a large degree, from the often crowded Chobe riverfront area. Expect high levels of service in this atypical safari lodging which we think could make a great way to end a safari – particularly for those who are used to the finer things in life. For us, the river itself is the main draw. While game drives are an option, a wide variety of wildlife can be seen from the boat without the hassle of clearing immigration and transferring to a 4WD vehicle.
Ideal length of stay: Cruises are based on set departures. Two-night trips depart on Monday and Wednesday; three-night cruises on Friday.
Directions: The Zambezi Queen is located about 80km from Victoria Falls and Livingstone and 3km from Kasane. These all have international airports and operate regular scheduled flights out of Johannesburg, with Kasane the best option for a fly in either by charter or scheduled departure. From Kasane, it’s a short ten-minute drive to the Botswanan immigration office; from Livingstone or Victoria Falls, the transfer takes about two hours. After clearing immigration in Botswana, guests are transferred by motorboat to the Namibian immigration post to clear Namibian immigration. From there, it’s usually about 15 minutes by boat, to the Zambezi Queen.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our most recent visit in September 2012, the food was of an outstanding quality with good variety.
Breakfast is served when guests return from their morning activity and will usually be a choice of cereals, cooked porridge, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad, muffins, cold meat and cheese platter, as well as a cooked option with eggs made to order.
Afternoon tea was scrumptious and substantial; more of a late lunch really. On offer were freshly baked scones, jam and cream, a decadent lemon meringue cake, savoury canapés, tuna salad and freshly baked bread.
During our stay, we had dinner in the private boma on the shore. We started with a delicious corn chowder served in individual pots, along with freshly baked bread. Dinner was a barbecue with a selection of meat, from lamb and steak to chicken. Sides included salads, cooked pumpkin, beans, carrots and potatoes. For those with room, dessert was a tart, lemon-soaked sponge with cream.
Vegetarians can be catered for, but advance notice should be given.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: All soft drinks, mineral water, tea and coffee, local wine and beer are included. Premium brands, spirits and liqueurs will cost extra.
Further dining info: There is no room service available on the Zambezi Queen
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 7 are permitted on-board the Zambezi Queen, but they don’t consider themselves ‘child-friendly’.
Special activities & services: There are no special activities or services provided for children.
Equipment: Two of the suites have a sleeper couch, which can sleep two children, but is probably better suited for one child.
Generally recommended for children: In some ways the Zambezi Queen could be great for a larger family if booking sole use of the entire boat. In other circumstances, because of the limited size of the boat and proximity of the rooms to each other, children – and adults – are asked to respect their fellow guests and there isn’t anywhere to ‘let off steam’. So we believe a cruise is likely to be suitable only for older, more mature children.
Notes: The pool is unfenced and the river has crocodiles and hippos. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.
Communications: There is usually cellphone reception on the boat, and occasionally very limited WiFi.
TV & radio: There is no television or radio
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The managers are first-aid trained. The nearest doctor is in Kasane.
Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk
Security measures: There is a security guard on board at night.
Fire safety: There are fire detectors throughout the riverboat, as well as fire extinguishers.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is not available
Money: There is an electronic safe in each cabin. There is no currency exchange available. MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Diners and Amex are not. Cash payments may be made in South African rand, Botswana pula, Namibian dollars and US dollars.