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Eight ships that prove river cruising can be luxurious

The river cruising trend is heating up, with more cruise lines — and more amenity-laden ships — embarking on rivers around the world than ever. To stand out from the competition, cruise lines are seeking out uncharted waters, outfitting ships with innovative on-board features, and designing creative shore excursions that encourage meaningful cultural interactions. Here, we highlight eight luxurious ships — from Cambodia's Mekong to Peru's Amazon — proving river cruising is anything but ordinary.

Scenic Spirit

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On Scenic Spirit, river and shore excursions are just as important as on-board comforts. The 34-suite ship — one of the most luxurious to ply the Mekong Delta — offers eight-day itineraries through Vietnam and Cambodia that include such immersive experiences as meetings with monks at remote temples. But back on the ship, there's plenty to look forward to, from swimming pool and sauna to an open-air cinema.

Don't miss: Visit the ancient Cambodian capital of Oudong to receive a blessing from a monk and a private lesson on praying in Buddhist pagodas. (senicuhysa.com)

The Strand Cruise

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Wander through 11th-century pagodas, ride a horse cart to the ancient capital of Ava, and make a mad dash along the riverbanks of Myanmar's rushing Irrawaddy River. These are just a few of the adventures that await guests on board Strand Cruise's four-night journeys from Bagan to Mandalay. The riverboat's authentic silhouette belies modern perks and comforts like a pool, a wine cellar, and a spa — making it perfect for relaxing after long days on the river.

Don't miss: Watch the sunrise over Bagan from the Shwe San Daw temple. (thestrandcruise.com)

Aria Amazon

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You're apt to see more than a few spectacled caimans, titi monkeys, and red-bellied piranhas while aboard the ultra-sleek, 32-passenger Aria Amazon. You're also apt to find these exotic species all to yourself, thanks to the Aqua Expeditions boat's exclusive itineraries on the quiet upper Amazon.

Accommodations on the intimate river cruiser range from 21 to 22 square metres, and come equipped with California king–size beds and panoramic windows with sweeping views of the Peruvian jungle. The boat is complete with luxurious touches like a 1:1 staff-to-passenger ratio, an elegant indoor lounge, and a white-tablecloth restaurant.

Don't miss: Private lectures and excursions with the world-renown conservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau, who will join the ship for several voyages in 2018. (aquaexpeditions.com)

Yangzi Explorer

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From drifting through the curving waterways of the Three Gorges to riding in a sampan steered by a local Tujia boatman, Sanctuary Retreats' Yangzi Explorer offers the ultimate itineraries along China's Yangtze River. When you aren't out on the river, spend leisurely mornings spotting macaques and Mandarin ducks from the balcony of your luxuriously appointed suite.

Don't miss: A tour of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydropower project ever built. (sanctuaryretreats.com)

Ganges Voyager II

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Experience India's Golden Triangle while navigating the world's third-largest river about the Ganges Voyager II, a gorgeous Uniworld ship that pays homage to the river with both opulent décor and immersive itineraries.

Thirteen-day itineraries on the sacred Ganges River wind from Delhi to Jaipur and Agra, making stops along the way including visits to the Taj Mahal, Hare Krishna temples, and Hooghly Imambara mosque.

Don't miss: Get lost among the thousand doors of the massive Hazarduari Palace. (uniworld.com)

Zambezi Queen

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It is awe-inspiring enough to see a giraffe — or a cape buffalo or elephant, or zebra — in the wild, but to do so from a plunge pool on the upper deck of the Zambezi Queen is something completely unrivalled.

The 28-passenger AmaWaterways cruiser plies Botswana's Chobe River on two- and three-night expeditions that offer a floating take on the traditional safari game drive with well-appointed staterooms equipped with balconies perfect for wildlife-spotting.

Don't miss: Meeting the locals during a morning visit to a small Botswana village. (amawaterways.com)

Crystal Mozart

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A typical Danube cruise plies the waters west of Budapest, but a growing number of ships — including Crystal Mozart — are charting the less-explored eastern stretches of the Danube River, navigating toward Croatia and Serbia.

Besides the comfort standards expected of Crystal, the Mozart skips traditional cruise ship standards like assigned-seating dining and black-tie nights. Instead you'll find such modern amenities as daily yoga and fitness classes and cool top-deck pop-up bar.

Don't miss: The modernist architectural heritage of Belgrade, from Soviet-era Brutalism to mid-century sculptural skyscrapers. (crystalcruises.com)

Oberoi Zahra

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Competition on the Nile has led its riverboats to more impressive — and luxurious — extremes. Leading the pack is the Oberoi Zahra, which features a contemporary design that is a stark, yet pleasing, contrast to Egypt's ancient temples and pyramids outside the ship's panoramic windows.

The cruise journeys between Aswan and Luxor, stopping at the Ptolemaic-era temple of Kom Ombo, the Luxor Museum, and ancient Thebes.

Don't miss: The after-dark son et lumière at Aswan's ancient Philae Temple. (oberoihotels.com)

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