Best Libations Afloat


Bar Du Leopard on Uniworld’s
Bar Du Leopard on Uniworld’s SS Antoinette creates an ‘Out of Africa’


River ships sail the world with great watering holes.

Whether you’re sailing the Mosel, the Mekong or the Mississippi, river ship bars serve up signature cocktails, exotic views and unique décor. Here’s a look at top spots for libations afloat.

Leopard Martini
Leopard Martini is a mix of creme de cacao, Frangelico, cream and chocolate topping.

Seeking a light, airy bar atmosphere? Head for Viking River Cruises’ Viking Odin and the line’s other new Longships, all named for Norse gods and heroes. With light-colored woods, these bars have a Scandinavian boutique hotel feel and floor-to-ceiling windows. Most unique, though, is that the bar’s architecture reflects the “clinker” technique used by the Vikings to shape a ship’s hull. Definitely try the Aquavit, distilled Scandinavian liquor served in a nifty decanter.

Sun seekers who want refreshments combined with water fun might check out AMA Waterways’ AmaCerto. The new vessel’s top-deck swimming pool has—yes, you guessed it—the river cruise industry’s first swim-up bar. A bartender typically serves drinks here several times on a cruise during good weather, so guests can soak in some rays and cool off in the pool while enjoying a drink. For full-ship charters, arrange a bartender and private event here (think affinity groups or large family reunions).

Avalon Panorama’s modern lounge has a clubby feel. Cruisers sit on orange-brown-cream patterned chairs or relax at a semicircular bar with orange bar stools. Signature drink? It’s the “Champavalon,” a mix of Riesling wine, club soda, cucumber and mint. Views abound from expansive glass windows; the bar has a large dance floor; and, when the dining room opens each evening, a staircase leads directly to the restaurant below.

Zambezi Queen‘s bar and dining area
Zambezi Queen‘s bar and dining area boasts zebra patterns on the stools and African-themed pillows on cream couches.

Sailing in spring, fall or early winter? Grab a hot toddy during a Christmas markets cruise or anytime the outside temperatures are crisp and cool. Just visit the main lounge on Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s River Queen. Typically, river lines have fake fireplaces but this ship boasts the real thing—the only working fireplace anywhere on a major river vessel.

For many Americans, a bucket-list river cruise still means a Mark-Twain style river experience. This year, two lines sail the Mississippi and other U.S. heartland rivers. American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen and American Cruise Lines’ smaller Queen of the Mississippi both have bars with views of big red paddlewheels churning along.


Yangzi Explorer’s Explorer Bar décor
Yangzi Explorer’s Explorer Bar décor combines Asian styling with an Old World club feel.

For example, American Queen’s spacious Engine Room Bar is home to rich wood furniture and a decorative 1800s-style bar. The motion of the American Queen’s paddlewheel is viewable through large aft-facing portholes. Or, guests may head outside the lounge on either side (one side is smoking, the other non-smoking) for unobstructed paddlewheel views. During the evening, a musical combo plays ragtime, Dixieland or jazz. Order the mint julep, a quintessentially southern drink that combines mint leaf, bourbon, sugar and water.

For a more exotic experience, Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette has an ornate main lounge that seems right out of Marie Antoinette’s era. It’s very French Baroque. But the ship’s second bar is really enticing. Why? The intimate Leopard Bar creates an “Out of Africa” feel with warm tones and spotted-animal-print décor. Order the Leopard Martini, a mix of creme de cacao, Frangelico, cream and chocolate topping.

In real-life Africa, the Zambezi Queen operates two-to-three night wildlife adventures on the Zambezi River. AMA Waterways sells several winter sailings on this vessel and the ship’s owners also offer a robust schedule of cruises. The bar’s soft décor includes zebra patterns on bar stools and African-themed pillows on cream couches. It’s an open, airy space. Peering outside the bar, guests might spot hippos or water fowl. Zambezi Queen’s signature drink, the ZQ Special, is rum-based with strawberry liquor, fresh lime juice, sugar syrup and fresh African water berries.


Uniworld’s River Queen
Uniworld’s River Queen boasts a real fireplace in its lounge, the only major vessel to have one.

Operated in China by Abercrombie & Kent, Yangzi Explorer has an opulent Explorer Bar that combines Asian styling with an Old World club feel. Expect gold appointments, leather furniture and dark woods. Across the globe, Aqua by Aqua Expeditions sails the Amazon. After exploring river habitats and Amazon villages, guests settle into the river vessel’s bar, an air-conditioned oasis in the jungle with floor-to-ceiling windows and cool libations.

Tauck’s Swiss Emerald, which plies European waters, has a bar with a 180-degree wall of glass. The bar is known for its indoor-outdoor cocktail hour. After all, the best bar on a river ship is often the one with to-die-for views on any given day. So grab a drink and watch the scenery float by. Memories linger long after the drink glasses are empty.

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