I have already written about the joys of exploring Europe by barge. Because of its gentle pace and overall ease — there's no packing and unpacking at each new destination, and you're usually docked near the center of town — barge tours have proliferated throughout Europe.

Happily, the word has spread and enticing destinations around the world can now be explored by vessel. Here are three wanderlust-whetting adventures on three of the planet's most majestic rivers.

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Paddle-Wheeling the Mississippi

American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi, a 140-passenger, five-deck paddle wheeler, offers passengers luxurious accommodations, fine cuisine and onboard experts, plus guided excursions at each port of call. Cruise from New Orleans; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; Cincinnati; St. Louis; or St. Paul, Minnesota.

Shoreside highlights of the New Orleans-to-Memphis cruise include a visit to Louisiana's Oak Alley Plantation, a 19th-century Greek Revival antebellum home approached along an avenue shaded by a quarter-mile canopy of giant live oak trees believed to be nearly 300 years old; gracious Natchez, Miss., with more than 1,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and culturally vibrant Vicksburg, Miss.

For many passengers, equally notable highlights may be found aboard the stern-wheeler, including a grand dining salon with crystal chandeliers; the Paddlewheel Lounge, a comfortable room designed in rich woods that offers panoramic views of the passing scenery; and expansive staterooms, larger than those of any former Mississippi riverboat, most with private balconies. All of these make the Queen of the Mississippi sound as historic as the sites it visits. Prices for the seven-night, eight-day cruises range from $4,195 to $5,580 per person, double occupancy.