I took a four night upstream Yangtze river cruise on the Victoria Queen. The cruise started in YiChang and traveled upstream to Chungqing. I took this cruise as part of an extensive 22-day adventure tour with Overseas Adventure Travel, which is owned by Grand Circle. As this is a review of the cruise portion of the tour I won't be discussing the details of the land portion of the trip. As there are many choices for travel in China, I would like to point out that if you like traveling off the beaten track, enjoy traveling with a very small group of 16 people or less, are interested in learning first hand about the culture and people and are in fairly good physical condition then you should consider Overseas Adventure Travel. The trip was fantastic. We had 15 travelers and 2 guides and a driver. We all received personal attention from the guides, we could do extra-unplanned activities with the OK of the group and nearly everything was included.
The Yangtze River Cruise
Ship - The Victoria Queen was rather typical on the exterior of other ships sailing the Yangtze. The Victoria Queen was ~12 years old but had recently been expanded and refurbished for cruising the Yangtze. Everything looked fresh and new. There was no smoking on board except outside on the back of the ship, so there were no bad odors onboard. This ship has five public decks and no elevator. If walking up and down stairs is a problem, then this may not be the ship for you. The dining room is on floor 1, there are rooms on floors 1-4, mini suites on floors 2-4 and suites on floor 2 and an observation deck on floor 5. On floor 3 there is a library/ lecture room. On floor 4 there is a work-out center, card room, beauty parlor, and the Yangtze Club, which is the bar, internet center, entertainment venue and best observation area on the ship.
Cabin - I stayed in cabin 303 on the starboard side of the ship. This cabin was right next to the bridge at the front of the ship. The cabin was spacious. I had the cabin to myself and had lots or space. All cabins were at least 210 sq ft and had a balcony, which was the width of the cabin and only two feet deep. Just wide enough for the two patio chairs. I would like to point out that if you have a choice you should try to be on the north side of the ship if you are traveling during the summer. This way you can sit on your balcony in the shade of the ship. China in the summer was hot during the day. It typically reached 95F during the day. It was still comfortable sitting outside during the day as long as you are sitting in the shade. Keep this in mind if you have a cabin choice.
The cabin had two comfortable twin beds. Each bed had two fluffy and soft pillows. The sheets were soft and the bed was topped with a duvet. This was the most comfortable bed I slept in, in all of China. The room had great air-conditioning. It didn't seem very adjustable. I kept it on most of the time and was comfortable. The room had a TV with HBO and several other English speaking news channels. The TV was located high up the wall and was viewable from the two beds. There was no refrigerator, but I asked the room stewardess Annie for ice and an ice bucket full of ice appeared and was refilled with ice twice a day throughout the cruise.
There was a small closet and bench for placing your suitcase. There weren't many drawers for storage that I can recall. There was a desk and chair.
The bathroom was quite large. There was a sink and large countertop, WC and large tub/shower combination. There was always plenty of hot water. The room was supplied with high quality shampoos, shower gels, soaps and lotions.
Food - The food was very good. But if you are expecting all the choices, and quantities typical on an ocean cruise then you may be disappointed. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. There were western and Chinese choices and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. I always found many things to try and enjoyed most of the selections. Dinners were served family style at the table. Most dishes were Chinese, but I feel that most people would find the food fairly good. There was nothing "unrecognizable, squiggly or slimy". There were also some western items served. There were always ~10-15 different dishes served and no one went hungry. Deserts we not spectacular. Deserts were rather bland or else were fresh watermelon. The meals came with your choice of bottled water, regular Coke, regular Sprite, hot tea or coffee. Beer and wine were available. The selection was sparse and the cost fairly high. I skipped the shipboard offerings and bought the local beer, which I enjoyed on my balcony.
My only complaint with the dining room, as they seemed to rush you through meals. Before you were finished they would whisk away your plate, or utensils. It was aggravating. I can understand the employees trying to get their work done so they can have some free time. It just felt very rushed. Hey, I'm on a cruise. I expect to be able to linger over dinner, enjoy desert and a cup of tea.
Also note that coffee and tea is available in the Yangtze Club every morning from 6:00 to 7:30 am. I always took advantage of this while checking my email, about 10 feet away at the internet center in the Yangtze Club.
Service - The service was fabulous. Everyone was friendly and greeted you as you walked by. The cabin, as well as the entire ship was immaculate. There's not much to say other then it would be difficult to have better service on a ship.
Entertainment - There were two cruise directors on the ship, Monika Pichler and Ernie Kemm, two river guides, Jacky Qin and Michael Sun, a kite master, painter, and medical doctor and Tai Chi instructure, Dr Liu. What!? a medical doctor is an entertainer? Yea, sort of, Dr Liu gave a lecture and demonstration of Chinese medical treatments like acupuncture, massage and suction cups. The Chinese medical treatments were available to the passengers as well as western medicine. The lecture from Dr Liu was very interesting. Try to be the person he demonstrates on. Unfortunately I don't think he will demonstrate on you if you are female, as you must remove your shirt!
The cruise directors were very friendly and efficient. The Ernie Kemm was a talented singer and piano player and entertained the crowd daily. The Monika Pichler was a wealth of knowledge and very open with information about the ship and the Yangtze. Monika also seems to know the idiosyncrasies of the internet service onboard. She can help you if you are having trouble.
The river guides seemed adequate. Maybe it was just me, but I don't need someone to tell me that a rock formation looks like an elephant. There were lots of interesting facts I'm sure. I just avoided listening to the river guides and sat in peaceful quite on my balcony.
Tai Chi lessons were given every morning in the Yangtze Club and were well attended. There were lectures and demonstrations by the kite master and painter. I skipped these, so have no comment.
Every night there was a show put on the cruise staff. I attended these and even though they were not professionals they were interesting. There were fabulous Chinese costumes, dancing, recorded music and a staff/cruiser talent show.
There was the Captain's welcome aboard cocktail party held in the Yangtze club on the first evening, that was very nice. Sparkling wine and hors d'oeuvres were served. We all toasted to an enjoyable cruise and had a great time.
Internet - There were four laptops available for internet access in the Yangtze club. The cost was 50 Chinese yuan or $6.00 for the entire cruise. I jumped on this offer and think it was well spent. The service is dialup and could be extremely slow while cruising through the gorges. Never the less I was able to check my email, write a few emails and post to the Cruise Critic board so it met my needs. Since there were so few people on board, computers were always available. I never had to wait for a computer. Access is limited to 20 minutes if people are waiting. But this never occurred on my cruise.
Tours- Everyday there was a tour. Everyone left the ship and took the daily tour. The tours were divided up by the groups you were traveling with. So since I was traveling with a group of 15 people, we toured daily with our OAT group and trip leader. The tours were lead by the Victoria Cruise trip guide and a driver. Here is a summary of the three tours I took.
1. Three Gorges Dam - This tour was excellent. We took a bus to an area just river from the spillway. You could see the completed powerhouse, the spillway with the powerful water and mist and the in progress second powerhouse and cofferdam. Next we drove to a lookout point above the dam which had a great model of the river and dam project and a great lookout for taking pictures. While driving to the lookout and back we went over the ship locks which we would be traveling up as soon as we returned to the ship. I purchased a small finely carved beach wood lion at the gift shop at the lookout point for about $6.00 that I really love. Be sure to bargain.
2. Lesser Gorges scenic area - Another excellent trip! We took a boat through the Shennong stream where we saw monkeys and wooden coffins in the walls of the gorge. This was very cool. The walls on both sides are the river are very steep and covered with vegetation...beautiful. After about 40 minutes we got off the large boat and got into small wooden boats. We were dragged upstream by these very buff guys. When we reached the top we turned around and rode the rapids down. Lots of fun and very pretty. We got back on the larger boat, and made the return trip to the Victoria Queen.
3. Wanzhou, Relocation City and the Three Gorges Museum - really lame. This tour took us to the Three Gorges Museum. Not so good. This museum featured the story of the wooden coffins such as we saw in the lesser gorge the previous day. Kind of a let down after seeing the real thing. Next we went to a families apartment. Very uncomfortable experience and not too interesting. Families in old brick primitive structures are forced to relocate to modern, spacious apartments due to the dam. Seemed like a good thing to me. Finally taken to a rip-off store selling silk clothing. Don't buy here. It's about 5X more than you will pay in Hong Kong.
I should mention that if stairs are a problem then getting off the ship and climbing up the 300 stairs to get to the tour bus could be an issue. I'm relatively young and in fairly good condition, but I can tell you that going up the 300 steps had me puffing and sweating.
Embarkation and Debarkation were not an issue on this ship. You walked on, you walked off. No problem.
This was a fabulous trip that I really enjoyed. Hope this review gives you some idea of what a Yangtze River cruise will be like. It was relaxing, interesting, and slow paced. But a Yangtze River cruise is the only way to see this part of China the will be undergoing dramatic changes during the upcoming years.