Unbeknownst to most Americans, cruising China's Yangtze River is a booming and popular vacation choice. On the river between Chongqing and Yichang one sees seemingly hundreds of similarly shaped flat-bottomed, multi-decked, shallow draft river cruisers in passing. Of those ships, however, the vast majority are aimed solely at the domestic Chinese market. Of the handful that cater to Western passengers, Victoria Cruises is the only line that is U.S. owned and operated.
Founded in 1994 by the Chinese-American Pi family, this New York-based company began operations by leasing vessels and crews from existing Chinese shipping operators and manning them with English-speaking cruise staff. Ultimately finding this arrangement to be a compromise and unsatisfactory for the product they envisaged, Victoria began a program, completed in early 2003, of returning the leased vessels to their owners and custom-building a fleet designed expressly for the preferences, tastes and priorities of a Western -- especially American -- clientele. Aboard these upscale ships the understated decor is warm, comfortable and luxurious, and the cuisine excellent.
Many English-language travel operators, including those in the river cruise industry, have taken notice. Victoria's sailings are marketed and sold by Avalon Waterways
, China Plus, Gate 1 Travel, General Tours, Globus, Orient Flexi-Pax, Pacific Delight Tours, Ritz Tours, Swain Tours, Trafalgar, Travcoa and Uniworld
Currently, Victoria operates solely on China's Yangtze River, and, like river cruises worldwide, these voyages are as much round-the-clock shore excursions and floating enrichment programs as posh cruises.