Port of Shanghai
Sophisticated, cosmopolitan and dynamic, Shanghai is a memorable destination. China's largest city by population -- more than 24 million -- features an ever-changing skyline full of massive skyscrapers. As you stroll along the landmark Bund, it's difficult to imagine that, 5,000 years ago, Shanghai was little more than a tiny fishing village and textile-producing town.
Shanghai, which means "city on the sea," grew because of its strategic position on the Huangpu River, a tributary of the mighty Yangtze River that flows into the East China Sea. With its advantageous port location and economic potential, the city opened to the outside world and foreign trade following the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which marked the end of the First Opium War between the British and Chinese.
European, American and Russian traders were granted "concessions" and moved in to build banks, embassies and offices -- most notably characterized in The Bund, the sweeping waterfront mile that's lined with Gothic, Art Deco and other historic buildings. Today, the 19th-century architecture vies for attention with the sleek, space-age towers in Pudong, on the opposite side of the Huangpu River, which puts on a nighttime light show.
Shanghai's history tends to be eclipsed by its modern-day magnetism, but you don't need to scratch far beneath the surface of the designer shopping streets and glitzy malls to find some traditional treasures. Ancient pagodas, temples and gardens provide an oasis of calm in the 24/7 metropolis that makes up China's most contemporary city.
A day is not enough to see all of Shanghai, and typical ocean cruise itineraries begin or end in the city, with the opportunity for extensions, while river cruise operators offer a two-day land-based stay before a flight to commence a Yangtze River cruise.
Although the sheer size of Shanghai can appear overwhelming, the top sights are divided into a handful of areas that are covered on full- and half-day excursions.
The port has its own transport hub to whisk visitors in and around this cosmopolitan city
The high pollution levels in this incredibly busy port make sightseeing overwhelming for some
Normally the start or end point of cruises, with opportunities to explore more of the city
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Good to Know
Things change fast here, with old sectors continually being demolished to build massive new high-rise complexes. Chances are, if you visited a few years ago, many corners of the city will be unrecognizable. Be sure to confirm that your favorite spot is still there before heading off.
Traffic jams can clog main arteries and slow your progress to a crawl. Allow plenty of time if you're taking a taxi across town, particularly if you're trying to make an all-aboard deadline.
The Chinese government blocks many websites, including Google (and Gmail), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox, The New York Times and many more on a constantly changing list. To get around the blockage, you can download a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app before entering China. This essentially makes it seem like you're connecting to the internet from outside China. Be wary of any unsecured internet connection in China; colleagues report that their email accounts have been compromised when online there.
Squat-style toilets are ubiquitous throughout China. If you're in a public restroom that appears to have only squat toilets, look for the disabled symbol on one door; that will likely be a Western-style toilet.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
China's currency is called the renminbi (RMB), which means "The People's Currency." RMB is legal tender throughout Beijing and mainland China. (Be mindful if you're also cruising to Hong Kong, as it operates on a different currency, the Hong Kong dollar.) For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
The RMB has a base unit called a yuan, which can be broken down into jiao and fen. (Fen are essentially out of existence.) Ten jiao equal 1 yuan. Commonly used denominations of RMB banknotes are 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 yuan. There is also a half-yuan note. Coins are in circulation, but most transactions will end in round numbers, and you will only need banknotes. RMB notes vary in size and color; the bigger it is, the more it is worth.
There is an ATM located in the services area of the cruise terminal complex (see Hanging Around, above), and banks near the main street, just outside the terminal. You'll also find banks with ATMs along The Bund and you can change money at hotels.
Mandarin, often referred to as Standard Chinese, is the official language. Shanghai also has its own traditional language called Shanghainese, and it's spoken by about 14 million people, mainly the older generation. At least some English is spoken in all large hotels, shops, restaurants and attractions catering to tourists.
Most establishments have their address in Chinese characters displayed on their website. It's a great idea to print this out in advance if you have a hotel reservation; otherwise, be sure to pick up an address card before leaving your hotel. With a kind smile and a pen in hand, don't be shy to ask hotel staff to write down the name and address of places you'd like to go so you can show a taxi driver.
Few Chinese outside of the tourism industry speak English. You'll have a higher chance of successfully communicating in English with a young person. At the least, they're more likely to have a translation app on their smartphones. Before entering China, you might want to consider downloading the Google Translate app, which includes Word Lens, to translate Chinese characters to English when you snap a photo of them using the app.
To say hello in Mandarin, say ni hao ("nee-how").
Thank you is xie xie ("shyay shyay").
You will see the word "Lu" as part of many street names; it simply means "road."
Beer is pijiu ("pee-jo").
Known as the Paris of the Orient, Shanghai is a dream for fashionistas, with high-end shops selling an A-to-Z of designer names. Those seeking an authentic Chinese souvenir can find Shanghai lacquer items, jade and silk paintings. The best budget souvenirs are woodcarvings and Chinese calligraphy, where your name or the recipient's name is written in ink on scrolls, jewelry and other wares. Youngsters will love one of the omnipresent cuddly pandas that come in all sizes.
Flex the plastic along this main shopping street stretching more than 3 miles from The Bund to People's Square. East Nanjing Road, closest to The Bund, is home to some of Shanghai's grand old department stores and leads into West Nanjing Road with its upmarket malls, designer shops and five-star hotels. And when you've shopped until you've dropped, there are plenty of places to take a break, from familiar fast-food chains to authentic Chinese restaurants.
China is notorious for counterfeit goods, and Shanghai has whole markets dedicated to fakes. Street hawkers can be annoying when they start following you around with armfuls of knockoff watches, bags, jade jewelry and assorted items and pester you to buy. If you're tempted, don't be surprised if that "Rolex" has stopped ticking by the time you get home. While individuals will have personal views on the rights and wrongs of fake products, anyone who buys them should be aware of the legal issues. According to Customs Directive No. 2310-011A dated January 24, 2000, "Customs officers shall permit any person arriving in the United States to import one article, which must accompany the person, bearing a counterfeit, confusingly similar, or restricted gray market trademark, provided that the article is for personal use and not for sale." The Directive also states that, "Customs officers shall permit the arriving person to retain one article of each type accompanying the person." In other words, you can bring only one watch, one bag, etc., of any sort, provided they are for personal use and not for sale. It is illegal to sell counterfeit goods, and anyone caught bringing back several, or large numbers, of the same items will have them confiscated and could be subjected to a fine.
--By Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Gayle Keck, Cruise Critic contributor