Yangtze River Cruise

On a Yangtze River Cruise with local travelers

Chongquing ("double happiness") is China's largest city with 33 million people, and a jumping on point for Yangtze River cruises. The city, I'm told, is known for its spicy women and soft eared men. Cuisine is spicy here, and locals enjoy eating their chili peppers. It's also quite hilly, so people don't ride bicycles much. Arriving by plane (in our case from Beijing), from the airport we get on an expressway quickly and get out of the city into hilly open countryside before arriving at the port and our Century Cruises ship.

Century Cruises is the only publicly owned cruise line cruising the Yangtze, and has some of the newer ships. There are two doing rooms onboard, the more private Pavilion and larger Globe. Those guests on top decks 4 and 5 dine in the Pavilion and also have access to a small executive lounge. Other guests dine in the Globe. As the average make up of guests is 30% Western and the rest Chinese, it is preferred to stay in top cabin categories, as food and service are different in both restaurants.

In the Pavilion, breakfast and lunch are buffets while dinner is table service. Food was largely Chinese and mostly good, not exceptional. Salads and vegetables and fruit were aplenty and welcome. There were a variety of main dishes, with the main courses selected earlier in the day. Chinese aren't great at desserts. Wine and beer are included with Uniworld,as with many river cruise lines, and diet drinks are generally not available.

On our higher decks, cabins were modern, clean and comfortable. The TV broadcasts HBO and CNN plus Chinese programs, some with English subtitles. Bathrooms are adequate with a large shower andan adjacent 3/4 bathtub combo. Jasmine infused amenities and large terry towels, plus robes and slippers are provided. Shower had a rain shower or hand-held unit. Our main cabin had a sitting area with a small sofa, and sufficient storage area.

There's a large indoor pool -- large enough for swimming laps, a cinema/auditorium, spa with sauna and steam, a large bar lounge with a friendly two-piece band. The doctor onboard offered tai chi classes on deck, and provided a talk during the cruise on Chinese medicine.

As for the sightseeing, the highlights are sailing through three different gorges, the Qutang Gorge with its steep cliffs, the Wu Gorge and its Twelve Peaks, and the longest, the 40-mile long Xiling Gorge. But the best was taking a small boat excursion through yet another tributary of the Yangtze, the Shennv Stream. Perhaps a highlight here, too, was our local young guide who sang folk songs to us. There was also the 184-feet high Shibaozhai Pagoda, built into the side of a cliff, with time to climb it and enjoy the view.

Near the end was Three Gorges Dam, and while no doubt a significant feat, far more impressive (to me at least) were the five consecutive steep locks that dropped us some 300 feet.

The views are indeed pretty spectacular on the cruise, but one has to wonder if the effort of getting here and spending three (or four) days on the river is worth the time, and the scenery, as China indeed has so many other wondrous natural sites to see. For the Chinese who often live in congested cities, spending a few days on the river among green mountainous scenery is no doubt a welcome

holiday. I'm glad I took the cruise, but would probably agree with some who suggest a tourist's limited time may be better spent elsewhere. If you've been to Hawaii or Alaska, there's not much along the Yangtze that offers anything better.

Dan Ilves