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|Victoria Princess |
The Princess carries 152 passengers and is one of a fleet of 11 ships built in China to cruise the Yangtze River
Jack and Toni White (August 6, 2002)
Victoria Cruises ships were built in China to cruise the Yangtze River. Based in New York, Victoria Cruises established new standards of excellence for Yangtze River cruising in 1994 with the inaugural sailing of the Victoria I.
Since that time, the number of ships has grown year-by-year to a fleet of 11 ships with a twelfth due out in 2003.This company has achieved great success by introducing the majesty of the Yangtze River to travelers worldwide.
A U.S.-managed company, Victoria Cruises operates their large fleet of vessels, sustaining international standards of quality and comfort on the Yangtze River.
The Victoria Princess is a three-thousand-ton vessel, 286 feet in length . She has been designed to exceed the most rigorous safety requirements, with full double hulls fitted with the most up-to-date navigation equipment.
The Princess carries 152 passengers.
Victoria Cruise Line is a successful joint venture between China and a U.S. company.
The configurations vary on each ship, but generally the following accommodations are available. Standard cabins, approximately 155 square feet, are furnished with two lower berths.
They have a private bathroom with shower.
Three classes of suites start with the Junior Suites, 232 square feet, two single beds, en-suite bathroom with bathtub; Deluxe Suites are 322 square feet, en-suite bathroom with bathtub, and a private living room; Shangri-La Suite has 494 square feet, private bathroom with bathtub, private living room and balcony.
Many outside cabins have large picture windows, excellent for viewing scenery.
The Princess has been fully refurbished with new carpeting, furnishings, and modernized plumbing in stateroom bathrooms.
Cabin configuration and decor vary on each ship, but stateroom interior decoraion often features Oriental, carved furniture.
Closed-circuit, color television offers limited viewing in languages, other than Chinese; ample closet space, hairdryers available by request.
Voltage in bathrooms is 100 with 220 in the rest of the cabin, but we were told not to use our appliances, as they would cause problems. The ship is fully air-conditioned. A refrigerator is a welcome appointment in the suites, and bottled water is always available.
A comfortable, direct flight from Los Angeles aboard a China Southern jet, took us to Guangzhou Province. Following a stay in the elegant China Hotel, we flew to Chongqing to begin an eight-day Yangtze River cruise aboard the Victoria Princess.
The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River are the high point of the cruise.
"I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" was a popular song in the mid twentieth century.
In the twenty-first century, forget the slow boat and jet there before some historical sites vanish forever.
The legendary Three Gorges of the Yangtze River are doomed to be underwater forever with the opening of the gigantic Three Gorges Dam which was scheduled for 2003.
However, we have been informed that the well-known Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze River is ahead of schedule.
As a result, the navigation channels in the Three Gorges area will close on November 1, 2002 (several months earlier than expected) and remain closed until June 15, 2003.
From June 1-15, 2003, the dam area will be flooded, and the water level will rise from 70 meters to135 meters.
One June 15, 2003, the five-step slice gate will begin to be put into use, and from then ships will resume navigation through the dam area.
The closure on November 1, 2002 will affect downstream Chongqing-Shanghai sailings from October 20, 2002 and upstream Shanghai-Chongqing sailings from October 27, 2002.
Itineraries between Wuhan and Shanghai will not be impacted by this change.
In other words, if you want to see the entire length of the Yangtze between Chongqing and Shanghai, a sailing with Victoria Cruises must be booked before the end of October, 2002.
After that date Victoria Cruise Line will break the cruise into three segments.
One leg would be a sailing from Chongqing to Maoping.
The next leg would be an extensive tour of the Three Gorges Dam site, and then ground transportation from Maoping to Wuhan by motorcoach, where passengers will enjoy an overnight stay and city tours-all at the expense of Victoria Cruises.
The last leg would pick up another Victoria Cruise ship and proceed on to Shanghai (in 2003 Nanjing), or proceed with the rest of your travels elsewhere.
The travel could be done in either direction and with as many of the segments desired.A variety of itineraries are still available for immediate booking from the Classic Yangtze 4days/3 nights downstream Chongquing to Yichang to the Grand Yangtze Discovery that we took.We boarded in Chongquing and stayed on for 8 days and 7 nights downstream to Shanghai.Be aware that some bargain price cruises are for a four-day segment that does not cruise the Three Gorges, the most exciting segment of the cruise.
All itineraries are still subject to change due to water conditions.
Sprong and fall are the recommended seasons for travel in China, although when we toured in early November, the weather was very cold already.
Boarding the Victoria Princess, after a scary walk over water on rickety planks, we entered the Yangtze Club Room. Huge windows and comfortable seating would, later, prove ideal for viewing the monumental scenery of The Gorges. Fellow passengers, who spanned several generations and represented many countries, chatted.
The cruise director and ship's doctor, a young man trained in both eastern and western medicine, extended greetings. An English-speaking river guide, ship's artist, Tai Chi master, and crew were introduced.
Passengers were encouraged to make use of the reading room, gift shop, beauty facility, and to attend classes in silk painting, mahjong, tai chi, and acupressure.
A visa is required.
Travelers are urged to bring prescription medicines and consider purchasing additional medical insurance. The ship lacks elevators; a consideration for the physically challenged. Laundry service was available, but not dry-cleaning. Recommended dress on board is "smart casual."
For Captain's Cocktail Party and Farewell Banquet a suit and tie for men and dress for ladies is suggested. For touring ports, layered clothing and shoes comfortable for stair climbing and hiking are practical. Most Chinese wear daytime clothing for evening performances.
Dining and Entertainment
The 160 seat Dynasty dining room offered both Asian and Western cuisine.
Breakfast and luncheon buffets were bountiful. A professional food critic, traveling with our group, was favorably impressed with the cuisine. Delicacies included ham wrapped in crepe style eggs, corn soaked in soy sauce, braised cabbage, sweet and sour pork, tempura, fried dumplings, as well as hamburgers and French fries for the less adventurous.
A single-sitting, family-style, dinner was served efficiently, as we maneuvered chopsticks, not so efficiently.
Smoking was not permitted in the dining room or cabins.
One evening after dinner, we were treated to a fashion show that included opulent, traditional kimonos, modeled by crew. An interesting, mask dance was performed. Afterwards, a few passengers danced to CDs of music from another era.
The Cruise Ports
The Three Gorges are the result of the Yangtze River, the longest river in China, and the third longest in the world, traversing a group of mountain ranges.
The region, and its' ecology, will be changed forever by Three Gorges Dam.
We visited the imposing Dam site at Sandouping.
Twenty-five thousand people have labored on this, the world's largest construction and hydroelectric project that has been compared to the building of the Pyramids.
Thirteen cities, five-thousand-year-old archaeological digs, and well over a million people will be displaced when their world goes underwater.
Many of the elderly, saddened that they must leave their ancestors' home, have already transferred remains from burial sites to higher ground.
Contrary to information published by the World Commission on Dams, the Chinese government insists that the Three Gorges Dam will control killer floods, thereby outweighing the negatives.
Wushan, dating back to the latter part of the Shang dynasty (c1600-1027 BC), is the starting point for boat trips up the Daning River through the Three Little Gorges.
First we visited nearby Fengdu for an exciting excursion to "hell" in the "Ghost City" and were warned to "watch out for ghosts and to be good." Frightening statues of ghosts, the devil, and monsters were straight out of Disneyland.
Tragically, this 2300-year-old city, the embodiment of reincarnation and Buddhism, will disappear when the dam is completed.
Posted signs, updated daily, remind all of the days remaining before the "Dam Apocalypse".
After scaling six hundred stairs, we jumped into chair lifts to view the city and surrounding waters.
Cruise passengers were subjected to a hair-raising bus ride.
The driver honked incessantly, as he maneuvered through unbelievably narrow, garbage-strewn streets crowded with people knitting, playing mahjong, and tending hole-in-the-wall stores.
Dentist and barber offices, using foot-operated chairs, were open to the street, reinforcing our gratitude to the modern world's advances.
Comfortable, motorized sampans carried large groups through Qutang Gorge/Wu Gorge for the awesome Lesser Gorges excursion.
During a four-hour trip, we consumed box lunches, as boatmen poled when necessary.
Chinese tourists in nearby boats waved and blew kisses, and we reciprocated.
Caught in a time warp, water buffalo and cows plow the fields, farmers haul irrigation water from the river, and women wash clothes in the river, pounding them against rocks, as did their ancestors.
Young men, in underwear, braved rocks and strong currents to reach the ships to sell trinkets.
The White Emperor City, famous Hanging Walkways, plank bridges suspended from holes in the side of the mountain, and The Hanging Coffins, three hundred meters above water level were wondrous sights.
After sailing through Xiling Gorge, the Princess entered the shiplock at Gezhouba Dam, and the back gates closed behind it.
The crew ran a lottery to dramatize the exact moment the lock gates would open.
Crowds of locals stood atop the locks, quietly watching, as excited passengers cheered; especially vocal was the winner of the lottery.
In the port of Wuhan, our party strolled to a modern, main street; recently redesigned to eliminate traffic.
Clothing stores and fast food restaurants could have been located in any U.S.
We were tempted to purchase a decorated, cashmere sweater for $70.00, as young women in impossibly high platform shoes tottered by.
Crowded side streets were lined with open market stalls, men pushed wheelbarrows loaded with pigs ready for cooking, as bicycle driven rickshaws wove in and out of the throngs.
Sweet, English-speaking schoolgirls befriended us when the food critic suddenly vanished.
They fanned out to find and lead her back.
She grumbled, "Why were you worrying? I wasn't lost; just having coffee at MacDonalds."
Camera buffs photographed "the most beautiful scenery in China," at Lushan Mountain, Chang Kai Shek's retreat, and Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), the most famous mountain in China.
The trip meandered by green rice paddies, tea bushes and mid-walled villages.
The itinerary included Nanjing's mausoleum and tomb of San Yat Sen, and 2000-year old Yangzou's Slender West Lake, home to Marco Polo in the thirteenth century.
Disembarkation occurred in Shanghai, known as "the no sleep city" and "Manhattan of China," due to a proliferation of neon, stunning skyscrapers, and vigor.
Aided by high tech expansion, prosperity has met communism and changed China forever.
Visit the Jade Buddhas, especially, to view the gentle, white jade Buddha.
Running out of time, we rushed to the Old Shanghai market, Bund, Chinese acrobats, pandas, and the jade carving factory.
A lavender jade pendant will be a treasured reminder of "the murky mists of mysterious Shanghai."
Many cruise lines compose the Deluxe Yangtze River Fleet. This fleet includes the following lines, and the amount of stars they have been awarded by the China Nat'l Tourism Administration; Victoria Cruises (4 star), Regal Cruise 5 star), President Cruises ( 4 star), East King and Queen Cruises (5 star), Splendid China (4 star), China Angel and the Yangtze Angel are not rated with stars.
The Victoria Cruise Line is the only American managed line, preferable to Americans. Regal Cruises is a German line, and the President Line is run by Orient Royal Cruise Co.
Fares are constantly changing, due to seasonal rate changes, and the new dam schedule may change fares, due to an increased demand for immediate bookings. In 2002 Victoria Cruises fares began at $700 per person, depending on the season, and length of the cruise. This rate seems a bit higher than on the President and Regal Cruises.
Usually, a surcharge must be paid for balconies.We suggest you contact a cruise specialist for the most current fare deals.Shore excursions may be extra, usually starting at $75 per person.
Tipping: it is still illegal to accept tips in China. However, on board tipping is optional, with a suggested amount of $5 to $7 per person per day. It is now customary to tip travel guides and bus drivers.
Conclusion and Opinions
The Yangtze River is muddy brown, and scenery, viewed from the ship, was dreary and gray.
Yet, instead of being depressing, it seems exotic. Every minute of the trip is an adventure into China's past history, and it's rapidly changing future.
The Victoria cruise was well organized, and the Captain, crew and staff catered to the passengers and provided a smooth, comfortable cruise experience. We are hoping to open a fortune cookie that reads, "Another trip to China is in your future."
May you, too, have the good fortune to visit China, and view The Three Gorges, before the "apocalypse."
For further information: Victoria Cruises, Inc.