Asia’s largest river is a wonderful way for clients to discover the ancient and modern wonders of China

Cruising through a country that was closed to the outside world for centuries is a real voyage of discovery. China is still a land shrouded in mystery, making it an exciting and fascinating destination for even the most seasoned travellers.

Most Yangtze cruise itineraries include a land-based stay in Beijing and Shanghai, providing a fascinating contrast between vibrant modern cities and secluded rural areas that are only accessible by ship. One day clients might be watching dizzying acrobatic performances or Chinese opera in a modern theatre, the next passing riverside towns and villages dotted with temples and pagodas.

The most dramatic part of the river is the 150-mile Three Gorges region, with a spectacular landscape of misty mountains, sheer cliffs and the modern-day marvel of the namesake dam: the world’s largest engineering project, where it takes four hours to pass through the five locks.

Traditional theatre show
Captivating traditional theatre shows

The number of UK passengers taking exotic river cruises has risen by 15 per cent, largely due to the growth in Asia. Andy Harmer, SVP membership & director, CLIA UK & Ireland, said: “The Yangtze has been the lifeline of China for centuries. It was on these river banks that some of the earliest Chinese cultures existed. Cruising the Yangtze slows down the pace of a trip to China and enables travellers to see China from a new perspective and admire the steady flow of history and heritage that survives along the banks.”

Spacious vessels

Kathryn Beadle, managing director, Uniworld, agrees that a taste for adventure is fuelling demand for the Yangtze.

“We are noticing that there’s a strong appetite for our China, Tibet and The Yangtze itinerary, highlighting a trend towards expanding the range of experiences when travelling to this part of the world,” she said. “When investing the travel time involved in getting to China, customers are choosing to factor as much diversity of experience into their holiday as possible.”

Unrestricted by low bridges or small locks, Yangtze river vessels are much larger than their European counterparts and often resemble small ocean ships, which is worth emphasising to clients. All the accommodation on Uniworld’s Century Legend is now suite category, including two presidential suites, and the ship’s wide hallways also add to the feeling of space.

The new look Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer was recently unveiled by Sanctuary Retreats following a comprehensive refurbishment. With 38 deluxe cabins, all with private balconies, the boutique ship reflects a contemporary design while maintaining local Chinese influences. It also boasts a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1:1, ensuring the most dedicated and personalised service.

Renette Hartridge, Sanctuary Retreats UK sales director, said: “We’ve seen a strong increase in demand for China and the Yangtze River and a significant increase in programme inclusions from tour operators. There are a number of benefits of cruising the Yangtze – it offers a relaxed pace compared to the hectic cities of Beijing and Shanghai complemented by an immersive and cultural onboard experience, including tai chi lessons, captivating talks about Chinese history and dumpling making and calligraphy classes.”

A choice of itineraries

Tauck features a 15-night Yangtze River & Hong Kong trip with three nights aboard the Yangzi Explorer, leading in from £4,590 in 2018, and APT also charters the vessel for its 13-night Best of China cruise tour from £5,095 next year.

For an even longer experience that is ideal for clients on a budget, G Adventures’ 21-day Essential China tour, with four days on the Yangtze, is priced from £1,999. Managing director Brian Young said: “Travelling by riverboat is an excellent way to get up close to the destination and its people and embark on riverside excursions up stunning tributaries and to historic sites.”

Viking River Cruises offers a full six days on the Yangtze and head of sales Neil Barclay believes that a land and river combination provides the best of both worlds: “We aim to make every journey as relaxed and stress-free as possible by providing guests with a guide throughout the duration of their cruise, who will look after everything from check-in to collecting their luggage at the airport and delivering it right to their hotel room. The cuisine on the ship will cater to every discerning traveller by offering western classics and, for the more curious traveller, local Chinese menus options.”


1 The Three Gorges Dam, China’s largest building project since the Great Wall, is best seen from a cruise.

2 English is not widely spoken outside large hotels and tourist attractions, so an escorted cruise and land tour is a hassle-free way to experience China.

3 Shore excursions can be longer and more challenging than tours on European cruise ships, so a moderate level of fitness is required.

4 For most clients China is a ‘once-in-a lifetime’ experience, so – if time and budget allow – recommend a longer itinerary to get the most from the trip.

5 The main sailing season is April to October, and the weather is most comfortable in spring and autumn.


VIKING RIVER CRUISES’ 13-night Imperial Jewels of China itinerary, with a six-day Yangtze cruise, is from £2,895 per person, departing in March or November 2018, including five-star hotel accommodation, all meals, wine with lunch and dinner on the cruise, flights and transfers. 0800 319 6660

UNIWORLD’S 14-night China, Tibet and The Yangtze itinerary is priced from £5,799 per person, based on a June 2018 departure, including stays at the Ritz-Carlton Beijing and Shangri-La Lhasa Hotel, most meals, a three-night cruise including drinks with dinner, internal flights and transfers. 0808 281 1125

WENDY WU TOURS offers a 13-night Majestic Yangtze tour with a four-night cruise from £2,990 per person, based on a March or November 2018 departure, including four-star hotel accommodation all meals, flights and transfers. 0800 1445 296

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