Century Paragon: Continental style on the Yangtze

By Michelle Baran
firstcallCHONGQING, China — With the launch of Century Cruises’ 398-passenger Century Paragon here last week, the Chinese line is hoping to bring a new level of river cruising to the Yangtze River, one that more closely resembles the upscale river cruise experience in Europe. (View a slideshow from the inaugural sailing here or by clicking on the photo.)

European engineers and architects helped design and build the Paragon and its sister ship, the Century Legend (which was supposed to launch alongside the Paragon but is being delayed until May).

The ship’s enhanced mechanics include a propulsion and rudder system designed to reduce vibrations. And after one day of sailing, there have indeed been no vibrations.

According to Century Cruises President Peng Jian Hu, the idea was to elevate the quality of the Yangtze cruise experience, from the hardware to the ship’s interiors and amenities to the level of service, to bring Yangtze River cruising as close to European river cruising as possible.

The launch of the Paragon appears to be a big step in that direction. One major advantage the ship has on the Yangtze, quite frankly, is that it is the newest upmarket vessel to come onto the river in several years.

Century Paragon poolThere are more than a few similarities between many of the features onboard the Paragon and those on European river vessels. The cabins — which range from 301-square-foot, river-view staterooms to the 34 executive suites at 424 square feet each and the two 465-square-foot presidential suites — are comparable to their European counterparts.

Ships on the Yangtze are quite a bit larger than those in Europe, with about three times the capacity. That allows for (and necessitates) more and larger public areas, and this is where the experience begins to diverge from Europe, both in good ways (the indoor swimming pool and cinema on the lower deck) and in more challenging ways.

For example, all three meals are served buffet style to accommodate the nearly 400 passengers, whereas in Europe only breakfast and lunch are buffets; dinner is always a three- or four-course meal with wait service.

As would be expected, there are Asian touches throughout the ship, from Chinese cuisine served in the dining room (along with plenty of Western and other international choices) to Eastern-influenced design features and two karaoke rooms adjacent to the bar.

For those clients who maybe would like a little more exclusivity and detachment from the several hundred others onboard, there are two dedicated executive levels, with an exclusive a la carte restaurant, reception area, bar and sun deck.

Century spent $24 million each on the Paragon and the Legend, and Peng said he hoped that these ships will mark the beginning of a new era of Yangtze cruising.
If anything is still lacking on the Paragon, it is over-the-top attention to detail, things like flawless flooring, as well as impeccable service, which is where European ships excel.

But Peng is clearly determined to see that the Yangtze reaches those levels. And the Paragon proves China river cruising is getting closer to the levels of European quality in construction and service.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 
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