Senior editor Michelle Baran was on the inaugural cruise of Century Cruises' Century Paragon. Her second and final dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first dispatch.
There are river cruises and there are river cruises. In some destinations, like Europe, river cruises can serve as a complete itinerary from start to finish -- fly in, transfer to the ship, sail for a week, transfer to the airport, fly out.
But on the Yangtze River, few people would make the long journey to China purely for the three- or four-night sailing between Chongqing and Yichang or Wuhan. (View more from Michelle's journey on the Century Paragon here on by clicking on the photos.)
Thus, Yangtze River cruises generally serve as a break from what is often a culture-heavy itinerary that might include cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Chengdu.
During the inaugural sailing of Century Cruises' 398-passenger Century Paragon from Chongqing to Yichang, the gentle pace of the cruise, the smaller riverside towns (you know, of just 8 or 10 million people) and the Three Gorges scenery were a welcome escape from the hustle and high rises that have come to define Chinese city life.
And that appears to be precisely the experience Century is hoping to provide its passengers -- a few days to kick back, maybe take a swim in the indoor pool, get a massage or facial at the spa, eat some hearty meals in the dining room and let loose at the bar or in the karaoke rooms at night.
And they're not just courting Americans with this leisurely river break. Century Cruises is seeing larger numbers of Chinese passengers who are learning to embrace the Yangtze as not just a trade route but as a vacation option. And thus the onboard experience is also one of multi-culti interactions and engagement.
From my experience, river cruising with passengers from China added to the intrigue of river cruising through China. While cross-cultural communication was limited due mainly to language barriers, whenever our paths would intersect -- whether at the carnival-esque game night (how many marbles can you pick up with chopsticks?) or while observing heated mahjong card-game sessions during excursions -- all parties appeared amused and eager to facilitate dialogue and a cultural exchange.
Those few days on the river were indeed relaxing. Beyond the onboard highlights (comfy cabins, fun entertainment, tempting buffets), the shore excursion highlights included the ancient Shibaozhai Pagoda, a sampan ride through the Shennong Stream and, of course, the engineering marvel Three Gorges Dam project.
But the surprise bonus was being offered a look into another part of Chinese life via the Chinese passengers onboard, and getting a glimpse into the psyche of an expanding segment of the population, which is flexing its economic muscles with increasing vigor.
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.