Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightThere appears to be renewed interest in cruising on China's Yangtze River heading into the 2011 season.

"We're seeing an unprecedented demand for our winter program this year and are expecting a very profitable regular season in line with prerecessionary levels," said Larry Greenman, manager of public relations and customer service for Victoria Cruises, which, with a seven-ship fleet, is one of the largest river cruise companies on the Yangtze.

According to Greenman, bookings dropped by about 50% in 2009 compared with 2008. But since then, bookings have slowly recovered, increasing 30% last year, and Greenman said that early indicators show that bookings could increase between 10% and 15% in 2011 compared with 2010.

Richard Xie, the U.S. market sales representative for Chinese river cruise company Century Cruises, noted that the Yangtze river cruise market has also been buoyed by a growing number of domestic passengers. "The Chinese domestic market has been in a sharp increase in the past two years," noted Xie, who estimated that Chinese passengers now make up about 50% of the Yangtze river cruise market.

Victoria Cruises is upgrading four ships in its fleet in advance of the river-cruise season, which starts in March, to be able to offer Executive Deck perks. The program offers services and benefits such as concierge service, access to VIP areas, private cultural lessons and reserved seating for evening entertainment. Upgrades to all four ships are expected to be completed by the start of the season.

The Victoria Queen and Victoria Star ships will be enhanced: Elevators will be installed, and a deck will be added that features an à la carte dining room and executive lounge similar to those on the Victoria Jenna, Victoria Anna and Victoria Katarina, which already offer the Executive Deck amenities. The Victoria Prince is being reconstructed, and the Victoria Empress is undergoing maintenance and enhancements to be able to offer the Executive Deck option.

Victoria Cruises retired one of its older ships, the Victoria Rose, on Nov. 30.

Additionally, Viking River Cruises will be replacing its charter of the 306-passenger Viking Century Sun, built in 2006, with the new 256-passenger Viking Emerald, also being chartered from Century Cruises. The Emerald debuted last year and features 128 balcony cabins, including twp presidential suites, 14 suites and four junior suites. It also has a sun deck, restaurant, gym, sauna and massage services, beauty salon and elevator access to all decks.

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