River Cruising briefs: A&K partners with Royal Orient to launch luxury Yangtze ship

Abercrombie & Kent is bringing luxury to China's Yangtze River.

The upscale tour operator is part owner with Royal Orient Cruises of the Yangzi Explorer, a five-star river vessel that is scheduled to launch in April.

The Yangzi Explorer will sail two itineraries, a three-night downstream cruise from Chongqing to Yichang, and a four-night upstream cruise from Yichang to Chongqing.

Both will include shore excursions at Fengdu, Shennong Stream and the Three Gorges Dam project.

Between April and November, the Yangzi Explorer has 64 scheduled departures, with prices starting from $6,415, cruise only.

The 124-passenger ship houses 38 deluxe cabins (each 290 square feet), 20 suites (each 388 square feet), one Jade and one Mandarin suite (each 730 square feet) and one Celestial and one Imperial suite (each 828 square feet). All suites and cabins will have private balconies.

The six-deck ship is 300 feet long and 52 feet wide.

Additionally, the Yangzi Explorer will feature an observation deck, viewing lounge with bar, coffee lounge, fitness center, spa, sauna, hair salon, double-decker theater with bar, library and souvenir gift shops, elevator, and Internet access throughout the ship.

The Yangzi Explorer will also incorporate some interconnecting rooms to accommodate the growing number of family travelers in the outbound U.S. market.

In the midst of China's ongoing struggles and criticisms in regard to the environment and increasing commerce and river- cruise traffic on the Yangtze River, the vessel is also addressing ecological concerns. It will have responsible sewage disposal and recycling facilities as well as energy efficient operations, according to A&K.

A&K holds allocation on each departure. The tour operator has had a Yangtze River program primarily through charters on Royal Orient Cruises vessels as well as a couple of other river-cruise companies, but this is the first time the land operator has entered into a partial ownership agreement on a Yangtze River ship.

Scenic Tours spends $100M to launch Europe river program

Scenic Tours has invested $100 million to create its own Scenic river fleet of four vessels by 2009. The inaugural sailing of its two first ships, the Scenic Sapphire and the Scenic Emerald, will take place in June.

The Sapphire and Emerald are scheduled for 10 departures each next year, and both will sail up and down the Rhine and Danube rivers between Amsterdam and Budapest, Hungary.

The Emerald will make its first voyage from Amsterdam to Budapest on June 2, and the Sapphire will take its first sailing, from Budapest to Amsterdam on June 16.

The 169-passenger, 443-foot-long sister ships will house 85 staterooms, which will include four royal suites, six junior suites and 59 balcony suites.

All but the standard staterooms will feature full balconies. The ships will also have a sun deck, spa area and a fine-dining restaurant.

The 15-day itineraries range from $2,995 per person to $6,475 per person. Included in the price are airport transfers to and from the ship, all meals onboard, wine with dinner, gratuities, sightseeing excursions and entrance fees for activities specified on the itinerary. By the end of 2008, Scenic plans to introduce an additional ship, the Scenic Diamond; a fourth, the Scenic Ruby, will be introduced in 2009.

The Vancouver-based tour operator introduced Europe river cruising in 2005, chartering cruises through both Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises, but this will be its first company-owned river cruise endeavor.

Victoria Cruises to launch eighth Yangtze ship in 2009

Victoria Cruises will add an eighth ship to its Yangtze River fleet on April 26, 2009, with the launch of the Victoria Jenna.

The 209-cabin Victoria Jenna, with 186 staterooms, 19 junior suites, two deluxe suites and two Shangri-la suites, will be the largest ship in Victoria's fleet. It will have a passenger capacity of 418, with an additional crew capacity of 179.

All cabins will have TVs, private bathrooms with shower and bathtub, and private balconies.

The Victoria Jenna will also offer passengers two dining rooms, a single-seating main dining room and an a-la-carte restaurant; a fitness room; a lecture room; a library and reading room; the Yangtze Club, a theater-style night club; a cocktail lounge; a beauty salon; a gift shop; an observation deck; a business center; a health clinic; and an atrium lobby.

The vessel also will offer access to the Internet.

The ship's decor will have American and European influences, with Asian accents.

The Victoria Jenna will sail Victoria Cruises' Three Gorges Highlights itinerary, upstream and downstream, between Chongqing and Yichang, China, as well the roundtrip Three Gorges Explorer itinerary from Chongqing to Yichang and back.

In 2009, the Victoria Jenna will offer a total of 62 sailings.

The Victoria Jenna falls into Victoria Cruises' premier category of ships, which are new or recently rebuilt ships featuring enhanced facilities such as private balconies, more spacious public areas and a higher level of comfort, sophistication and decor throughout the ships, according to Victoria Cruises.

Queen of the West to replace Empress of the North on nine sailings

Majestic America Line's Queen of the West will assume operation of nine published itineraries on the Empress of the North through the end of the year while the Empress of the North goes into its scheduled drydock early to complete work on the vessel's propulsion system.

The Empress of the North ran aground in Alaska on May 14 during an Inside Passage sailing and returned to service this summer. According to Diane Moore, executive vice president of Ambassadors Cruise Group, the cruise division of Ambassadors International, which operates Majestic America, the vessel completed its Alaska season and is currently sailing charter itineraries.

Starting in November, the 142-passenger Queen of the West, which had no scheduled departures in November or December, assumed the Empress' roundtrip itineraries from Portland, Ore., along the Snake and Columbia rivers.

The 223-passenger Empress of the North is scheduled to return to service on March 22. Its March 1, 8 and 15 sailings had previously been canceled due to lock closures.

According to Moore, three of the winter sailings will be affected by the smaller capacity of the Queen of the West. Those passengers who cannot be accommodated on the Queen of the West will be offered accommodations on sailings in the spring or a refund of their purchase.

Amadeus Waterways to give AARP members discount

Amadeus Waterways signed a preferred- provider relationship with AARP that will enable AARP members to obtain a discount on Amadeus river cruises.

AARP members will receive a $100-per-person discount on Amadeus' cruises and will be eligible for additional offers on trips, such as upgrades and additional discounts. They will need to provide their membership number at the time of booking to receive the discount.

Information about the discounts and preferred rates is available at http://aarp.amadeuswaterways.com.

Michelle Baran is Travel Weekly's river cruise editor. E-mail her at [email protected].

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