Cruising the Three Gorges

Before you reach the Yangtze's turbulent waters, some advance information that may make make for smoother sailing.

One River, But Many Options:
Dozens of companies run boats on the Yangtze River, and agents by the score book tours, which vary not only in price and quality of service, but actual itinerary. Yes, this is one river, but the options include far more than Three Gorges, and countless sights; find out in advance where you go, what you will see, and the level of comfort on the tour.
  Most boats sail from Chongqing to Wuhan, (vice-versa is upstream, meaning more time under steam, less to look around) which has the best scenery. Some tours continue all the way to Shanghai; but this is really only for Yangtze devotees - it's a full week sailing with mostly flat water and few views above elevated banks beyond Wuhan
  Actually, the scenery is unimpressive past the dam, and some boats actually disembark in Yichang --- often a shock to those with onward arrangements from Wuhan. Double-check where you go and disembark.
  Repeat: check the itinerary. Then check again. Those angling to see Little Three Gorges must make sure it's included. Beware hidden extra costs. Bargain boats, in particular, are notorious for levying hefty charges at stops where surprised passengers have no alternative but to pay. 
  This is rarely a concern with tours booked from reliable travel agencies overseas. Booking dockside (1-2 days in advance) or via numerous agents in China (big city hotels are best) often yield significant discount, but stories abound of nightmare cruises that zip past sights in the dark, hardly the memory you want of that trip-of-the lifetime.

When to go:
High season runs April-May then September-October, when boats are often full. In summer and winter, mist, rain and flood waters curtails cruising.

Cost and class:
  Prices vary widely, from nearly US$1,000 on luxury liners to $20 for windowless berths on rust buckets. Major hotels in Chongqing offer trips for $400-$600 on the best boats, which include Regal, Victoria, President and the King/Queen lines.
   Tip: book the best class you can. The main passenger complaint concerns the size and comfort of the cabin.

  Regal China Cruises ( runs three of the biggest boats on the River (the Princess line), with good food and marvelous English (Chinese and Japanese) speaking staff. Book from any agent overseas or in China.
  The Port Passenger Terminal Office in Chongqing books to various river destinations; prices from $20-$120, without any excursions. The official China Travel Service and other Chinese companies generally offer cheaper prices than foreign travel companies (which must book through a Chinese outfit anyway) but buyer beware (see above).

Good Link:

Further Reading:
Simon Winchester - "The River at the Center of the World," a mesmerizing journey the length of the Yangtze, from the eloquent British writer.
John Hersey - "A Single Pebble," half-a-century old, this book is a classic, and still in print.
Peter Hessler - "River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze," a delightful surprise from a young new writer with a moving personal tale told in a powerful voice.

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