Senior editor Carrie at www.yangtze-river-cruises.com was just back from the inaugural cruise of Century Cruises’ Century Paragon. This is her first dispatch.
Gliding through the Yangtze River’s famous Three Gorges again on Century Cruises’ newly launched, 398-passenger Century Paragon, I was beat over the head by a recurring theme: Yangtze River cruise is not a grandmother’s trip any more, not by a long shot, but a true leisure vacation for all ages and types – family with kids, romance, teenagers, couples, seniors, individuals, friends, and companies…
Ten years ago, after experiencing a river cruise in Europe, Peng Jian Hu, president of New Century Cruises, had a vision: to bring the level and quality of European river cruising to China’s Yangtze River.
“The first time I traveled on a European river ship, I was very surprised,” Peng said during an interview at the company’s headquaters in Chongqing, earlier this week. “The ships are smaller but very comfortable. From that time, I had an idea. I wanted to change the Yangtze River Cruise.”
Then, he made it, and the Century Cruise made it. The launch of the Paragon and its sister ship, the Century Legend (which was supposed to launch alongside the Paragon but is being delayed until May), elevated the quality of the Yangtze cruise experience greatly, 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.
There 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.