Rivers of Gold

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Toussaint notes that first-timers should also be mindful of the season. Each season has its reason for river cruisers, she says. Naturally, summer is the best time to see Europe, “but winter is the best time for Vietnam/Cambodia. ‘Shoulder season,’ the first or last sailings of a season, is traditionally less expensive and less crowded than peak season.”

victoria cruises Victoria Cruises, which operates exclusively on the Yangtze River, currently has seven ships in its fleet and is adding an eighth later this year. “We have two basic itineraries—one which runs through the scenic Three Gorges between Chongqing and Yichang and that’s four days downstream and [the longer one is] five days upstream because you’re sailing against the current,” says Larry Greenman of Victoria Cruises. “We have another one, an extended cruise that goes from Chongqing to Shanghai—that’s seven days downstream; nine days upstream.”

The extended cruise would probably be a good one for first-time river cruisers in China because, as Greenman explains, “The lower portion of the river has some particularly interesting sightseeing—Huan Gshan, which is a World Heritage site, and there’s also the city of Nanjing and the city of Wuhan.” At the same time, he adds, “A Victoria cruise is probably a little bit different than other river cruises in other parts of the world because it’s usually a component of a larger package tour put together by one of our cooperating tour operators. But I think for a first-time river cruiser in China, it’s an excellent chance to relax and unwind after a tiring trip across a large ocean and not having to check in and out of hotels. We say that a river cruise combines the best aspects of a cruise with the best aspects of a tour because you’re selling right to the heart of a country and you’re sightseeing everyday and yet it’s a self-contained resort in effect.”

viking river cruises Viking River Cruises offers a fleet of 21 vessels—to become 22 with the 2009 launch of 98-stateroom Viking Legend in May. It focuses its attention on travel in Europe, Russia and China and is finding success in its methods and models.

“River cruising is actually doing very well right now compared with other forms of travel,” says Viking v.p. of marketing Stephanie Horn. “We believe this is because, at least with Viking, a river cruise is an all-inclusive package prepaid in U.S. dollars. Once an individual or couple has purchased a river cruise, they know their accommodations, onboard meals, and most shore excursions and other cultural activities are completely covered—so they have no worries about currency fluctuations, fuel surcharges, price or tax increases. These all-inclusive packages are an excellent investment during times of economic uncertainty. But while we have not done an exhaustive price comparison, Viking offers many ways for travelers to save money on a river cruise throughout the season. We frequently have special offers such as our current Ocean Cruisers promotion whereby passengers can save $1,000 per stateroom. With some of our offers, passengers are able to travel for about $100 per day. If one considers the cost of just a hotel room, let alone food, transportation and guided activities in Europe, one will see that this is a really terrific travel value.”

At the top of Horn’s list for Viking’s first-time cruisers is the Grand European Journey (15 days, five European countries from Amsterdam to Budapest from $2,799 pp dbl). She also recommends first-timers consider Viking’s Footsteps of the Cossacks tour (12 days, from $1,699). “A number of our guests say that they have been ‘everywhere else’ but really want to see Ukraine because their family came from there or just because it is such an interesting place.”