The Call of the River Cruise

The beauty of Asian river cruising is not just visiting exotic locales while cruising the mighty Yangtze in China, the bustling Mekong Delta in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the serene Irawaddy in Burma, which seems to mirror the complacency of its Buddhist culture. It also offers an opportunity to experience its fascinating cities and cultures such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Mandalay and a whole lot more.

That’s not to say that the river cruising experience isn’t in and of itself a joy, with most ships catering to Western travelers offering an unforgettable five-star experience. In China, for example, Victoria Cruises (800-348-8084; offers Executive Deck service.

“As the only American-managed cruise line on China’s mist-shrouded Yangtze, we set the standard for luxury cruising on the river 18 years ago when our first ship edged out of port. Since then we’ve refined the experience, culminating with the launch of our Executive Deck program on the Victoria Jenna and its subsequent fleet-wide expansion to the rest of our new or recently renovated five-star vessels,” says Larry Greenman, manager of public relations and customer service for Victoria Cruises.

Last year, Executive Deck passengers on the Victoria Prince, Victoria Queen, Victoria Star and Victoria Empress enjoyed “white glove” concierge service, access to exclusive VIP areas, private cultural lessons and reserved seating for evening entertainment. Executive Deck passengers on the Victoria Anna, Victoria Jenna, Victoria Katarina, Victoria Queen and Victoria Star, meanwhile, were offered a la carte dining privileges, while passengers on the Victoria Empress had reserved window seating in the main dining room. On the Victoria Prince, an a la carte dining program is now being planned for the entire ship.

As the major river cruise contractor on the Yangtze, Victoria Cruises has exclusive partnerships with leading tour operators including Ritz Tours, Orient Flexi-Pax, Travcoa and Pacific Delight, as well as river cruise specialists such as Avalon Waterways and Uniworld, which Greenman adds, “…are a testament to the quality and service we offer our discerning guests.”

Indeed, Steve Born, v.p. of marketing for the Globus family of brands, says, “Year after year, thanks to the continuous feedback and encouragement of our travelers, cruise directors and travel agent partners, Avalon Waterways [877-797-8791;] has unveiled new ships, amenities and experiences that set the standard in river cruising. And, in Asia, thanks to our exclusive Executive Suite program with Victoria Cruises, we’re providing travelers elite and luxurious experiences—from private cultural lessons to reserved seating for evening entertainment—that make them feel like valued VIPs.”

Avalon offers three different cruise packages in China, all of which offer extensive land elements, as well. But by far the most unique is the 15-day Cultural China & Tibet with Yangtze River Cruise, which showcases the rich history and cultural treasures of China and Tibet as well as the Yangtze River cruise. Passengers enjoy the Three Gorges Dam site on the 4-night Yangtze River cruise, and experience world-famous sites in Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing, plus visits to the Bund, Yu Yuan Gardens, the Children’s Palace, Dayan Pagoda, Terracotta Warriors, Great Wall, Forbidden City, Imperial Palace, and Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs. High in the Himalayas, they explore Lhasa, Tibet’s mystical capital, with visits to the Summer Palace, a local home and monastery, Potala Palace, and Jokhang Temple. Priced from $3,439 land only.

On the Mekong Delta, virtually all of the major river cruise companies—Viking, Avalon and Uniworld—have moved on to the river to take advantage of the growing demand for tourism to Vietnam and Cambodia. But it was AMAWaterways (800-626-0126; ama that sailed in first and unlike the other cruise companies, built its own ship with a similar design to its highly popular European river cruise ships. And it’s obviously working for them because last year they launched a second ship, the 124-passenger MS AmaLotus.

The MS AmaLotus joins the MS La Marguerite (2009) in providing distinctive river cruises from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as part of the highly popular Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong program.

Featuring ultra-spacious 624-sq.-ft. suites; 10 jr. suites at 290 sq. ft. and standard staterooms at 226 sq. ft., the MS AmaLotus offers outside balconies on 90 percent of her staterooms. With a decor that combines colonial elegance with regional Khmer accents, staterooms include comfortable sitting areas, individually controlled air conditioning, a mini-bar, safety deposit box, kimonos and slippers and luxurious bathtubs (jr. suites/suites). Guests enjoy fine dining consisting of both Asian and Western specialties; free-flowing complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner, plus complimentary house-brand spirits and soft drinks throughout the cruise. Onboard highlights include folklore dances, musical performances and culture discussion forums.