After a comfortable night’s rest at the Crowne Plaza Yichang, Steve (DOS) and I had breakfast in the hotel’s lobby restaurant. Unlike last night when we had looked at the dinner buffet and left, the breakfast buffet was fresh and with plenty of things we could eat.
After breakfast we packed up, checked out, and met our tour guide “Nancy” (Americanised Chinese name) and driver at the hotel. DOS had booked a half day tour of the city, including and finishing with a drop off at the cruise port for our Yangtze Explorer four night cruise.
We had a nice half day tour, with a noon lunch at a very nice Chinese restaurant not far from our hotel. We sat at a table for two, and Nancy assisted us with ordering, and then left us to have the nice lunch on our own. She still checked in on us periodically during the meal to see if we needed anything.
After the leisurely lunch, we toured around a bit, gradually making it to the cruise port. We were a bit confused about the location of the cruise port as Yichang was listed as the gateway to the river cruises. Apparently with the major Dam project in the area (HUGE impact to the area, economy etc . . . more on that later), the cruise ships can’t reasonably come in here now due to the large number of ships, but more importantly the series of locks that are required to reach Yichang. Unlike the Panama Canal where cruise ships have priority, on the Yangtze River cargo ships have priority using the lock system, so it could take days to get thru for cruise ships. The actual port area was about an hour and a half away from our hotel, but as we couldn’t board until late afternoon, it was nice and informative to have a tour on the way to the port.
We toured this fortress and gardens, which included an hour trek thru the caves and exhibits. It was quite scenic, and at the entrance by the bridge there were people zip lining and bungee jumping. No thanks for us!
At the entrance to the tour where 3 Chinese men figures, who we would also later see in the cave. Nancy explained two of them were brothers, and all three were poets from the 5th century. So beloved by the Chinese people, many of their poems had been recorded as songs by some contemporary Chinese musicians.
As we walked on our trek, we definitely got our exercise going up and down many steps and hills, but rewarded with great views.
We made one more quick stop on the way to the cruise port, arriving around 4:30pm. On the way Nancy told us she had worked on the river cruises for over eight years, ending when she got married in 2008. Nancy was a tour director and provided narration and English commentary, something that was and still is in great demand. She still keeps in touch with some of the staff, and she knew our cruise tour director, Willie, whom she later introduced us to. Once at the cruise terminal, we had a short wait for the funicular, which is a huge square vehicle which transports passengers down the steep hill to the ship. There were several ships in port the first day, and like the river cruises in Europe, they are sometimes connected to each other when in port due to lack of dock space. We entered thru the ship adjacent to us, The Victoria, and then crossed over to our ship, The Yangtze Explorer, where we were warmly welcomed aboard. Nancy boarded with us and introduced us to several of the senior staff, including Willie (shown in the photo at the top of this post), whom she used to work with. After getting checked in and introduced, we said goodbye and thank you to Nancy, and we were led to our suite by an energetic young lady named Suzie.
We are staying in the Celestial Suite, one of two identical suites in the very front of the ship. The suite is very spacious, at 1184 square feet, and has a very large balcony which spans half of the front of the ship (the other suite spans the other half.) The suite has a nice seating area and separate dining area. The bedroom is in another room, and has a beautiful four poster bed. There is also a smaller balcony just off the bedroom.
The bathroom is large, although there is no tub (water saving I guess), and has one annoying feature (due to plumbing) neither one of us cared for: a step up to the bathroom, and a low clearance on the bathroom door. (I hit my head a couple times the first two days, but eventually got used to it.) Bill Gates once stayed in the suite we are in, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us! LOL!
The first day aboard everyone was on their own, and two different Australia tour groups were arriving around 10pm, as well as other people on their own, as the ship didn’t depart until mid afternoon on the second day of the cruise.
We had our first meal aboard in the large dining room, and had a table for two in the back of the dining room, which was nice as it faced the entire front of the room. We met Jim, a widowed man from Perth traveling on his own, who was seated at the table next to us, and had good conversations and evening brewskis throughout the cruise. On the other side of us was a Chinese Mother traveling with her grown daughter, and while they didn’t speak English, we always smiled and exchanged “Ne How” which is hello in Chinese.
After dinner we had drinks in the sixth floor lounge, which was quite spacious and offered huge wrap around windows throughout the room, as well as comfortable oversized chairs and sofas. A singing duo performed each night in the lounge, singing popular soft and relaxing songs, from Abba to Chinese music; quite nice and professional, and fortunately none of that rap crap or loud music that’s so prevalent on mega ocean liners.
We stayed in the lounge until around 10:30pm the first night (it closes at 11pm), and saw the two Australian tours arrive around 10pm. As the dining room was already closed, the ship had set up a buffet in the lounge for the groups to eat, which was nice as they had had a long day of travel.
So anyway, the Yangtze Explorer is our home for the next four nights. Welcome Aboard, and Bon Voyage!