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The good, the bad and the ugly of going on a Yangtes cruise in China

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Our boat at arrival in Chonquing.

I never thought I would ever be going on a cruise, but as a Yangtse cruise was a fixed part of my recent trip to China I decided to give it a try. Afterall, it was a river cruise, so the dimensions of the ship were comparibly smaller than of those out in the Ocean. I enjoyed having a bit of a break from the hectic itinerary our trip had had so far, just sitting on our balcony (you have to have your own balcony if you want to enjoy a cruise) and reading a good book.

Still, the experience brought up very mixed feelings inside me and while I knew I would miss the calm moments as I just described above the cruise had other sides to as well.

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Driving through the three Gorges.

The good thing about going on a Yangtse cruise is that you see a part of China which is otherwise hardly accessible. Driving through the three gorges was marvelous and we saw a lot. One could either stay on the big ship or do different excursions to explore some areas further.

The bad thing about the different trips were that not only most of the people of our ship were going to a specifi site at a specific time, but there were always at least three other cruise ships somehow following EXACTLY the same itinerary, so the seeing some sites was at least as annoying as the meal times on the ship. The latter were just insane sometimes with everyone running at the Buffet at the same time pushing and pulling to get everything first.

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Guest coming back from an optional excursion.

The ugliest thing of all, however, was the lack of sustainability of the whole enterprise. Cruises, as I anticipated, are an environmental disaster. I could not imagine the amount of waste water going directly into the river. One of the other participants of our trip swore she saw the sewage going directly into the Yangtse at some points of the day. Not to mention the amount of rubbish which must have accumulated over the period of three days (four nights) we spent on the ship. Economically, the lack of local spilling as all meals were served on the ship were far from sustainable for th local communities, let alone the cultural exploition of some “native tribes” which put on a not very authentic show for the tourists on one of the excursions.

All in all, while I do not regret having done a cruise once in my life, I don´t think I will repeat it anytime soon and would not recommend it to anybody who is conscious about sustainability issues before clearing the frame arrangements of waste, sewage, and possibility to let locals of the places one visits get something out of the whole deal as well. I imagine, there are possibilities to go on similar trips with smaller boats with a more sustainable outlook than this, whereas I am sure, it could also have been worse.

Has any of you ever been on a cruise and if so, what were your experiences? How did you feel about the points mentioned above?

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20 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the ugly of going on a Yangtes cruise in China

  1. Looks like you chose the wrong cruise. We totally enjoyed our first cruise.

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  2. Heather Widmer on said:

    Thanks for such an informative post. I’ve never been on a river cruise, and it’s always something I’ve wanted to do. I agree with you, the environmental concerns and the crowds would get on my nerves. The gorges do look beautiful though!

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    • Hi Heather, thank you for reading my post and the comment that came with it. The Gorges were indeed marvelous, yet, probably better to be enjoyed in a different setting such as a smaller boat or similar. Let me know of your experiences once you´ve tried a cruise!

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  3. Another perspective on cruises that other people should think about. Great read!

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    • Hi Tom and Anna, thanks for the comment. Like a coin most things in life have two sides and it´s always fascinating to have both of them staring you in the eye like they did with this cruise for me.

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  4. THANK YOU for doing such a balanced, fair, and honest review. I too would be torn between my desire to see some inaccessible regions but very concerned about the environmental impact and the use of local residents as entertainment props.

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    • Hi Vanessa, thanks for the comment. They were ambiguous feelings indeed, but I am happy to have had the experience even if it may stay the only cruise I´ll ever do.

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  5. Carol Colborn on said:

    Yes, we have had some not so good experience in cruise ships, including being sick for the whole trip just like many others. So we are thinking of going on smaller cruise ships. The advantage? No packing and unpacking! Just like RVing on the road.

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    • Hi Carol, thank you for your comment. You made a very important point there: The convenience of seeing a lot of places without the hastle of packing and unpacking is definetly very convenient. I read though that people, who have a tendency to get sea sick do so rather on small boats rather than bigger ships. Keep me posted on your future experiences!

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  6. donoghuemc on said:

    Thanks for sharing your experience – I’ve had great cruises in the past, though I’ve never taken a cruise through Asia, and never a small river cruise, so it was interesteing to read your perspective, and disgusting if they really were polluting the rivers in that way 😦

    Though I do totally agree with you that accessing some of the most inaccessible parts of the country is a big perk of a cruise 🙂

    Happy travels!

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    • Hi there and thanks for getting in touch. I, too, had initially thought that a river cruise may be more accessible for me since I´ve never had a favel for the big boats they cross the seas with. Everything has their pros and cons and each one of us has to decide in the end of the day what is more important to us. I wish you all the best for your future travels!

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  7. I am surprised to hear about your cruise experiences, since I had a great time going on a cruise before with my family. Is this your first cruise? We went on Carnival and Royal Caribbeans. I do have to agree with you though about sustainable travel, I never thought about it that way and will definitely keep that in mind for the future.

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    • Hi there, thanks for commenting my post. This was indeed my first experience of actually participating on a cruise. It was lovely, but I felt I was leaving more of a negative impact rather than positive one. We all need to be concious of how our holiday impacts the host destination and I am happy to hear that you will take that more into consideration in the future. Happy travels!

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  8. Have never taken a river cruise, only a larger ship in the ocean. I agree- cruises give off SO much waste!

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    • Hi Jessica, thank you for your comment. I think we all agree here that cruises can be good fun and convenient, but it is about time for all of us, companies and consumers need to be more aware of the impacts of our actions especially when we travel and do anything we can do to minimize them. How were your experiences on the big cruises you did?

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  9. Honest post! Good balance. I was dumbstruck at the rubbish in Halong Bay, Vietnam. It’s very sad.

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    • Hi Gemma, thank you for your comment. Environmental pollution is indeed a problem we find all over the world and sadly also in places, which should be spaces of natural conservation such as Halong Bay. Did you do a cruise there or just a day trip?

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  10. I know what you mean regarding the annoyances of cruises while traveling. I totally get it! Luckily for you though you did manage to take away some great memories and witnessed some great beauty! 🙂 🙂

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