The 4 best cruise ships on the Yangtze River

At almost four thousand miles long, the Yangtze is Asia’s longest river and the third longest in the world. Historically it divides the North and South of China providing a natural barrier against invaders and more significantly today, a waterway for transport, commerce, and leisure cruising. China’s coming of age as a true world power was signalled by the colossal feat of engineering, the Three Gorges Dam, a highlight of most cruises.

Viking Emerald

While literally dozens of cruise ships ply the waters, only a mere handful come close to the Western definition of luxury. Here are the top 4:

1. Viking Emerald

Standing head and shoulders above the competition in luxury product delivery is the 256 passenger, Viking Emerald. She is not the newest, nor does she have the on-board amenities of the Century Paragon and Emerald listed below, but what she does have is a rare quality in China. On-board European management in the hotel and kitchen departments has allowed the Emerald a striking competitive advantage with her predominately North American and British guests, who must take the cruise as part of a longer China tour. Simply put, the staff training of the Chinese crew to a Western standard, leaves the competition in it’s wake.

With over 10,000 passengers a year, the Viking Emerald has honed the food offering perfectly to the palate of its guests and provided shore excursions and English speaking guides that makes each travellers trip to China a once in a lifetime experience.

2. Yangzi Explorer

The intimate 124 passenger Explorer boast the largest standard cabins on the Yangtze at 333 sq. feet. The vast balconies and larger bathrooms are welcomed by bigger sized Westerners and the floor to ceiling windows afford uninterrupted views of the passing parade of exotic vessels.

Guests hail mostly from Australia, Britain, North America and a hand full of locals, both as tour groups and independent travellers, so while food choices are increased, unfortunately the quality suffers compared to the Emerald. Highlights of the cruise include a visit to the Three Gorges Dam, and a trip in a fourteen passenger sampan rowed along by 4 village locals along the Shennong stream.

3. & 4. Century Paragon & Legend

The twin sisters Paragon and Legend are the newest ships on the Yangtze. With space for 312 they are also the largest, luxury offering. Boasting a 7-story atrium lobby, the ships also employ a state-of-the-art propulsion system that reduces vibration. In a first for the Yangtze the ships have large indoor heated swimming pools.

Entry level rooms are 266 sq. feet and due to space leasing arrangements passengers aboard come from a vast array of tour operators such as Avalon, Uniworld, Nicko and Jules Verne to name just a few. As such, passengers are an eclectic mix of nationalities who tend not to mingle.

Comments (7)

  1. Matt says:

    I lived in China for a year and wanted to take this cruise for so long. Definitely on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing the info.

  2. Sam says:


    I was wondering if there was an update for this since it’s 2016. Can you or anyone advise?

    Really appreciate the feedback.


  3. Sally Birch says:

    Please could you tell me if alcohol is served on this trip? Is it included in the price and if not could you send me a list of the costs please.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Hello Sally – there’s a number of different boats discussed here. Which one were you interested in? Best bet would be to click on the link through to relevant site, and enquire direct, I think…

  4. John says:

    Viking Emerald is not sold cruise only, you have to purchase a package with a tour operator.

    In my view, the Yangzi Explorer cruise is super expensive as well. I would suggest Victoria Cruises and Yangtze Gold cruises as more economical options.

  5. Lisa says:

    Hi, This is helpful. Doe anyone have any updated recommendations? Thanks

  6. Dilli Ram Tiwari says:

    I would like to search for an economic cruise ship which is popular for asian Women most, with romantic circumstances during the period of sailing onboard the Yangtze River, Chongqing to Shanghai destination.

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