I grew up in a household that had Chinese prints of beautiful yet haunting scenes of China’s landscape around the Yangtze River – Asia’s longest river and the third longest in the world. The scenes were shrouded in mist and fog, almost dreamlike. As valued treasures, they were placed in a prestigious part of our home by the fireplace. So, when I had the chance to join a cruise on the Yangtze River, it became a number one priority for me, in large part, because of these memories.
My cruise was on the Century Legend, a 5-star luxury vessel launched in 2013. Owned and operated by the Chinese company, Century Cruises, I later learned that the ship also serves cruise passengers for Avalon Waterways and Uniworld on the Yangtze River. However, my cruise was operated by Century Cruises and though we were told there would be many English-speaking guests, the reality was contrary to that.
Most guests hailed from Asia, with China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines as the most represented. The few English-speaking were from Canada, Great Britain, a few Germans who spoke English, and the United States. This shouldn’t be important but it served as the basis for restaurant tables we were assigned to for the duration of the trip. We were told that we could change seats at the table but that we couldn’t change tables.
The 456-foot long Century Legend is quite impressive, presenting with 7 decks, 2 sight-seeing elevators and 196 spacious cabins with a maximum capacity of 398 guests along with 150 crew. Perhaps the most stunning feature of the ship is the impressive 7 floor-high atrium lobby, architecturally graced to accentuate lightness and spaciousness. Other amenities include an indoor pool, spa, and cinema on the bottom level, game rooms, library, fitness center, lounge, ballroom, and 2 bars. The ship touts two restaurants but the second comes with an up-charge and from what I heard, serves the same food you have in the buffet restaurant, which is only average at best.
Sun Deck – library, gym, VIP Restaurant
Bridge Deck – rooms & bridge
Promenade Deck – rooms
Upper Deck – restaurant & rooms
Main Deck – rooms
Bottom Main Deck – spa, cinema, pool is 2,150 square foot heated indoor swimming pool. Note that there is an additional charge to use pool.
Entertainment & Culture Programs
This includes Tai-Chi exercises in the morning and a lecture on Chinese medicine. (The only people in attendance were ironically, Western.) There are also board games, Mahjong tables and a Reading Room with a small library. Film shows and local folklore presentations are also part of the program.
The main restaurant features buffets at all meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are advertised as Asian and western dishes, but the preponderance of dishes was definitely Asian. The buffets had limited times for meals and created unnecessary lines when they initially opened. I experienced a rather disorderly approach to buffet lines as many guests interjected themselves unceremoniously without protocol. The food is only average and consisted more of cafeteria-type dishes than anything gourmet. Table service was inconsistent. My personal assessment was that the purported English-speaking crew knew very little English.
We were assigned permanent tables upon check-in, and advised that we could change our seats but not our tables. In hindsight, it appears that tables were assigned based upon languages spoken by the guests – a fare criteria in my estimation.
I heard there was an à la carte restaurant, but that it served the same food with an upcharge rumored to be anywhere from $25-35 USD. Given the mediocre quality of the food, I determined it was not worth the price merely to get a seat with a view.
Itinerary & Tours
The 4-day, 3-night downstream cruise starts in Chongqing, one of the largest cities in the world, and terminates at Yichang, with a tour of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest dam project and hydropower station in the world. Along the way, you sail through mystical stretches of fog-enshrouded hills and villages, much like I remembered in the paintings that hung by our fireplace when I was young.
Chongqing – Yichang 4 Days & 3 Nights Downstream Cruise
Day 1 – Depart Chongqing, on board the Century Legend (6 pm boarding)
Day 2 – Yangtze River Cruising, Shibaozhai Pagoda (included tour)
Day 3 – Qutang Gorge, Shennong Stream (included tour), Wu Gorge & Xiling Gorge
Day 4 – Three Gorges Dam Project & Disembark in Yichang (noon)
Nice to Know
- All staterooms are fitted with 220 volt, European-style two-prong plugs. North American cruisers should bring an adapter.
- China requires that you obtain a visa before entering. (Visas can be purchased for up to 10 years). All passports must be valid for six months from the date of return. This is the responsibility of the traveler.
- Staterooms on the Century Legend are spacious, from 265 square feet to 300 square feet in size.
- You will need to pay local porters to bring your luggage onboard unless you want to carry yourself. A bit of a stroll.
Summary: The Century Legend is a sophisticated and well-designed ship that has features appealing to Asian audiences like Mahjong rooms, plenty of gift shops, and buffets. However, red flags were everywhere from the start, indicating a discrepancy with Western expectations. The food was not up to par for the alleged 5-star luxury and consisted of buffets with mostly mediocre Asian dishes. The impression was more of a cafeteria, with service spotty and inconsistent at tables.
For the initial boarding of the ship we were expected to pay a local porter. The option was to carry our own luggage in the darkness for what seemed to be a quarter of a mile. The shore excursions were over-priced even by Western standards, and were oblivious to any special passenger needs such as disabilities or slow walkers. (Many of the excursions involved extensive steps.) Entertainment mostly consisted of staff shows of a high-school production quality geared primarily to Asian audiences.
However, one of the highlights for me was meeting Dr. George with his East-West blend of acupuncture, cupping, and massages. Though his services came at a healthy fee, he did provide letters of treatment that could be presented to insurance companies for reimbursement of treated ailments.
IF YOU GO: