How to Plan a Yangtze River Cruise

How to Plan a Yangtze River Cruise

By Kimi HuangUpdated Oct. 1, 2021

As the longest river in China and the third longest river in the world, the Yangtze is very navigable and offers awesome scenery and a range of cultural and engineering wonders to see.

To enjoy a perfect Yangtze River cruise, please read our planning guide. Meanwhile, feel free to contact us with any questions about Yangtze River cruises. Our travel advisors can help you create the unforgettable memories you want and fit a cruise perfectly into an itinerary of your choice. 

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The Best Time for a Yangtze River Cruise

Cruise in the Three GorgesCruise in the Three Gorges

Yangtze River cruises are possible all the year around. The high season is from April to October, when the prices of cruise tickets are a little higher than in colder months. As the passenger capacity on cruise ships is fixed, the Yangtze River cruise tour experience will not be affected by crowds, even on public holidays in China (particularly Labor Day and Chinese National Day). 

  • April to June: The weather is comfortable, and the blooming flowers along the Yangtze River are stunning and colorful.
  • June to August: During summer time in central China, relaxing on a cruise is a pleasant way to avoid the summer heat.
  • September to November: Fiery maple hues cover the gorges; it is a good time for photography.
  • December to March might also be considered a good season despite the cold weather. In winter, prices for Yangtze River cruises are often only half of that in the high season. In addition, the Three Gorges scenery (the most impressive section of the Yangtze River) is more breathtaking because of the much lower water levels.

See more on Yangtze River Weather

Yangtze River Cruise Routes

There are four main cruise routes for the Yangtze River, with the most beautiful scenery (the Three Gorges) in the Chongqing–Yichang section:

  • Downstream: a 3-night (4-day) cruise from Chongqing to Yichang or a 6-night (7-day) cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai
  • Upstream: a 4-night (5-day) cruise from Yichang to Chongqing or an 8-night (9-day) cruise from Shanghai to Chongqing

Most cruises are between Yichang and Chongqing — the most popular cruise location.

Downstream or Upstream?

A map of the Yangtze River cruise routeA map of the Yangtze River cruise route

The most classic Yangtze River cruises are between Chongqing and Yichang, with a distance of 648 kilometers (403 miles). The difference between upstream and downstream cruises is that downstream cruises are normally shorter, and the shore excursions may vary. The choice of upstream or downstream depends on your travel schedule and what is important to you. Check out more on Yangtze Cruise Routes.

Chongqing–Yichang Downstream Cruise Details:

  • Duration: 4 days (3 nights)
  • Boarding time: 18:00–21:00
  • Board at Chongqing Chaotianmen Dock.
  • Disembark at Maoping Port (Yichang), where the cruise company will arrange a bus transferring you to Yichang Three Gorges Center Cruise Terminal, arriving at around 11:30 (A.M.).

Yichang–Chongqing Upstream Cruise Details

  • Duration: 5 days (4 nights)
  • Boarding time: 16:00–21:00
  • Gather at Yichang Three Gorges Center Cruise Terminal for the inclusive bus to Maoping Port to board the ship.
  • Disembark at Chongqing Chaotianmen Dock around 09:00 (A.M.).

Please note: In case of low water levels or unfavorable river conditions at Chongqing, ships will embark/disembark from Fuling, 1½ hours’ bus ride from Chongqing. The cruise company will arrange a transfer from Chongqing to Fuling at no extra cost.

Yangtze Cruise Shore Excursions

Three Gorges DamThree Gorges Dam

On both routes, you can enrich your cruise with shore excursions to visit the historical and cultural places along the river. There are inclusive excursions (included in your cruise cost) and optional excursions, which you need to pay extra for.

Shore excursions vary according to the ship, route, and schedule. Costs range from US$15 to US$105. An English-speaking tour guide for foreign travelers will be provided by the cruise company. You can choose to stay on the cruise ship if you don’t want to go on an excursion.

Please note: Climbing of hundreds of steps is needed on some excursions, which may not be suitable for kids or seniors etc. Please consult us or the onboard tour guide for more details.

See more on Yangtze Cruise Shore Excursions

The Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam in Xiling Gorge in Yichang Prefecture is an outstanding highlight of any Yangtze cruise. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydropower station in the world with an annual energy output of 84.7 billion kilowatt hours. It’s also the largest concrete construction on earth with the largest ship lift!

This super dam is one of the outstanding highlights of a Yangtze River cruise. Passengers get access to the top of the dam for photo opportunities on a standard cruise excursion. You may choose to pay $45 to take the optional Ship Lift tour.

Choose a Cruise Ship

Cruise ship stop at the dockCruise ship stop at the dock

Currently, there are over 25 cruise ships on the Yangtze River. These cruises are run by six cruise companies. When faced with so many options, you may be confused about choosing a cruise ship.

It is suggested to consider these essential factors when choosing a cruise ship:

  • Cruise route and boarding date: Check if the cruise ship’s departure date suits your travel dates and if it’s cruising the route you want. See our Yangtze Cruise Departure Calendar to find out which cruise ship departs on what day and on what route.
  • Shore excursions: There are more than 300 attractions along the cruise route, such as the Three Gorges Dam, the Three Gorges Tribe, Fengdu Ghost City, and White Emperor City, but not all are included on every cruise, so please check if the excursions your want are included/optional. See more on Yangtze Cruise Shore Excursions
  • Cruise company:

       1) Victoria Cruises are run by an American company. Most ships are new or have been refitted in recent years.

       2) The most luxurious cruise ship on the Yangtze River, Yangtze Explorer, is operated by Sanctuary Retreats.

       3) Century Cruises is the only fully Chinese cruise company. It has its own dock in Chongqing, providing an advanced European-styled service.

      4) Both Gold Cruises and President Cruises have run their Yangtze River cruise businesses for many years. They can provide the most  professional services as well as the most competitive prices.

According to our research data and feedback from customers, here are our cruise ship recommendations for different traveler groups in 2021:

  • Family friendly: Century Glory, President 7, President 8, Gold 6
  • Luxury: Yangtze Explorer, Century Glory
  • Best value: Gold 7, Gold 8, Victoria Jenna, Century Legend, Century Paragon

You’re welcome to contact our travel advisors to gather more information about cruise ship selection.

Choosing a Yangtze Cruise Cabin

The standard room in the Century skyThe standard room in the Century sky

Choosing a suitable cabin is very important for a perfect Yangtze cruise. Our travel advisors can help you choose a cruise cabin to suit your budget and requirements.

The two essential factors for cruise cabin selection are:

1. Cabin type: The price of a Yangtze cruise ship cabin is dependent on its type. There are up to five cabin types available onboard different ships: 1) Standard Cabin, 2) Standard Cabin with large outside windows, 3) Standard Cabin with a private balcony, 4) Junior Cabin, 5) Deluxe Suite.

A Standard Cabin with private balcony is considered the best value for money. It does not cost much more than a standard cabin with just a window. These cabins have sliding glass doors, giving you access to the outside. Even lying on the bed you can still see the river outside. Sitting on your private balcony, drinking a cup of coffee or wine, enjoying the river breeze, and watching the sunrise or sunset — that is the life!

2. Cabin location: Your standard cabin’s exact location is arranged randomly by the cruise company. However, you can choose the deck. We always recommend higher deck cabins because you can get better views, plus they’re closer to the sun deck and all the entertainment areas. The price of a deck upgrade varies with cruise company, but it’s around 150–300 yuan (US$23–50) per deck.

Yangtze River Cruise Embarkation and Disembarkation Info

The High speed train in the stationThe High speed train in the station

Getting to/from the Cruise Port in Chongqing

Chongqing is near the upriver end of the navigable part of the Yangtze River for large ships, just west of the Three Gorges.

Chongqing is a huge city in the transition area between East China, where the economy is developing quickly, and West China, where there are abundant resources. So, Chongqing is a hub for transportation in Central China with a convenient transport network.

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport(重庆江北国际机场)

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, ranking among the top eight airports in China, serves more than 200 domestic routes, including to Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Wuhai, Kunming, Lhasa, and Guangzhou. It also serves 80 international routes, such as to New York, Frankfurt, Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo. It is about 19 km (12 miles) from downtown Yichang.

Chongqing Railway Transportation

There are three frequently-used train stations in Chongqing, connecting to the main tourist cities in China: Chongqing Railway Station (重庆站), Chongqing North Railway Station (重庆北站), and Chongqing West Railway Station (重庆西站). We have a professional team that frequently updates train schedules for Chongqing.

The recommneded Chongqing tour5-Day Chongqing and Yangtze River Cruise Tour

Getting to/from the Cruise Port in Yichang

Yichang lies at the eastern end of the Three Gorges. It is the gateway to the Three Gorges Dam site. It is a much smaller city than Chongqing with fewer flights and trains.

Yichang Sanxia Airport(宜昌三峡机场)

Yichang’s airport has frequent scheduled flights to many domestic cities in the high season, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Kunming. It is about 26 km (16 miles) from downtown Yichang.

Yichang East Railway Station (宜昌东站)

High-speed trains from Yichang East Railway Station connect with over 90 domestic destinations, including Guangzhou, Wuhan, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, Wuxi, Taiyuan, Kunming, Luoyang, and Zhengzhou.

Yangtze river cruise tours typically end at Yichang Three Gorges Center Cruise Terminal at around 1pm, but this can vary. Leave plenty of time to catch your onward flight/train.

Yangtze River Travel Tips

Delightful service on the cruise shipDelightful service on the cruise ship

Before Boarding

  • If you suspect that you may suffer from motion sickness, please bring some medication, though Yangtze cruises are generally very smooth
  • If your boarding time is in the afternoon or evening, be aware that most cruise ships do not include dinner on the first night of a cruise. Having a dinner before you board is recommended.
  • You can store your luggage at Pier 3 of Chaotianmen Dock, which is handy if you arrive in Chongqing early and want to store your luggage while sightseeing in the city, for which you should allow at least 4 hours. The fee is around 10 yuan per piece of luggage.
  • There are many steep stairs from the car park to the dock in Chongqing. We can arrange porters to transfer your luggage to the ship at US$2–3 per piece.

Onboard

  • Food availability varies between cruises. If you have any special dietary requirements, such as vegetarian or halal, please contact us in advance.
  • Shore excursions come with a local English-speaking tour guide service. Take note of the return gathering point and time, which the local guide will introduce.
  • All passengers on cruises between Chongqing and Yichang are required to pay a US$23–45 per person service charge, which varies according to the ship, at the time of boarding. We can pay this charge for you as part of your tour cost, if you choose, to avoid any hassles.
  • Tipping is a matter of individual preference and is not expected in China. Tips for any staff member are at your discretion. 

Yangtze Cruise Kids Activities

For families who take a Yangtze cruise, there are many fun activities that kids can enjoy.

  • Recommended activities: children's playground, swimming, watching movies, shore excursions, learning mahjong, evening welcome performances…

Tips for Seniors and Physically Challenged People

A Yangtze cruise is ideal for seniors, because it is a relaxing and comfortable tour option. On the cruise ships, elevators, stairs, and facilities are generally well-designed for ease of access and convenience. Physically challenged people should be okay too. Most ships are quite wheelchair friendly and the staff are very willing to help. Contact us to make sure your cruise selection is suitably accessible.

  • Recommended activities: watching movies, evening welcome performance, Chinese medicine lecture, Three Gorges Dam visit (some shore excursions may not be suitable due to many steps).

Read more about Yangtze Cruise Travel Tips

Contact us updated travel information

Recommended China Tours Including a Yangtze Cruise

Thanks to the increasingly convenient transportation in China, no matter whether you take an upstream or downstream cruise, it is easy to transfer to other popular tourist cities from Chongqing and Yichang. Recommendations include Chongqing–Chengdu, Chongqing–Guilin, and Yichang–Zhangjiajie.

It only takes around 1½ hours from Chongqing to Chengdu by high-speed train. Chengdu is a “City of Gastronomy”, as well as being famous for pandas. See our Chengdu tours or contact us to customize a Yangtze and Chengdu tour package.

Guilin is another destination that is famous for natural scenery. Its karst landscape and idyllic countryside attract a large number of tourists every year. There are high-speed trains and direct planes available between Chongqing and Guilin. Check out our Guilin tours to supplement your Yangtze River cruise trip.

Most first-time visitors to China take a long holiday to explore this vast country. Usually, besides a Yangtze River cruise, they visit other classic destinations.It is easy to combine a cruise with other popular destinations to experience more amazing scenery as well as China’s splendid cultures, delicious food, and diverse lifestyles.

Here are our most recommended Yangtze tour itineraries for 2021:

  • The Majestic Yangtze (11-Day Beijing–Xi'an–Chongqing–Yangtze–Yichang–Shanghai Tour): The essence of China is there to be discovered. Enjoy eight days of ancient culture and modern miracles alongside the majestic Yangtze River. With insights from our expert guides, you can really discover the "New China".
  • A Close Experience with Pandas (13-Day Private Tour: Beijing – Xi'an – Chengdu – Yangtze Cruise – Shanghai): With comfortable accommodation and transportation, the tour features a close experience with giant pandas in Chengdu and includes China’s Golden Triangle and a Yangtze River cruise.
  • Nature of China: This 15-day tour brings the Yangtze River and Zhangjiajie closer to you and shows you the essence of China in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai. Enjoy the beauty of China with stunning natural views.

Our tours can be tailor-made according to your group size, timeframe, interests, budget, and other needs. Contact us for a bespoke tour.

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