Los Angeles-based Viking River Cruises, a specialist in European
inland voyages, is crossing the Pacific Ocean for the first time to
offer a China program.
The company will launch a Yangtze River cruise in early March,
with the schedule to continue through December 2004, said Viking
River President Jeff Dash.
“China is definitely emerging as a huge destination,” Dash said.
“When we look for expansion and opportunities, we want to go where
our customers want to go.” Viking River’s program is centered
around seven-day Yangtze cruises, instead of the typical three- and
“We want to ensure people see more of the country,” Dash said.
“When we get to the Three Gorges Dam, we want to have enough time
so people understand the scope, size and scale of it. We had to
slow it down to seven nights so people aren’t rushed and can see
more, including Wuhan and Chongqing.”
Viking River is combining the cruise with land stays in China
and other Asian countries for five different packages of nine to 16
The basic nine-night package is priced from $1,649, including
the cruise, one hotel night each in Beijing and Shanghai, 26 meals
and intra-Asia flights. The fare is $2,249 including trans-Pacific
air from Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco and Seattle.
The cruises will be operated on the new Century Star, a
186-passenger river vessel that offers a balcony with every
stateroom, a rarity on riverboats. The ship, built in Chongqing,
has a two-deck lobby, a sun deck, a restaurant, a teahouse, lobby
bar, a fitness center, an Internet center and a ballroom.
“The ship will be a wonderful experience, but long-term we will
really make the biggest gains by providing good service,” Dash
said. “I want to have the best hardware I can, given the
constraints of the river, but I also want us to have ‘wow’ customer
The Century Star will be managed by Swiss hotel and catering
managers on board, offering passengers Chinese delicacies as well
as Western dishes daily. “Savoring local cuisine is an integral
part of any travel experience, but the prospect of the unknown, or
day after day of fried rice, is enough to discourage even the most
intrepid traveler,” the company says in its new brochure, now being
China is often perceived as a challenging country to visit, but
Dash said the tourism facilities are improving.
“The infrastructure is getting much better, and the partners we
have found really prove to us that we can deliver a competitive
product up to our standards in Europe,” he said. “We will bring to
people a truly comfortable, catered experience.”
Viking River has opened offices in Beijing and Chongqing and
hired English-speaking guides who will meet passengers at the
airport and escort them throughout the trip.
Passengers will be pre-checked into hotels to minimize lobby
waits, and all baggage will be transported.
Dash said the company wasn’t deterred by the outbreak of SARS
earlier this year. “We were talking to them before, during and
after SARS. We are 100 percent committed to China, now more than
ever,” Dash said. “I think China will become our next great