Year Built: 2009
Tonnage: 10,000 tons
Length: Approximately 440 feet
Passenger Decks: 5
Passenger Capacity: 378
A peculiar thudding and clanging sounded in the distance as I began to disembark from a five-day Yangtze River cruise aboard the Victoria Jenna. I neared the dock, only to discover the source — a full-fledged marching band, decked out in Victoria Cruises uniforms, sending us off to dry land in grand style.
The Victoria Jenna is the largest luxury river cruise vessel to date. // (C) 2010 Victoria Cruises
Marching band or not, Victoria Cruises has a knack for making guests feel special and cruising on its latest ship, Victoria Jenna, is no exception.
“Since the Jenna is our new flagship, we chose the most highly rated staff from each of our other five-star vessels,” said Jerry Pi, director of worldwide operations for Victoria Cruises. “Many were selected because of their penchant for going beyond the call of duty and exceeding all expectations.”
The new ship is also setting the bar for comfort on the Yangtze. Clients get the privilege of sailing on the largest luxury river cruise ship to date, which is also the first river cruise vessel to feature four elevators, two separate full-service kitchens and staterooms with full-size bathtubs and private balconies.
I took full advantage of my private balcony, spending the early mornings gazing out over jade-colored waters and marveling at the thick clouds of mist lingering over passing gorges. Some mornings, I tested my patience and balancing skills during a tai chi class held daily in one of the ship’s three lounges. The complimentary classes were extremely popular with guests, as were the evening entertainment options, which included a fashion show of Chinese traditional costumes and a crew cabaret.
In terms of accommodations, there are 166 staterooms in the Superior Class, 35 Junior Suites, three Deluxe Suites and two Shangri-La Suites whose spacious balconies afford some of the finest views on the ship. All staterooms feature marble-top bathroom counters, stocked refrigerators and 26-inch Phillips flat-screen televisions. Suites come with 42-inch flat-screens and a DVD player. Superior Staterooms measure about 225 square feet, including the balcony, while Shangri-La Suites are approximately 803 square feet, including the balcony.
In addition to boasting a three-story atrium lobby, three bars and a library, the Jenna also features two full-sized lecture rooms, a fitness center and a spa. The fitness center was lacking in equipment and amenities, for my needs, however. When I mentioned it to Pi, he agreed, and said that the line is looking to enhance the gym facilities and move the gym to the top deck.
Several other upgrades are in the works and should be completed in time for the spring sailing season, according to Pi. Among the scheduled upgrades, the entire sixth floor will become the Executive Suite Deck with a lounge, business center, a bar and concierge service for passengers that stay in the suites. (Guests in this class are also entitled to more intimate shore excursions with groups of about six or more people.) The cruise line is also considering enhancing its tour offerings, adding an optional shore excursion per day, as well as reevaluating its dining menus.
“Our number-one focus is the food,” said Pi. “We are very finicky about what we serve aboard our ships, and we expect to put our menu through yet another enhancement.”
Typical lunch buffets featured pasta, stir-fried noodles, fried fish, salads, fruit, soup and wraps. Three-course dinners in the a la carte restaurant varied nightly, serving everything from French onion soup and rack of lamb to kung pao chicken. Grass-fed and non-hormone meats were used, and all pastries, breads and desserts were handmade daily by the chefs.
One of my favorite parts of the cruise, however, was learning how to play mahjong on one of the Jenna’s electric mahjong tables. After a staff member patiently taught us the basics, I could see why this game of strategy and chance is one of the most popular pastimes in China.
The excursions were also a highlight for me, particularly the sampan boat ride through the Lesser Gorges. There, villagers serenaded us with folk songs and the flute as we passed by. Another favorite was a visit to the more than 1,800-year-old City of Ghosts perched atop Ming Mountain.
The line expects high demand for the Jenna throughout 2010 and 2011 as most of its preferred tour partners — including Avalon Waterways, Globus, Orient Flexi-Pax, Pacific Delight Tours, Trafalgar, Travcoa and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection — are specifically requesting the ship. In fact, the Jenna’s March 27 and April 24 departures have sold out, and unconfirmed reports suggest that only two staterooms remain on the March 20 sailing.
“The Victoria Jenna is the pinnacle of river cruising,” said Pi. “Not only are we unmatched on the Yangtze, but you won’t find anything like the Victoria Jenna on any river in the world.”