Warm Prompt: You can tap/click on the pictures to increase their size (in case you didn't know).
On the bus from Ychang Airport to Maoping Port last night we were given our instructions regarding embarking our Yangtze River cruise ship, the President No. 7. Before leaving Canada we'd been given the option to purchase a 'VIP Package' for $100 each that would include "free coffee, tea and snacks at happy hours in the afternoon, enjoy all meals at VIP restaurant, free drinks before dinner, unlimited wine, beer with lunch and dinner, express check in and check out, room turn-down service, welcome fruit basket in cabin, VIP area reserved for evening entertainments and 2 hours free internet for each sailing".
We chose not to take the above package - didn't sound as though there was anything that really mattered to us - not for another $200.00 anyway. However,on the bus we were given to believe that those of us who had not chosen to take the VIP package would not get the same quality of rooms, that being on a higher deck would be better and that it was worth having our meals in the VIP restaurant, so we gave in and bought the VIP package. Well, let's see what we got:
Free coffee, tea and snacks at happy hour - check. I was given a tiny demi-tasse of coffee and a one-inch square of cake with a tiny cookie. When I asked for more coffee I was given a shocked look as in "you've already had yours!" and a definite 'no'. We had our meals in the VIP restaurant but did we "enjoy" them there? We feel we might have done better to remain in the larger restaurant (that we could see down into below us) as they received their food first and by the time we got ours it was invariably only just luke-warm and often cold. We never found a free drink before dinner, but we didn't actually look hard. We neither of us are fussed any more about "unlimited drinks" but yes, they were there. A really foul red 'wine', "champagne" (that proved more palatable) and beer. Don't ask about 'express check-in or out' - the crush was so great at the desk it was hard to tell. A fruit basket showed up in our cabin on the second day (would have been useful if it had been there the night we arrived so late, without having had dinner). The internet worked very poorly, only intermittently before we'd just give up but it was available to everyone - VIP package or not. And yes, the reserved VIP seating area for evening entertainment was there - but it was held only for 15 minutes and, as it was closely following dinner we had to finish eating pretty quickly if we wanted to use it.
Now, having said all that, was it worth it to get the VIP deal? Well, if I tell you that some of our group did not pay the extra $100 per person - and they still got exactly the same things that we did, with cabins on the same floor, unlimited booze, internet (such as it was) etc! Do we feel conned? Yup. Mind you, they didn't get a 'Welcome fruit basket'.......!
We thought we'd start cruising in the morning because the itinerary said "Your highly anticipated grand Yangtze River adventure begins this morning. The cruise ship's first stop is at Taipingxi. Disembark to visit the massive Three Gorges Dam Project."
However, the ship remained firmly at dock and some people went off on an optional tour while we explored the vessel and Bruce and Bill went to an 'Introduction to Chinese Acupuncture' in the events room while Marylyn had a morning of rest in her cabin and Lee wandered off to see the silk hand-embroidered works in a small shop on the ship. Back in our cabin, a Chinese lady in the cabin on the cruise ship right next to us spotted me and, called me over to the balcony then handed me two mangoes. Very nice of her. Bruce and Bill both booked visits later in the day with the on-board Acupuncture and Massage staff.
Around 2pm we disembarked our stationary vessel (the ship hadn't left Port) and we again trudged over the metal decks strewn with cables and litter (although numerous cruise ship staff were along the route to tell us to "Watch your steps") to the funicular car to go back up the hill and get on a BUS which took us the 45 minutes drive to Sandouping to the Three Gorges Dam Project.
Here's where Bruce decided to prove how challenging he can be and show just who they were dealing with! He was right behind me as we got off the bus to head for the 'model' that our guide was going to show us. As I looked around I couldn't see Bruce anywhere near the model and asked Bill if he could see him. Nope. We were to go up a very steep hill to a point overlooking the Dam and, from below, we could see hordes of people smoothly cruising in a very stately fashion uphill! Turned out there was a series of outdoor escalators that made life very easy. Couldn't see Bruce on any of the escalators, so we hung around a bit while the Guide rooted around for him below, despite my saying "He'll show up - he always does". I think some of the group thought I was being pretty heartless and were concerned that he'd be in a panic because the poor old geezer was lost. They just don't know Bruce - I knew full well his opinion would be that the rest of the Group was lost, but not he!
Anyway, we finally went up the escalators and strolled around the top (while some of our group ran around looking for Bruce). It's definitely impressive - largest hydro-electric dam in the world which became fully functional, after flooding numerous valleys, archeological and cultural sites and displacing 1.3 million people, in 2012. The Chinese didn't decide to do this totally alone - it was a U.S. design engineer back in 1944 who surveyed the area and drew up an initial dam proposal, and 54 Chinese engineers went to the U.S. for training. The Chinese government is now actually acknowledging that it is causing significant ecological changes, but there's no going back now. There is a ship lift here to supplement the locks that was completed in 2015 that I would have been interested to see in operation. The Chinese are so good at massive construction projects - everywhere we look there are huge cranes and high-rises and bridges being built - but I think they don't (yet) have the same checks and balances that we in Canada have for ecologically sensitive projects. Just about everyone in the town of Sandouping is employed in some way by the Three Gorges Dam Project.
Anyway, back to Bruce. We headed back down to the parking lot with him still missing in action, and people fretting about it and asking me not to worry about it (I've done this too many times and for far too long to worry!) - but it's a distraction for everyone and takes so much negative energy away from what we're supposed to be doing - and there he was, of course, sitting on our bus waiting for us to return. He had thought he was behind us, but in fact he got ahead of us and scooted up the hill and came quickly back down again when he didn't see us. Sigh! This, unfortunately, was to become something of a pattern, with the common refrain amongst the group of "Where's Bruce?"
We received daily Information Sheets while on board and it took until the third day to realize that the paragraph titled "Warm Prompt" means "Hot Tip". A literal translation, I'm guessing.
We returned to our vessel shortly after 6pm and the ship finally drew away from the dock just after dinner that night when it was dark and while we were enjoying our reserved "VIP Seating" in the Oscar Multi-Function Hall to watch our crew members perform some very pleasant folk dances.
Took an early night - it felt SO good! - but I did watch from our deck for a while as we cruised VERY closely to the steep shores. While it was dark I was able to see because there was a search light from our vessel playing in the nearby trees - sort of beautifully eerie.