More than 190 tourists were on board the maiden cruise from Qinhuangdao Road in Yangpu District along the Huangpu River to Chongming Island on Tuesday.
The No. 2 Huangpu River Sightseeing Cruise Ship has a capacity of 450, but the number of passengers is limited to 200 to ensure comfort. Cruises take place once each weekend and the next five tours are completely sold out.
The 63-kilometer trip to Xinhe Cruise Dock on Chongming Island took three and half hours.
Most passengers on Tuesday were Shanghai residents, according to the operator, Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Co. Many of them were zhiqing, people who had been sent to the countryside in the 1960s and 70s to learn farming skills.
When Sha Liqin, 64, worked on Dongfeng Farm on Chongming Island almost 40 years ago, she returned to her home in Hongkou District once every couple of weeks.
“The conditions were tough and transport was very uncomfortable at that time,” she said. “There were only two ferries a day and the service was suspended if there were strong winds or fog. The ferry schedule was not fixed and sometimes we were told it was suspended after we had arrived at the dock.”
The ferry took two hours for a single trip and there was shuttle bus from the farm to the dock, taking another 45 minutes.
“It took four hours for a single trip home and the buses were very crowded,” she said.
“But still, Chongming is a special place for me. I met my husband there and we both have deep bonds with the island,” she said. “It is our second home.”
“I have never taken a sightseeing cruise on the river before and I am very pleased to be making the trip now,” said Sha. “I am very happy to return ‘home.'”
Sha was accompanied by five friends, some of whom were also zhiqing.
“I have taken other cruises on the Huangpu River, but they were short tours, like 30 minutes,” said Li Qiong from Xuhui District, who boarded the ship with her parents, husband and daughter.
“I like river cruises because Shanghai is becoming more beautiful, both in the daytime and at night,” she said. “I booked today’s tour as soon as I heard about it because it is the maiden voyage, which is very special and meaningful.”
“My son booked the trip for me. I have not been to Chongming for decades,” said 71-year-old Yang Yongxiang who lives in Minhang District and got up before 6am to catch the ship.
“I have been on night cruises, but this is quite different,” he said. “Seniors like us prefer leisurely tours. Chongming is very big, so it is good to have everything arranged, including transportation. The schedule allows us to rest on the ship and enjoy Shanghai’s glamorous night view, which is good.”
“I like taking photos and will capture lavender in full bloom in Chongming,” he said. “The only problem is that the view on the way to Chongming is sort of boring.”
Du Ming was sailing with her 11-year-old daughter. “I seldom visit Chongming,” she said.
“We are very excited,” said Du. “The only problem is that we come back very late, but it is quite understandable.”
Seasonal agricultural delicacies of Chongming, including chicken and shrimp, were served for lunch. Passengers visited Zihai Luyuan Park and Dongping Forest Park in the afternoon.
“The programs are designed based on the seasons,” said Shen Hong of Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Co.
May and June are the best months for lavender and verbena, when Zihai Luyuan Park is a sea of purple flowers. A lot of fruit ripens in July and August.
“After the lavender withers, we will arrange lotus tours and fruit picking, probably at Ruihua Orchard,” Shen said.
The cruise ship departed for home at 5:30pm, when passengers enjoyed a buffet and took in the night view along the Huangpu River.
The tour currently costs 398 yuan (US$58) per person and is the city’s latest effort to make river cruises a world-class attraction. The target is 5 million tourists a year.
“We are planning a two-day trip to Chongming and more flexible options such as a bus back,” said Shen. “We will make improvements based on feedback from the tourists and may introduce karaoke, movies and parent-child activities.”
“For a long time, the majority of people on our tours were from out of town, but we have noticed a significant increase in local tourists since we diversified our itineraries,” he said.
“We sometimes see more than 10 locals booking together, and there are many families taking the trips,” he said.
The tours have also boosted visits to tourist attractions in Chongming, he said.
Hop-on and hop-off tours will run from October, with passengers able to disembark at any of three docks between the Nanpu and Yangpu bridges, and board another vessel within 24 hours.
“We want to make the ships to connect attractions along the river,” said Hong Chaohui, deputy general manager of Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Co.