The cruise component of our tour may not be "authentic", but just the same, we're seeing quite a lot. More to the point, we're enjoying it!
We've heard lots of people talk about cruising. The attitudes we've heard range from being addicted to it (you know who you are...!) through to those who find it pleasant but not compelling. Our four nights on the Yangtze have been our first experience of cruising together, and the experience is probably more aligned to the intimate European river cruises than to the large ocean cruises. That said, the vessel has a capacity of about 360 and this voyage has about 320 passengers so it's on a slightly larger scale than the European style.
Overall, there's always something to do (besides the excursions, there are talks, demonstrations and evening entertainment). Everything runs smoothly and is well organised, and we've been very impressed with the whole experience. By way of example, things were running 10 or 15 minutes late on the morning of the Daning River excursion (due to some minor congestion on the river when approaching the port), so literally within a minute or two of the last passenger reboarding, the ship was on its way.
As I've previously mentioned, the Yangtze in this part of the world (upstream of the Three Gorges Dam) for a considerable is basically all in a gorge, just that in some parts it's a little wider than in others. It only opened out a bit on our third day. Only a few hours each day (or evening) are spent actually cruising. The timing is determined by a combination of two factors: the desirability of traversing the (relatively) more scenic sectors at a reasonably convenient time, and being at the right place at the right time to undertake the excursions. Each day, there's an included excursion and an optional excursion. We've found the included excursions to be interesting and varied. We've only taken one of the optional excursions (to the tribal folk museum) and were impressed by it. The other two optional excursions sounded appealing, but to take all of them would have led to a very hectic existence.
The one thing that you can't do is to go ashore independently (with one exception). Frankly, I'm not sure that you'd want to – the wharfs haven't been attractive nor do they seem to be anywhere near anything of interest. There seem to be a few factors that may influence this restriction: the tight schedule and the hassle that would involved in ensuring everyone was back on board at departure time; the fact that the berthing ar rangements are sometimes such that there are up to three ships tied up alongside each other (you have to walk through these other vessels to embark and disembark); and port taxes. There seems to be an exception to the no-going ashore rule coming up at Wanzhau, but we've been informed that if we do go ashore here, there will be an RMB100 port tax (and anyway the stop here seems to be for less than 2 hours).
[Edited] I would estimate that the phassengers are divided approximately one third English-speakers (many on group tours and the remainder on individual packages with the cruise forming one component) and two-thirds Chinese-speakers (but mostly well accustomed to Western ways). Our "national escort" ("Leo") accompanying our group is on the ship. It seems that different floors are dedicated to the different languages. I haven't noticed any other languages being spoken, certainly not any other European languages.
The food is mostly buffet-style, although there is said to be going to be a "Farewell Banquet" on the last night which won't be a buffet. The quality is OK, but not such as to "sweep you off your feet". Soft drinks and coffee at mealtimes are included, but anything alcoholic has to be paid for. Prices are very high by Chinese standards (RMB25 for a beer, which is more than $A4). But that's cruising for you, I suppose, and we're not complaining.