FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ A boatload of Americans will visit China this week in the first U.S. cruise trip since what a Chinese tourism official calls ''the unforeseen incident.''

Pearl Cruises, which offers an 18-day trip in China and Hong Kong, is resuming its ''China Dynasty'' tours with a sold-out, 480-passenger group.

''There are a lot of people who want to visit China,'' said Robert S. Iversen, the line's president who will lead the tour on his fourth visit to China.

''We're excited about it,'' said Dr. Sam Patterson of Memphis, Tenn. He and his wife will be on the tour that leaves San Francisco on Thursday. The group will fly to Beijing and then board the cruiseliner after three days of sightseeing.

''It seems like the right place at the right time,'' said Patterson. ''It doesn't frighten us to go there. We've read many magazines and newspapers about what's going on.''

This is no ordinary cruise. Travel officials say it will be the largest group of Americans visiting at one time since the Communist government brutally crushed the pro-democracy movement last June.

At that time, the State Department issued a warning against Americans going to China. The department amended that to a traveller's caution in January after the Chinese government lifted martial law.

Its current guidelines urge Americans to register with U.S. consular officials and to refrain from unauthorized travel or from bringing in political or pornographic material.

Iversen says he tries to stay out of the debate over U.S.-China relations and whether tourists lend tacit support to the Chinese government by bringing badly needed dollars. Instead, he justifies the tour on a personal level.

''We think the interfacing between American tourists and the Chinese is something positive. It's important, and can only be beneficial, for them to see and communicate with American tourists,'' Iversen said.

The Chinese government is anxious to bring American tourists back.

American tourism ''would be very significant. That was a major source of income for the Chinese,'' said Roger Sullivan, of the U.S.-China Business Council. ''It's important for any country that's trying to develop.''

China was earning $2 billion a year from foreign visitors before Tiananmen Square.

''In 1989, affected by the unforeseen incident, China's tourism suffered a drop in tourist arrivals and foreign currency earnings,'' said Liu Yi, chairman of the Chinese National Tourism Administration, in a recent advertisement in Travel Weekly.

Pacific Delight Tours resumed China tours in small groups last September, said Larry Kwan, a vice president in New York. He said U.S. tourist interest hasn't been as strong as before the military crackdown, but he declined to give figures.

The Pearl Cruises visitors will be met with a press conference with the Chinese news media, and will be feted at a June 24 banquet with Chinese economic officials. ''They view this as a big event,'' Iversen said.

Lars Eric Lindblad, the Swedish-born adventurer who was a pioneer in taking Americans into China in the 1970s, said this may be the best time for Americans to visit.

''They really want this to be a success. I think at no time will we find the Chinese making such an effort. Everything has been set up for them to have a fantastic tour,'' said Lindblad, whose own Lindblad Tours collapsed when tourism dried up after last June's crackdown.

Pearl Cruises plans two more China cruises this fall, then will double its trips to six next year. Besides land excursions to the Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, the tour cruises the Yangtse River, Yellow Sea and East China Sea to Hong Kong.