Sailed on Viking Emerald from Bejing to Shanghai Aug 3-19. We sailed from Amsterdam to Budapest last year with Viking and so thought I would provide some comparison comments.
Going through China needs to be seen as an educational and cultural experience; it is not necessarily relaxing. Also, this trip is 5 days on land in Bejing/Xiam/Shanghai plus 10 days on the boat. The 2 are not the same!
The land portion is very structured by Viking. You are in hotels, buses, airports, constantly on the move and living out of suitcase. Hotels picked by Viking are absolutely 5 star in every way, however should be noted wine and beer are NOT provided during lunch or dinner. Tours can be long with lots of walking, steps etc. China in August is extremely hot, extremely humid and the tour experience can be diminished by this. If possible, suggest spring/fall departures. Bejing is just a big city; nothing particularly redeeming about it. Xiam is the stop over point before tour of the Terra Cota soldiers; you are just in and out. Shanghai is spectacular; huge, bustling city with stunning architecture and at night the waterfront is lit up like nowhere else in the world. Very impressive. If you plan to extend your stay, suggest you do it in Shanghai. Note many of the lunches/dinners were at chineese style restaurants where you sit at a table and they bring individual plates of chineese food to be shared by all. On several occasions quantity of food was not sufficient since they do not bring a second plate of anything. Viking should address this.
The boat portion was typical Viking. Boat was spotless, food was good and lots of it (Western style generally). Wine and beer, excellent service. Rooms very nice for a small boat, quiet, very clean. Small balcony to sit out on. 2 lounges, outdoor deck, no pool. Internet service spotty at best. Cannot say enough about the staff everywhere on board; almost smothering with kindness!
No language issues although sometimes you needed to say it twice.
China as a whole is dirty (not garbage per se), but everything is just gritty and looks like it needs a good power washing. It is congested, noisy , people at every turn, nightmare driving and scary walking since pedestrians literally have no right of way. Ports are old, dirty, generally floating ganyway to shore. Water in the river is filthy. Unlike Europe, there are no nice outdoor cafe's to stop and have a drink, no churches or castles to tour, no cobblestone streets to wander around. They just do not have these things. Instead it is very urban, very 3rd world in many respects. Western style Toilets are highly sought out but not common other than in hotels/boat.
I give Viking 5 stars because they make the best of a difficult environment. They did a great job of herding all 200 of us around, through airports, crammed public sites such as the great wall. Tickets to everything were instantly provided; we never waited in line. Tour guides were good. Some tours were pretty much a waste of time and a lot of emphasis on going to a place selling jade/silk etc where obviously Viking was getting a commission for delivering us to the front door. Too much shopping for me although many people were buying stuff.
Group was 60% USA, rest from Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand. Age range 50-80, average 65-70. Mostly retired. Nothing for kids to do although we had 2.
In summary, this is a tour for people who want to see China and experience the culture. It is not for those wanting to sit in a cafe having a latte, relaxing and people watching. The dirt, congestion, noise and hectic pace got to many people, and generally I would think most would not return for a second time. However, it is a fascinating cultural experience and certainly you are not going to fly in, rent a car and do it on your own. So if you want to see China, this is the way to do it.