We have just returned from the Viking Cruise/land tour Imperials Jewels of China.
This trip covered 3 days in Beijing , 1.5 days in Xian, 5 day cruise on Yangtze River and 1.5 days in Shanghai. Included was 5 star hotel accommodation in the 3 cities listed,3 internal flights and a verandah stateroom on the Viking Emerald.
The passengers, 160 in all, were divided into 4 groups of 40 each with a dedicated tour escort for the whole journey.
This was not a relaxed cruise/land tour and was full-on, especially on the days when visiting the tourist sights in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. There was a significant amount of walking in high temperatures and dealing with large crowds at the various sites. It was highly organised and always on the go, leaving very little or no free time on the land days. Apart from breakfast, dining was at local restaurants under the "lazy Susan " format with the food choice being very limited and sub standard at times. On the days of the internal flights it was quite time consuming though the organisation covering the check in and luggage handling and transfers to hotel was well organised, leaving us with no concerns.
The Viking Emerald is a reasonably new ship and had all the modern conveniences to make the cruise very comfortable and relaxing. The meals were of a reasonable standard with a choice of either Chinese or Western. There was no entertainment apart from 2 revue type shows put on by the crew.
Unfortunately the river cruise schedule had to be changed due to the Yangtze river being in flood and we were unable to sail through the Three Gorges and pass through the lochs which would have been a major attraction for us. However Viking made alternative arrangements to sail up the river to the Three Gorges Dam from Wuhan and return, giving us 4 days cruising and an extra day in Wuhan.
Our tour escort was very good and knowledgeable on the key factors covering the places we visited, which was very helpful in helping us attain an understanding of the Chinese culture and lifestyle. The local guides were also of a high standard.
One disappointing aspect of this trip was that once you were allocated to your group you were expected to stay with it, and the opportunity to mix with the other passengers was non existent because of the structure that was in place to move everybody around China during the trip. Whilst we understood this, we felt that on the cruise there could have been some relaxation in the group situation so that we could utilise the open dining policy that Viking offers. This was not the case and we were all directed to dine within our groups, and thereby the opportunity to meet and mix with the other passengers did not eventuate.
To sum up this trip, it was more an adventure than a holiday in that it provided us with a fully organised insight into China. We understood such organisation was necessary as trying to cover the major tourist attractions on our own, would have been very demanding.
Given the short time at our disposal, however, we have to say that Viking proved to be excellent tour operators and their superb organisation enabled us to cover a large amount of China in a very short time.