Our visit to China --- traveling with a group of 8 --- was an excellent travel experience. We booked our flight through Viking, connected (from DCA) to a Continental flight from Newark nonstop to Shanghai. We flew business class and enjoyed the benefit of a terrific cabin crew.
Viking booked our land portion into mostly Shangri La Hotels, which were top notch (Five star quality). The Regent in Beijing matched the others. Shanghai and Beijing are not to be missed cities. The cruise portion on the Yangtze provided full and fulfilling days in several ports. This was our first experience with a tour guide who accompanied us the entire trip. The guide's name is Jessie Xu, and she was a winner. All of the shore excursions were learning experiences, though fewer shopping experiences would have pleased me. The local guides were very good except in Chongquin and Mt. Jiu Hua, but here Jessie, recognizing the problem, filled in the gaps. A different and refreshing stop was Jingzhou, where we visited third graders in one of the elementary schools that Viking supports.
The Viking Emerald was well-configured, and the staff were terrific. Many of the wait staff were lined up on the ramp to shore to bid us good day as we departed on excursions and again to welcome us back on board. In fact, the wait staff probably was the hardest working wait staff I've encountered in nearly 25 cruises. Several of them, together with other employees, not only performed various cultural dances and songs in addition to their regular duties but did so at near professional caliber.
Our stateroom was ample in size and comfortable. Shipboard entertainment was quite enjoyable, and the Cruise Director's talks on the Chinese culture and history were well prepared, well delivered and well received. The one deficiency of this cruise was the dining room. Too many passengers; too much hubbub; wait staff stretched thin (corrected somewhat after a conversation with the maitre' d). Overall, the food was not up to Viking standards. The breakfast buffet was fine, and lunches were acceptable. Dinners, however, were another story. We had to send items back to the kitchen on more than one occasion, and this was the first time I was forced to order off the fixed menu (steak, salmon, etc.) rather the daily menus. Even the Chinese food failed the taste test.
We added a post cruise visit to Guilin and Hong Kong. Guilin is a city that warranted additional time, but in any event was an enjoyable stop that inclued a cruise on the Li River. As we expected, Hong Kong had changed markedly since our visit there 40+ years ago. The trip extension included about a six-hour tour of Hong Kong, which really showed these changes. We were booked into Shangri La Hotels in both cities. Here, also Jessie was everpresent with guidance and advice. This is not a relaxing trip but is definitely a worthwhile one.