This was our 6th river cruise and first cruise with Viking. We chose this cruise because we've done all the rivers in Europe and the chance to see the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors was exciting. Definitely go in the fall!
First thing I should mention is that you will find few "western" style toilets.
I had read the previous reviews and knew to take paper with us..but no one had mentioned that even in the tourist locations, you would be required to squat over a "moat". The name of the game is "hole or bowl?". And it was usually a hole unless you chose to wait in a long line for that one western toilet. I won't go back to China unless they use some of their money to improve the bathroom facilities in all of their public buildings. They continue to build thousands of new skyscrapers and luxurious hotels yet can't improve the toilets, even with all the thousands of new western tourists! It's not only disgusting, it's unhealthy. Most of us river cruisers are 50 and older and some are not physically capable of squatting down low. Yes, we may not be as healthy and agile as the Chinese, but that's no excuse for their bathroom facilities.
I don't want to review day by day. I'd rather just mention a few things that I think are important for you to know if you take this cruise.
From Beijing to Shanghai, be prepared for some strenuous and hectic days.
If you aren't accustomed to long walks, start exercising. The first day in Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, be prepared to walk about 3 miles.
As others have written, there are uneven surfaces and many steps.
The internal flights were handled superbly by Viking. We simply boarded the bus to the airport and they handled all the luggage, boarding passes etc....it was an easy process but those days were hectic and precious time was spent flying instead of sightseeing. We didn't realize how fast paced those first days would be. It was rush, rush, rush until we were able to board the Emerald. Everyone we spoke with had the same sentiments...they were all exhausted and just wanted to relax. As far as the ship...in fairness, the boats in China do not compare to the river boats in Europe. The emerald is advertised as being only 2 years old. Personally, I think it's older than that and just rehabed. For all I know it could be the older "Century". The rooms are standard size but appear to be dated. The closets are very shallow and there is little storage for hanging clothing. The beds are HARD..not simply firm but hard! The first night was miserable and a fellow passenger suggested I let the front desk know, which I did. I usually don't like to complain but I had no choice. Housekeeping came immediately and added more comforters under the sheets. It helped just slightly and I woke up with a backache each night. I'm used to a firm memory foam mattress, but as I said, this wasn't firm, it was hard. I used to take a cheap foam topper in a space saver bag which helped but I assumed this "newer ship" would have a foam mattress..wrong! The bathroom was also dated, and there was mold and crud around the bottom of the shower stall. Yes, there is alot of wear and tear in these rooms, but the quality did not compare with the three companies we've used in Europe. You had to step over thresholds in the hallways and in the entrance to your room. You could feel slopes and rises in areas under the carpeting in some places. Again, I've heard Viking's European longboats are beautiful so it may just be a "China" problem.
The food...again I could only compare it to the other cruises we have done.
It was not as good. Breakfast was typical and good..eggs to order etc and bacon, sausage, hash browns, cereals, yogurts...yadda yadda, there was something for everyone. Lunch buffet however, I felt was lacking. Salad bar was decent with fresh butter lettuces, deli meats, a small variety of cheeses,
breads, a daily soup which tasted the same but just a different color, a choice of three entrees that had to be ordered at the table. There were no other types of salads, such as pasta salads, tuna or chicken salads, vegetable salads.
If there were, they were Asian style/flavored. In the 5 previous cruises, at dinner I ordered the "always available" chicken/steak just once. On this trip, I ordered a chicken breast or steak four nights. It seemed as though we had more Chinese food than western, but hey, we were in China. Service was good, staff was good and had a sense of urgency which is always appreciated. I was impressed that they remembered our names, even without name tags. Hard working kids.
The amount of building going on in every city in China is unbelievable. I stopped taking pictures. You have to see it in person. Our mouths were wide open as our buses drove through Beijing, Chongqing and Xian.
It's like a futuristic scene from a science fiction movie.Skyscraper after skyscraper..thousands in rows, cranes all over building tops...Unbelievable! and the landscaping!!! everywhere! lush and green. All along the streets in all the cities, there are trees and parks and beautiful landscaping. Amazing.
I forgot to mention that the hotels were excellent! all 5 star. The breakfast buffets in all were above average. The Westin in Shanghai was luxurious with huge rooms. Location to shopping in Yu Garden was excellent.
I did not realize that the jewelry is all 24K in the jewelry stores and is good value. Bought a wedding band to replace mine lost years ago.
We struggled when packing for this trip due to the strict weight limits on the Chinese internal flights. When I mentioned to our guide that I did not want to buy things because of the limit, he assured me that those limits were for individual passengers, not for Viking passengers. I wish I had known that before we left. However, I can understand why Viking doesn't advertise that fact. Needless to say, we were then able to stock up on all sorts of junk and souvenirs.
The day before we left the boat for Shanghai, I noticed a passenger trying on a silk robe on the 4th floor where clothing is sold. I commented on it and she said she just had it made and was making sure it fit. I had no idea there was a tailor on board. I asked if it was possible to have one made and they obliged in about 5 hours. It was a cream on cream pattern and beautiful. Cost was 220.00 US, which I thought was reasonable, considering. I know that a similar item in a high end dept. store in the states would be at least twice that amount, if not more. Nope, I wouldn't be able to find one in Marshalls or TJMaxx! So I splurged for once.
Take more than one adaptor if you are taking a phone and Ipad/netbook. No plug in the ship's bathroom for the hair dryer. You'll have to sit at the desk mirror or on the bed to dry your hair. I've always had an outlet in the bathroom for a dryer on all previous river cruises so again, is this a China thing or is it what I suspect, an older boat?
Be prepared to eat Chinese everywhere other than on the boat. Tables for 8, large glass lazy susans, family style which is nice. Beer and sodas included but I asked for water at one lunch and had to pay 5 yuan! I was craving a burger and managed to get my husband into a McDonald's. My mistake was ordering the chicken sandwich instead of the burger. Wasn't a breast..was a thigh with the skin. Yuch. But the fries were great!
I took enough knit tops so that I did not have to use the ship's laundry. Another passenger was complaining about the cost of two pounds of wash and fold. They do not have dry cleaning so if you use the laundry, make sure they hang to dry or you may get something back that will no longer fit!
One more hint...when a group of us were standing in line in the bathroom at the airport in Beijing, young Chinese girls walked right past us and jumped into a stall when the door opened. They have no respect for lines..I elbowed the young woman when she came out of the stall which I had been waiting for...so be prepared..stand your ground ladies and don't let them cut in front of you..anywhere, in any line!
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In ending, I will say we had the most articulate, educated, considerate guide of all the 6 river cruises! Aihua was fantastic! He herded us like little sheep, kept close watch on all of us and it did not go unnoticed. He was a wealth of information and his personal stories were very touching. Without Aihua, the trip would not have been nearly as enjoyable. We were fortunate to have him as our guide.