I do not have enough good things to say about our recent trip to China. Run by Viking River Cruises, it included 8 days on land and a 6 day cruise on the Yangtze. Everything went like clockwork, including three intra-country flights. Everything was included, so there were no decisions to make about how much to spend on land excursions. Everyone on the ship does the same thing at the same time, making things run even more smoothly than on a large cruise ship. There were two optional experiences: The Peking Opera in Beijing and a Tang Dynasty show in Xi'an. Both included dinner. We did both and felt they were very worthwhile.
During the land portion, the hotels were uniformly excellent. Two Ritz Carltons (real luxury) and a Westin.
Embarkation and disembarkation were very smooth. With only 250 passengers, there is not the cattle drive of a much larger ship.
Our Chinese guide was fantastic. He was with us from our check-in in Beijing through the land portions, on the river to our departure in Shanghai. Even after 15 years in the business, he remains very enthusiastic. He was knowledgeable, courteous, very attentive and spoke excellent English. One member of our group had a food allergy and he frequently put together a special meal for her. Often at dinners off the ship, rather than sit and eat, he was seen running around making sure everything went well. He loves his country and conveys that at all times. In addition, there were often local guides for excursions along the way.
The trip was fast-paced much of the time, but there is no way to see so much of such a huge country without keeping things moving. Still, there were frequent opportunities to shop or explore museums for an hour or more.
On board the ship, there were lectures or presentations every day about Chinese history, politics, culture and more.
I noticed that, unlike larger ships where they are selling something every minute, the sales pressure on this ship was minimal.
Compared to a regular cruise ship, everything is reduced in size. There was a small gym and a few shops. On the other hand, it is easy to get anywhere in a few minutes with only 6 decks and room for 250 guests. Our stateroom was fairly good sized, comfortable and everything worked well. Housekeeping did an excellent job.
Entertainment on the ship is limited by its size. The same people who wait on your table dance in the show and model ethnic costumes. This is not a way to go if you like big production numbers. Still the entertainment was of acceptable quality.
The food and restaurant service were very good. In fact, service throughout the ship was excellent.
Ports: The only cities I had even heard of before the trip were Beijing and Shanghai. The former is full of fascinating history and architecture (Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace). The latter is a cosmopolitan financial center with gleaming new buildings on one side of the Bund and 19th Century European colonial architecture on the other. We, also, enjoyed the Shanghai Acrobats. Pretty incredible.
Other ports: Xi'an is a city of 9 million with terrible pollution, but the Terra Cotta Warriors have to be seen to be believed. We were in and out of Chongqing in a short while, but sailing from there at night was thrilling. Shiboazhi has a Pagoda saved from the rising Yangtze. We got to hike up 100+ steps to the top. In Qutong we took a ferry into the beautiful Lesser Three Gorges. The next day we went through the five locks at the Three Gorges Dam (everyone was up on deck for hours.) The Dam itself is sort of an anticlimax. It is hard actually to see it because of the persistent mist on the river. In Jingzhou we visited a school-it was OK. In Wuhan we visited the museum and the highlight was a wonderful performance of ancient chimes.
Finally, I think the value was excellent. We paid about $4,500 per person, including round-trip airfare from home for the entire 12 days, with everything except tips, included.
I highly recommend Viking's Imperial Jewels of China.