We have just returned from the Apr. 4th Imperial Jewels in China. Wow. Before any other comments count - had hotels, food, sites all been awful, one element would have made it memorable anyway. Jin.
He was our tour escort. He endeared himself to us all. He not only had us laughing so often, always had our backs and filled our needs, seamlessly orchestrated all trip elements, but ALSO gave a 4 credit graduate course in the politics, history and economic development of China. Amazing. I actually feel truly sad each time I see his big full-faced squinting eyed smile in my mind's eye, when I realize I'll probably never see him again. He was the trip.
Once beyond that, the highlights included a fabulous Ritz Carton in Beijing. Chef Nathan Brown made everyone so at ease and welcome with his constant presence in the lobby and dining room. The food and rooms were simply exceptional - along with the service of the restaurant wait staff. Top notch. The breakfasts and one buffet dinner were more than 5 star! Total treat. Also the trip sites (Wow, thanks Viking for the amazing 11 of 12 days of blue clear skies - we lucked out!!) were just as amazing as one might expect of China. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City - all the nationals visiting during grave sweeping - and being so sweet toward 'foreigners' - amazing. The Sacred Walk - OK, something minor after lunch. We didn't have a great Summer Palace tour - cold, crowded, and we didn't see a lot of it, not sure why. Then, the rickshaw, home visit, tea ceremony - all fantastic, especially with Jin's support.
The 3 inter China flights were all on time and very nice, all airports clean and well run. Lunch boxes were always adequate, the Ritz one terrific, the next 2 OK, but good effort and decent.
The Hilton in Xi'an was nice, totally comfortable. The Tang Dynasty Show was a winner, food and entertainment. The Warriors don't need our plaudits. Amazing, and local guide, Yale, was terrific.
The time on the Emerald was perfect, beginning to end. The staff is above anything I can think of to say - every wait staff, room attendant - everyone was so sweet and there to make us happy. wow. The food was terrific. The ship is lovely, our cabin, 430, very nice.
We loved the gorges, locks, learning to play Mahjong with Jin, carving vegetables, eating 1,000 yr old eggs Winking smile emoticon. The on-board tailor staff is incredible. Table service with Stan was incredible also. Also Debbie in the 5th deck lounge. It was all white glove service. The Chef is a keeper. Keep him.
The school visit was my highlight - as a teacher I was delighted. Good for you for your sponsorship. Wonderful for me and my students to interact through postcards I brought and pictures I took away. Wuhan bells - beyond amazing.
Shanghai Ritz is very nice, just more impersonal, with high service fees in their lounge, etc. Chef Brown in Beijing told us Stephen at Shanghai did a top - notch job - we'd say Chef Brown doesn't realize he and the Beijing RC is a cut above. The Acrobatic show, with Chinese family style dinner before were both just great!
The few downsides were the jade factory and silk rug factory. The Jade factory had a really nice lunch. But prices are high for shopping - a too-rare chance on the trip. The silk rug factory was a major disappointment for us - we were so looking forward to the silk factory with the silk-pulling and shopping. It's a shame it was switched out from when we booked till we went, for the carpet site. The Mongolian BBQ is OK, but not worth loosing the silk factory.
There are not enough chances to shop without being in a 'factory'. The one hour allotted at the end in Shanghai by the Gardens is NOT enough. We actually found the same objects at the airport upon leaving CHEAPER than the factory places we were taken to for 'lunches'.
Ah, the BIG downside - Peking Duck dinner. I haven't read one review on Cruise Critic, or talked to one friend who's taken the trip from back to 2007 who's enjoyed the dinner. You can't mass produce Peking Duck. Why not offer suggestions and help in making local reservations for those who'd like them. The Opera separated and with some subtitles appears to be doing better. Also, the dinner for those who didn't go to Peking Duck was also 'yuk'. How about group Hot Pot? Heck, your Pecking Duck price per person is higher than Da Dong - and they provide a half duck for every 2 persons. Some of your guests got only one pancake with a slim slice of duck. Totally a bad choice. Luckily, we'd read enough on Cruise Critic to avoid that.
We'd also read enough to learn about Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing, which we visited for dinner on our own our first night in China. A full review of our night there is posted on Tripadvisor.com
One thing that did surprise us and MANY - was the statement on website, etc. that wine and beer were available on all lunches and dinners, - only to find out it was ONLY on the ship. Come on, honest up. Wine is only available free on the ship. Your site is misleading on this issue, and many were unhappy with that.
Over all - beginning to end - it was a trip of a lifetime. Well constructed, well executed. Thank you! Our only worry is we've done Viking's best - now what?