We decided on a tour of China to celebrate our joint 50th birthdays. We wanted a completely different cultural experience and we certainly got it.
The Imperial Jewels (Shanghai to Beijing)tour started with a stay at the Ritz Carlton, a hotel with its own theatre where we saw the world famous Shanghai acrobatic troupe do seemingly impossible things with their bodies. We also enjoyed the tour of the Yueyang garden in Old Shanghai and the walk along the Riverfront with its contrast between the spectacular new skyline of Pudong and the old colonial buildings on the other side including the original HSBC headquarters. We then flew on to Wuhan firstly to the fascinating musical instrument museum and then to join our ship the Viking Emerald. The ship was small but more luxurious than we expected. The food on board was excellent and the drinks free flowing as promised. Despite difficult flooding conditions on the Yangze we were able to make all the scheduled stops including to the amazing Three Gorges Dam and the beautiful lesser three gorges. We then arrived in Chongquing where after a brief visit to the pandas, we flew out to Xi'an. After a restful evening in Xi'an in the fantastically luxurious Crowne Plaza hotel we visited the Terracotta soldiers-we were amazed at the sheer number and variety of these figures and impressed that Viking got us in early to enjoy them in peace.
Then it was off to Beijing for a very intense part of the trip, one day at the Great Wall and Ming tombs again a stunning but very physically demanding experience followed by an evening dining on Peking duck, the next visiting The huge Tianenmen square and the Forbidden City along with the Summer Palace and a drive around the Olympics sites followed by a delicious dinner in a Japanese restaurant.
We really loved the experience even though it was fast paced and were extremely grateful to both our guide Jimmy who spoke excellent English and the other members of our group who remained unfailingly friendy and prompt despite the many early mornings and quick turnarounds on flight days.
The Viking service was excellent, handling all transport and luggage with great efficency and represented real value for money. The use of the vox machine ensured that none of our party ever got lost or went out of earshot! Jimmy was unfailingly informative and helpful tracking down local chemists, sorting out accommodation hiccups and replacing batteries for cameras!
The only very minor criticisms we would have is that, although we enjoyed the lectures on China and Chinese culture on the boat we felt that other entertainment was lacking. perhaps a few more films and or quizzes/cooking demonstrations/games would have livened the atmosphere up a bit?
Also, we, along with some of the more active members of our tour group would have enjoyed more free time to explore on our own especially in the more cosmopolitan cities.