My son (25) and I (58) took the July 9, 2013 Shanghai-Beijing "Imperial Jewels of China" 12-day tour, which included 5 nights on the Yangtze River going upriver. It was a trip of a lifetime. As an American, the cultural differences between China and Northeast US where we live cannot be overstated. China, for the most part, is still a third-world country in many aspects. It's clear that this country only opened itself to the world in recent decades. The Chinese culture has a very strong history which is still unchanged by other cultures due to their centuries of self-seclusion. Celebrated in music, in theatre, in daily living, every day on this trip introduced my son and I to new outlooks, new foods, new scenery, new ideas and traditions, and new friends. We were able to see the truly amazing natural sites like the historic Yangtze River/extensive and awe-inspiring gorges and Chongqing's giant pandas, plus ancient and extraordinary man-made artifacts such as a buried enormous set of Chinese Bells, jade, Oriental rugs and rug-making, the Terra-Cotta Warriors, the Great Wall, the new largest-in-the-world (Three Gorges) Dam/5-lock system, which changed the face of that part of the world with the rising river water it produced, Shanghai's cosmopolitan modern city and Beijing's historic Tiananman Square and the Forbidden City. And more.
The ship was lovely, the food was great, if sometimes experimental (the Chinese really do eat everything), and there were artisans onboard who could create you Chinese clothing made-to-order, beautiful Chinese paintings and painted articles, tea sets and Chinese tea culture, Chinese dancing and traditional costumes of various dynasties. You could also receive an introduction to Tai Chi or receive Chinese massage, pedicure or other delights. Daytrips were mostly covered financially as part of the tour price with only 3 charged extras, all of which we experienced, including two dinner-theatre events (Tang Dynasty and Peking Opera), and a traditional Peking Duck dinner. The boat is small, only accommodating some 240, which split into groups of approximately 30, each led by a Chinese tour guide, which traveled on individual buses for the land portions of the tour.
Although ship cabins are always challenging in size if one doesn't have a huge budget, I found the shower to be larger than expected and the bathroom fairly spacious. The interior 270-sq-ft space was nicely fitted, with unanticipated added "comes-with-the-room" features like an umbrella and robe. Loved the veranda as well. In a very hot climate as the Yangtze river areas were, it was a pleasure to be able to sit in a private space to enjoy the view, or to, as we did, rig up a clothes-line system (we brought clothes line and pins) so we had a place to dry laundry, which we washed by hand on-board several times. This was allowed since it's a very common thing in China to hang your laundry; almost no one uses a clothes dryer anywhere, there. Definitely a good decision on the part of Viking to allow everyone to have a veranda.
I was dismayed, on the next-to-last day of the tour when we were at the Great Wall, when I inadvertently took a wrong turn when trying to return to our meeting place and found myself far, far away from where I was supposed to be. Although I missed getting back to my meeting place in time and my bus returned without me on the 50-minute ride back to Beijing, this extremely frightening experience (I had no Chinese language and the people where I found myself had little to no English skills) cost me a taxi-ride back to where I was supposed to get to, where I found out for the first time I had been "stranded" by my bus at the Great Wall, Viking River Tours already had anticipated such innocent mistakes as mine, and because I was wearing a name tag with a Chinese character on it telling the Chinese who I was with and therefore where I was supposed to meet, and because that same name tag had the phone number of my bus's Chinese (Viking) travel guide, I was rescued by Viking. In fact, the company even paid for my second taxi...the 50-minute one back to Beijing to the luncheon spot where the rest of my group had gone ahead of me. So, two things about that....they rescued me and took care of/paid for my rescue....and they didn't hold everyone else up while my rescue was happening. Although I was terrified at the time, I was actually under good care (which no one could share because of the language barrier) and was safe all the while, due to Viking's efficiency and management of their tour spots.
Because of this rescue and the Viking's overseeing my well-being, my son and I have decided to go on the Viking Oceans 15-day "Viking Homelands" tour on their new 2015 Ocean cruiser, the Viking Star.