My husband and I travelled to China on Viking’s Imperial Jewels of China tour in May. Our trip was from Shanghai to Beijing. This was our first time traveling with Viking River Cruise.
We had a wonderful guide named Patrick who stayed with us for the entire trip. He met us at Shanghai Airport. (Most guides/crews in China have Western names because it’s easier for foreigners to pronounce.) Patrick has excellent command of English and he is very witty. After collecting more passengers, we were off to start our China adventure!
We paid extra to customize our air travel with Viking. It was much better deal than anything I could’ve done on my own. The fee also includes three domestic flights, each flight lasting about 1.5-hr. We found the Chinese domestic airports and planes to be very modern, clean, and much larger than we expected. We also did not have any problems with our luggage weight, including our carry-on bags (which we More
each carried two). Patrick took care of all the logistics. It was great not having to worry about anything!
Our fellow passengers were all sophisticated travelers; many were in China for the first time (like us). This trip consisted of land tours as well as the Yangtze River tours. Viking separated the passengers into smaller groups; each had their own guide.
The hotels we stayed were all luxurious accommodations. The rooms were very spacious and comfortable and came with nice amenities. The complimentary buffet breakfast at each hotel was varied, fresh, and delicious. It was a great way to start each day! As far as lunch and dinner were concerned, the food wasn’t very memorable but it was plentiful. No one left the table hungry. All the meals were served in a lazy Suzy style, with each table seating eight people. Interestingly enough, my favorite meal was a lunch box we got at Shanghai Airport. It contained two different sandwiches and a delicious cheesecake. The worst food I had was a yellow-colored soup in a Shanghai restaurant. It was supposed to be mushroom soup, but tasted very nasty. From the amount of untouched soups in the other tables, everyone seems to share the same sentiment.
This trip involves A LOT of walking and climbing! If you have mobility issue, you may want to think twice before booking this trip. China is not yet handicapped-friendly. The domestic airports (as well as their sightseeing places) have limited wheelchairs available. Also, since the guide cannot leave anyone behind, if someone has problems walking, it will slow down the entire group.
Each stop had an English speaking guide and a bus that was clean and comfortable (but no bathroom). We were taken to a number of places that was clearly geared to sell (i.e. silk rug workshop, jade factory, tea outlet, etc, etc), but there were no hard selling and it was interesting to hear their history.
The air quality in China was surprisingly good while we were there. I bought masks from home but never had to use it.
You can exchange your money at the hotel. You should take advantage of this service since no exchange will take place onboard the ship.
USD tipping is as follows and it’s per person, per day:
$2 – local guide
$1 – bus driver
(If you sightsee at two different cities, then two sets of tipping are required.)
$10 – to the tour guide
$15 – onboard the ship (to be shared by staff & crew)
$1 – to the bellboy per each luggage
The use of bathroom is quite different here. The traditional Asian toilet is the squatting kind. Most places where Viking took us had Western style toilets. You can tell which kind is behind the door by the picture posted outside. Always carry tissues with you because most of the time, the tissue dispenser is located OUTSIDE the bathroom. (The etiquette here is to take tissues from the dispenser BEFORE entering the stall.) I always stuffed my pockets full of tissues before leaving the hotel.
SHANGHAI – walked in Bund (beautiful city scenes!), visited Shanghai Museum (amazing collections!), and saw the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe show (breathtaking performances!) We also visited the Yu Garden, which was a large compound surrounded by many shops (including Starbucks.)
WUHAN – we flew here from Shanghai and visited the fascinating Hubei Provincial Museum. We heard the ancient music played using the replica instruments from those found buried with the Marquis of Yi (dd 433 BC). It was a short concert (15 min) but mesmerizing – especially the sound of bronze bells and stone chimes. The museum next door contained many relics from the ancient Chu culture – including the REAL bronze bells unearthed from the tomb. This compound was actually already closed, but kept opened just for the Viking passengers.
We embarked on Viking Emerald from this city.
VIKING EMERALD – this ship felt dated and the stateroom was small, especially the bathroom and balcony, but it was adequate. The bed was very comfortable and the room was kept clean. The TV had limited channels. The dining room must be near the engine room because it was very loud. It was hard to carry conversation even to someone sitting right next to you. The service was excellent and the food was much better than we expected. The house wine was surprisingly good! (It was from Chile.)
We didn’t’ stay onboard all the time while cruising through the Yangtze River but got off the boat to take tours at the Three Gorges Dam, to the Lesser Three Gorges where we got on another boat (there’s limited outdoor seating on top), and walked to the Shibaozhai Temple which was an uphill walk. (You can see the temple in the distance from the ship.) The climb to the top of the temple wasn’t difficult, but it was very crowded.
VIKING SPONSORED SCHOOLS:
Viking sponsors several local schools and one of them performed for us. The children, of course, were all very, very, cute and they danced very well, but there’s something jarring about seeing children in full makeup and wearing rhinestone costumes that was bit disturbing to us. If they had dressed in their regular clothes, I’m sure the show would’ve been just as good. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed their performances! (You can bring gifts for the children and the monetary donations are greatly appreciated.)
We were onboard the ship for five days and checked out on the sixth day at 5:30 AM. It was bit hard to have to wake up so early in the morning, but we knew we had plane to catch.
CHONGGING – we disembarked here. We didn’t have a chance to sightsee this city, as we were delayed due to the weather and the low tide. This port was very interesting. Most ports were easy to get off and on. Not this one. The reason is because the lengthy walkway from the ship to the shore was on TOP of the water that is lined with metal platforms! It wobbles as you walked. If you are able-bodied, this causes no problem (in fact, it was a lot of fun!) But if you are disabled, you will need assistance. Porters are available for hire and you’ll need to hire several, as they use wooden stick with one person on each side of the pole and a chair (where you sit) in the middle. A third person will carry your personal belongings. It was quite a sight!
XI’AN – we flew here from Chongging. Visiting Terra Cotta Warriors, of course, was the highlight of this city, and it did not disappoint. This compounds is very big, but there are wheelchairs & pushers available for hire. Afternoon was free to explore on your own, or you can attend the optional Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show, or just have a regular dinner at a local restaurant.
BEIJING – climbing the Great Wall (very challenging), visiting the Ming Tomb (easy walking), and visiting Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City (throng of people!) involved, not surprisingly, a lot of walking again. We took a group picture in front of the Great Wall and bought their souvenir book (100RMB) with the picture inside. Viking also arranged for everyone to experience the rickshaw ride in Beijing’s Hutong area and visited a house there. The hostess was gracious and informative. While the ride was free, a tipping of 10RMB@ was expected at the end for the cycle driver.
This was our last stop.
Viking River Cruise did a wonderful job with the itinerary, given the limited time we had. It was very well organized and covered many attractions. We would travel with them again. Less