This was a land and river escorted tour beginning in Shanghai for 2 nights and flying to Wuhan to board the ship, sailing for 5 nights on the Yangtze, disembarking in Chongqing, flying to Xian for an overnight and then flying to Beijing for 3 nights.
Accommodations: In Shanghai, the Pudong Shangri-La was superior. 5 star rooms, 5 star service. The riverboat was surprisingly excellent for a riverboat. Clean, superb staff catering to the needs of passengers. All cabins had balconies. Crew members at two occasions performed for the guests and did a better job than some of the paid performances attended on the tour. In Xian, the Golden Flower Hotel was excellent. Not quite as nice as Shanghai 4 star, but service was 5 star. In Beijing, Westin Chaoyan was the worst experienced in a long time. 5 star rooms, 1 star service. The tour guides were not allowed by the hotel to pick up room keys forcing all guests to register. 5 bus loads of guests arrived being forced to enter from the rear making a poor impression from the start. The one receptionist had difficulty registering guests and was finally joined by others to move the process along. Many elderly guests had to stand in line to register, for there were no chairs in the lobby for them. Once the room key card was given, there was a problem accessing the elevator to the upper floors. Above the 17th floor, the key card was required to punch in the floor. The elevator assistant had to enter the elevator to use his master card in order to get to the floor. The key did work for the room. The key card had to be returned to the desk for a new one, provided with no apology for the inconvenience of the guest. The staff at the Westin appeared to care less about guests' requests. A request for Chinese coins was met with frowns and "your bothering me, boy" attitude. Meals at the hotel were very good.
The tour escort: The guide assigned to the group of 36 had an excellent command of the English language and culture. He was able to understand and answer questions with ease, some quite difficult questions about culture. He appeared to treat each guest as a friend and took care to ensure our trip was pleasurable. On the river cruise, one couple experienced medical problems. The gentleman was seen by the doctor on board and referred ashore for treatment. The escort departed the ship with the couple, acted as translator and assistant. He worked with the US Embassy to arrange medical treatment and accommodations. The seriousness of the medical problem prevented the couple from rejoining the tour. The guide rejoined the tour after about 2 days. The fellow tour guides filled in for him during his absence and were good to us. The guide provided us daily reports of the status of the gentleman. The fear that he had a 50-50 chance of living resulted in the cruise line flying their son to China. [As a note: he did recover and flew back to the States about 2 weeks after the tour was over.]
Excursions: All were included in the tour except two. They were very exciting and informative. Being able to really see the rural aspect of China was limited and was mostly tourist spots and large cities. The cruise line does support one local school along the river in Yueyang. This was about a close to seeing the "real" China as we got. Half of the school children came to school on a Saturday, a day off for them, to greet us, give us a performance, and then join us in their classroom. This was very nice. Of course, the Terra Cotta soldiers in Xian and the Great Wall & Forbidden City were the reasons for going to China. The side trip to the Summer Palace was dull. The two optional excursions were the Tang Dynasty Dinner & Show in Xian and the Peking Duck Dinner & Peking Opera in Beijing. The Tang Dynasty event was excellent and well worth the cost. It is highly recommended. On the other hand, the Peking Duck Dinner was the worst meal had in China. Having had Peking duck dinners before, this one was a joke. Each guest was given a few slivers of duck breast along with lots of common dishes that were poorly presented and lacked the quality of even street food. The Peking Opera was not to my liking but if one likes opera, it would be of interest. We were ushered into the opera after the dinner and seated at the "VIP" tables instead of in seats with the rest of the audience. Snacks were provided along with tea. Only the tangerine were worth eating. Being bored by the opera and not having anything to do caused more boredom. It was not the way to end one's trip to China.
If one were to collect coins from countries visited, in China one must start trying to obtain them upon arrival. They are not worth much and are not used in the main hotels. There is little free time to find an open bank either. My effort resulted in only about 2/3 of the types of coins used and took the entire tour to get 4 of the 6 coins.
Viking River Cruises read my critique of the tour. I was refunded the price for the Peking Duck Dinner [if one had the nerve to call it that]. This was unexpected and appreciated. Since I collect coins and many in our group had young ones back home that would be thrilled to get Chinese coins, I suggested that the company give each guest some coins as a gift. One of each coin would cost them less than $0.30 and would be something the kids would appreciate back home.