This was our first river cruise. We are avid ocean cruisers and have done 55 cruises to date. We have been many times to Shanghai and a couple of times to Beijing over the years. We wanted to see more of China, as it is a vast country that can only be seen by visiting inland. We decided on Viking Cruises because it is a brand that we had heard a lot about.
The Viking customer service we received in the UK was professional and responsive. The booking process was very easy. All the details regarding the cruise and obtaining the Chinese visa was sent on time.
However, the information we received before booking the cruise was ambiguous and unclear.
>> After we received our booklet with the summary itinerary, we realised that Viking do not provide any meals on the first day of the package
>> As we had international baggage allowances, I enquired before we left about the lower luggage weights on the Chinese internal flights but Viking did not advise us that it would not be a problem with the weights because of group check in. As a result we took limited warm clothes. The weather was very cold in Beijing.
>> We did not realise that the ship we would be cruising on was not a Viking ship. Viking use a Chinese ship that changed it's name back to the Chinese name 'Century...' on our disembarkation day. There was a sister ship in one of the ports.
>> Viking do not explain that the only almost 4* experience that we would receive for the entire 12 nights related to the 5 days whilst we were onboard the ship and not to the land portion of our holiday. I have described the ship as 'almost' 4* because the ship is possibly only a 3* ship. When we boarded the ship in Wuhan, after 2 nights in Shanghai, we were greeted with a warm welcome stating that this was the start of our holiday and when we left after 5 days cruising, we were waved good bye with a message that this was the end of our holiday
Viking Century Emerald - The Good & The Bad
>> We had to change our cabin at 1:30 am because there was a rattling sound from the balcony and the water discharge plug was moving up and down making a din.
>> The staterooms and the entire ship are faded and need complete renovation. It is brown and old.
>> The food was alright but nothing to shout about.
>> Beer wine and soft drinks are only offered at lunch and dinner
>> The Chinese cultural entertainment by the crew was very good, considering that they are not professional.
>> The management staff were always willing to listen and were helpful.
>> Our cabin steward was non existent and we had to request amenities to be replenished.
>> The ship's air conditioner did not work. It was cold at the bottom and stifelingly hot on the upper floors. It was like a sauna in the gym and internet room.
>> The internet, although free was unavailable during most of the cruise.
Pre and Post Cruise Hotels - Mixed Quality
Pre cruise, we stayed in The Westin Bund Center, Shanghai for 2 days. The room we were allocated was on the 5th Floor and needed refurbishment.
>> The carpet and chair needed to be changed.
>> The air conditioner did not work both days and there was a problem with the automatic night lights behind a glass panel that kept going on and off every now and again during the first night. An engineer disabled the lights
>> The breakfast in the main dining room was probably the best that we had on our entire trip. There was a fantastic variety of Chinese and Western food in the buffet.
>> Viking had arranged 1 night's dinner in the hotel and it was described as an Italian buffet dinner. This was very poor. There were a couple of hot dishes with soup and pizza, pasta and sandwiches.
Post cruise, we stayed in The Hilton, Xi'an and The Ritz Carlton Financial Street, Beijing
>> The Hilton room was probably the best one that we stayed in on this trip.
>> At the Ritz Carlton, we had to move out of the room we were allotted on the 3rd Floor because the carpet was badly stained and looked dirty. The management were extremely helpful and we were moved immediately to the 10th Floor Throughout our stay we were treated with courtesy and made to feel very welcome. The last day, Viking arranged for us to have dinner in the main restaurant and this was good.
Tour Guide - Excellent
Our Tour Guide, Bob was very knowledgeable and dedicated to us. He knew his job inside and out and took care of every detail of our trip. Everything flowed seamlessly and we had great admiration for his enthusiasm, stamina and how he managed the group.
Tours - All tours were well organised and coaches turned up on time to take us to places of interest. Local guides spoke good English and were knowledgeable.
The optional tour in Xian (Tang Dynasty Performance + Dinner) which we paid for additionally was good.
Food & Drinks - Very Poor
Viking had arranged lunch and dinner in local restaurants or in factories in Shanghai, Xi'an and Beijing. The food was always the same either Chinese types offered on individual tables with 'lazy susans' in local restaurants or in buffets in the jade or carpet factories. The food was monotonous and usually lukewarm at best. We stopped going for the group meals in Beijing. We were only allowed 1 drink in a glass : a beer, water or soft drink, no wine. I don't drink beer or soft carbonated drinks, so I had water throughout the land portion in local restaurants.
Internal Flights - Very Disruptive
Only 1 of our 3 flights was on time. We had delays on 2 flights - from Shanghai to Wuhan where we missed a tour because we arrived too late and had to go straight to join the ship; and from Xi'an to Beijing, when the flight was cancelled and our guide had to get later flights. We were delayed by 4 hours and had a dreadful Chinese lunch at the airport in a set aside area.
China is a very complex and fascinating country. We learnt a lot about China's history, culture and people but we found the whole itinerary disjointed. We felt that we wasted 2 of our 12 days holiday sitting in airports. Although it is described as a Viking Cruise it really is a land tour with a small cruise thrown in the middle.