We were on the 15 night Far East Discovery cruise from Beijing to Hong Kong!
SHIP - Brand new and very luxurious. The decor suits the Viking brand and the crowd that these ships attract. One never feels like there are 930 passengers aboard. There is never a crowd anywhere. The longest line was when people are getting off the ship in the morning to catch buses for excursions. The 2nd longest line was at the ice cream counter in the World Cafe after lunch and dinner. (Ice cream is made fresh on board and the flavors change daily!) There are numerous sitting areas where you can go to be by yourself. The retractable roof above the main pool is a nice feature, but on some sea days the roof could not be opened due to weather or smoke from the ship's stack blowing back into the pool area. When the roof is closed, the pool area heats up and it becomes like a sauna and is almost too hot to lounge around the pool. The free launderette on every level is a great feature. Free soap is dispensed by pushing a button on the wall after starting a washing machine. I worked out on the stationary bike and washed my workout gear and did an additional load on every sea day. We only had to wait for a machine on one occasion and then for only 1/2 an hour. We had 20 ft swells for a couple of hours due to the remnants of typhoon Yutu and Viking Orion handled them very well. But, we were in the middle of the ship, so we did not feel the up and down movement that those in the very forward and aft cabins must have felt. Lots of people used the 1/4 mile walking track on level 2. Passengers are mostly retired folks from the US, UK and Canada.
CABIN - Every cabin is bigger than average for a cruise ship and has its own balcony. The smallest cabins have 270 sq ft and this is the size of the majority of the cabins on the ship. We found that we had plenty of space. Closet space is well laid out and the bathroom is very spacious. Showers are plenty big enough for the average sized person.
DINING - Food is excellent and there is plenty of it. Reservations are required at Manfredi's and The Chef's Table. Manfredi's is the Italian restaurant on board and it has excellent pasta and steaks. The Chef's Table has a set menu with smaller portions and the menu changes every few nights. Often after excursions, people are too tired to get dressed up, so If you don't have a reservation at either, just show up and ask if they have an available table and you will probably get seated. It helps if you are willing to share a table with others. We found some of the offerings in the Chef's Table to be a little strange for our taste. The Restaurant does not require a reservation and has great food, also. All of the above are supposed to be evening casual, but I did see a couple of people with blue jeans and one lady in tights. While a few gentleman had jackets and ties on, the vast majority did not. I brought a sports jacket and wore it only once. The World Cafe is the on board casual buffet and there is poolside dining that consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, etc. We used the included room service when we had an early excursion and on sea days before going to the spa to workout. Room service always arrived within 5 minutes of the requested time.There is afternoon tea around the pool, but we were either busy or never had an appetite at the time it was offered.
ENTERTAINMENT - We only attended 1 lecture on China, but it was excellent. People that we spoke to who attended other talks said they were all very good. There were two persons on board who gave lectures on Asian/Chinese culture and history and one person who was giving scientific talks. There was a Haloween party around the pool and the band played till 10 PM. A magician was on board and gave 2 really good shows. He was as much a comedian as a magician. The band and vocalists did a Beatles/Abba tribute one night.
SERVICE - Every person on board the ship bends over backwards to meet all needs of the passengers.The entire crew has a smile on their face almost always. The rooms are cleaned top to bottom twice daily.
PORTS - The ports that are visited are basically the ones where China has opened a cruise terminal that Viking Orion can get into. All of the cities are interesting and have their own offerings. We had to skip the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Ishigaki due to typhoon Yutu, so we had an extra sea day and an extra day in Hong Kong. Due to missing two ports, Viking gave us an on board credit while on the cruise of $150 per passenger and a $250 credit per passenger on all future Viking ocean or river cruises. The port talks were very informative.
EXCURSIONS - This is where the disappointment is. While in China, be ready to visit a temple, a garden and a market in every city. The guides in Qingdao and Xiamen could barely speak English. They could answer only the simplest of questions. They had memorized a script and could really not offer much else. They are all very young and most of them tried very hard, but their inexperience at controlling a group and lack of language skills made it very difficult for them and frustrating for the people on the excursions. After the excellent guides we had on a Scenic Danube river cruise the previous year, this was a great disappointment. However, due to Hong Kong's association with England, the guides in Hong Kong were more mature and they spoke fluent English. Most of the included excursions had a market as one of the stops. There was NEVER enough time included in the schedule to really see these markets. In Xiamen, there is a pedestrian shopping area that we were only given 20 minutes to visit. It had hundreds of shops and stalls. I think the included excursions with market stops should be extended by an hour each to give passengers more time if they desire. On two excursions, meals were provided. On the included Great Wall excursion, the meal was in a hotel exhibition hall and was very 2nd rate. On the last night in Hong Kong, the meal was in a restaurant in a large shopping mall and again the food and service was only 2nd rate. The Peking duck was fatty and all our table got was pieces of skin. Both meals were similar to a cheap Chinese restaurant in the states. In Hong Kong, we were each allowed only 1 glass of wine or 1 beer or 1 soft drink with the meal. Not what you would expect on a 'luxury' cruise.
BUSINESS DEALINGS - When we called to inquire about the cruise, the telephone sales rep informed us that since the port terminal in Dalian was not ready, Dalian had been removed from the itinerary and we would get a $150 on board credit per passenger due to this. After booking and receiving an email from Viking with our booking info, we logged into MyVikingJourney web site and immediately we got an alert telling us about the Dalian situation and again promising $150 on board credits. After we were on the ship for one week, the $150 credits had not shown up on our account, so I visited Guest Services and the young lady stated to me that since Dalian had been taken off the itinerary before we booked, we were not eligible for the credits. I informed her that we SHOULD get the credits since the sales rep had promised it to us AND we got an alert on MyVikingJourney that confirmed what he had said. It was apparent that she wanted me to just go away, but I stood my ground until she said she would look into the matter. A day later the credits did show up on our on board account, so I did not have to make a 2nd visit to guest services. Although this is advertised as a Beijing to Hong Kong trip, you won't see Beijing unless you do the extension. Upon arrival at Beijing airport, there is a 3 hour drive straight to the cruise ship terminal, which is actually in Tianjin. You never go into Beijing itself.
We would definitely do another Viking ocean cruise. This was our first luxury cruise and I don't think the on board experience could be any better. I can only guess that the poor quality of the excursions is due to 1) Chinese ports just being opened up to western cruise lines, 2) these are the initial visits to these ports for Viking, and 3) experienced tour guides are non-existent since in most cities, only the youngest Chinese speak any English at all.
Cabin was great. We booked 90 days prior on a brochure special and did not have guaranteed room. We were pleased with location and quality of our room.