Thirteen nights, 7 land, 6 cruising. A little background. My husband and I have cruised on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Oceania but never on a river cruise. We did do Galapagos but I don't count that as a river cruise. China was on our bucket list. I was a little hesitant because I am hearing impaired. I can hear but conversation is tough in a noisy environment. Also, I can't use the earpiece/transmitter apparatus because it just sounds garbled. So I knew I had to rely on my husband to fill me in on what was being said. Now that you know that, you realize why my review may be a little skewed.
We flew in a day early to try and adjust a little to the 12 hour time difference from the U.S. east coast to China time. Not easy. You can read my hotel reviews on tripadvisor. They were all 5 star hotels and each had its pluses and minuses.
Please be forewarned. There is lots of walking. There are lots of stairs and ramps. If you have any mobility problems, I don't think this is for you.
On the actual day 1, which is supposed to be arrival day, you check into your hotel. You are given information as to what you will do the next day and what time. The majority of the time, excursions started early, 7:30 or 8am. There were 3 groups staying at our hotel and 3 groups at another. There were also 2 groups who did Tibet and we did not see them until we boarded the ship. Our group had 34 people and everyone was very friendly. Our tour escort, Anthony, was terrific. I wish I could have understood everything he was saying but my husband filled me in on a lot of it. The remaining 2 days in Beijing were busy, Tianamen Square, Forbidden City, Great Wall, and more. You can read the itinerary on the Viking site. The tour bus was comfortable and the air conditioning worked well because it was hot outside. One big problem, kids were not in school yet so every site in Beijing was ridiculously crowded with locals pushing and shoving. Many women had umbrellas to shield the sun and they carried them low so you had to watch out to make sure you didn't get stuck in the eye. Had we known this about the kids, we would have gone a week or two later.
After Beijing, we flew to Xian. Checked bags are put outside of your door the night before or early the morning of the flight and you don't see them again until they're in your hotel room or in your cabin. Carry on bags are put in the belly of the bus.
We had 3 intra-China flights, Beijing to Xian, Xian to Chongqing, Wuhan to Shanghai. You will be patted down, just accept it. The first two flights I did not sit with my husband but no problem. The last flight we had to leave the hotel at 6am to catch an 8:20am flight (which was delayed). People were not happy about that. No one looked forward to spending time in the airports for the 1 1/2 hour flights. For two of the flights, there was no jetway. Everyone lines up at the gate to get on a bus to take you to the plane. Then, lugging your carry on, you climb the many steps to board the plane. The same thing happened on our trip home from Shanghai and we were on a big Delta 777.
In Xian, we all marveled at the Terra Cotta Warriors. But, again, very crowded and hot.
One more surprise, the toilets. Many toilets in restaurants, shops, and malls, are squat toilets. Nowhere to sit. At the airport, the stalls are marked as to which type of toilet is inside.
From Xian, we flew to Chongqing to board our ship. Stairs, ramp, but once inside, it was really nice. There are 2 elevators but we only used them once. We were led to our cabin on deck 3 and it was fine. Actually better than expected. Comfy bed, Blackout drapes that actually closed all the way. Small bathroom but plenty of vanity and shelf space. Plenty of closet and storage space. Small balcony with 2 chairs. And it was quiet.
The service was outstanding. Everyone smiled and made sure that you were happy. The food, buffet for breakfast and lunch, menu for dinner could rival some of the best restaurants. Please note that all of the tables are round tables for 8 people. You are always eating with others. I thought, with my hearing problem, that would bother me but it didn't. We met and talked with so many people from all over the world and made many new friends.
Excursions every morning and then, usually, cruising in the afternoon. There were talks about ports or China life. I didn't attend so there were many times I was bored. Some shows in the evening put on by the staff and they were fun.
After 6 nights, we flew to Shanghai. Since our flight was delayed and it was raining when we arrived, Anthony decided we should just go to the hotel. We were all very happy. Busy last day. Then, the next morning, we boarded our bus to airport. We were exhausted and we're now trying to get our internal time clock back to Eastern time.
So, to summarize:
Be prepared for the time difference.
Think about when you want to go. Check school schedules and big events.
If you have mobility issues, think twice about this trip. Make sure you're up for it because you will miss a lot if you can't climb the stairs or the ramps.
In the bathrooms, look for the signs on the stalls as to what time of toilet is inside.
Understand that you will always be eating at a table of 8.
If you still decide to go, you will be rewarded. There is so much to see and everyone is there to make sure you are happy. The tour escorts are the best. The food and accommodations are top notch.
Don't miss the opportunity to visit the school kids. They are charming and they all looked forward to meeting us.