Launched in 2011, Viking Emerald is Viking River Cruises' sole ship operating on China's Yangtze River.
Viking Emerald Overview
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A chartered vessel, it has all the "feel" of a Viking-owned ship with the familiarity of branded products, menus, newsletters, day-to-day schedules and service standards. Repeat passengers won't feel short-changed. Unlike the line's predominantly European-based fleet, where low bridges and water levels restrict the size of ships, 256-passenger Emerald is a larger vessel, with four passenger decks and a sun deck, plus additional facilities that include shops, a spa, hair salon, Internet cafe and gym. With a sleek glass atrium extending through the decks, it's akin to a small, pared-down cruise ship.
Although it's relatively new, Emerald does not have the ultra-contemporary decor of some modern European river cruisers and is more traditionally furnished, although comfortable throughout. During our cruise, the onboard ambience was relaxed and friendly, and grumbles were few and minor. Crewmembers definitely stand out, unfailingly smiling and charming even when standing in the rain helping passengers up and down steps. This more than made up for small service issues in the dining room, such as occasionally running out of dishes at the lunchtime buffet.
Between March and November, Emerald sails on three Yangtze River land-cruise itineraries that range in duration from 12 to 18 days, again different to the European product that only features river cruises.
Attracting a predominantly American market, Viking's trademark attention to detail extends to the land stay with a company tour guide taking care of everything, including the collection and transfer of luggage for internal flights and even providing suitcase locks for passengers that need them.
Unlike European river cruises, which mainly draw a 50-and-older market, China cruises attract a more diverse crowd, including younger couples and families with adult children. A large number on our cruise were river cruise veterans, many loyal to Viking. Others were confirmed ocean cruisers curious to find out about river cruising, and a few were on their first-ever cruise.
Passengers are divided into groups of up to 30 on arrival and stay with the same people on excursions for the duration of the itinerary, so many had already bonded by the time we boarded Emerald and stuck together for the rest of the trip. Those who want to socialize can broaden their circle, as the small and informal nature of river cruises makes it easy to circulate at mealtimes and in public rooms.
An average 75 percent of Emerald's passengers are from the U.S. The remainder hail from Canada, the U.K. and Australia.
Viking Emerald Dress Code
Dress is casual and comfortable onboard and ashore, with no formal nights that require special outfits. Jeans can be worn in the restaurant, and there's no obligation to change for dinner, although most people do. The captain's welcome dinner and/or farewell dinner provide an excuse for passengers to dress up a bit, albeit this still errs on the side of smart-casual.
Viking Emerald Gratuity
To avoid any surprises, the tipping guidelines are clearly set out in Viking's advance passenger information. Tips are included in the fare for passengers who purchase their cruise in Australia and New Zealand. For other passeners, the suggested gratuity is $15 per passenger, per day, which is distributed equally among the ship's staff, including the program director. There's also an additional $10 per passenger, per day, for the individual tour escort who's with you for the duration of the land and river-based itinerary. Normally tips can be added to the onboard account and settled with a credit card at the end of the cruise. The gripe on our cruise, the last of the season, was we were not forewarned that gratuities had to be paid in cash, so they could be given to the staff before they disembarked, meaning people who had already budgeted for their spending money had to withdraw extra cash.
That aside, Emerald is a cashless ship, and all onboard purchases are added to personal shipboard accounts. The onboard currency is the renminbi yuan (RMB, China's official currency), and if you settle any part of your account with U.S. dollars, U.K. sterling or euros, the cash amount will be converted into RMB at the current exchange rate.
In addition to the ship's crew, it is suggested that local guides and drivers are tipped at the respective rates of $2 and $1 per person, per day, in cash. Tips can be given in Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars.