Posted April 6th, 2013, 05:04 PM
Last edited by SteadyAT; April 6th, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Hi everyone, Here are my thoughts on the first cruise of the 2013 season...
Finally back from my March 5 Imperial Jewels + additional (non-Viking) trips to Hong Kong, Taipai, Macau and back into China (Guangzhou and Shenzhen). I'm in agreement with all of what GoInOnaCruz has reviewed; and want to add some more points...
1. Direction - having done the Beijing to Shanghai direction, we cannot imagine ending our 12-day tour with all the walking that was involved in visiting Tianamen Square and Summer Palace - probably several miles of walking in one day. We are so glad we started in Beijing (including our forced overnight giving an extra day at the beginning) but feel that we could've benefited from an extra day in Shanghai at the end of this tour. It appears now that Viking is offering an extension in Shanghai as an option (this was not available at the time of our booking).
2. Cups (coffee) --If I recall correctly, I had read in past reviews that the coffee station was instant coffee and this was not the case (thank goodness). Also, Splenda (as mentioned in another post) is readily available as is Equal. However, I found that cream used for coffee was weak - it was more like milk than cream.
3. Food-- We went to DaDong on our first free night in Beijing so passed on the Peking Duck dinner. Those on our bus who went to the Optional Duck Dinner said they did not enjoy the dinner; and neither did we who went to the "regular" dinner at a local restaurant. I think it was the worst of the non-optional meals we had. Otherwise, most of the food options were adequate (highlight was Mongolian BBQ at Carpet Factory) and the food on the ship quite good (although not always hot enough).
4. Optional excursions--By splitting the duck dinner and Chinese Opera, my mom and aunts opted to attend the Opera which they enjoyed. If the excursion was a combined duck dinner/Opera they would have opted out, so this change was welcomed. I think the Opera was approx 150RMB / person.
5. Service -- Incredible - the (mostly) young people on the ship worked extremely hard, doing double and triple duty to please the guests. No complaints whatsoever.
6. Guides -- Our guide, Aihua (English name Iowa) was fantastic. Every group loved their guide of course. Ours was highly personable, and we became a family in the course of 2 weeks.
7. Buses/Local Guides--This is where my experience differed from GoInOnaCruz...our local guide at Shibaozhai (the pagoda), though Ok, was probably the hardest-to-understand guide. Luck of the draw, I guess. On the other hand, our local guide Paul in Xian was great!
8. Squattie-potties - There were some folks on our bus who had some mobility issues, and could only use western toilets. Our guide made sure they were aware when these were available. Most of the squatty-potties were clean and usable, although one of my aunts managed to avoid squatting at all. I went for the squattie-pottie only because I didn't want to stand in line, as long as the stall was clean. We definitely did not need to bring the amount of travel-pack kleenexes that we did; most toilets had TP at the entrance, and you just needed to top-up your stash from the hotel rooms before checking out. I left most of my unopened kleenex travel packs in Hong Kong with a family friend, who felt we went way overboard with the amount of Kleenex packs we brought along.
9. Experience--We had joined a separate 4-day tour from Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan and having just been spoiled by Viking for 12 days, this tour did not compare. Viking did a great job and treated us like Kings and Queens. At times, I felt bad that we ALWAYS got first entry while other tour groups had to wait for us to pass (well, I felt only a little bad!). Amazingly we even got our hotel keys on the bus so that we didn't have to wait in the hotel lobbies for our room assignments - THAT's organization and service!
A few other points:
10. Stairs--The stairs at Chongqing now have a railing. I didn't need to hold onto it, but it did give peace of mind for navigating the stairs with my bag. Conversely the stairs at Jingzhou, although not steep, could have benefited from some railings. Each step had a horizontal line across it, and as you look down the stairs, it had a dizzying effect! No accidents - but one of those in our group who had some mobility issues mentioned at dinner she passed when the ship docked and she saw the stairs. It was too bad she had to miss the visit to the school which was definitely a highlight.
11. Colds/coughs -- our bus shared an email list, and it appears that many on their return home suffered from colds and coughs (and a case of strep throat). Someone on our bus mentioned that a stomach bug was spreading on another bus. Indeed you travel very closely with your bus-mates for 12 days so be sure to bring some OTC meds with you.
12. Masks--we brought n95 masks with us but did not use them on the tours. We were fortunate to have missed a sandstorm just prior to our arrival and just following our departure from Beijing. Our day in Xian was quite smoggy - a number of visitors did have masks on, and I could definitely "feel" it when breathing. That might have been a day worth digging out our masks, but I had left them in our suitcases which were already on the way from Xian to Chongqing! So if you think you may need a mask, put them in your carry-on!
13. Probably a one-off but the locks were under maintenance and so we had to dock overnight side-by-side between two other ships as we waited for the locks to open. One ship next to us had significant exhaust issues leading to a very uncomfortable night in our cabin because the AC was turned down to reduce intake and despite that, because of the smell of exhaust prevailing in our cabin (we were on the lowest level). Nothing could be done, of course, and it was not the fault of Viking. But just so others are aware that things can happen and to be prepared. We DID in fact put masks on that night, although I could not sleep with a mask on. It was a terribly uncomfortable night (and probably unhealthy for our lungs).
14. Carpet Factory -- in Shanghai, our guide originally did not mention a visit to the Carpet Factory and some on the tour questioned him on this. Ultimately we went, but he mentioned that this might come off of the itinerary in the future. I'm glad we went - the Embroidery gallery next to the Carpet Factory was AMAZING and worth a side visit. There were some significant purchases on our bus for carpets and embroidered art, and we all enjoyed the lunch. I'm not sure whether this will remain on the itinerary based on what our guide said.
Those who have seen some of my other posts might recall the frustrations I felt initially when booking this tour. Ultimately I transferred our six files into the hands of a travel agent because I felt I was getting the run-around from Viking (emails were not promptly answered; long holds on the phone; bounced between different agents). Another frustration was the slow issuing of our air tickets, and the challenge with Air Canada not allowing us to secure seat assignments until after the tickets have been issued. All of this left me somewhat concerned regarding what to expect once we got to Beijing.
Well, the actual land tour / river cruise were excellent, and met every expectation and more! I am a tough customer and I would not hesitate to recommend this trip to others.