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  #1801  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 09:29 AM
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Peregrina651 Peregrina651 is offline
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Quick question - I could not find this information anywhere in our document package - When do you put the sticky paper luggage tags that you write your stateroom number on your luggage? We also got beautiful red leather like luggage tags that I will put on the checked bags before we leave for the airport.
If you have Viking transfers to the hotel, then you have to put the tags on before you hand your luggage over to them at the airport. If you don't have transfers, then you need to have the tags on the first time you turn your bags to Viking for transport. Keep them on the bag for the entire trip so that they can match name with hotel room as well as with cabin number on the ship.

BTW, even though we had no checked luggage, we gave our larger carry-ons to Viking for transportation to the hotel. There was no need to deal with them once we met up with Viking.

Last edited by Peregrina651; April 3rd, 2013 at 09:30 AM.
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  #1802  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 12:01 PM
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If you have Viking transfers to the hotel, then you have to put the tags on before you hand your luggage over to them at the airport. If you don't have transfers, then you need to have the tags on the first time you turn your bags to Viking for transport. Keep them on the bag for the entire trip so that they can match name with hotel room as well as with cabin number on the ship.

BTW, even though we had no checked luggage, we gave our larger carry-ons to Viking for transportation to the hotel. There was no need to deal with them once we met up with Viking.
Thanks, we do have the Viking transfers. I will put them on after we land just before we turn them over to Viking.
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  #1803  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 03:49 PM
GoInOnaCruz GoInOnaCruz is offline
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Thanks, we do have the Viking transfers. I will put them on after we land just before we turn them over to Viking.
We never even used ours. Larry, the leader of another group who met us at the airport, gave us a new tag. Then each group had a ribbon given to them by their tour escort with a special color that corresponded to the ones they carried while leading us in the various venues. Ours was red & white and they wrote the cabin number on it. So we have four pristine luggage tags that we can use another time and will remind us of this trip!
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  #1804  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 07:27 PM
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Default Carrying Valuables

I am curious to know what people do with their valuables on days when we have to check out of a hotel and spend the day touring before flying or checking into the next hotel. Is it necessary to have a backpack to carry everything with you? Did you feel safe leaving these things on the buses.

Thank you for your help.
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  #1805  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 09:13 PM
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I am curious to know what people do with their valuables on days when we have to check out of a hotel and spend the day touring before flying or checking into the next hotel. Is it necessary to have a backpack to carry everything with you? Did you feel safe leaving these things on the buses.

Thank you for your help.
Valuables like money, passports and cameras were always with us. But we had no problem leaving our carryons in the baggage hold in the bottom of the bus.
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  #1806  
Old April 3rd, 2013, 09:17 PM
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Peregrina651 Peregrina651 is offline
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I am curious to know what people do with their valuables on days when we have to check out of a hotel and spend the day touring before flying or checking into the next hotel. Is it necessary to have a backpack to carry everything with you? Did you feel safe leaving these things on the buses.

Thank you for your help.
I felt safe leaving things on the bus but as turtles says, passports and money were with us--and jewelry was at home.

Last edited by Peregrina651; April 3rd, 2013 at 09:19 PM.
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  #1807  
Old April 4th, 2013, 02:26 PM
Kohola Kohola is offline
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Default Tomb Sweep Festival

A little additional Chinese culture...April 4, 2013 in China is the start of the QingMing Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day...literal translation Clear Bright Festival. Chinese 清明节
Tomb sweeping is regarded as the most important custom in the Qingming Festival from which the name of Tomb-sweeping day is derived. Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the dead person with offerings are the two important parts of remembering the past relatives. Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care of the dead. The dead person's favorite food and wine are taken to sacrifice to them, along with 1,000,000RMB paper resembling money. This is all burned in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money. Kowtow before the tablets set up for the dead are made.
Today, with cremation taking over from burying, the custom has been extremely simplified in cities. Only flowers are presented to the dead relatives. The Yangtze shoreline will be dotted with flower decorated grave sites.
This was in Xiling Gorge 4/4/09. Notice the beautiful green hue of the ChangJiang (long river). It's not always disgusting brown.


Kite Flying
Flying kites is also an important custom enjoyed by many people, young and old, during the Qingming Festival. Kites are not only flown during the day but also in the evening when little colored lanterns are tied to the kites or to the strings that hold the kites. When kites fly in the evening, the lanterns look like twinkling stars that add uniqueness to the sky. In the past, people cut the string to let the kite fly freely. This custom is believed to bring good luck and eliminate diseases.
Kite flying in Wuhan 4/4/13...the entire river bank was full as far as the eye could see.


Sweet Green Rice Balls
The sweet green rice ball is a Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) food popular in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces. Viking travels through Jiangsu Province(Nanjing) and is just north of Zhejiang(Hangzhou near Suzhou) on the CD tour. It is also a must-have offering at ancestral rituals in the south of the Yangtze River. The custom of making sweet green rice balls dates back to the Zhou Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. One or two days before the Qingming Festival are designated as "cold food days", during which hot cooking is banned. Don't know how much this custom is practiced now.

QingMing Festival which lasts three days occurs the 15th day from the Spring Equinox or about April 4. The number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese...four in pinyin is Sì and which is the same spelling as dead, pinyin Sǐ. So 4/4/XX is only fitting for the day to honor the deceased. Most important for the automobile crazy China of today...tolls are not collected on their roads.

Last edited by Kohola; April 4th, 2013 at 02:31 PM.
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  #1808  
Old April 4th, 2013, 06:29 PM
Kohola Kohola is offline
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Default H7N9 Flu outbreak in Shanghai area

Please be aware that China is reporting its fifth death from a new bird flu strain, N7H9, with four of those deaths occurring in Shanghai area. Pigeons seem to be the carriers but this strain does not cause any outward symptoms in the birds making hard to track. China confirms pigeon droppings in the Songjiang Market in Shanghai were positive for the virus. So far there are no reports of human to human contact spreading the virus. The virus outbreak was first noticed in February of this year.
The latest victim, a 48 year old man, developed a cough March 28, sought treatment for a fever on April 1 at a private clinic, and was admitted to hospital in Shanghai on Wednesday where died three hours later so the virus is very aggressive. No vaccine currently exists for this strain.
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  #1809  
Old April 4th, 2013, 11:56 PM
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Please be aware that China is reporting its fifth death from a new bird flu strain, N7H9, with four of those deaths occurring in Shanghai area. Pigeons seem to be the carriers but this strain does not cause any outward symptoms in the birds making hard to track. China confirms pigeon droppings in the Songjiang Market in Shanghai were positive for the virus. So far there are no reports of human to human contact spreading the virus. The virus outbreak was first noticed in February of this year.
The latest victim, a 48 year old man, developed a cough March 28, sought treatment for a fever on April 1 at a private clinic, and was admitted to hospital in Shanghai on Wednesday where died three hours later so the virus is very aggressive. No vaccine currently exists for this strain.
Now you have me a bit concerned. I had read about the bird flu but I didn't realize it was where we were going to be. I thought I had read that it was somewhere in a more rural area.

So how is this flu transmitted? Does someone have to touch an infected pigeon or it's droppings or just be near them? I want to know what not to do just in case. Pigeons are everywhere and I want to stay clear.
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  #1810  
Old April 5th, 2013, 11:17 AM
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We are considering a Viking Imperial Jewels of China cruise in 2014 - Shanghai to Beijing. Any advice as to best time of year to travel (weather)? And what direction would be best if we want to do the two night extension in Shanghai? This would be our first river cruise and first visit to China. Thanks!
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  #1811  
Old April 5th, 2013, 12:08 PM
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We are considering a Viking Imperial Jewels of China cruise in 2014 - Shanghai to Beijing. Any advice as to best time of year to travel (weather)? And what direction would be best if we want to do the two night extension in Shanghai? This would be our first river cruise and first visit to China. Thanks!
What kind of weather do you like? China climates are similar to the US, in other words temperate, although the summers are very, very hot and humid. We traveled in May, which is a transitional month and while most days were mild, there were a few days when it was hot and a few days when it very cool. We had some rain showers as well, but I guess that is to be expected somewhere in a two week period.

IMHO, if you are doing an extension on this trip, put it at the end because otherwise you will spend most of your added days recovering from the 14 hour flight and 12 hour change in time zones. Also, by the time you reach Shanghai, you will feel more comfortable with the newness and the different-ness and feel more capable/relaxed/ready to striking off on your own.

Otherwise, the jury is out on whether to start in Beijing or Shanghai. Those of us who have started in Shanghai swear that is the way to do it while those who went the other way swear theirs is best.

If you start in Shanghai, then you will definitely see the pandas at the Chongqing Zoo but not the hutongs in Beijing. If you start in Beijing, you will be taken to the hutongs but most likely not the zoo; that depends on how early your flight is and how much time you have to kill before boarding the ship (and you have no control over your intra-China flights).


Last edited by Peregrina651; April 5th, 2013 at 12:08 PM.
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  #1812  
Old April 5th, 2013, 02:47 PM
Kohola Kohola is offline
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So how is this flu transmitted? Does someone have to touch an infected pigeon or it's droppings or just be near them? I want to know what not to do just in case. Pigeons are everywhere and I want to stay clear.
The determination of how the virus is contracted is unclear to authorities right now, but it seems transmission via human to human contact is not possible thus far. Remember this is a new strain and will mutate. Over 20,000 birds have been killed in the Shanghai area in the past few days. And another death reported bringing the total to 6. Victims range from 4 to 83.
One thing to keep in mind is to pack your shoes in plastic bags or something that will allow you to isolate them from the rest of your belongings. This will prevent anything picked up on the soles of your shoes from coming into direct contact with articles of clothing which can in turn be transferred to your skin.
These viruses normally start in Southern China where there is a moist tropical-like climate combined with dietary habits that include eating mammals that we consider vermin. Authorities believe the SARS outbreak began with the consumption of an infected bat.
Anyone concerned should be obtaining information via the CDC, WHO, or other authoritative website.
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  #1813  
Old April 5th, 2013, 03:14 PM
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The determination of how the virus is contracted is unclear to authorities right now, but it seems transmission via human to human contact is not possible thus far. Remember this is a new strain and will mutate. Over 20,000 birds have been killed in the Shanghai area in the past few days. And another death reported bringing the total to 6. Victims range from 4 to 83.
Latest news:

Chinese authorities have killed more than 20,000 birds from a live-poultry trading zone in Shanghai after an unusual strain of bird flu was found in pigeons, state-run media Xinhua reported today.

The H7N9 virus, or bird flu, has killed six people. It had not previously been found in humans until 14 cases were reported in China this week -- all in a coastal area of eastern China.

No cases of human-to-human transmission have been confirmed so far. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, says it’s working closely with Chinese authorities to find the source of the human infections.
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  #1814  
Old April 5th, 2013, 06:26 PM
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IMHO, if you are doing an extension on this trip, put it at the end because otherwise you will spend most of your added days recovering from the 14 hour flight and 12 hour change in time zones. Also, by the time you reach Shanghai, you will feel more comfortable with the newness and the different-ness and feel more capable/relaxed/ready to striking off on your own.
Jon&Ann: I'll offer the opposite perspective. We traveled in the Beijing to Shanghai direction, and we arrived in Beijing three days early so that we could see even more of the city than we would with Viking (and another section of the Great Wall). Yes, it's true that we had some jet lag to start out, but we were also fresh in terms of not having been traveling all around China for a couple of weeks, including three internal flights in China (and all the schlepping that entails) that were part of our Imperial Jewels itinerary. This is a fantastic and amazing trip, but by the time the Viking part of the tour was over in Shanghai, we were pretty tired and ready to go home.

From your own travels, you may have a sense of which sort of travelers you are. I don't think there's any right answer here, just as there's no right answer to which direction to travel in --- pick what you think will be best for you.

BTW, we went in May, and the weather was very comfortable, altho we did have a couple of hot days along the river. Based on all the research we did before the trip, it seemed like May and October were optimum times to go, but be sure to avoid the National Holidays during those months. Don't go in the summer unless you like really hot and humid weather!
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  #1815  
Old April 5th, 2013, 06:27 PM
Kohola Kohola is offline
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We are considering a Viking Imperial Jewels of China cruise in 2014 - Shanghai to Beijing. Any advice as to best time of year to travel (weather)? And what direction would be best if we want to do the two night extension in Shanghai? This would be our first river cruise and first visit to China. Thanks!
Having done the Cultural Delights tour twice in opposite directions our personal preference is Beijing to Shanghai, but there are advantages to either way. Both our trips were taken in March/April time frame. Advantages of going Beijing to Shanghai...the experience of visiting the Hutangs in Beijing was more enriching than the pandas at the zoo for us. The Gorges were more spectacular going downstream for us. We preferred the program presented at the first elementary school we visited. (We don't know for sure how the schools are selected.) We preferred going through the locks at night rather than daylight since we live in a city with locks. There is an additional lock at Xiling Gorge that you transit in the daylight going downstream to watch the operation of the locks.

Advantages of going Shanghai to Beijing...time to start slow and build up to the climax of the Great Wall. Visited the Bund in Shanghai during the late afternoon which was a much better photo op. Visit the pandas upon ship departure in ChongQing...depending on which group your in, you may see them eat. Arrived in Xian in time to tour the Small Goose Pagoda and the Wall around Xian which is per the Tour Escort's discretion. Beijing was much warmer in mid-April versus late March. With the extension you can tour a hutang or see pandas in Shanghai to alleviate them from your decision.

We prefer the early trips where the temperatures on the Yangtze are in the 60-70 degree range, but Beijing can be considerably cooler. There are also many festivals to consider in your timing which can enrich your experience or bring additional crowds depending on your perspective.

Someone mentioned that Viking had changed restaurants for the Peking Duck dinner with worse reviews compared to the original one...my first thought was how many of the people had eaten at both restaurants to make a valid comparison.

To give you an idea of how the gorges look at key points during the transit these are photos taken at a similar location on the Yangtze to show the difference in one direction versus the other.
The first two are Soaring Dragon's Back Peak located in Wu (witches) Gorge.
Going Shanghai to Beijing...ship is too close to the peak and the sun is in the wrong position to get ridge line definition.

Ridge line is clearly defined with the sun to our backs and on the opposite side of the river.

Entering QuTang Gorge in the Shanghai to Beijing direction. This is the narrowest and most spectacular of the gorges.

Leaving QuTang Gorge where there is no mystery to the blind curve in the afternoon.

Entering QuTang Gorge Beijing to Shanghai direction...early morning shrouded in China Mist. The QuTang Gorge is featured on the 10Yuan Note from this direction.

In Shanghai to Beijing direction you have the opportunity to see a coffin close up that isn't visible in the mist going the other way
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  #1816  
Old April 5th, 2013, 11:03 PM
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If nothing else, we are all passionate about this cruise and passionate about helping others get the most out their experience.


Last edited by Peregrina651; April 5th, 2013 at 11:06 PM.
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  #1817  
Old April 5th, 2013, 11:14 PM
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The determination of how the virus is contracted is unclear to authorities right now, but it seems transmission via human to human contact is not possible thus far. Remember this is a new strain and will mutate. Over 20,000 birds have been killed in the Shanghai area in the past few days. And another death reported bringing the total to 6. Victims range from 4 to 83.
One thing to keep in mind is to pack your shoes in plastic bags or something that will allow you to isolate them from the rest of your belongings. This will prevent anything picked up on the soles of your shoes from coming into direct contact with articles of clothing which can in turn be transferred to your skin.
These viruses normally start in Southern China where there is a moist tropical-like climate combined with dietary habits that include eating mammals that we consider vermin. Authorities believe the SARS outbreak began with the consumption of an infected bat.
Anyone concerned should be obtaining information via the CDC, WHO, or other authoritative website.
Thanks for the shoe tip. I would never have thought of that. I think I will take a bunch of plastic shopping bags to put them in.
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  #1818  
Old April 6th, 2013, 04:04 PM
SteadyAT SteadyAT is offline
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Default To add my 2-cents...

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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.

Last edited by SteadyAT; April 6th, 2013 at 04:10 PM.
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  #1819  
Old April 7th, 2013, 05:22 PM
Kohola Kohola is offline
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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.
6. Guides -- Our guide, Aihua (English name Iowa) was fantastic.
Thanks for offering some new insights to the discussion.
It will be interesting to see if the trend of negative reviews about the restaurants continue. Are the restaurants located in hotels? What are their names? With restaurant or hotel names people can look at reviews from Trip Advisor or Chinese review sites to gain a little more insight from a larger cross section of people. The Peking Duck we ate at the original restaurant was moist and tender, but it still tasted like duck. I am wondering if people expect Peking Duck in Beijing to somehow taste differently? What are their expectations and why aren't they being met? A couple at our table were disappointed because Peking Duck in their hometown came with the drumsticks and thighs intact, while the duck in China was sliced.

Did AiHua(爱华) explain why she chose Iowa? There's a very clever phonetic tie between the two names so I hoped she explained it. Her Chinese name is Eye-What minus the "t"...eye-wha...almost the English pronunciation of Iowa. Ai means Love, and Hua is a term meaning China...her given name means "Love China" or possibly the cornfields of Iowa.

Another useless tidbit of information...China completed its 3 day Tomb Sweep Festival Sunday which meant school was back in session. Imagine the US giving school children Thursday, Friday, Saturday off then requiring them to show up on Sunday.
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  #1820  
Old April 7th, 2013, 08:59 PM
GoInOnaCruz GoInOnaCruz is offline
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Originally Posted by SteadyAT View Post
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.
Great review!
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