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Viking China (Part 2)

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Viking Emerald - China's Cultural Delights

 

Just returned from Viking’s China’s Cultural Delights – August 15 through August 31. It was fantastic! I wanted to provide some information to those who will travel in the future. This is not a day-by-day dairy, but rather some important things that we learned while on the trip that might be useful to you. We were a group of four traveling from Shanghai to Beijing.

As I said, the trip was fantastic. Everything went as planned and there were no problems. Viking seems to think of everything and they leave no detail to chance. From our plane reservations, to meeting our representative in Shanghai, transfers to the hotel, 5 star hotel reservations, buses, local guides, dinners for 210 people, the ship arriving and departing on time, luggage, and our Tour Escort – all perfectly coordinated.

Our Tour Escort was Francis. He was beyond great. Articulate, funny, knowledgeable, filled with facts and interpretations, helpful, detailed to a fault, caring and thorough. He was the consummate “mother hen” who kept us on schedule and helped us with our every need. All of the guests thought that their Tour Escort was great and this is quite a testament to Viking who employs such wonderful people.

The trip was a great value for the money. When you consider all of the meals, transportation, transfers, guides, intra-China air, 5 star hotels, and of course the ship, you really get a lot. With that said, there are still a lot of extra charges that come into play – travel insurance, visas, shots, tips, tips, and more tips, souvenirs, gifts, and adult beverages.

WATER. You cannot drink the water! Not from any tap – not in the 5 star hotels and not on the ship. There is plenty of bottled water provided in your room and on the bus. If you run out just ask for more. We used the bottled water for brushing our teeth, rinsing off toothbrushes, drinking, taking pills, etc. We were very careful in the shower to keep our mouths closed. We only drank bottled water while on land even in the restaurants. On the ship they poured bottled water into pitchers and then into glasses. The ship used purified water to clean the food, so salads and fresh veggies were okay. We did not eat salads on land. Watch out for the ice cubes – okay on the ship but not on land.

ELECTRICITY. We took two adapters and two power converters – what a waste of space. We did not need either. The hotels and the ship had plenty of sockets for our needs. We were recharging cell phones and camera batteries, using electric toothbrushes, hair curlers and straightening irons. No problems.

DRESS. The dress code was very casual. Men wore shorts and slacks to dinner on the ship. Some men even wore shorts to the Captain’s reception. Very few jackets or ties. On land, slacks were more common for the dinner shows. The women were a little more dressed up with slacks and dresses but nothing fancy.

ILLNESS. People were getting sick – mostly lower GI. Cipro seemed to clear things up in a couple of days. I definitely recommend bringing the medicine cabinet just to be safe. We had Z-packs, Cipro, Pepto Bismol, Day and NyQuill, Zyrtec, Zyrtec-D, and saline solution to ward off the evils of bad health.

ANTISEPTIC WIPES. We took enough antiseptic wipes for an Army. We used enough for a Platoon. A couple of bottles of Purell will probably do. The ship has hand sanitizers outside of the dining room and other general areas, and we were told to wash our hands in soap and water (the only time we used water from the tap) before eating. We were not as good about keeping our hands sanitized as we expected to be, we seemed to relax our standards once we were in country.

SUNBLOCK. We used sun block on the days we were outside, but still never used as much as we brought. We brought a lot of insect repellent but never used it. We had a lot of small flying bugs in our staterooms but still never used the bug repellant.

FOOD. The food was good, not great, but good. I suggest that you do not eat any Chinese food for a month before this trip. We ended up with 7 chinese lunches and 7 chinese dinners, about 40% of the total meals. Some were okay and others were very good, but the food and the style of serving (lazy susan) became monotonous. The food on the ship was good – we were hoping for great. Some meals were better than others, but nothing fantastic. The portions were a bit on the small side but you could ask your server on the ship for more and it was brought without any question. On land we were unable to get more of the dishes we liked no matter how many times we asked.

SHIP. The Emerald was very nice. You have to keep in mind that this is not a cruise ship. Outside is very ordinary, but the inside is very nice. The ship was large enough for 210 guests to be absorbed, but it was a bit crowded and noisy at meal time since everyone ate at the same time. Some comments that I read before the trip were critical of the Emerald. The ship was built by the Chinese and their standards are not as stringent as those of the Western Europeans. Centerline welds were not ground to a smooth finish but rather covered over with heavy carpet. So the carpet looked like it was rumpled, but it wasn’t. If you want to be ultra critical you can find fault with the ship, but in reality it is very very nice. The ship can hold 260 guests, we had 210 so things could be a bit more crowded and uncomfortable. No casino, no theater for entertainment. A small exercise room, a library, beauty shop, spa, two very large bar and general meeting areas, and lots of room to roam. We had very busy days, so we were in our staterooms around 9 pm. We didn’t get bored. There are about 5 english TV stations – CNN, BBC, Asia TV, National Geographic, and HBO – this was sufficient.

LUGGAGE. For the two intra-china flights luggage was not an issue. The bags of all the guests (usually two groups per plane – about 70 to 75 people) were weighed as a group. So if your bag is over 44 pounds it was not a problem. The 11 pound limit for carry on is obsolete – nobody asked. You might want to have small locks for your checked bags while in China. We did not have any but our Tour Escort loaned us four locks for the period of time from the ship through Beijing. Bags are unaccompanied for short periods of time so we really appreciated the locks.

LOGISTICS. Viking has this mastered. I can’t stress enough how wonderful it was not to worry about anything. Just be ready on time and be at the appointed place and it ran as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

OPTIONAL SHOWS. The first night in Shanghai was the Chinese Acrobats. No cost for the show and it was very good if you could keep your eyes open (jet lag). The two options were the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show in Xi’an and the Peking Duck Dinner and Beijing Opera in Beijing. The Tang show was about $60 per person and the Opera and duck dinner about $65 per person. We did not do the Tang Dynasty show but did do the Opera. Those who attended the Tang show said it was very good. We enjoyed the duck dinner and opera – but it was very different. From a cultural viewpoint I’m glad we did the opera, but from an entertainment perspective, I would not rush back. The opera is now 90 minutes and you don’t get to watch anyone putting on makeup as in bygone days. If you chose not to attend either of the optional shows you were taken to dinner at a nearby restaurant which is included in your trip package.

KEMPENSKI HOTEL. Before we left I had read numerous threads complaining about the Kempinski Hotel in Xi’an. Lighten up folks, this is a very nice 5 star hotel. A bit masculine probably due to it’s German roots. I will admit that it is in the middle of nowhere, but most people went to the Tang Dynasty show and didn’t return to the hotel until 10:30 pm – time for bed anyway. So if you are assigned to the Kempinski – don’t worry, be happy.

DIRECTION. Shanghai to Beijing or Beijing to Shanghai. We thought that the Shanghai to Beijing route gave us time to get over our jet lag in a more leisurely setting of Shanghai. The days in Beijing were much more strenuous and we would have been dragging if we had just arrived. But I have read the critiques of others who preferred the Beijing start so to each his/her own. Take it for what it is worth.

CASH. We went with 200 crisp $1 and 50 crisp $5 bills. At the hotel in Shanghai we exchanged $100 for Yuen. The local merchants will take Yuen and US dollars if they are new, crisp and unbent. The stores and gift shops took all of the major credit cards. One major snag was at Mt. Jiu Hua. It cost 100 yuen to take the fennicular up to the top of the mountain – no credit cards and no US. We didn’t have 400 yuen so we didn’t take the trip which we heard was great. No one told us we needed Yuen until we were at Mt Jiu Hua. The morale of this story is keep a lot of cash - especially yuen. When you buy stuff you need to haggle and haggle hard. Be willing to walk away – you will find the same item somewhere down the road. My problem was that I would haggle down to a price that I thought was fair, instead of continuing to haggle to an even lower price.

TIPPING. You tip the porters at the hotels, the bus drivers after each day’s excursion, and the local tour guides as you go. They are happy to take dollars or yuen. For your ship experience you can tip the entire crew on your final bill via credit card. You can also tip your cabin steward and dining room servers extra using cash. The problem is tipping your Tour Escort. You have to use cash – you cannot put this tip on your ship bill. This becomes a problem since it is a lot of cash and it’s late in the trip. $10 – 12 per person per day for 17 days is about $350 for a couple. Not many people are holding on to this much cash so late in the trip. I had to go to a Beijing bank to use the ATM to get enough cash for the tip. Not a big problem, but I did have to pay some large processing fees. I also had to go on two separate days since I needed more than the daily limit. There was never any mention that you could not put the tip for your Tour Escort on your final ship’s bill. Oh well, we survived.

TIDBITS. The Viking School was great. It’s not a big deal as to whether or not you bring gifts. We brought pencils and erasers, but had to put them into a gift box at the entrance to the school grounds. No sense of joy from the gift giving even though you know you helped out. Make sure you have very comfortable walking shoes. Also make sure the shoes provide good traction or you will not be able to climb the Great Wall. We brought hats but didn’t really use them since we had the sun block. We brought small umbrellas which we used one time. Each of the hotels and the ship staterooms have umbrellas large enough for two people to get under. Unless you know that it is the rainy season I would leave the umbrellas at home. Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG). We heard that the Chinese food was filled with it. Our Tour Escort was able to check with each restaurant, and when necessary get a special plate prepared with no MSG. Found it to be a bigger problem in the Shanghai region than in Beijing. If you are allergic to MSG, this is a big deal.

That is pretty much it. A great trip with only a few surprises, none of which were major problems. I would recommend this trip to people of all ages. The average age on our voyage was probably mid to late 60s. I was amazed at how well everyone did with the physical requirements of the trip. Some of the old timers were putting me to shame. There were a few folks in their twenties and they seemed to enjoy the trip as well.

I would be happy to answer any individual questions you might have. Problem is, now that my trip is over, I will only check this site about once a week.

Have a great trip!

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Thank you so much for this! We will be in China (Imperial Jewels though, not Cultural Delights) exactly a month from today. One question comes to mind right away, and then I'll likely have more for later:

 

Did you use the ship's computers? If so, was internet connectivity reasonably good, or did those gorges get in the way??

 

Thanks much!

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My wife and daughter were on the computers all the time. The computers were a bit tempermental, and not all of the eight computers worked all the time, but if you were patient, then you could conduct all of your internet business. The gorges did not seem to bother the reception any more than any other time.

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Blue Devil, thank you very much. It's great to know that I'll be able to stay in touch while on the river! You didn't happen to use Google mail, did you? That's what I use, but with all the flap over google censorship, I wasn't sure I'd be able to access google mail!

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Roothy, my family used AOL which worked fine. Not at all sure about Google mail. did not hear any feedback from other travelers pro or con.

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Blue Devil, thank you very much. It's great to know that I'll be able to stay in touch while on the river! You didn't happen to use Google mail, did you? That's what I use, but with all the flap over google censorship, I wasn't sure I'd be able to access google mail!

 

I never checked Google mail, but I did use Google to do searches. There were certain things I would search for and it would kick me off, but I would guess you could use Google mail.

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Hi Bluedevil. You did Cultural Delights, and we're doing Imperial Jewels, but I suspect the Beijing part was similar. I was wondering if you remember about how much time you had on the Great Wall, and how far you got on it!

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Roothy, Sorry I must have fallen asleep.

 

We were at the wall for a couple of hours. We got there and immediately used the rest rooms. We then went for a group picture. then we were on our own. There was plenty of time to walk to the end of the wall going either right or left. We spent about an hour climbing, walking, resting, looking, taking pictures, etc. Some in our group went all the way to the end and still beat us back to the gift shop. When we had had enough we went back to the gift shop and shopped for about 45 minutes until the time we were supposed to meet.

 

I don't think anyone in our group complained that there was not enough time at the wall.

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Thank you so much for the great review! We are interested in doing this trip next year. Hope you don't mind a few questions!

 

Did Viking arrange your air? If so, were you able to choose a carrier? We're flying out of Norfolk and would like to use Delta to get credit towards our FF miles. Did they allow you to fly in a day ahead to avoid airline related mishaps that could delay your trip?

 

Were there plenty of choices related to food? I have a seafood allergy and have some problems in Asia when travelling independently convincing the restaurants that taking the fish out of fish broth doesn't solve the problem.:p I don't want to draw attention to myself, so I always travel with peanut butter crackers in case I can't eat what's served. It would be nice to know that Viking would help in this regard.

 

In general, how much did you tip the bus drivers and local guides on a daily basis? Was there a safe in the stateroom on the ship?

 

Would you recommend an area on the ship for cabin? Does it make much of a difference?

 

Again, thanks for your review!

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Hi There!

 

You can find the original (read-only) Viking China thread here:

 

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=252201

 

Please continue your discussion of Viking China in this thread.

 

Thank you,

 

:):):)

 

Looks like I am going to have to update my sign file with links to both of these threads so that folks can find us!

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We're considering this trip for 2013 and would love to benefit from the experience of others. While I understand there is so much that is subjective, there is also some information based on fact and I'm interested in the subjective opinions to see if there is a trend. I promise I won't ask about tastes of food or coffee, softness of mattresses or which tour guide I should ask for!:D;)

 

Here are my questions, please share your opinions:

 

**Which month is the most comfortable to travel related to cool temperatures (between 65-80) and low humidity and smog? Or which month did you go that was bad? Our plans are very flexible.

 

**What are the pros and cons to starting in Shanghai as opposed to Beijing? Why did you like/dislike the direction you went?

 

**Do you recommend flying in a day or two early to get used to the time zone? (I understand that Viking transfers are not available if you come in early and that there may be a deviation charge added to the air)

 

**Is there a preferred deck or side of ship for either direction? More sun/less sun, noise, scenery, etc.

 

**If you could change one thing you planned with your trip what would it be? It doesn't really matter what you wished VRC did different, because I can't change that.... just something extra you planned.. a special tour you wished you did on your own time, a show that you wished you had skipped... or you skipped that you regret, etc.

 

Thank you so much. I really did read more than a year's worth of posts on the now closed thread and appreciate so much people's time sharing all the great information. :)

 

 

As an aside, this will be our first River Cruise!

Edited by 5326jan

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We're considering this trip for 2013 and would love to benefit from the experience of others. While I understand there is so much that is subjective, there is also some information based on fact and I'm interested in the subjective opinions to see if there is a trend. I promise I won't ask about tastes of food or coffee, softness of mattresses or which tour guide I should ask for!:D;)

 

Here are my questions, please share your opinions:

 

**Which month is the most comfortable to travel related to cool temperatures (between 65-80) and low humidity and smog? Or which month did you go that was bad? Our plans are very flexible. We went in early August. It was close to 100F some days.

 

**What are the pros and cons to starting in Shanghai as opposed to Beijing? Why did you like/dislike the direction you went? We did Shanghai to Beijing and liked that arrangement:

1) First tour day in Shanghai is less strenuous than in Beijing, helping to keep from being exhausted after the time zone changes.

2) Seeing Pandas in Chonqing is on the schedule this direction.

 

**Do you recommend flying in a day or two early to get used to the time zone? (I understand that Viking transfers are not available if you come in early and that there may be a deviation charge added to the air) Yes and No.

No: If your flight to China arrives mid-day, you can do a pretty good job of time adjusting by the next morning. It is worth paying a customization fee to Viking if they try to schedule a late evening arrival. Also, the Viking transfer and handlinjg of luggage is very, very convenient.

Yes: It would be worth flying in early if you want to see some sights that are not on the Viking itinerary. It also will help some in time adjustmjent.

 

**Is there a preferred deck or side of ship for either direction? More sun/less sun, noise, scenery, etc. No real difference.

 

**If you could change one thing you planned with your trip what would it be? It doesn't really matter what you wished VRC did different, because I can't change that.... just something extra you planned.. a special tour you wished you did on your own time, a show that you wished you had skipped... or you skipped that you regret, etc. We can think of nothing we planned we would have done differently.

 

Thank you so much. I really did read more than a year's worth of posts on the now closed thread and appreciate so much people's time sharing all the great information. :)

 

 

As an aside, this will be our first River Cruise! It was our first river cruise also and Viking did a great job.

 

See the comments in red above.

 

By the way, if you do the Shanghai to Beijing direction, do not expect free time in Shanghai other than on the day you arrive in Shanghai.

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See the comments in red above.

 

By the way, if you do the Shanghai to Beijing direction, do not expect free time in Shanghai other than on the day you arrive in Shanghai.

 

Thanks Bill! I love hearing this from someone I know and respect!

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Here are my questions, please share your opinions:

 

**Which month is the most comfortable to travel related to cool temperatures (between 65-80) and low humidity and smog? Or which month did you go that was bad? Our plans are very flexible. We were there in mid-May of this year (2011) and, overall, we thought it was a good time to travel. There were a few hot days along the river, but other than that, it was comfortable. We had some gorgeous, sunny days in Beijing and Shanghai -- blue skies! The only pollution we encountered was in Xi'an, where the air was so polluted we could not even see the sky.

 

**What are the pros and cons to starting in Shanghai as opposed to Beijing? Why did you like/dislike the direction you went? We started in Beijing, for several reasons. First, we would always arrive early for a trip like this, and we were much more interested in spending extra time in Beijing than we were in Shanghai. Second, we knew that by the end of the trip, whichever direction we went, we'd be pretty tired, and we wanted to spend time enjoying Beijing while we were still fresh. We flew into Beijing three days early, and hired a private guide for two of those days. We saw a lot of Beijing that is not part of the Viking tour, we went to another section of the Great Wall (at Mutianyu), and also had two amazing dinners on our own, the best food of the trip. We were very happy to have the trip "wind down" for us by the time we got on the Emerald. I know others have reasons for starting in Shanghai. For us, given our interests and what we wanted to see, starting in Beijing was the right choice. One other factor, which wasn't decisive for us, but in hindsight underscored that we made the right choice for us -- we were able to get a nonstop flight to Beijing on the way out (from Dulles), but had to change planes on the way home from Shanghai (a trip that took 25 hours from hotel to home). Had we had that trip on the way out, we would have been beyond exhausted.

 

**Do you recommend flying in a day or two early to get used to the time zone? (I understand that Viking transfers are not available if you come in early and that there may be a deviation charge added to the air) Absolutely, see above. Not just to help get over the jet lag, but also to see more of China. You'll be flying half way around the world! (We booked our own air. Even if we hadn't, we'd have gone in early. This is no time to nickel and dime yourself.)

 

**Is there a preferred deck or side of ship for either direction? More sun/less sun, noise, scenery, etc. This has been commented on by a number of folks. I think there's a pretty general consensus that the side of the boat doesn't matter. And you won't be spending that much time in your cabin, anyway.

 

**If you could change one thing you planned with your trip what would it be? It doesn't really matter what you wished VRC did different, because I can't change that.... just something extra you planned.. a special tour you wished you did on your own time, a show that you wished you had skipped... or you skipped that you regret, etc. In hindsight, we would probably have skipped the Tang Dynasty Dinner show in Xi'an. Mediocre food and a made-for-tourists show. We would have skipped the last dinner/show in Shanghai. It was the worst Viking meal of the trip (crummy restaurant in an office/mall type building). Would have been nice to have had a special meal/good food at a quality restaurant in Shanghai to end the trip. I was glad I'd gone to the optional Peking Opera show, and my partner was glad she stayed back in the hotel. :)

 

Thank you so much. I really did read more than a year's worth of posts on the now closed thread and appreciate so much people's time sharing all the great information. :)

 

 

As an aside, this will be our first River Cruise!

 

Most of these questions have been addressed in the first (now closed) threadzilla, but I've put my thoughts in red above. I hope they are helpful.

 

This was the most extraordinary trip we've ever taken, and Viking does a spectacular job.

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Most of these questions have been addressed in the first (now closed) threadzilla, but I've put my thoughts in red above. I hope they are helpful.

 

This was the most extraordinary trip we've ever taken, and Viking does a spectacular job.

 

Thank you so much for your comments. I read your comments in the now closed thread and was interested in how you found your tour guide. I believe her name was Sunflower? I would appreciate her info if possible. If you're not comfortable posting here, my email in nvajan11@gmail.com.

 

We live in VB, but flying non-stop from Dulles would be doable for us. What carrier did you use. We have so many miles on Delta, it would be very hard not to add to those....... decisions, decisions.....

 

Sounds like you had a great trip! Did you do a blog with pictures?

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Thank you so much for your comments. I read your comments in the now closed thread and was interested in how you found your tour guide. I believe her name was Sunflower? I would appreciate her info if possible. If you're not comfortable posting here, my email in nvajan11@gmail.com.

 

We live in VB, but flying non-stop from Dulles would be doable for us. What carrier did you use. We have so many miles on Delta, it would be very hard not to add to those....... decisions, decisions.....

 

Sounds like you had a great trip! Did you do a blog with pictures?

 

Yes, our guide In Beijing was Sunflower Lee (Lee Lei, aptly nicknamed "Sunflower"). I found her via reviews on Trip Advisor, and we thought she was great. (Her brother is a guide in Shanghai, btw.) Here's her email:

 

sunflower9811 AT hotmail.com

 

I saw that you are in VB, which is why I mentioned Dulles. We flew United, using frequent flyer miles, and were fortunate to have enough to get business class seats on the non-stop to Beijing. (On the flight home from Shanghai (to San Fran), which is more of an actual business route, United never opened business class to free award travel.)

 

It really was a great trip. Beyond great. Sorry, no blog. :)

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We're considering this trip for 2013 and would love to benefit from the experience of others. While I understand there is so much that is subjective, there is also some information based on fact and I'm interested in the subjective opinions to see if there is a trend. I promise I won't ask about tastes of food or coffee, softness of mattresses or which tour guide I should ask for!:D;)

 

The hotel mattresses were luxurious, just like the hotels (especially in Shanghai and Beijing).

 

All of the guides are GREAT, so as much as we loved our guide Larry and wish everyone could tour with him, you will not be disappointed no matter who your guide turns out to be.

 

Also, you are welcome to read my travel journal. The link is below in my signature.

 

Here are my questions, please share your opinions:

**Which month is the most comfortable to travel related to cool temperatures (between 65-80) and low humidity and smog? Or which month did you go that was bad? Our plans are very flexible.

The first and last cruises will give you the best weather. We went in May (8-24) and by the end, it was too hot for me. As for beating the smog, I don't know that it is predictable.

 

**What are the pros and cons to starting in Shanghai as opposed to Beijing? Why did you like/dislike the direction you went?

 

Shanghai to Beijing saves the best for last--Terracotta Warriors, Forbidden City, Great Wall. We prefer a trip that builds up to the best, so S to B was great for us.

 

S to B includes a visit to the pandas, which was a good thing because that is what DH wanted to see.

 

We also did the longer Cultural Delights itinerary, which we loved. The extra stops were fascinating and were one of the reasons that we did not feel it necessary to add extra days in Shanghai or Beijing.

 

 

**Do you recommend flying in a day or two early to get used to the time zone? (I understand that Viking transfers are not available if you come in early and that there may be a deviation charge added to the air)

 

Next time I would consider adding a day or two just to get over the jetlag. Seems the older I get, the less able I am to deal with it.

 

 

**Is there a preferred deck or side of ship for either direction? More sun/less sun, noise, scenery, etc.

We chose cabins forward of the lobby to make sure that we were away from the engine noise. Most of the scenery watching is done from the upper deck, so it didn't seem to matter which side our cabin was on.

 

**If you could change one thing you planned with your trip what would it be? It doesn't really matter what you wished VRC did different, because I can't change that.... just something extra you planned.. a special tour you wished you did on your own time, a show that you wished you had skipped... or you skipped that you regret, etc.

Other than staying longer (which was not a possibility), I would not have changed anything.

 

Thank you so much. I really did read more than a year's worth of posts on the now closed thread and appreciate so much people's time sharing all the great information. :)

 

 

As an aside, this will be our first River Cruise!

It was our first river cruise as well. I'd been getting the VRC brochures for years and had my eye on it but the clincher was talking to my brother the day after he got home from his trip in 2008. After listening to him tell about his trip, it was just a matter of choosing a date!

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Peregrina's post above helpfully flags one of the actual differences in the itineraries that is dependent on whether you start in Beijing or Shanghai. As she notes, only the trip that starts in Shanghai visits the zoo in Chongqing to see the pandas. (This is NOT the famous panda preserve in China, it is a zoo.) [in prior years, some folks who started in Beijing reported that they arrived in Chongqing so early they were taken to the zoo also, but this is not on the itinerary if you start in Beijing and should not be counted on.]

 

The trip that starts in Beijing, on the other hand, includes not only an outside tour of an ancient hutong neighborhood, but also has you spending a portion of that morning visiting a hutong family inside their home and learning about their life. This was one of the highlights of the trip for us.

 

If you want to see pandas in China and still start in Beijing, you can go to the Beijing zoo, as did some of the folks on our trip. (Some arrived early, some did it on the Viking arrival day, which is actually a free day -- no touring with Viking.) For us, having seen the pandas in the National Zoo in D.C., seeing pandas in a Chinese zoo was not a priority over the many other things that can only be done or seen in China. Again, I am giving only our own personal, subjective thinking here of course (and I realize that lots of Americans have never seen pandas).

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Yes, our guide In Beijing was Sunflower Lee (Lee Lei, aptly nicknamed "Sunflower"). I found her via reviews on Trip Advisor, and we thought she was great. (Her brother is a guide in Shanghai, btw.) Here's her email:

 

sunflower9811 AT hotmail.com

 

Thanks! I've filed it for future reference!:)

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Also, you are welcome to read my travel journal. The link is below in my signature.[/b][/color]

 

S to B includes a visit to the pandas, which was a good thing because that is what DH wanted to see.

 

We also did the longer Cultural Delights itinerary, which we loved. The extra stops were fascinating and were one of the reasons that we did not feel it necessary to add extra days in Shanghai or Beijing. [/color][/b]

 

Next time I would consider adding a day or two just to get over the jetlag. Seems the older I get, the less able I am to deal with it.

 

It was our first river cruise as well. I'd been getting the VRC brochures for years and had my eye on it but the clincher was talking to my brother the day after he got home from his trip in 2008. After listening to him tell about his trip, it was just a matter of choosing a date!

 

Thank you, I've looked at your photoblog and shutterfly pictures, your blog is saved with a bookmark for weekend reading. I can't wait!

 

The pandas aren't as exciting for us, we've been to the National Zoo often enough to see them and I'm afraid that the "living conditions" of all the animals in a Chinese zoo will leave me with nightmares.:o

 

We are going to do the Cultural Delights too, which from everyone's posts seem to be physically demanding. It would be nice to have recovered from jet lag, but frankly I'm more worried about arriving late for the tour. We missed the first day of a cruise once due to "mechanical" issues with a flight, so we never fly on cruise day anymore.

 

I understand what you must have felt after hearing about your brother's adventure, it's how I feel after reading hundreds of posts without one negative! On CC that's a real testament!

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The pandas aren't as exciting for us, we've been to the National Zoo often enough to see them and I'm afraid that the "living conditions" of all the animals in a Chinese zoo will leave me with nightmares.:o

 

No, the habitats were beautiful and all the animals we saw were well taken care of. I've seen worse in some of Boston's local zoos. I've seen pandas before but there was something special about seeing them IN CHINA.

We are going to do the Cultural Delights too, which from everyone's posts seem to be physically demanding.

 

I disagree with that assessment of Cultural Delights. It is longer but not more physically demanding--unless you can't walk very far (in which case, you should reconsider taking this cruise). The added tours are half day tours, except for the trip to the Porcelain History Center.

 

On the other hand, I would say that the Roof the World itinerary is physically demanding because of the very high altitudes in Tibet.

 

It would be nice to have recovered from jet lag, but frankly I'm more worried about arriving late for the tour. We missed the first day of a cruise once due to "mechanical" issues with a flight, so we never fly on cruise day anymore.

 

Our flight was late leaving Chicago. We were waiting for some passengers from connecting flights. We stayed overnight in Chicago because that is exactly what we were afraid would happen to us. The good thing about arriving late in Shanghai is that all you would miss is a day our touring in the city, which is interesting but not the same as missing the Great Wall or the Forbidden City.

 

I understand what you must have felt after hearing about your brother's adventure, it's how I feel after reading hundreds of posts without one negative! On CC that's a real testament!

 

Actually, I saw one negative on the VRC's Facebook page, but that was from someone who was expected a river cruise to be just like a Caribbean cruise with a casino and Broadway production numbers. IMHO, I think that expectations are different on a trip to China than say a river cruise in Europe and that travelers are willing to gloss over negatives that in other situations they would be screaming about.

 

One thing about the Viking team in China is that they really care about and care for their guests. The guides are all very well trained and have chosen this as their profession; it is not a summer job or a part-time gig for them.

 

BTW, have you found Viking's Facebook page. It is almost worth joining FB just to read what has been posted there.

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No, the habitats were beautiful and all the animals we saw were well taken care of. I've seen worse in some of Boston's local zoos. I've seen pandas before but there was something special about seeing them IN CHINA.

 

 

I agree.

 

In addition, when we have seen Pandas in US Zoos, they have basically been sleeping and were not active.

 

On the Viking tour, our guide "bribed" the keeper to bring the Pandas out and feed them. It was a highlight of the day.

1722141047_006100_475708_08.10Three-yearoldGiantPanda.jpg.2c722d80a550763560abc3963d316cd3.jpg

1897171665_007100_476008_08.10Three-yearoldGiantPanda.jpg.861bd44ccf67dd0b0dcf30b82f672443.jpg

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.

 

In addition, when we have seen Pandas in US Zoos, they have basically been sleeping and were not active.

 

 

Sorry for your bad luck ...

 

And I'm sorry this isn't a video (and that I'm in my office w/o access to more of my pics), or you would have seen romping pandas at the National Zoo in DC:

 

D7000testpics092.jpg

 

 

(photo by turtles06)

Edited by Turtles06

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Sorry for your bad luck ...

 

And I'm sorry this isn't a video (and that I'm in my office w/o access to more of my pics), or you would have seen romping pandas at the National Zoo in DC:

 

D7000testpics092.jpg

 

 

(photo by turtles06)

 

Yes, this is what we've seen at the National Zoo in DC. Very active pandas, over many years, they seem to have adapted well. But I'm sure it's amazing seeing them in their home country.

 

I'm glad to know that the trip is not as physically grueling as I gathered from the thread, but we are in good physical shape, so maybe we don't need days to acclimate.

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I'm glad to know that the trip is not as physically grueling as I gathered from the thread, but we are in good physical shape, so maybe we don't need days to acclimate.

 

Do keep in mind, though, that jet lag is still jet lag, and it's real. You'll be going halfway around the world, literally. As I noted, we flew to Beijing in business class, so short of first class, we were about as comfortable as could be. It was not a difficult trip over, but it was a very long one, and when we checked into our hotel at about 4pm or so local time, it was of course 4am body time. After we unpacked, we walked over to Tiananmen Square to watch the evening flag lowering ceremony, took the subway back, had dinner, went to sleep, spent the next morning and early afternoon touring with our private guide, and by about 2pm or so, we had pretty much hit the wall. Could not do more without a nap. We were good to go after that, and spent the next day climbing the Wall at Mutianyu.

 

I recommend giving yourself a little time to get over the inevitable jet lag. You'll enjoy things that much more! :)

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We leave tomorrow to fly to San Francisco and then fly to Shanghai on Saturday. From what I can tell, now is a good time to go to China weather-wise and crowd-wise. It is supposed to be about 70-75 degrees F. in Shanghai, and about 5 degrees lower elsewhere. Crowds are supposed to be less, too.

 

We chose Shanghai to Beijing so that the most strenuous, packed days would be at the end of the trip, when we had hopefully recovered a bit from jetlag. However, we really only have one day in Shanghai, so that may disappoint some folks. I am really wishing now that we had added a day or two before the trip, as I know the jetlag will kill me. I can't even fly from the east coast to the west coast without waking up at 3AM for several days, so I know I will be in a fog in China. Well, I may be in a pollution fog, too, I guess...but hopefully that's a little better in early October than it would be in August!

 

Turtles, that's a wonderful picture of one of the National Zoo pandas. I have a nice one of Tai Shan (or however you spell it), but that's about it.

Edited by roothy123

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We leave tomorrow to fly to San Francisco and then fly to Shanghai on Saturday. From what I can tell, now is a good time to go to China weather-wise and crowd-wise. It is supposed to be about 70-75 degrees F. in Shanghai, and about 5 degrees lower elsewhere. Crowds are supposed to be less, too.

 

We chose Shanghai to Beijing so that the most strenuous, packed days would be at the end of the trip, when we had hopefully recovered a bit from jetlag. However, we really only have one day in Shanghai, so that may disappoint some folks. I am really wishing now that we had added a day or two before the trip, as I know the jetlag will kill me. I can't even fly from the east coast to the west coast without waking up at 3AM for several days, so I know I will be in a fog in China. Well, I may be in a pollution fog, too, I guess...but hopefully that's a little better in early October than it would be in August!

 

Turtles, that's a wonderful picture of one of the National Zoo pandas. I have a nice one of Tai Shan (or however you spell it), but that's about it.

Have a fabulous trip. By the time you return we'll be starting to organize the packing. I'm looking forward to your comments and what you have to say about visiting in the cooler weather.

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We leave tomorrow to fly to San Francisco and then fly to Shanghai on Saturday. From what I can tell, now is a good time to go to China weather-wise and crowd-wise. It is supposed to be about 70-75 degrees F. in Shanghai, and about 5 degrees lower elsewhere. Crowds are supposed to be less, too.

 

Have a great trip, can't wait to read about it! Thanks for the helpful info :)

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Thanks, everyone! I'm about to go stuff everything in the bags and do a To Do list check. We leave around 2 for the airport, although we will "only" be flying to San Francisco from DC today. I'm now pondering how my husband and I are going to handle the meds timing issue. I only take one, plus an allergy med, and the timing isn't that critical. However, my husband has AM and PM pills. We are on the east coast, so China is 12 hours later than us. He thinks it might be best to phase in the switch, but I'm thinking maybe do the switch over 3 days at the most. I think there are one or two pills that are really morning pills or night time pills, so it's a little complicated. Can anyone suggest how to handle the time difference? I know our bodies will be totally messed up (and wish we were flying in early) but we'll try to manage. We get into Shanghai late afternoon, so I figured even if we're not sleepy then, we'll just take sleeping pills around 9 or 10 pm so we can hopefully start out the day in Shanghai with half a brain!

 

Also, in Xian, did you guys have access to your checked bag, or did Viking just hold on to those for the night? We are planning on putting everything we need for the overnight in the carry-on bag (11 pounds) for the Xian flight, but just curious how the baggage there worked - at least for you guys!

 

Thanks.

Edited by roothy123

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Also, in Xian, did you guys have access to your checked bag, or did Viking just hold on to those for the night? We are planning on putting everything we need for the overnight in the carry-on bag (11 pounds) for the Xian flight, but just curious how the baggage there worked - at least for you guys!

 

Thanks.

 

Yes we did. In every city, your checked bags are delivered to your hotel room; Viking does not "hold" them. (As you know, we were traveling B to S.) We didn't get to our hotel in Xi'an that early, though, and our bags still hadn't come up when we needed to get ready to leave for dinner. I had to go down to the lobby, where I found an entire cart stacked with Viking luggage, and got the hotel guys to bring them up to people's rooms. (We never put valuables or medicines in our checked bags, and I'm sure you don't either.)

 

The one time we wished we'd brought a change of clothes in our carry on was the day we flew from Xi'an to Chongqing to get on the Emerald. We did not board till right before dinner, we'd been on the go all day, it was really hot out, we were sweated out through and through, and to say that we could have used a shower and a change of clothes before dinner was an understatement. The checked bags did not show up at our cabins for several hours after we boarded. On the whole trip, this was pretty much one of the only things Viking could have done better --- given us a better handle on the schedule and told us we shouldn't expect to have access to our luggage before dinner. (The printed materials give you quite the opposite expectation -- relaxing on board after your arrival, etc.)

 

I'm not complaining -- it was an extraordinary trip! :)

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Yes we did. In every city, your checked bags are delivered to your hotel room; Viking does not "hold" them. (As you know, we were traveling B to S.) We didn't get to our hotel in Xi'an that early, though, and our bags still hadn't come up when we needed to get ready to leave for dinner.

 

We did S to B and the evening we arrived in Xi'an we went directly to dinner (and the show) and did not get to the hotel & our luggage until after dinner.

 

Of course, whether this happens depends on what time your flight to Xi'an is.

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Yes we did. In every city, your checked bags are delivered to your hotel room; Viking does not "hold" them. (As you know, we were traveling B to S.) We didn't get to our hotel in Xi'an that early, though, and our bags still hadn't come up when we needed to get ready to leave for dinner. I had to go down to the lobby, where I found an entire cart stacked with Viking luggage, and got the hotel guys to bring them up to people's rooms. (We never put valuables or medicines in our checked bags, and I'm sure you don't either.)

 

The one time we wished we'd brought a change of clothes in our carry on was the day we flew from Xi'an to Chongqing to get on the Emerald. We did not board till right before dinner, we'd been on the go all day, it was really hot out, we were sweated out through and through, and to say that we could have used a shower and a change of clothes before dinner was an understatement. The checked bags did not show up at our cabins for several hours after we boarded. On the whole trip, this was pretty much one of the only things Viking could have done better --- given us a better handle on the schedule and told us we shouldn't expect to have access to our luggage before dinner. (The printed materials give you quite the opposite expectation -- relaxing on board after your arrival, etc.)

 

I'm not complaining -- it was an extraordinary trip! :)

 

Dear Turtles06,

 

 

We are pleased to hear that you found your trip to China to be ‘extraordinary’! We truly value the feedback you have shared here. If you have additional feedback you would like to discuss with us directly, please feel free to contact us at TellUs@vikingrivercruises.com. Thank you, sincerely, for being such an active and informative member of the Cruise Critic community. Your comments and input have been greatly appreciated by your fellow travelers and the Viking family!

 

 

Best,

 

 

Viking River Cruises

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BlueDevil75 -- Thanks for the great trip report. We are booked on the same trip starting 3/27/12, Shanghai to Bejing. Given your report, I plan to bring my laptop to access internet in the hotels and in bar areas of ship -- hope I have same luck you did. Thanks for the heads-up on tipping. Sounds kind of steep to me, but suppose its expected like on the larger ships. Just wondering if you found some really good deals on particular souvenirs that we should watch out for? Thanks agin for all the info....

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Just wondering if you found some really good deals on particular souvenirs that we should watch out for?

 

You can't beat the "waving Mao" watch. A few bucks on the streets in Beijing. Won't keep time well, but wind it up, and Mao will wave at you. Bargaining for these became a little running joke among some of us on our trip....:)

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