I had taken a number of river cruises in Europe and I was familiar with the name Viking from the number of times I saw it on the jetties we passed.
One trip Viking advertised was the Imperial Jewels of China. This seemed to encompass all the places I wanted to see in China and included a five day cruise on the Yangtze river so my wife and I decided to go for it.
Booking was one of the most painful experiences of my life and I am sure I aged ten years during it. My phone is one of those which registers the duration of the call so I can say with certainty that the whole sorry episode took 40 minutes and 31 seconds.
After this we were expecting the worst. Instead, we got the best. Organisation from collecting our baggage at Shanghai airport to finally checking it in at Beijing was just superb. There were three internal flights in China and in every case our luggage was taken care of from one hotel room to the next. All you had to do was park it outside your hotel room door at the appointed time and in due course it appeared in the next room or your cabin. All the places we visited and the trips out were first class and the hotels were the best available, and in China that probably means the best available world wide. Performances at all the shows were viewed from the best seats and of the very highest quality; indeed, if I hadn't seen them I would have said that some of the activities of the artistes were physically impossible.
The ship was good as was the food, though possibly not up to Saga standards or quantity. Eating out was a bit of a lottery as the Chinese seem to love "poisoning" their food with spices. In most cases tables were equipped with Lazy Susan rotating tables so the rule was to sample a very small quantity before taking a full helping. Incidentally I set a trend with the Lazy Susans by using them as a rotating camera stand and videoing everyone on my table. The guests, particularly the Americans (of which there were plenty of nice ones) seemed particularly taken with that idea.
Such was the clout of the Viking organisation that when we visited the zoo they persuaded one of the keepers to entice the panda out of his home to take lunch right in front of us. Other attractions not already mentioned included the Terracotta Warriors, The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. Time allowed was adequate without being overlong. One particularly good feature on all the trips was the use of Vox Walkie Talkies. You did the walking and the listening and the guides did the talking, so you received an informative commentary even if you were a hundred metres from the guide. We were even given a set of spare batteries each for them to make sure we missed nothing.
We have already booked our next Viking cruise. I'm sure it will be good. It is difficult to see that it can be any better.
One slight downside; all this pampering comes at a price, and the "suggested" tipping level was the highest I have ever encountered. You tip everyone, not just your guide. There are also the individual guides for all the trips plus the drivers of the coaches and, of course, everyone on the ship. That does add several hundred pounds to your budget so be prepared for it.
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