China – Viking River Cruises: Imperial Jewels of China Review - The Majestic Trip of a Lifetime

If you are looking for the trip of a lifetime, go to China. And go with Viking River Cruises.

 

 

China is one of the most extraordinary places on earth and deserves to be seen – the landscapes and cityscapes, architecture and art, culture and history are mindboggling and breathtaking. But China is not a country to venture in on your own and independent travel there is certainly not easy – trust me. I have been to  China numerous times. Frustrations mount and communication is difficult. Even under the best of circumstances (with personal cars and fancy hotels for business meetings), it can be a real struggle. In complete contrast, Viking River Cruises warmly welcomes you into the “Viking family” and invites guests to sit back and relax, allowing participants to truly absorb the unique imperial experience that China offers while all logistics are handled with personal care.

 

 

The professionals behind the incredible “Imperial Jewels of China” itinerary designed it perfectly for discerning travelers to the Orient, creating a majestic and magical experience for everyone lucky enough to book this Viking River Cruise gem of a tour.

 

 

 

This five-star travel experience features highlights on everyone’s bucket list: Beijing’s The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square; Xi’an’s Terra Cotta Warriors; and Shanghai’s modern architecture, embroidered paintings, and stunning silk carpets (yes I bought one). Combined with once-in-a-lifetime excursions such as a tea ceremony inside an ancient bell tower preceded by a rickshaw ride through Beijing’s timeless Hutongs or a private tour of Shanghai’s lotus-filled tranquil Yu Gardens followed by an art-inspired afternoon at the Shanghai Museum! Additional hidden treasures on the agenda include visits to the homes of artisans preserving the dying art of bottle painting, encounters with pandas (time allowing and yes they are the cutest ever), and even listening to the spellbinding ancient bell chimes played at the Wuhan Museum. Worth the trip alone. These are undoubtedly some of the most magnificent treasures China has to offer. And Viking River Cruises holds the key!  To personal, carefully planned memories. Imperial wisdom. Just for you. 

 

 

And then there are the performances! In each location on the Viking River Cruises “Imperial Jewels of China” tour, spectacular shows are offered to guests that reflect the region and culture of the host city. Accompanied by insightful introductions to each of these performances by our Viking guides makes for memorable magic.

 

 

 

One of my absolute favorites is the Peking Opera – with shortened renditions of three tales from the Imperial Capital. Stories of humor and triumph told with musical perfection. And included is a pre-show glimpse of behind-the-scenes preparations featuring the ancient art of face painting. Plus fancy tea poured by an Aladdin-like server dressed in an all gold costume, replete with a genie bottle-type vessel that holds the hot liquid. An imperial tea pot if you will. And yes the water lands perfectly in your cup from feet away. After flying through the air. Magic. And then the show begins.

 

 

 

In Xi’an, the Tang Dynasty extravaganza transforms the theater into a display of beauty with whimsical group numbers backed by delicate video projections elusively conjuring historic transitions of this previous China capital. We are transported through time to a place of wonder and awe.

 

 

Another jaw dropping evening includes the Shanghai acrobats in action with porcelain throwers, aerialists, and enthralling gymnasts at their best. The audience was left literally speechless – with the “catch-our-breath” repeated comment of the evening being, “this is one of the best shows I ever saw in my whole life!”

 

 

 

 

But the highlight of the trip is the cruise itself along the Yangtze River – resplendent with the real jewels of China’s history and nature. That shine. Aboard the Viking Emerald.

 

With six floors of elegance, the Viking Emerald is the perfect size boat for the Yangtze River, allowing the Captain to maneuver up and down the river regardless of water levels and weather conditions. Speaking of…Captain Huang Xin Bin has 34 years of experience on the Yangtze River and has been a Viking Captain for the past decade. His top priority is safety. And he staffs his boat accordingly with the strongest team of 10 boatmen on the bridge, with no less then 3 assistants on duty at all times. He also has personal relationships with the authorities along the river to ensure that open communication and accurate information is disseminated while afloat. Making for a stable, smooth ride along the glorious Yangtze.

 

 

The beautiful river views surround you every moment. Each room boasts a private balcony. And there are even glass elevators so you do not miss a beat while traveling vertically between the floors whilst horizontally floating forward through this Chinese paradise.

 

There are 9 categories of rooms on the ship including 2 luxurious Explorer’s Suites facing the front of the boat with two private balconies and expansive living quarters, 14 Suites with double sized balconies and double sized bathrooms on the 5th floor, 4 Junior Suites near the stairs with special corner configurations, and 6 categories of additional rooms with lovely sitting areas and comfortable beds.

 

 

 

The servicing of the rooms is impeccable with three cleanings daily.  Little gifts are left each evening along with daily newsletters noting the following day’s itinerary. Heaven. And they even have L’Occitane products in the bathrooms.

 

 

 

And did I mention the incredible food? There is a Viking standard that is met on every cruise on every ship in every country and China is no exception. The Executive Chef Danny Tang spares no expense to produce the highest level of cuisine for passengers and is continually updating the menu to reflect trends and preferences. He has been with Viking for 7 years and previously with a top Beijing 5-star hotel for 17 years – he loves his job and it shows. Under him are 3 top chefs and 16 additional chefs on board that each have a Western or Chinese specialty, including 2 pastry chefs that produce the most scrumptious desserts imaginable. All of the chefs on board the Viking Emerald are Chinese but none of the food is sourced locally. Everything is imported to ensure a European standard of control and a high level of hygiene is also implemented. Some examples of where the best of the best comes from – the meats are all from Europe and New Zealand, the cheeses are from France and Germany and most importantly the ice cream is also from New Zealand (my favorite). It is such a treat to relax and enjoy the food on board without any worry of incident!

 

 

 

The kitchen functions as a large-scale restaurant and everything is cooked to order. Once the waiter takes your selection, the kitchen prepares the food items downstairs and sends them upstairs via an elevator shaft to a cooking area on the restaurant level. Fresh. Fast. Delicious.

 

At every meal there are buffet options as well as select menu items to chose from. The special “cruise-ine” (yes I just made up that word and give Viking River Cruises full credit for the inspiration) events are the Captain’s welcome reception and dinner, which is the dress up evening on the boat and when the not-to-be-missed Shangri La beef is served, the Chef’s dinner which features mouthwatering New Zealand lamb chop, and the Farewell Dinner with beef tenderloin and my absolute favorite meal of the trip – the black cod. Gourmet.

 

 

 

The lunches on board the Viking Emerald have a Chinese flair and they make the final farewell lunch super fun with the theme of Chinese Street food - including chicken feet, pig tails, pig ears, and of course noodles galore. You get the picture. Remember that there are always western (beef tenderloin, salmon, and chicken), vegetarian and “normal” Chinese options to choose from too!

 

A special breakfast item worth noting is Chef Danny Tang’s yogurts! They come in over 15 different exotic flavors – my favorites are blueberry and green tea. Note that the dinner sorbets are also homemade. Yum.

 

 

 

This “Nautical Kingdom” is the envy of the Yangtze River. Viking has transformed it into one of the most desirable destinations for its Chinese crew to work, and created a family atmosphere that truly brings out the best in every individual lucky enough to be part of these five-star voyages. Everyone from the musicians to the waiters to the room attendants to bartenders to the kitchen staff to the laundry personnel (special note that the laundry service is incredible and well worth the price tag) – all give 100%.  Even the Viking Emerald team of 3 on-board massage therapists has designed a unique menu of traditional Chinese massage options including its most popular back with oil 45-minute escape (yes I can vouch for it). Once assigned to this ship, the goal is to stay on board.

 

 

The management team is brought in from Europe and is headed by the genuinely charming Hotel Manager Janos Olas (originally from Hungary). A wonderful team leader who runs a tight ship with a big smile. For the past five years (and over a decade with Viking) Janos has been based in China on the Viking Emerald, which he considers his home and the 140 crew members his family and extends this warmth and generosity to all 250 passengers on board. Creating a true camaraderie. And the definition of friendship. And if you are good at math, you can calculate that there is approximately 1 crew member for every 2 passengers – talk about service!

 

 

Let me get to the point – Viking cares. They do. And it shows in every nuance of each daily activity planned and the utmost efforts made by the staff to accommodate guests. There is an underlying sense of respect and appreciation that is indicative of a class unto itself – Viking’s “calligraphy” so to speak. Their very own jade stamp. Like a seal securing memories of magic along the winding river of travel through China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit Viking River Cruises website

 

Look at the Imperial Jewels of China itineraries for 2016

 

Jodi Kaplan’s Film Website

 

Jodi Kaplan’s Booking Dance Website

 

Photos and Feature by Jodi Kaplan - Copyright 2016 by Jodi Kaplan

All Images are copyright 2016 by Jodi Kaplan.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. FOR VIEWING ONLY.

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