Viking’s Yangtze cruise. The name might be ‘Viking’ but don’t anticipate manning the oars of a longboat. Likewise you can safely leave behind your horned helmet and battle axe in favour of a dinner jacket and a dry Martini. The Norse seafarers of the 21st Century are all about luxury.
So, as you’re probably aware, we’re currently a few days in to an 18 day tour with Viking River Cruises, covering the Yangtze River, Shanghai, Lijiang, Chengdu, Xian, and Beijing, what Viking call the ‘Undiscovered China’ tour. In addition to a plethora of articles about the various sights encountered en-route, we thought we’d also provide a few words and photographs concerning the Viking’s Yangtze cruise itself, specifically the hotels, the ship, the food and the service provided.
This is one of them.
The titular ‘cruise’ part of the tour is 5 days of the total 18 days we’ll be spending with Viking, the remainder involving no less than five internal flights to visit some of the more distant hotspots around China.
The river cruise normally begins in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, and sails upstream on the river Yangtze to Chongqing. Sadly in our case the rain gods had seen fit to intervene, and Wuhan was suffering some of the worst flooding seen since the nineties at the time of our trip, and the boat simply couldn’t make it there. A mystery in itself really, how exactly does ‘too much water’ preclude the use of a boat? From what we’ve seen of the flooding so far the vessel really ought to have been able to steam right in to the airport and pick us up on the runway. I assume some problem pertaining to draughts, beams, sextons, poop-decks or other rude sounding nautical paraphernalia discourages the sailing of a cruise ship down a flooded expressway.
We were therefore consigned to a four hour drive in a bus to the city of Jingzhou, which, under usual circumstances would be visited on the second day of sailing.
Our cruise ship was the Century Emerald, apparently the only foreign-operated tourist ship plying it’s trade on the Yangtze today. At over 7000 tons it’s pretty sizeable for a river boat, though if you’re accustomed to oceanic cruises, don’t expect to find swimming pools, casinos or Imax cinemas. The Yangtze’s a big river, but it isn’t THAT big! The ship does however have two bars, a restaurant, a gym, a spa, a clinic, beauty salon, a tailor and a tea shop amongst other things, so it’s hardly Spartan either.
Marie described the ship as being a little ‘Great Gatsby’, the whole colour scheme inside is browns, creams and deep reds, with a liberal scattering of gold and brass fittings. So while you might have a flat-screen TV opposite your bed and a good Wi-Fi signal on your pocket gizmo, there’s quite an ocean-liner-of-yesteryear atmosphere.
Cabins, or ‘staterooms’ (more on this soon) are of a decent size and comfortably furnished. Nothing to set your trousers alight, and certainly not on a par with the almost absurd degree of luxury exhibited at the city hotels that this tour includes, but the sort of setup you’d be more than happy with at a four star hotel, and this, on a river boat, is an impressive achievement.
The cruise’s real highlight (apart from of course, the views of the Yangtze, which we will be covering in another instalment) is the food. It’s epic. Top-notch restaurant quality with every serving. Breakfast is a buffet affair, with both western and Chinese staples in good supply. Lunch and dinner on the other hand are chosen from a set menu, with three courses each and an average of four choices for each course, again always with western and Chinese dishes available.
Some of the meals aboard are also themed, such as the ‘Chinese Banquet’ evening, which entailed restaurant staff dressing in flamboyant traditional garb, and serving up an extensive assortment of meals, snacks and drinks from around the country. Fear not though, if you can’t quite bring yourself to feast upon some of the more exotic local fare (which admittedly did include pig’s ears, chicken feet, and jellyfish, in addition to the familiar Chinese dishes), you’ll be happy to know that sirloin steak & French fries, or some equally western option was also always available.
Oh, and free drinks. I think Viking really underplay this one. Our guide said we’d get a free glass of wine with dinner. To me that sounds like “yes, you’ll get exactly one small glass of our very cheapest house plonk, only with your evening meal, and after which we’ll charge you through the nose for every additional drop”. The pleasing reality is, good quality wine and beer are free with lunch and dinner (probably breakfast too, though not being Oliver Reed, I never thought to order it), and you get as much as you like. Every time your glass approaches empty, a waiter materialises at your elbow and refills it without prompting, usually before you even noticed his presence. Marie and I took to calling this apparition the wine fairy. You don’t see him, nor hear him approach, but you glance away for a split second and your wine glass is full again. All hail the wine fairy.
The Scenery on Viking’s Yangtze Cruise.
We’ll be doing a more in depth article about the Yangtze gorge itself and the stopping points chosen along the route, but in short, It’s stunning. The gorge cuts through jagged and misty limestone ‘karst’ mountains, blanketed in dense green forest and liberally scattered with waterfalls and strange rock formations. Think Jurassic Park.
If I worked for Viking, the onboard entertainment itinerary would consist solely of a single paragraph in the cruise documents booklet, and would read:
‘ You are aboard a luxury cruise ship, sailing through the Yangtze Gorge, one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes in the world. You want entertainment? Look out of the bloody window!!! ‘
Viking however, disagrees. Accordingly, an assortment of optional onboard entertainment events are laid on daily to fill the time in between meals, shore visits, and sleep. These range from early morning Tai Chi classes on the deck, and Chinese cooking demonstrations, through tea ceremonies and educational presentations, all the way to cocktail parties and late night cabarets.
Complaints or Disappointments?
Not really. The only real disappointment for this leg of the journey concerned the weather; heavy rain and flooding caused us to miss the first day’s planned itinerary and travel a portion of the cruise by bus. It also meant that the river, which we are assured is usually an attractive green and blue colour, was instead a murky brown and littered with floating storm detritus. Obviously, something like that is out of Viking’s hands, I don’t think they have a wizard on the staff rota.
As you will know if you’ve read my articles before, no matter how much I enjoy something, I make a point of finding something to complain about. Maybe it’s my Yorkshire heritage. It’s a tricky task with Viking so far; we certainly can’t criticise the accommodation, the food was flawless, the organisation of events was exceeding well thought out, and the crew and staff have been outstanding.
It seems I’ll have to satisfy myself with some linguistic pedantry.
I object to the word “Stateroom”. What’s wrong with the word ‘cabin’? Calling it a ‘stateroom’ raises people’s expectations to unreasonable heights (I’m not alone in this assertion, other passengers expressed similar views). They’re very nice cabins indeed, so call them ‘deluxe cabins’. Call them ‘first-class cabins’ if you insist. Even, as each includes a bathroom, seating area and outdoor veranda, you could go so far as to call them ‘suites’. But unless each of them also features a minimum of two chandeliers, a library, and a tuxedoed chap playing Beethoven on a gilded harp, don’t call them staterooms. It’s silly.
Viking’s Yangtze Cruise In Short.
Overall, we’re very impressed with what we’ve experienced of the Viking cruise thus far. And recognising as I do that we are not especially experienced in the field of luxury cruise holidays and so don’t have much to draw upon for comparison, I also sought out the opinions of a few fellow travellers who do this sort of tour twice a year. All rated it very highly, and many were already browsing Viking’s other tours to plan out next years holiday.
This is just the first few days of the Undiscovered China tour, so there will be many photos and articles to follow.
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We would like to thank Viking River Cruises for providing us a complimentary Viking’s Yangtze cruise and tour. Please note that, as always, all opinions expressed in this review are our own and have not been influenced in any way.