In 2014, the Viking Emerald began her cruising season in March, just as China’s winter weather is crawling toward Spring. I was able to join her for the very first cruise of the season that runs through November, on the 5 night downstream segment from Chongqing to Wuhan.
For a backgrounder on the Viking program in China please visit my earlier post here: A Viking in China
For a photo tour of The Yangtze river please visit here: Yangtze River China – Photo Composition
The Viking Emerald, shown here docked in Chongqing March 4, 2014. The first cruise of the 2014 season, and the Yangtze is at low water during Winter, hence the short trek to the ship.
Later on in the day 250 passengers joined the ship from 4pm to settle in before dinner and cast off.
The “standard” cabins, this one number 316, on deck three. I would call them perfectly adequate in size. The only thing they lack was a mini refrigerator, all larger category cabins have one. Viking Emerald is not a luxury ship, but it is comfortable, functional and clean. Internationally it would be described as a deluxe category ship.
Passengers joining the ship on April 4, 2014 had spent time touring Beijing and Xian, before flying to Chongqing to join the Emerald. Depending on the flight they caught, some passengers visited the Chongqing Zoo and the famous Chinese pandas.
With the fully escorted coaches of passengers arriving at different times, waiting time to check-in was minimal.
Highlights on the cruise include visits to the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam project.
Dinner on the first night was a happy time, the Viking Emerald arguably offers the best Western styled food on the Yangtze, with a Viking employed Executive Chef on-board. If you have read any other reviews about other Yangtze river cruise companies, Victoria Cruises in particular, you will have read that the food is universally described as AWFUL. Catering exclusively to a Western market ensures that Viking does not need to offer food suitable for local Chinese and Western guests – this results in a far better food offering on the Viking ship.
After dinner, the guests who generally range in age from mid 40’s into their 70’s, either retired early or finished off the night in one of two lounge/bars, the larger deck 5 lounge, or as pictured here the more intimate deck 6 bar. The deck 6 bar is complimented by a live music duo from the Philippines, Josephine on silky vocals and Armin tickling the ivories.
Most passengers are from North America – USA and Canada. Next there are the Brits from the UK, Scotland and Wales. I’m told Australians also come aboard, although not on this trip.
There were a few adult children cruising with parents, but most were couples, and many couples travelling as friends together. There was always a friendly, cordial and upbeat mood amongst the travellers, many of whom were considered “brave” or “adventurous” by their fellow countrymen to be travelling to China.
As you can see in the photo guests are casually dressed. On the “Captain’s Dinner” evening a hand-full of men wore suits, but it is not expected.
Left in the photo above is Frank, a happy barman who has served drinks to Viking customers for the past couple of years.
Like a drink? Viking have got you covered.
All-inclusive? Well, almost. Here is the dilemma for a company like Viking. Some passengers like to drink, others don’t. The ones who do, want an all-inclusive price, those that don’t feel like they are subsidising the ones who do.
The answer..? Viking includes beer, wine and sodas during meals free of charge, and if you like a cocktail or a better standard of wine, the “Silver Spirits Premium Beverage Package” is for you. For the price of around 12 cocktails the package answers all guests drinking needs. In 2014, the package is priced at 990 RMB, currently about $160 USD or 100 GBP. The package can be easily purchased on board.
What will you see along the way? Firstly you will see many local Chinese going about their business along the river, which is a busy transport route for many goods. You will see many giant bridges, shore side factories and multi level housing and Government buildings. Then Viking will take you to some touristy areas, such as temples, the Three Gorges Dam project, a cruise along the lesser Three Gorges via a smaller boat and a not to be missed, trip to a Viking sponsored school.
Wildlife? Yes there is some, we saw a group of frolicking moneys on the boat tour to the lesser Three Gorges, and I was very luck to see a pair of Yangtze river dolphins.
On one of the evenings after dinner the crew stage a costume show. Bright and colourful with a bit of history thrown in. Remember this is not a Caribbean ocean liner with a few thousand guests, the shows are low key, performed by the housekeeping and dining room staff. Also thankfully there is no casino aboard.
You can if you wish use the onboard massage and beauty salon – massage prices start around $30 and a ladies haircut a very reasonable $22 for example.
A small tea shop, artists shop and even an onboard tailor cater to the needs of the souvenir hunter. One new friend I made on the trip had a beautiful white silk jacket made in two days, which was beautifully crafted, and very inexpensive.
In room TV has 13 channels of international news, sport, movies and bridge cam.
Also in the room is a kettle with tea and coffee, as well as bottles of complimentary water.
Bathroom has daily replenished L’Occitane products.
Passengers enjoy the performance by the school children at the Viking sponsored school, this one in Jingzhou.
Tips? Yes please. Some service staff received tips directly from passengers, while other shared whatever was deposited in the Gratuities envelopes and box on deck 3. While Viking provide a tips GUIDELINE, they do not like some other questionable Yangtze operators automatically bill your account. Tips should be commensurate with the level of service you feel you have received, exactly the way it should be.
CONCLUSION : The Viking Emerald is not the newest, largest or best featured ship on the Yangtze. That prize goes to the Century Legend and Paragon: they are larger, have indoor swimming pools, and guests from several tour operators including Chinese guests.
The Emerald, however is the ONLY ship on the Yangtze with 100% Western passengers – which is heavily reflected in the food, congeniality and mood aboard. The cohesiveness of the group on a longer tour through China is very obvious. Some passengers were making new friends for life on this trip.
Are there some language issues on board, yes, but remember you are travelling through a 3rd world country where English is not widely spoken. Imagine how difficult it is for the staff to understand the different accents that they are bombarded with from New York drawl to Scottish and Aussie crawl. So with a little patience everything works in the end.
Everyone I spoke to thought their tour guides were wonderful, the food and drink aboard were generously proportioned, fresh, tasty and served by hard-working polite staff.
Having been now on a number of Yangtze Cruises, overall for a Western audience, the Viking Emerald is THE top of the tree. The one downside is you can’t just book the cruise component, so it does not suit the independent traveller in China, of which however, there are very few due to the language hurdles.
One thing for sure it’s a trip that you will not forget, and one that very few of your neighbours will ever experience.
Visit Viking’s web site here: Viking River Cruises