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  #1  
Old September 8th, 2011, 04:10 PM
BlueDevil75 BlueDevil75 is offline
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Default Viking China

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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  #2  
Old September 8th, 2011, 11:02 PM
roothy123 roothy123 is offline
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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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  #3  
Old September 13th, 2011, 10:00 AM
BlueDevil75 BlueDevil75 is offline
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Default Emerald Internet

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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  #4  
Old September 13th, 2011, 04:58 PM
roothy123 roothy123 is offline
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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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  #5  
Old September 15th, 2011, 11:46 AM
BlueDevil75 BlueDevil75 is offline
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We were all using AOL and had no problems. Really have no idea about the Google mail.
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Old September 15th, 2011, 11:49 AM
BlueDevil75 BlueDevil75 is offline
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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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Old September 15th, 2011, 05:42 PM
sissy2000 sissy2000 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roothy123 View Post
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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Old September 18th, 2011, 11:46 PM
roothy123 roothy123 is offline
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Thanks. Maybe I'll just use AOL mail for two weeks.
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  #9  
Old September 18th, 2011, 11:48 PM
roothy123 roothy123 is offline
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Default Great Wall Question

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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Old September 27th, 2011, 10:30 AM
BlueDevil75 BlueDevil75 is offline
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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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Old October 5th, 2011, 09:07 AM
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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. 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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  #12  
Old October 5th, 2011, 09:52 AM
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Default Viking China (Part 2)

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,

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  #13  
Old October 5th, 2011, 05:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Help@ View Post
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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Old October 5th, 2011, 06:03 PM
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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!

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!
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Last edited by 5326jan; October 5th, 2011 at 06:06 PM.
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Old October 5th, 2011, 06:27 PM
caribill caribill is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 5326jan View Post
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!

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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Old October 5th, 2011, 07:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by caribill View Post
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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Old October 5th, 2011, 08:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 5326jan View Post
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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Old October 5th, 2011, 08:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Turtles06 View Post
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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Old October 5th, 2011, 09:39 PM
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I guess we will have to monitor this thread!


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Old October 5th, 2011, 09:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 5326jan View Post
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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