Yangtze River Cruise and China Tour with Gate 1 - Full Review with Photos

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#1
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010


Hello! My husband and I just completed an 11-day tour of China with a 4-day upstream Yangtze River cruise. It was interesting, funny, eye-opening and an amazing visit to China. We left our home December 1st and returned home December 14th. This review will include all information on our land tour and Yangtze River cruise with daily information and photos. We booked this tour through Gate 1 Travel and they use Victoria Cruises. Our river cruise ship was the Victoria Sophia. I will be as specific as possible about all aspects of our tour with Gate 1 and our Yangtze River cruise. I am posting this because there is very little information about Gate 1 in China available and there was almost no information available about Victoria Cruises prior to us taking this trip so I hope this review is helpful to someone else in the future. Both Gate 1 and Victoria Cruises were unknown to us prior to taking this trip and we had never visited China.

Itinerary:
Dec 2nd - We flew to Los Angeles from our home.
Dec 3rd - Flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing, China (PEK) on Air China
Dec 4th - Arrived in Beijing, China
Dec 5th - Beijing
Dec 6th - Beijing
Dec 7th - Flight from Beijing to YiChang for River Cruise Embarkation
Dec 8th - Upstream cruising with port stop at Sandouping
Dec 9th - Upstream cruising with port stop at Shennongxi
Dec 10th - Upstream cruising with port stop at Fengdu
Dec 10th - Debarkation & tour in Chongquing and flight to Shanghai
Dec 11th - Shanghai
Dec 12th - Shangha
Dec 13th - Shanghai and flights from Shanghai to Beijing to finally, LAX - this day was a 37 hour day for us
Dec 14th - We flew from Los Angeles to home

It may take me a while to get this review posted because I am having some problems with my laptop since returning from China and some major jet lag where I cannot stay awake during the day but I will try to get it posted semi-quickly. I don't know how many people will be interested in Gate 1 or Victoria Cruises so we'll see how this goes. Feel free to ask any questions.

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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#2
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
We flew from our home to Los Angeles the day before the actual tour began. We chose Gate 1’s air-inclusive option from Los Angeles to Beijing and back. You can also choose the air-inclusive option from New York to Beijing and back for an additional $300. We spent the pre-tour night at the Hilton LAX (and the post-tour night). We love this hotel and have stayed here before. Prices range each time we have stayed. This time around we paid a AAA rate of $120 and a state government employee rate of $179 – rates are a hit or miss there but sometimes Expedia has rooms for $99/night. We love this hotel because the airport shuttle runs frequently, the hotel is beautiful, there is a decent (but expensive) restaurant in the lobby, there is a deli/mini-Starbucks on the other side of the lobby, and there is a Carl’s Jr. next door – a safe, easy walk in three minutes that many people were making with us when we went there for sodas. The main reason we like this hotel is for their third floor smoking rooms which have sliding glass doors that open-up to an outdoor smoking plaza with tables, chairs & ashtrays. This works wonderfully for us because my husband is a smoker and I am not so I don’t like him to smoke in the hotel room. We usually sit outside and eat our evening meal there, too.


The morning of our tour our flights with Air China were scheduled to leave from LAX to PEK (Beijing, China) at 11:50am. We were given a flight confirmation number from Gate 1 to use at the check-in counter. We arrived at Terminal 2 for Air China around 8:15am worried we may be too early but we were nowhere near the first people already checking-in. Even though we did not know it at the time, there were two other couples on our tour already in line when we got there. There was also a long line of other individuals. The main thing I don’t like about Gate 1 is how they handle their air – it is blocked air with Air China and regardless of what anyone tells you or when you pay your trip in full, you can never select your seat assignments ahead with Gate 1 or by calling Air China. Getting in line early paid-off very well for us and we were able to get great seats for the flight. Air China has a 3-3-3 configuration in economy however they have 3 rows of 2-3-2 and we were able to secure one of those rows so my husband had an aisle and I had a window seat – this gave us much more room and our flights were very comfortable. We were able to get these same seats on the return flight home. We got very lucky. In all the time I’ve ever flown internationally, the 13 hour flight to Beijing and the 12 hour flight returning to the U.S. were my two most comfortable flights EVER. Strange and wonderful how that worked-out.

Air China’s record for being on-time is bad however, during this entire tour, they began boarding early for every flight and we had five total flights with Air China during this trip. I would say they did excellent overall. Seatback entertainment options were good and I was impressed. They had at least 20-30 movies in multiple categories – drama, romance, comedy, action, etc. They had numerous full music albums you could listen too – country, rock, pop, classical, oldies, etc. They had games, the 3-D route maps, etc. My husband got fascinated with one of the games they offer and spent most of the long flight trying to beat it and didn’t turn-on his Kindle one time which is out of character for him. Also, many people did not realize they had a little symbol sorta like a postscript at the end of each row of options and when you pushed that symbol, you were given many more options. I watched Maleficent today and it was good.

About two hours into today’s flight they came around and offered drinks and then came back around about 15 minutes later and offered you a meal choice of chicken with rice or beef with rice. I chose the beef with rice option and it was good – the only real beef we had the entire tour. All other “beef” options given to you throughout China will actually be goat or something else – no cow, btw.


About two or three hours prior to landing they offered a second meal – you could have pork noodle or fried rice. They did not mention the fried rice was actually shrimp fried rice – full of small shrimp. Either way, you were full with two meals on this long flight.

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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#3
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Our flight arrived a few minutes early into Beijing and then we were directed through immigration which was a slow, long wait. We then took a train to our luggage, we were waived through security (no check for us), and as we were leaving the airport we saw a red and yellow Gate 1 flag waiving. We soon learned there were 17 individuals on our flight for this tour. Later in the evening, the New York flight arrived with 11 more for a group total of 28 people.

We were all taken to a small van where we left our checked luggage and then loaded on a nice bus with our carry-ons and we were given a small debriefing from our Tour Guide for the entire trip – Jason Liu. Jason, by the way, was absolutely wonderful. I could not imagine another person doing as well as he did for us during this entire trip. Everything on this trip went smoothly and I attribue that to him. Jason was personable, calm, understanding, and spoke very good English. He was born and raised in Beijing and has a degree in English Literature and has been a tour guide for various organizations for about 10 years. He is a gem.

Here is a picture of Jason:


We were soon on our way to our hotel in Beijing which took at least an hour because Beijing traffic is always congested. Our first three nights in Beijing were at the Xizhao Temple Hotel formerly known as the King Temple Hotel. This hotel was wonderful. I felt at home here. This hotel is a former temple that is now a hotel, conference center, and a small area still reserved for the monks whom you will see at breakfast or throughout your stay at the hotel. There is a peaceful feeling in this hotel.

View of our hotel from the side road:


The hotel room was big, had two seating chairs, a great view of the side streets/restaurants surrounding our hotel, was quiet, had plenty of English TV stations, easy and free wi-fi and great bathroom with amenities - everything was western-style.

Check-in was super quick and easy. Each person or couple had to give the front desk attendants their passports which they quickly copied and returned to you and then handed you your room keys. I find it interesting to note that throughout the tour we were never asked for a cash or credit card deposit at any time. Very nice handling by Gate 1 in my opinion.

We were on our own for dinner tonight and had been told if we walk out the front of our hotel and turn left there would be plenty of restaurants and even though this was true we learned the next day... well....it was dark, it was probably close to 7pm or 8pm by the time we got to our room, and we were tired and in a country we knew nothing about. We had ate one good meal and half of another meal on the plane, also. We skipped dinner tonight. We had packed lots of snacks in our suitcases and they came in handy this trip. We had beef jerky, peanut butter & cheese crackers, and my husband even had some small chef-boyardee cups of pasta.

Water in our room was free and plus tour guide had already given us a bottle each on the bus prior to leaving the airport - we had plenty to drink and to brush our teeth. We were good for the night...
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#4
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010


Today was a wonderful day! We woke-up around 5:30am and we were starving from skipping dinner last night. The hotel offers a "western-style mixed with eastern-style" buffet breakfast every morning which is included for all of us on the tour. Breakfast began at 7am each day. The selection ranged from dim sum, corn on the cob, and steamed greens to scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, jelly. I had the eggs, bacon & eggs toast - and even though the eggs have a fishy taste - they maybe were cooked in the same grease or skillet as something else - breakfast was good and we were happy.

After breakfast we had a one hour tour meeting in a conference room here in the hotel. Our tour manager, Jason Liu, gave us headsets, debriefing on the overall schedule, discussed tips due various individuals, etc. If you read all your paperwork or read online prior to this trip, nothing was a surprise to you. It was still a very informative talk. It was interesting to meet the other 11 individuals which flew-in from New York last night. They had a harrowing time apparently ~ their Air China flight was delayed 3 hours and then upon debarkation four of them setoff temperature alarms and one was quarantined for over an hour. One funny guy, Mark, said every time they waived the temperature wand at him he would panic a bit and his temperature would rise. The guy that was quarantined was immediately stripped of his passport and three other people were questioned and taken aside for approximately an hour - all Americans from our tour group. It was hilarious to hear the stories but thank goodness nothing like that happened to our group flying-in yesterday. We laughed and laughed at them today. The original group from LA has 17 people that are all our age (early 40s) or younger - much younger. We were surprised. The new group is a large group mainly in their late 60s, early 70s. There are some real characters with us and I can tell this is going to be a fun trip!

Today (and tonight) we went to the Olympic Village. China built this village for the 2008 Olympics - they completely tore-down apartment complexes and etc - by leaving big, white paper notices on the buildings to the residences with their move-out dates - no other notice was given. Each residence was compensated "X" amount of money by the Communist government - no negotations. It was not enough money for them to buy the same style of apartment in the same area or close to town so many had to move farther out of Beijing. This is not something our tour guide reports as the people being upset about, simply as a fact of life. The people in Beijing are very, very proud of the Olympic village which is approximately 15 to 16,000 acres of landscaped, manicured, lawns and amazing buildings all built in <5 years. We saw the famous Birds Nest, the Water Cube where Phelps won 8 gold medals in 2008, the Olympic Village, the five buildings creating the dragon, etc. It was neat but even neater last night around 7pm when we drove back by and saw everything lit-up for night. Awesome

The bird's nest:


We also went to a Jade factory today. The Chinese believe you cannot buy Jade for yourself, it is bad luck. You must have it purchased for you as a gift. There was a sculptor doing work through a glass-enclosed area so you could watch how things are made on-site. We were given a brief talk and then were left to roam and view the large amount of items for sale ranging from $480,000 USD (or or more) to lots of items less than $99 USD if you were interested. I realize this was a "selling" stop but it was beautiful to see everything and take pictures ~ I was even fascinated with their beautiful fish tank. I liked seeing the Jade Factory.

Us at the Jade Factory:



So, we went to the Great Wall of China today! It was awesome! Due to recent winds we had blue skies, no fog, and a cold but sunny day to walk two parts of the wall. We were given approximately two hours to explore The Great Wall. We explored both sides of the wall and liked the left side best. We were not at the "Badaling" section that many tour groups go to but another section which I believe starts with a "J" and due to being at this section, the cold weather, and it being December, the walls were practically empty! This may sound like a cliche but today was my favorite day of the entire trip!! Climbing The Great Wall was sorta steep but easy. Coming down was sooooo scarey ~ especially if you have short legs like me ~ grab the railing and slowly make it down. One girl in our group scooted down on her butt. Another guy in our group determined to get some great pictures crawled up on his hands and feet... and then couldn't get down in time to meet our bus... and we couldn't find him. The group and bus driver left him there and went to a late lunch but the tour guide stayed and waited for him and they took a taxi to our lunch place about 20 minutes later.

The Great Wall is excellent and I cannot say enough how much fun we had while visiting!

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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#5
Austin, TX United States
293 Posts
Joined Aug 2014
So excited to read your review! I am doing this tour in September and have been having a hard time finding info about it.
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Amanda

Carnival (6), Disney (1), NCL (3) Royal Caribbean (4) Victoria Cruises China (1)
#6
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by TXGalAJ
So excited to read your review! I am doing this tour in September and have been having a hard time finding info about it.
So excited someone will benefit from my review! I too had a terrible time finding any information on this tour. You are in for a real treat ~ our trip went smoothly and we had a wonderful time! We would use Gate 1 Travel in the future and are even considering Iceland right now. Feel free to ask any questions at any time. As I get more into the trip I am going to be more detailed about some things I wish I would have known or etc.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#7
Austin, TX United States
293 Posts
Joined Aug 2014
Was the cruise ship nice? The few things I've read about the food on the boats sound like it can be hit or miss. What do you do on the cruise besides enjoy that amazing scenery?
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Amanda

Carnival (6), Disney (1), NCL (3) Royal Caribbean (4) Victoria Cruises China (1)
#8
Chicago, via NJ, via Miami, via London, via Northern Ireland
5,762 Posts
Joined Nov 2009
Your review is off to a great start! Can't wait to read more.

Norris
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#9
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Beijing continued...

A young couple from Atlanta in our group walked up the great wall - higher than we did - and he gave his video camera to another group member (secretly) - and he proposed today!! She said yes!! It was so sweet! He said he had the ring in his carry-on bag all day yesterday on our plane, sweating bullets. We all toasted them at dinner and our tour guide played them a love song on the bus. HA It was pretty amazing and really sweet. They both seem real nice and she is just lovely, too!

After the amazing time at The Great Wall we were bused to a restaurant where we all sat at spinny tables and ate. They asked everyone if they wanted beer, Coke or Sprite. The beer was warm today. There is hot tea available at all meals. You have lots of dishes around you ~ a tea cup, soup dish, chopsticks, beer cup, a small saucer for your food, and even a fork for us Americans. They bring out dish after dish and place on the spinny table and everyone moves the table around and takes a little of what they might like. I was able to eat some sticky rice (plain white rice) with a bit of Soy Sauce (very strong over here), some sweet-and-sour like Chicken, and that is all I liked today. I tasted a tiny bit of this and that. My husband ate everything. Cleaned his plate and tried every dish. The man is a garbage disposal.



After lunch we took about a 45 minute walk through the sacred gardens. This was peaceful and at times a bit humorous with all of us taking pictures in front of the marble "guardians" ~ carved animals that protect the gardens and the former emperors. We then went to the Ming Tombs. This was an interesting site where a former emperor is buried. Emperors are buried with Jade, silks, their cocubines are poisoned and buried near them, etc. The burial grounds are elaborate and what they contain is mindboggling. This specific emperors' tomb is actually completely encased in marble - the floors of the site were marble but they were getting so damaged by tourists they recently covered most of the marble with laminate flooring to protect the marble. This site was interesting and we learned many Chinese superstition lessons today. Which reminds me, that is one of the great things about our tour guide, Jason Liu, he is constantly telling you stories. I learned lots of interesting information on this trip.



It was 5:30pm before we left our last site. It was freezing cold today - literally - and we were sooooo cold - even on the bus. I was wearing a turtleneck, gloves, scarf and my warm gloves but could not get warm. Beijing is a very dry cold ~ very, very dry. It is hard to explain. We have been told to wear two sets of pants tomorrow because tomorrow we will be outside almost all day.

For dinner tonight, we had an experience ~ a Peking Duck dinner at a fine restaurant in China. There were nine of us that had paid and signed-up for this optional excursion on the tour. It was so much fun! I would HIGHLY recommend this if you think you might like duck at all. We had unlimited wine, beer, and "firewater" which we all said "Gom-bay" before drinking more and more ~ maybe that is why it was so fun? I am not a fan of duck but my husband is and he had wanted to sign-up for this meal. They treated us like royalty in a special area of the restaurant. Tonight we had another array of utensils and platters and even a warm wet cloth at our seat to wash our hands before eating. All very different but very interesting. I did try the duck pancake and the regular duck. It was okay. My husband and most others loved everything. They also had roasted pork (okay), garlic bamboo shoots, ham fried rice, some sort of slimey-seeming beef, sweet and sour tilapia with the head on, soup, apple fried dumplings, custard, and watermelon. I ate a tiny bit of this or that. The apple dumpling was good, the custard pie was okay, the watermelon was perfect. Ha The atmosphere at dinner tonight was fun and joyful! Drinks were unlimited - including the alcohol - and everyone really started talking and we got to know each other well tonight. Even though I do not like duck, I am very glad we paid for this optional dinner.

The sweet & sour tilapia (which everyone liked):


A quick picture of our very nice tour bus:


To end this day, we got back to our hotel room around 9pm. We walked to a neighborhood store and bought extra water as we seem to be always thirsty and forget to get extra water from our tour guide. Water is very cheap here - we paid 2 Yuan per bottle tonight.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#10
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by TXGalAJ
Was the cruise ship nice? The few things I've read about the food on the boats sound like it can be hit or miss. What do you do on the cruise besides enjoy that amazing scenery?
Surprisingly to me.. the cruise ship was nice! I was impressed. I think I had really low expectations of the ship.

The food is a hit or miss on the boat but I am going to write IN DETAIL why you should DEFINITELY pay to upgrade to a Cabin B or Cabin A from the standard Cabin C - but basically, you get to order dinner from a menu every night. Also, for me, the food on the cruise was much better than the food we had in the hotels and at the restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai because it was both options all the time - Western and Eastern - and the Western was done correctly!

There is ALWAYS something to do on the cruise. Gate 1 offers an excursion package but that is the GATE 1 excursions - the cruise offers different excursions every day too plus Gate 1 arranges lots of extras for you that you have no idea about until you are on the tour - frankly, I was blown away by everything they arranged for us - a roundtable discussion with our tour guide about Chinese culture (fascinating), a Mahjong tournament, a talent/game show, morning tea and Tai Chi, etc You will be SHOCKED at everything that is available to you at no cost. The cruise was my favorite part of the trip except for that first day in Beijing touring The Great Wall. As I get further in my review, I will get more specific. I saved the daily "papers" from the cruise and will post those for you, too.

Just so you know, I wasn't really impressed with Gate 1 Travels customer service prior to the trip - it always seemed like the 3 or 4 times I called I got a smart-mouthed kid that called me by my first name and they fibbed to me about the flight seats. But, when it came to the actual tour, I was BLOWN AWAY by how smoothly everything went and how everything was handled by our tour guide who is an employee for Gate 1. So, in the end, we would definitely use them again. I suppose the young kids answering the phones in Pennsylvania are probably just that... young kids.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#11
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Today was the day we had prepaid for additional full day of touring to the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, etc. - 11 hours of touring is what is written on the Gate 1 website. I was most looking forward to Tiananmen Square.

Unfortunately, my husband got a very bad cold and thought he was getting sick after our full day out in the freezing cold weather yesterday. Our tour guide (and others on Cruise Critic boards) had warned to not push yourself and if you need a day off from touring, take it. My husband told me he did not want to take the tour today. He sounded pretty bad and of course I agreed. A couple of other couples also skipped today's tour. Actually, while I'm thinking about it, I will just say there were several couples on our tour who did not sign-up for any of the additional excursions prior to the trip. They either wanted that time to do their own thing or they took taxis to see other things or etc. I was surprised by this. Many people made the decision to purchase the excursions the day before as everyone was given the option the day before to add the additional excursions. The way it worked was our tour guide kept a list of anything you added and at the end of the tour you could pay for all your additional excursions at once with credit card, cash or Yuan. Several people did it this way. I, however, had prepaid for all the excursions ahead of time through the Gate 1 website. The only excursion we did not pay for was the Chinese Acrobatic Show with dinner and this is because we live near Branson and have seen this type of show several times. Needless to say, we did lose our money for this Summer Palace/Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City touring day but that was irrelevant ~ my husband feeling better for the rest of the trip was much more important.

Hotel lobby:


So, we went to breakfast at 7am, told our tour guide we would not be touring today due to my husband not feeling up to it, and we went back to bed after breakfast and slept for another two hours! We then showered, got ready, and walked around our neighborhood in the daylight. This was a real treat for us as we felt more comfortable in the daylight. We also found a large grocery store with extremely cheap prices just a very short walk from the hotel. We bought some Sprite, water, liquor, and candy souvenirs for coworkers. You could get a large tea pot - a beautiful one - for 45 Yuan. We also got 10 chopsticks - not the souvenir kind - the kind we will actually use at home - for 9 Yuan. Later, at a store in Shanghai (surprisingly), we bought a giant bag of 25 good & beautiful useful chopsticks for 10 Yuan. Rare find for expensive Shanghai. We also bought 10 "souvenir" chopsticks in little covers for friends who requested "something" from China for 1 USD during the Hutong tour the next day but I'll move on now...

Chips for sale at the grocery store:


We were on our own for lunch & dinner today since we skipped the tour so so we went to a place across from our hotel that had what looked like KFC - but it turned-out to to be Chinese Fried Chicken, as my husband called it. They advertised a chicken sandwich for 8 Yuan and a big chicken for 13 Yuan. I ordered the sandwich which looked and smelled amazing. My husband also ordered the big chicken which also looked and smelled amazing. We got to our room to eat and it was a letdown. The chicken had been coated in sugar and then fried. It was sweet. The chicken was dark meat and stringy. Probably not even chicken. It was disappointing. It was the closest thing to western food we had since arriving. It's odd because you see or buy things and then you taste them and they are nothing like our food at home. I expected this but I have to say, I didn't like it.

Lunch (across from our hotel - we could see this from our room window):


We walked around the neighborhood for about three hours exploring and taking pictures and then returned to our room before dark. China was still new to us at this point and we weren't entirely on the right time zone or comfortable being out and about at night just yet. This would end by Shanghai and we would be out every night, btw.

I still am sad when I think about missing this touring day but I try to focus on what we DID see instead of on what we missed. I was told they took a group photo today but there were a few people missing. I do regret missing this day also because our tour guide also apparently shared a lot more information about China which he later referred to on several occasions but I was in the dark. Oh Well.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#12
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by Bimmer09
Your review is off to a great start! Can't wait to read more.

Norris
Thank you
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#13
Florida
4,050 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Thank you for posting! You should definitely go back to China for the missed tour. There is so much more to see than your short trip offered.
#14
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010

Today was our final day in Beijing. We signed-up for the optional excursion which was the Hutong Tour with Rickshaw Ride. Again, only about 10 of us signed-up for this tour which again, surprised me. I'm not for sure why anyone would want to miss this opportunity as there was nothing like it again for the remainder of the tour. Jason Liu, our tour guide, and his family lived in a Hutong until the early 90s. He grew-up in a Hutong and was very detailed about the old lifestyle in Hutongs versus today's lifestyle. This tour was very interesting and informative.

We were given a rickety Rickshaw ride down the alleyways and then we walked through several more alleyways stopping along the way for Jason to explain the door decorations, etc at various Hutongs.

This is a sign for double happiness... someone in this Hutong just got married:


We then we did a home visit with a local man who is approved by the government to host visitors. He was a very kind man and he was informative and honest. I genuinely enjoyed our visit to this man's Hutong.

Me with our host:


At the end of our visit we then walked a very short distance and Jason had a surprise for us ~ a visit to a Chinese pharmacy!


This tour was a bit smelly as there are obvious trash and sewer issues but this is something you will find pretty-much throughout China. The information shared and the home-hosted visit along with a visit to the Chinese pharmacy was well worth our time and we both enjoyed this additonal tour.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#15
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010


After our Hutong tour we were taken to our hotel and had approximately one hour before check-out. Check-out consisted of taking the front desk our room key. If anyone incurred any charges, I didn't hear about it.

Our checked luggage was taken by Gate 1 directly to the airport. We never had to worry about our suitcases. Our carry-ons were kept with us on the tour bus today. My husband and I had one regular-size backpack each as our carry-ons for this tour.

After check-out we were taken to a more "hip" restaurant in the newer area of Beijing (so it seemed) and we had a fantastic spicy noodle, spicy chicken, spicy everything lunch! I loved it! It was my favorite spinny table lunch.

We were taken to the airport and by the way, Jason Liu, our tour guide, flew with us and cruised with us and stayed with us the entire tour. Amazing, I thought. He handed us our boarding passes and our luggage tags and all we had to do at the airports was go through security and go to the gate. Talk about smooth. Major kudos to Gate 1 for how easy everything was handled the entire trip.

We had a 5:05pm flight from Beijing to Yichang tonight to embark on our cruise. There was air traffic congestion and we sat on the runway at least 30 minutes watching other planes coming and going before we were allowed to taxi and fly out. A quick note about the three intra-China flights we had on this tour:
- We did not get any say in our seat assignments. It was always me in the middle and my husband by the window or vice versa with a Chinese person in the aisle seat. At least we were always together. If you are flying with someone with the same last name, they will try to keep you two together.
- All three intra-China flights were 2 hrs 25 min or 2 hrs 40 min and they served a meal on all three flights. The meal was like pork noodle or chicken rice but it was a full meal. We never ate this meal on any of the three flights. The first flight we were asleep and did not wake-up to even be offered a meal, the second flight I was sick of Chinese food and was grossed-out by the offerings, and the third flight I just wasn't interested in another rice/chicken type of meal.
- There is NO water available to purchase. They offer you a small glass of water, Coke, Sprite, orange juice, whatever each flight. If you keep an EMPTY water bottle on you and go through security, all of the airports offer free, cold water stations every few feet for you to fill-up your water bottles after security. We all learned this quickly!


We arrived in Yichang and it was dark, obviously. We were bused to the cruise port but could not see anything along the way. I did notice we took two toll roads and it took about 45 minutes. We were shown two other cruise ships docked for the winter but we could barely see them. Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by many staff members lined-up waiting for us and a band playing. We were escorted into the dining room, given a rather long welcome speech (it was 9pm by now) and a slight sales pitch about their excursions, and then soon our tour guide gave us room keys. Our suitcases were already sitting outside our rooms when we got to them.

We were given Cabin 306:


ALL of the rooms on the ship had two twin beds. Someone in our group labeled this "The Platonic Cruise" and we all had a good laugh.

Here is another view of our room:


Do you see that white, square-looking thing up in the top right corner of the room? That is a smoke detector that is connected to the bridge. They receive alerts if anyone is caught smoking in their room and we were told the fee was ~ 650 Yuan if your room was detected. Room 421 was detected one night while we were there, btw.

More to come later...
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#17
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Just to back-up a tiny bit, at check-in we were handed our room keys from our tour guide and the cashier/controller came to a table and we all individually gave him the one-time tipping fee for the cruise before going to our rooms - 150 Yuan per person or approximately 25 USD per person. You could pay with Yuan, USD, or credit card. This was between you and Victoria Cruises and was not handled by Gate 1 Travel. This is the only place in China I used my credit card and the total charged to me was 150 Yuan for 2 people and my account shows 47 USD withdrawn.

As a tip: I used my Paypal card which is connected to my checking account and incurred NO fees for using my Paypal card in China. I had called them ahead of time and setup my international dates online under settings prior to leaving so they would approve any transactions.

So, now about the rooms. I think this is very important if you are taking this cruise with Victoria Cruises. If you are familiar with Gate 1 Travel in China then you know you are automatically given a Cabin C - which is Deck 2. For $60 more per person - TOTAL - you can upgrade to Cabin B - which should be Deck 3 or 4 or for $100 more person you can upgrade to Cabin A - which should be Deck 4 or 5.
The ship only has 5 decks.
Deck 1 is crew.
Deck 2 and 3 is passenger cabins. Deck 2 also has the main large dining room.
Deck 4 is passenger cabins.
Deck 5 is a small amount of passenger cabins, the main/big club and bar area on one end plus a massage room, extra bathrooms, Mahjong Rooms and a smaller, executive dining room on the other end.

The Gate 1 Travel website tonight says: "Please note, all decks on your Victoria Cruise ship have similar standard rooms. Plan B Promenade Deck and Plan A Bridge Deck cabins feature an additional onboard amenity package. Please visit the Victoria Cruise ship profiles for further details."

We did not know what the amenity package was but I am fairly certain I had researched it on Victoria Cruises website prior to leaving and it said a fruit basket and a higher deck cabin. Nothing else was mentioned on their website that I remember. My in-laws cruised the Yangtze River a few years back and told us the river was terribly smelly and we should get the highest cabin possible. (By the way, this was not true - the river never smelled for us). We paid $60 extra per person at the time of booking and upgraded to Cabin B thinking we would be on a higher deck. This is the ONLY reason we paid for the upgrade - to get away from the supposedly smelly river. No biggie.

What we actually got was well worth the 60 USD - we got four pieces of laundry done each day for free (anything), we got free Internet for the entire cruise, we got a free happy hour three days (white wine, red wine and beer only), we got free drinks (sodas, wine, etc) at lunch and dinner, and we were able to eat in the executive dining room for all our meals and dinner was a la carte - you ordered dinner every morning from a list given to you at breakfast. Laundry was very expensive on the boat so that in itself paid for the 60 USD per person fee for the upgrade, Internet was 150 Yuan for the cruise so that was a savings of approximately 25 USD, free wine, free Diet Cokes with ice, and better food. It was all worth it. In the end, the location of the cabin was inconsequential because the ship is tiny and you are either going to be on Deck 2, 3, 4 or 5 and if you can't walk those four decks up and down, you can't take this trip anyway.

Here is a picture of the Amenity Package paper we were given at check-in:

Here is the fruit basket (we did not each anything from it):


Regardless, only eight people on our tour signed-up for this package which I again find odd. You were given the option to sign-up at check-in for 79 USD per person and some did consider it but passed. This was a bit of a sore spot with me for the cruise only because our Gate 1 tour guide encouraged everyone to eat dinner together on deck 2 together instead of the 8 of us eating in our assigned, smaller dining room on deck 5 - but why in the world would we want to go downstairs and eat Chinese food on a spinny table when we could order chicken cordon bleu and have free sodas and ice in our small dining room?! There was a teeny bit of pressure put on us about this for not being "part of the group" and I did not appreciate that and we did not succumb to this ridiculousness. Who cares where we eat? Silly, really. If we were to take this cruise again, we would again pay for a Cabin B upgrade as we made-up our money with the laundry service and Internet alone. Also, we were given a wide array of food - mainly all western - and our dining room was very small compared to the large dining room and it was much easier to eat there than in the large dining room - we know this because the last night and the last morning we ate in the large dining room in order to accommodate the cruise staff and our waiter (long story, no big deal).

So, it is my recommendation to pay for the Cabin B upgrade. Maybe in the hot summer the river is smelly? Maybe you want free/clean laundry and Internet? Maybe the free wine and sodas all day is appealing? The food upstairs is a bonus. Also, you are only dining with about 30 to 35 people upstairs. The remainder of the ship dines downstairs which would normally be about 185 more people in the large dining room but their buffet setup was just as big as ours. If you like western food, this may also be something you want to consider. This is just my opinion...
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#18
1,858 Posts
Joined Jul 2010
Originally posted by Floridiana
I am amazed that several tours were optional. Do you remember how much you paid for the extras?
This trip to China was the LEAST expensive trip we have ever taken internationally and much less expensive than several of our US trips. Gate 1 charges a flat fee for your air, cruise, rooms, and basic tours. For this 11-day tour with 4-night cruise they offered a cabin upgrade and five additional tours you could sign-up for at the time of booking, anytime prior to the trip leaving, or on the trip. We signed-up for everything offered but one tour and our grand total for this trip was $4,052. The base price of our trip without any upgrades or extra excursions was $3,418. That is total for two people including taxes and fees. You can also get a cash discount if you do not pay by credit card. We paid $634 for two people for all additional tours (but one). Again, several well-traveled couples on our trip did not pay for any additional excursions or only added them at the last minute because they took taxis to do their own thing or they wanted to see the Summer Palace on their own, for example. The entire trip you do not pay for any fees to get into any sites or anything of that sort - Gate 1 handles it all. Some people in our group (like myself) prepaid for most everything. Other people added tours as they felt like doing them (usually the day before) and paid for all their add-ons at the end of the trip.

For the trip we took, we think it was well worth the money as their were many, many extras added that were not on our itinerary and there was no cost to it. Also, once you are on the trip, it seemed like there was nowhere to spend money unless you wanted souvenirs or drinks. We didn't even spend 3,000 Yuan or $500 for this trip from the time we left until the time we returned including tips for drivers and guides! THAT is shocking because for most of our international trips we spend at least a thousand US dollars somehow. We were very pleased with our trip and did not feel like we were put in bad hotels or that any costs had been spared for us at anytime - our hotels were beautiful and our motorcoaches/bus were very nice.
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Our Little Cruise History
*Carnival ~ Fantasy ~ New Orleans ~ Cozumel ~ 2007
*Royal Caribbean ~ Navigator of the Seas ~ Mediterranean (Italy, France & Spain) ~ 2009
*Carnival ~ Spirit ~ B2B 12 nights ~ Vancouver, BC all the way to the Mexican Riviera (Ensenada, Manzanillo, PV, Cabo) ~2011
*Carnival ~ Triumph ~ Galveston ~ Progreso/Cozumel ~ 2012
*Carnival ~ Legend ~ Greek Isles (Italy/Croatia/Greece/Turkey/Spain) ~ 2013
My European Cruise Review: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1850814
*Victoria Cruises ~ Sophia ~ China Yangtze River
(upstream 4 night cruise booked with Gate 1 Travel) ~ December 2014
My China Tour & Yangtze River Cruise Review:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2138698
*Holland America ~ Oosterdam ~ Vancouver, BC ~ Astoria, Oregon/San Francisco, CA ~ 2015
#19
522 Posts
Joined Dec 2008
enjoying your review and wonderful pictures. also have looked at your European trip, excellent. great to travel along with you albeit at home. thanks.
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#20
Florida
4,050 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Thank you for the clarification. I still think you should go back and look at all the sites you missed.

We did a month long trip through China in May with China Focus in a group of 8. Ours had everything included, one of the best trips we have ever taken. We loved the variety of stunning landscape and culture. We will return to China in March, different places. Not with Gate. Their groups are too large for our taste.