New Gem on the Yangtze

The Viking Emerald beats expectations with large rooms and exceptional service By: Kenneth Shapiro
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Viking River Cruise
www.vikingrivercruises.com

The Viking Emerald sails the following itineraries: Roof of the World (Beijing to Shanghai, plus Tibet; 16 days; from $4,650 per person); Imperial Jewels of China (Shanghai to Beijing; 12 days; from $2,642 per person); and China’s Cultural Delights (Beijing to Shanghai; 17 days; from $3,870 per person). 

Before we embarked on the Viking Emerald, I felt compelled to manage the expectations of my traveling companion — my well-traveled, 10-year-old son — with a final warning that cruise cabins are often not as spacious as hotel rooms.

“I thought you said these rooms weren’t as nice,” he said, when we got to our stateroom. “This is awesome.”

Awesome, indeed. The Viking Emerald, which launched earlier this year on China’s Yangtze River, comes with all the latest bells and whistles. When combined with the service from the ship’s European-trained staff, it offers a top-notch choice for travelers on the Yangtze.

Largest Suites on the Yangtze
The 256-guest Emerald features 128 outside staterooms running from 250 square feet to more than 600 square feet (including two Explorer Suites, 14 suites, four junior suites and 108 veranda rooms). All staterooms have a veranda with sliding-glass doors. Viking promotes the ship’s suites as the largest on the Yangtze and, after experiencing one first-hand, I don’t doubt that. Room amenities include hotel-style beds (with optional twin-bed configuration); panoramic windows that open onto a private veranda; premium bath products; air-conditioning; a refrigerator; bottled water, replenished daily; a flat-screen television with premium, English-language programming; and more.

The ship itself features a dining room; two lounges for lectures and presentations during the day (including movies on a big screen) and nightlife in the evening; a small but adequate gym; an Internet room; a game room/library; two retail boutiques; a spa; a beauty salon; and an onboard doctor. Two elevators connect all the floors. The top sun deck is also a great spot for relaxing and taking in the magnificent scenery of the Three Gorges, as well as for practicing morning tai chi.

While the ship was a sure winner with guests, the passengers on our 12-day Imperial Jewels of China cruise-tour raved just as much about the service they received from the crew. The dining room staff, in particular, made guests feel at home at every meal (which featured both Chinese and Western options). My son is a finicky eater but, by the time we disembarked, just about every waiter knew his food preferences.

Breakfast choices included a selection of pastries, cereals, breakfast meats, fresh fruit and cheeses, as well as made-to-order omelets. Lunches featured soups, salads, sandwiches and more. Dinners were more elaborate, multi-course affairs, and featured regional specialties designed by celebrity chef Martin Yan.

The shore excursions on our sailing were generally well received by passengers. A particular highlight of the program was a stop at a school supported by Viking, which provided an opportunity to interact with local children. In advance of the excursions, there were informative lectures provided by the ship’s cruise director, and these became a highlight of the itinerary.

In the evening, music and dance performances were offered in one of the lounges, including a show put on by the ship’s staff. You will definitely want to advise your clients not to miss the “Man of a Thousand Faces” dance, which my son and I marveled over long after we got home.

Overall, many of the passengers I spoke with on my cruise said that, before boarding the ship, they were concerned that they would get bored spending so much time on the river. By the time the cruise was over, however, the same people said that their time onboard the Emerald was too short, and they wished that they had sailed longer. That’s probably the best testament to the success of Viking’s latest offering.  n 

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