Our tickets arrived around three weeks before departure complete with two rucksacks, two laundry bags and a huge leather ticket wallet all of which is totally unnecessary.
There was no information on the internal flights we would take which would have been useful especially times and luggage rules.
The pack also didn’t contain any information on the dress code particularly on the ship which I was assured by the UK APT office it would.
We met the tour director at the airport and had a reasonably swift transfer to the hotel in a mini bus. It is best to close your eyes as the driving standards and the traffic congestion is horrendous. Bottles of water were given out for our first transfer journey and every subsequent journey.
Our Tour director was very good and her organisation second to none. In Beijing she was on her own with us as she was also a local guide but we picked up local guides in other locations. Vivian was fairly easy to understand and checked the whole group was keeping up by counting us on a regular basis.
Luggage labels became an issue for quite a few of the group. We lost one of ours on the way to Beijing and there seemed to be a shortage of replacements although the hotel provided some. Pre printed sticky labels would be a good idea for each leg of the journey.
The Wireless communicators we had from APT for the tour were poor however and several did not work. These need upgrading. The ones provided on the cruise ship were much better.
The meals provided were generally good quality but a bit repetitive. The rice seemed to be served last each time which seemed strange to us westerners. Soft drinks and beer are provided at all meals but wine is only provided on the ship.
Beijing is not for those that don't like traffic and lots of people. Tiananmen Square may be big but don't expect to have it to yourself. There are thousands of Chinese tourists jostling there. The road traffic is horrendous and it takes hours to travel short distances. Don't even think about driving yourself!! Don't think that a green man at a junction means it is safe to cross!! You will still get honked at. Safest to cross with a few hundred others....people power!
The Kung fu show in Beijing was very good and lasts around an hour.
After our tours of Beijing we headed to the airport and collected our check in bags at Beijing airport and checked in our self’s for this first internal Air China flight only. On others Vivian collected the passports and checked us all in.
The flight Beijing to Yichang was unfortunately an hour late so our arrival at the ship was delayed. We picked up a local guide at Yichang airport but as it was 21.00 and dark there wasn’t much for us to see. He did talk all the way to the ship however presumably to justify his fee? He even felt the need to discuss his degree subjects when he ran out of other things to talk about.
The basic cabins are a good size with a shower and no bath but the shower works well. There is a hairdryer and safe. Bottled water is available in the room and replenished daily and in the foyer for every trip.
What is included on the ship is not clear. Coffee is free in the bar 06.30 till 07.00 but at other times you have to pay?? Afternoon tea/coffee served 16.30 till 17.00 with a small cake or biscuit. These times are rigidly enforced - out with these times you pay.
On the first day we sailed for about an hour then moored. There was an optional excursion for 280 yuan which was a walking tour but it was not made clear that you cannot go ashore unless you take the tour. In the afternoon we went to the Three Gorges Dam exhibition centre and to a small park to view the dam which was just visible through the haze. The tour guide we had was excellent and answered all the questions well.
The day 2 trip on a sampan was interesting but would be miserable in the rain.
The relocation tour on day 3 is OK if you want to see typical Chinese living conditions. There was supposed to be a choice but not available for us.
The last part of the river on the cruise is quite industrial so we took the time to relax.
There are tipping guidelines in the room on the ship but we clarified with our tour director as we were told all tips included and she told us no need to bother.
The second internal flight was with Sichuan Airways and was a short one hour flight.
The luggage was collected outside the cabin on the ship in the morning and not seen again until we arrived in the hotel at Xian. The tour director collected our passports at breakfast and by the time we got to the airport we were checked in and given our passports back complete with our boarding pass and then went straight through security.
Again the flight was a bit late and it was a long walk to the coach and luggage drop as they were not allowed to park closer for some reason. It took one hour on the bus to the hotel. Another late dinner at the hotel!
The trip to the terracotta warriors was good but our guide had the annoying habit of repeating everything at least twice immediately after the first time. She was also not very good at keeping the group together or building in toilet stops so we frequently lost some of the group. As it was pouring with rain this was annoying to say the least.
The Jade factory visit included lunch but I am not sure it is really a factory? They have a token demonstration area which is obviously not big enough to make all the items on sale.
Our visit to a “Silk factory” was a bit of a letdown as it is clearly not a factory but a showroom with a few exhibits. The emphasis is on sales of products which are not cheap and the price is not negotiable.
The trip to Jinxi was ok. It is an unusual mixture of old and new but not much to see but OK for an hour or so. Sampan boat trip is fun and there is a short walk back through narrow streets. Our drive back took 2 hours because of traffic and a police road check..
Yugardens (garden of tranquillity) are nice but quite crowded.
Shanghai Art museum is OK but you need to be into Chinese history to appreciate it.
The Acrobatic show however is fantastic. - don't miss it
Tour Director steered us towards eating in Hotel in Shanghai and everybody did so no real choice here.
Not a lot of free time anywhere on the tour but unless you like to shop a lot it is OK
Fair bit of walking and steps so definitely not suitable for less mobile as two of our party discovered.
Most mornings were 08.30 start so don't plan to go to work soon after you return home. Have a couple of days off
If you like Chinese food, and mingling with lots of people, and like sitting in traffic jams and weaving from lane to lane on the motorway or risking life and limb to cross the road then you will love China if not you will still have a good time but go home a little weary. There is a good chance you will become ill during the trip so pack some medicines particularly for diarrhoea. Don't eat for 24 hours at least and you should be OK. The taxi from home to airport was nice but our driver asked us if we had a preferred route and started playing with his phone when we said not. The 3g signal where we live is poor so we finished up giving him directions - then he expected a tip? The return journey was much better in spite of the traffic on the M25 with a nice Portuguese driver.
Speaking to our fellow travellers from Australia they seem to get the same holiday much cheaper so I will be asking for a large discount if I book any future APT tours. I have found a way to get an electronic copy of the Australian version of their brochure so I will be negotiating using that price in future.