River Boat Viking River China Dining Staff

Q – We have cruised Europe with Vantage and we recently returned from China where we sailed with Viking River on their Emerald. The Cruise tour did not really give us enough time in Beijing and Shanghai and we would advise traveltruth readers to try to add days in both cities. The cruise, however, seemed too long by a day or two. The real problem is that most of the port stops are industrialized areas and newly built factory cities were something we really only needed to see once. Travelers by riverboat to China should understand that many of the “historic cities” on the Yellow River program are now several hundred feet below the sea as a result of the dams in Three Gorges area, the world’s largest ever public works project.

We found the food onboard and the service preferable to what we experienced on Vantage but were put off by many Viking River veterans who felt that the food in Europe was better because local chefs were sometimes brought on board to prepare their local dishes. This just didn’t happen in China. And that is my question: We had a number of really touristy off-ship lunches included in the full day tours. The food was really marginal and virtually all of these restaurants sold trinkets to tourists and were huge, sort of like rest stop restaurants on the highway in the States. One place they took us to had North Korean wait staff that clearly didn’t like Americans. Is this unique to Viking River and would we have had better off-ship food and service had we sailed with one of the higher-rated lines?

A – Probably. Included off-shore meals are a major expense for river boat companies and it is one area where you can be disappointed with a lower-priced product. The unpleasant North Korean service you encountered would not be tolerated twice by the top lines. But in Viking’s defense, friendly, warm table service is not characteristic in areas of China outside of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing. Also understand the operational problems involved in finding a clean place that can serve one hundred and fifty, or so, Americans within an hour, while making it a friendly and memorable experience. Always judge the best travel products by how they react to problems not how they perform when everything is doing well. One would hope that your negative comments were reflected in passenger comment cards and that Viking would quickly remove this dining option. To ingratiate yourselves to the North Korean staff the next time you visit, you might want to present them with a DVD of Seth Rogan’s latest movie.