All of a sudden, during our final sea day while cruising the Yellow Sea, the realization sets in: This incredible11-day cruise is almost over.
On the last day of our “Pearls of China” itinerary we docked in Dalian – Friday, April 18th. Crystal offered a complimentary shuttle to downtown where we could shop at the Friendship Shopping Center – a 10-story department store that featured literally everything from ice cream to fine jewelry. Cynthia especially made good use of this shopping “stop” as she purchased a fine, 8-piece hand-painted china tea service. (We decided we’d figure out later how to get it back home to Galveston.)
Once back on board, we got our packing completed, had our final room service dinner and said our “goodbyes” to Rainer. Breakfast, our last morning in The Lido Cafe was sad as we said our “farewells” to our favorite servers – Nuno, Derrick, Norman, John-John and others – who made our cruise so special for us.
Yet now…It’s on to Beijing. We’re fortunate to be traveling with Pat and Colleen (our Dallas friends who we met early on during the cruise.) And, we were also fortunate – although we didn’t know it when we were assigned to Bus #10 – that we had THE best guide and a fun group to share the next three days with as we toured Beijing. There were 32 of us and we represented not only the US of A, but South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Bolivia, England, Australia and Switzerland. The consensus: We all really, really loved the cruise and none of us were ready to leave our beautiful “home” at sea.
Altogether, there were 13 motor coaches of Crystal guests who were embarking on this three-day/three -night land package to Beijing. Our hotel for the next three days would be the China World Hotel Beijing – a 5-star property that is part of the Shangri-La Hotel Group. But first, we had a 150-mile journey from the cruise terminal to downtown Beijing. Enroute, our guide Jason – a native Beijinger – shared some more facts with us about his country that we had not heard before.
- 65% of the country’s population lives along the east coast of the country.
- Manufacturing is # 1 industry – silk, agriculture ( rice), porcelain production, tea, and of course – automobiles.
- Pandas are the national animal.
- Beijing is recognized as the cultural and political center of China; Shanghai – the industrial and financial center of the country.
- AND – this is the best… when we (and other foreigners) shake our heads at a decision or action that doesn’t make sense to the western world, The Chinese response is: “CHINA IS CHINA.” And that essentially ends the conversation.
The highlight of today’s tour was a visit to Old Beijing and a rickshaw ride through the narrow streets and alleys – aka Beijing’s hutongs. Besides the fun rickshaw ride, we were ushered in to a private home for literally a “glimpse” of a local Chinese family’s way of life. Jason translated for us the introduction by the elderly homeowner who shared with us his profession, family history and why he loved where he lived in Old Beijing. Soon after that, we headed to our hotel and checked in.
It was impressive to all of us how well organized and efficient Crystal’s check-in process was at the Hotel since 13 motor coaches arrived essentially all at the same time. Within less than five minutes, we were in and out of the registration area and up to our room, with our luggage there. (Also throughout the three days we were staying at the hotel, Crystal had reps on duty in the lobby to assist us as needed.)
Our second day of touring Beijing began early. It’s worth noting: The buffet breakfast in the dining room was the most expansive, I have ever seen. The buffet lines were immense and featured at least 75 different food and beverage choices – everything one could imagine ( or not imagine!) for breakfast. By 8am, we were on Bus #10 with our first stop the Forbidden City and the home of The Last Emperor.
Actually home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, this giant complex of over 200 acres of pavilions, gardens and courtyards, is considered “one of the largest and best-preserved palace complexes in the world.”
From there, we went to Tiananmen Square.
Originally built in the mid 1600s , it was enlarged to almost 100 acres in 1958 and can accommodate more than one million people! For most of us, the most memorable event was the pro-democracy rally in May/June, 1989. It’s also interesting to note that Jason told us before we got off the bus, that we were NOT to ask any political questions of him while in the Square as he (as a Chinese citizen) was forbidden by law to discuss what happened and/or to give his opinion. Before heading back to our hotel, we stopped very briefly for photos at Olympic Park and to see the “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube” that were part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.
We made a quick trip back to the hotel to shower and change clothes before reboarding Bus # 10 for a private dinner and entertainment at The Great Hall of the People – ONLY for our Crystal Cruises group. And what an evening it was…. entertainment ran the gamut from opera singers to young Chinese acrobats and all performances were very, very well done. Dinner (served Family Style/Lazy Susan) was delightful with impeccable service.
Our very last day of our Asian Adventure was Monday, April 21st, and we were heading to The Great Wall. For Cynthia, Pat, Colleen and myself – this was the highlight of this three-day land excursion. We climbed to the top! And it wasn’t easy.
Built in the 3rd century B.C. to protect China’s northern border from marauding nomads and “barbarians”, the Wall stretches almost 4,500 miles – east to west – and required the labor of almost 1 million workers to complete! The steps varied in height between 6″ and 18-20″ and at least for the four of us – we held on dearly to the hand rail -both going up and coming down. As with every place we toured, there were thousands and thousands of visitors.
Our last stop of our three-day/three-night Beijing land tour was the Temple of Heaven – a stunning complex comprised of buildings and gardens, trees and colorful landscaping. Built between 1406 and 1420, this is where the Ming and Qing emperors went to worship Heaven and to pray for a better harvest. Covering almost 680 acres, this site is considered “one of the best in Beijing to observe ordinary Chinese at play.” We observed myriad of people playing card and tile games, line dancing, a karoke singer, individuals playing musical instruments, familes having picnics, as well as other fun examples of the locals simply enjoying a relaxing afternoon with friends and family.
Finally, we head back to our hotel. Everyone on Bus #10 was exhausted and we ready to get packed and get back home. The next morning following a leisurely breakfast, we departed for the airport. Again, we were accompanied by Crystal staff on the shuttle. Not only that, but we had a Crystal rep with us all the way through check-in at the airport. A very nice and much-appreciated service as the Beijing airport was huge.
We boarded our Air China flight for a 13 1/2 hour non-stop journey over the North Pole to Houston. Since we lost a day coming over, we gained our day going home, so essentially landed about the same time/day we departed Beijing. ( Thirteen hour time difference for us.) We zipped right through customs, got our luggage and headed to Galveston. We were “home”. Yes, we were HOME! As first-time visitors to China, our 17-day Asian Adventure had been, indeed… an amazing and very interesting adventure!
A few additional comments and observations… Dalian is considered a “remote Manchurian seaport” that lies on the shores of the Boi Hai Gulf. Throughout history, this ice-free port has been a coveted prize for conquerors. Showcasing Chinese, Japanese and Russian architectural styles attest to Dalian’s strategic importance. Although a big city, it has a “small town” feel -more so than any other city we visited. Beautiful beaches, parks and a long-established population of popular folk artists seemed to give the city a more “casual” ambience. Also, tourism is very important to the economy here – as evidenced by a contingency of local college students greeting us – and wearing “Welcome” Badges – as we got off our shuttle bus at the Friendship Shopping Center.
Would I go back to China and Asia? ABSOLUTELY! But only on a cruise. With Crystal – as I’ve said many times – you’re “home” when you board your ship. The quality, professionalism and sincere friendliness of the staff, combined with the interesting and exciting onboard enrichment programs; the extensive and diverse options for each port’s shore excursions and the well-planned, multi-day land excursions offers one an incredible opportunity to see, explore and experience so much of the local culture. And “all” of this is enhanced by knowing you have your ship to come “home” to after a long and busy day ashore. It’s a wonderful, wonderful way to see the world…. And the difference really is Crystal clear.