Our travel agency arranged for hotels, tour guides, meals and transportation along with a detailed itinerary in Xian and Beijing (and partially in Hong Kong). This was our first time using a "distant" travel agency, one which we did not know other than what we read in TripAdvisor. It was also the first time we put down a large sum of money in advance (I'd rather pay 1/2 up front and the remainder upon completion). We were nervous we'd be taken. But it turned out all right. The hotels were top notch, very comfortable, and we couldn't have asked for better in this department. Plus the morning hotel buffet breakfasts were unbelievably lavish and varied. Our teenage kids really enjoyed them. The private tour guides were quite good - we had 2 - 1 in Xian and 1 in Beijing - and both spoke English very well. Both met us promptly upon arrival and, for the most part, were on-time and kept us moving. As for their explanations of sites, both guides were quite good, although I have to say they were not as detailed as I had hoped, but I tend to be a detail oriented person. The drivers were also good, and it was a huge load off of us to not have to worry about how to get from point A to point B. It was also a learning experience to see how crazy driving in China is! We are sure glad we didn't have to drive! All the meals outside the hotels (the lunches and dinners) were also very good. We went to local restaurants that had a great variety of wonderfully tasty food. I wonder now, in hindsight, if we didn't have someone (my husband) who could read and speak Chinese, if we would have had a more tough time of it. I seem to remember a lot of Chinese everywhere, and not so much English, but perhaps there were enough pictures/photos in the menus that we would have been able to order ok. The only down side to the food was that we had way too much of it where ever we went and I'm sure we paid a premium for all that food - I wish we could have got a discount for not so much! As far as the main event - the sites - we hit all the major spots (Tianamen, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Xian Pagoda, TerraCotta Warriors, etc), plus, thanks to customizing with the our travel company's gal, we did a few "smaller" teen-friendly things like take a calligraphy lesson, take a TaiChi lesson, take a table tennis lesson, see a shadow puppet show, go to street malls and bargain for junk, etc. There was only 1 stop in our itinerary which was a total waste of time/money (the tea house where they put together a medley of acts - food was terrible and the acts were so-so), but otherwise we went to over a dozen other spots/highlights/activities that were all very good. Also, 1 experience (a motorcycle tour of old Beijing) had to be cancelled due to storms, and we were given some money back, which was good (although I wonder if they gave us the whole amount). Overall, I say it was a good choice to go with this travel agency. It was professionally managed, we followed the itinerary as promised, the guides and drivers where reliable/trustworthy/pleasant, the hotels and restaurants were all good, and everything was pretty much taken care of. Sure, it was expensive, but it was a once in a lifetime experience we will remember forever.
Hitting all the major sites like Tianamen Square, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Terra Cotta Warriors and doing the calligraphy class where my favorites.
I'd say that a large budget for food is not necessary and the guides don't need to order so much.
The Tai Chi class would be better if the teacher spent time showing us the individual moves first before having us simply imitate her entire movement. Also, if the Tai Chi teacher wants us to follow her/imitate her, she should not face toward us (which then requires us to face back and not see her). That was very annoying
I wish we could have spent more time at that reenactment park in Xian. I think it is called Tang Paradise. In fact, a 1/2 day or more could easily be spent there, including getting dressed up and taking pictures, plus see the reenactment show! We just happened to go there for a few hours early one morning on the suggestion of the guide before our trip out of Xian! We did it instead of a history museam and it was a great suggestion. We only wish we could have spent more time there!
Skip the Tea House in Beijing – food was bad and the mini-acts were so-so. Would have rather seen a real Peking Opera!
The morning our motorcycle tour got cancelled, we decided we’d try to go to Tianamen Square on our own and go to a museum there to fill the time. Getting there was OK – we took the subway and that was pretty easy. But once there, the lines were SO long. And finally when we made it past security, we realized that after we were to go to the national museum we’d have to come back through security to cross the square! What? Go through security twice just to navigate around the square? That was crazy. I wish the guide had told us about this. Anyway, it worked out because we decided to go to the modern opera house which was just off the Square instead, which was amazing. We walked around the museum but this made us wish we had seen a real Peking Opera instead!
Travel Company's Comments:
Dear Mrs. T, Thanks very much for your kind review on our service. I would like to apologize for not arranging a perfect tour for you. Please allow me to explain the following. 1. For the meals, we usually arrange non-touristy restaurants wherever possible for our travelers. They are better than those restaurants that cater to tour groups. So our meal budget per person is usually more generous than that for normal tour groups. This is to make sure that our travelers will have good meals. And the tour guides will order as much food as possible within the meal budget to let travelers enjoy more food and varieties. In the future, we will be more flexible on the meal budgets. 2. The Tea House offers a series of performances, all in short snippets, including Peking Opera, face changing, Acrobatic Show, etc. This allows travelers to watch different types of performances in one show. Based on our experience, many travelers, especially families with children, like this show. And we usually do not recommend families with children to watch Peking Opera show only. It is because Peking Opera show lasts for 1 hour 20 minutes. Many children may find it interesting for the first 20 minutes. Then it might become boring as it is hard to understand what the performers are singing about. So generally, I think Kungfu show is a better choice than Peking Opera. So we either recommend Kungfu show or the performances in the Tea House to families with children. It is such a pity that the performances in the Tea House and the food there didn't meet your expectation. If you come to China again in the future, we will definitely include Peking Opera show. 3. For the Taichi class, we will talk with the teacher about the issues mentioned. We will make sure she improves her teaching skills. Thanks again for your detailed comments, which will help us to improve our service. We will more attentive to details and hope we can see you in China again.
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