China has long been a destination for travelers seeking the exotic and historical flavor of Asia. A new city in terms of tourism, Beijing is China’s pulse, with world-class hotels, diverse restaurants and amazing historical sites including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Most visitors spend a week in Beijing, then fly to Chongqing to partake in the Yangtze River Cruise experience. Cruises range from three to 10 days with most clients choosing the four-day, three-night option. Combing the sights of the big city (Beijing) with rural life (Yangtze River Cruise) offers a unique experience in the world’s most populous country.
Arguably the best hotel in Beijing is the Peninsula Palace Beijing (www.peninsula.com). Located within walking distance from Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the busy shopping areas of Wangfujing and Dongdan, the Palace is a favorite of celebrities and VIPs.
If shopping is your VIP client’s fancy, the Peninsula is right on the money. The hotel’s Peninsula Arcade houses more than 50 world-class high-end brands, including Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Chanel, Christian Dior, Gucci, Escada, Burberry, Tiffany & Co., Piaget and Prada.
When staying at the Peninsula Suite—the hotel’s premier accommodation—guests enjoy complimentary round-trip transfer to and from the hotel in a Rolls Royce (the Palace is the only hotel in Beijing that owns a Rolls). For families, the Beijing Suite is the way to go. It’s spacious (more than 300 square feet) and has the option of connecting to an adjacent room. However, many VIP guests find the Duplex Suite to be their favorite. All premium suites command excellent city views, but the Duplex Suite offers views on a grand scale, with 23-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. Also, the bi-level suite gives the feel of a very spacious apartment. All can be booked over the GDS system. June Hu ([email protected]), director of sales for travel trade, and Mike Zhu ([email protected]ula.com), senior sales manager, travel trade, work closely with travel agents to book VIP guests. Once VIP guests arrive, the VIP Club Concierge and Guest Relations Manager Corinne Kou ([email protected]) look after these well-heeled travelers.
The hotel also provides luxury ground service for VIP clients. It has the only hotel car fleet in the capital. The fleet comprises 12 Mercedes-Benzes and two Rolls Royces. Guests who opt for the “Suite Experience” package can enjoy the complimentary round-trip car transfer.
The hotel’s spa is run by Henry Zhu ([email protected]), and offers a variety of treatments and services with an emphasis on Chinese tradition. The most popular treatments, and those found widely in China, are the Chinese traditional massage and the Chinese foot reflexology. However, for a special treat, request the abdominal massage, which helps those with digestion issues and other stomach ailments; the massage works by drawing out toxins through the skin. Another treatment well worth booking is the therapeutic back cupping, which is an Asian form of acupuncture that has become quite popular among Westerners (Gwyneth Paltrow is just one notable fan). Ask for Peter or Angela; their mastery of Chinese treatments is legendary. Advance bookings are strongly recommended.
JING (a Western restaurant with Asian overtones) and Huang Ting (Cantonese) are both sought after among hotel guests and locals. Don’t miss the hot-and-sour soup from JING and the authentic Cantonese dim sum at Huang Ting. Abalone and bird’s nest, together with fresh seafood dishes from Huang Ting’s kitchen, are very well known in the capital. Advance bookings (a week to be safe) for both restaurants are recommended.
Peninsula’s Chief Concierge Echo Zhu ([email protected]) can book travel throughout China, put together amazing day trips (including lesser-known areas of the Great Wall that are beautiful but not as crowded) and organize a dinner with a local Chinese family in the Hutong district. For one guest, she even managed to find and courier a dress the guest saw in Shanghai, with only a simple drawing and a general idea of the store’s location to go on.
After a week in Beijing, many guests are eager to get to rural China to experience the Yangtze River Cruise. The dam that is being built on the Yangtze will be complete in 2009 and will forever change the look of the villages and towns that line the banks of the world’s third-largest river.
Guests fly from Beijing to Chongqing where they embark on the cruise. Two cruise lines that stand out by offering luxurious, VIP services are Victoria Cruises (www.victoriacruises.com) and Viking River Cruises (www.vikingrivercruises.com).
The impressive Victoria Katarina was built in 2004 and is the largest and most elaborate vessel in Victoria Cruises’ fleet.
The 646-square-foot Shangri-la Suite on the Victoria Katarina is the most luxurious cabin aboard, with a large bedroom, separate living area, and spacious bathroom that comes with a sizable bathtub. The big draw is the many windows in the suite, so guests can thoroughly enjoy the Yangtze scenery without leaving their room. A large balcony is equipped with a table and chairs so guests can enjoy alfresco dining, especially during the Three Gorges part of the cruise, which offers the most dramatic scenery.
The onboard spa offers a variety of treatments; reflexology and the traditional Chinese head massage are the most requested. Yangtze River cruises on the Victoria Katarina range from 3 to 10 days.
The Viking Century Sky, Viking’s newest ship was completed in 2004 and had her maiden cruise in March 2005. Viking focuses on service and this can be seen in the 1:2 crew to passenger ratio.Once on board, all eyes are drawn to the Atrium; it runs the height of the ship (four out of five decks) with open staircases, marble flooring, and skylights.
The suite experience is also quite grand. The 332-square-foot cabin includes a queen-size bed, sofa, a table and chairs, color TV, air conditioning, and a private balcony. Stateroom service is provided twice daily, and additionally on request. There are six suites on the ship.
Massage rooms and a sauna are located on the main deck; traditional Chinese-style acupuncture massages are the most popular. There is also a beauty salon offering pedicures, manicures and haircuts. A Tai Chi master gives morning lessons daily.
Onboard dining options alternate between Chinese menus designed by world-famous Chef Martin Yan and Western cuisine. In addition, Western favorites such as grilled chicken or steak are always available. Lunches and breakfasts are typically Western with some Chinese options available.