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First trip to China / 5 star hotel and tour company comment requests

First trip to China / 5 star hotel and tour company comment requests

Aug 29th, 2010, 02:13 PM
  #1  
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First trip to China / 5 star hotel and tour company comment requests

My wife and I, along with our 17 year old son, are planning our first trip to China in June 2011. We have traveled extensively in the past (Europe, Africa, South Pacific, etc) and usually make our own arrangements. This will be our first trip to Asia (unless you count Turkey). For this trip we plan to use a tour company with 5 star properties for this trip.

Here are the plans so far:

We will travel in June 2011. We plan 3 days each in Beijing, Xian, Tibet, Guilin and Shanghai followed by a weeklong cruise to Japan and South Korea out of Shanghai.

Below is a list of hotels that we are considering.

Beijing Hotels
The Westin Beijing Chaoyang
The Regent Beijing – Dongheng District
Grand Hyatt Beijing - Dongheng District
St. Regis Beijing – Chaoyang District
JW Marriott Hotel Beijing - Chaoyang District
The Ritz-Carlton Beijing Financial Street
The Peninsula Beijing - Dongheng District
Park Hyatt Beijing - Chaoyang District
Sofitel Wanda Beijing - Chaoyang District

Xi’an Hotels
Shangri-La Hotel – Yanta District
Hyatt Regency Xi’an – Xi’an Shannxi
Sofitel on Renmin Square Xian
Sheraton Xian Hotel

Guilin Hotels
Sheraton Guilin Hotel – Xiufeng District
Shangri-La Hotel Guilin

Shanghai Hotels
The Westin Bund Center
Le Royal Meridien Shanghai
Pudong Shangri La Shanghai
Grand Hyatt Shanghai - Pudong New District
St Regis Shanghai – Pudong New District
Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai
Hyatt on the Bund
Park Hyatt Shanghai
Peninsula Shanghai
JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square
Intercontential Shanghai Pudong
Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong

Lhasa Hotel
Four Points by Sheraton

We usually make all of our own arrangements, but as you can tell from the above list we are looking for Western, non-local hotels. While I have read here that it is easy to make one’s own arrangements in China, we have decided to use tour operator for this trip. We had a great experience when we planned our African safari a few years ago. We found a super local operator (Roy's Safari out of Arusha, Tanzania) who took great care of us in style for a great price. We are hoping to find the Chinese version of Roy's Safari!

Here is a list of tour operators that we are considering:

Wild China
Easy Tour China
China Absolute Tours
Keningston Tours
China Discovery Tours
Pacific Delight Tours
Travel China Guide
China Spree
Asia Connect Tours
China Odyssey Tours
China Highlights

I would welcome any comments on these properties and tour operators, especially if you have had personal experience. I really respect the Fodor's community and look forward to any suggestions or comments.

Regards,
JazzDrew
JazzDrew is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 03:00 PM
  #2  
 
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Would you please clarify whether you are looking for a group tour or whether you are looking for a travel agent who will put together a package for you, including your choices of hotels, transport, guides as needed, etc.
Kathie is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 03:13 PM
  #3  
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Oops...I forgot to include that detail! We would like a private tour.
JazzDrew is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 03:14 PM
  #4  
 
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My advice ????
From experience.....forget the group tour options.....go for it on your own.
We felt that maybe China was a destination that we couldn't do on our own, and so went for a group tour. BIG mistake.
Our best times in China were when we abandoned the group and went our own way.
It looks daunting, but actually, most experienced travellers will find that China is nowadays, pretty visitor friendly.
LeighTravelClub is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 03:47 PM
  #5  
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I agree that we don't want a group. We like the idea of paying someone to help us get to sites in an efficient manner and to manage the language issues, especially at airport check in and travel to and from hotels. We have done the big European cities on our own, but want this trip to be less stressful in terms of getting from point A to B, especially because of so many flights (Beijing/Xian/Lahasa/Guilin/Shanghai) and then getting to the port in Shanghai.
JazzDrew is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 04:45 PM
  #6  
 
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If you read my trip report, which I do not recommend, you will see I am neutral on the tour/independent question. But FYI I doubt you will have a language issue at airport check in or many other tourist oriented places. Our kids navigated Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an airports without a problem. The subways were a snap.

We did mangle the restaurant challenge though.
colduphere is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 11:52 PM
  #7  
 
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I don’t think you would be unhappy with any of the hotels on your list. Just by personal preference for Beijing, the location of the Grand Hyatt and the Peninsula may make them the best choices. I think the Ritz-Carlton Financial Street is a very nice hotel, but you may not like its location as much as a tourist on a short trip. There is also quite a nice Ritz-Carlton in the Chaoyang district.

You might also look at the Opposite House in Beijing. This small boutique brand out of Hong Kong has several hotels in Asia. The ones I have seen are very nice and seem to be well-run and have great policies like no-charge minibars and free wireless in the room. See http://www.theoppositehouse.com

I would also say to consider the Aman hotels, there is one near the Summer Palace (have not stayed there). This may be a bit out of the way for a short visit, but these are extremely nice and well-run hotels. See http://www.amanresorts.com/amanatsummerpalace/home.aspx

For Xian and Guilin, again, I don’t think any of them would be a bad choice, so I can’t give a personal preference. In Shanghai again you are spoiled for choice. I think the Ritz is getting a bit old and would put it further down the list. If you can be on the Bund, IMO, so much the better; although the JW Marriott is in quite a spectacular building and has good subway access.

As a general comment, I agree with the others above that a tour is not necessary. I don’t think I would use your Africa experience to guide you: in 25 years of traveling, the only place I found that you basically had to use a tour/travel agent was Africa; but I would say that is far more the exception than the rule. I could not book inter-country flights on the small planes for example, which is why I ended up, reluctantly, using an agent for South Africa. I was perfectly happy with the tour agency, but would not have used one unless there was no other way. In China in the cities on your itin, the independent route is just as easy, if not easier, than going via an agent. You won't need help checking in for flights at airports, as you will find signage in English and counter personnel speak English. (And in many cases you can check in on line and simply drop baggage at the airport.) To get to and from hotels, if you don't want to use public transport or a taxi, then just arrange for a hotel car to collect or take you. Costs a little more, but worth the convenience. A hotel could also arrange to get you to the port in Shanghai.

Personally, 3 days in each seems odd. Too short in Beijing, too long in Shanghai. Perhaps one day too many in Xian. While you don’t want to rush pillar to post, you also don’t need to have exactly 3 days in each. They need differing amounts of time, IMO. Of course, without knowing your particular interest it's hard to say, but that would be my thought.

As a Hong Kong resident, I have to note in passing that IMO you might want to consider spending some time here. I don't know that I would cut out time elsewhere in favour of Hong Kong (well, I would cut out time in Shanghai), but if some days could be added, then Hong Kong may work. Hong Kong can be a good entry point from the US, as there are non-stop flights into Hong Kong, and good flight coverage to many PRC cities which may save you some backtracking. It can also be an easy "introduction" to the PRC.

FYI, neither Peninsula nor Shangri-La are “western” brands. They are owned and operated by old established Hong Kong companies. The hotels are wonderful for the most party and they have outstanding service. In this day and age, there is no need to be “western” or “non-local” to be a luxury or well-run chain (e.g. Amans in Asia generally and Oberoi in India).
Cicerone is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 06:03 AM
  #8  
zix
 
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We stayed at the Sheraton Xian in 2007 for a week. We had two adjoining rooms there. It has a decent indoor pool and a nice breakfast buffet but I definitely would not describe the rooms as on par with a 5 star western hotel, unless they have renovated since. I'm not saying there was anything wrong with them, we had a comfortable stay, just that they weren't luxurious.
zix is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 06:06 AM
  #9  
 
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When you say "three days each" do you mean three nights or four nights? Three nights really gives you only two days in each city. I've been posting my own experiences on traveling independently in China which has been pretty easy, but although I did 6 nights in Shanghai and 5 nights in Beijing, for example -- there is NO doubt in my mind that if I had wanted to do a lot more sites than I did, I could have more easily accomplished that with a driver/and guide who organized it all for me. There is something to be said -- if you want to do a lot -- in not having to navigate everywhere on your own (I specifically mentioned waiting for taxis and buses, sometimes with no success). My one day in Xi'an I signed up for a bus tour, but ended up being the only one so I had a private guide and driver. There is no question that I covered a whole lot more on that day than any of the days I was arranging my own transportation, tickets, etc. I'm not complaining. I'm not the type who feels I have to see everything or even near everything, but if you are, then you will gain more coverage with someone doing a lot of the legwork for you -- at least that has certainly been my experience.

It doesn't sound like you are looking to squeeze every penny you can out of this trip, and if you feel it is worth a little expense to have someone do the logistics, then I say go for it.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 03:28 PM
  #10  
 
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To organize and book your trip, hotels, transportation, transfers,and private guides check out China Advocates in San Francisoco. wwww.china-advocates.com Highly recommended by friends who have used thier services.High end.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Aug 31st, 2010, 06:18 PM
  #11  
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Wow, thanks for so many great comments. Sounds like we need to reconsider the time spent in each area. I have read a few trip reports but I need to spend some more time learning from those over the weekend. While I am sure that we can manage making all of our own arrangements, I think we are still willing to pay the extra to have an experienced local help us navigate all of the details and reduce the amount of potential stress otherwise. It is our hope that we can balance the cost and "packaged" experience using a private guide with some time for us to explore on our own. Thanks again for all the help!
JazzDrew is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 05:12 PM
  #12  
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rboucher and Wala - This is exactly the sort of information that I was hoping to get concerning the tour operators that I am considering. Sounds like China Highlights goes to the top of my list! I appreciate the help!
JazzDrew is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 05:14 PM
  #13  
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Although I just noticed that you each have only one post that I can find on Fodors, and it appears to me that you each signed up today for the first time? How frustrating....
JazzDrew is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 05:39 PM
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I'll go with rboucher over Wala. Too many "no problems" in Wala's post.
colduphere is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 05:54 PM
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> How frustrating....

Welcome to the wonderfully honest world of tour operators in China. There's a message for you here...

I've stayed in all but two of the hotels you mention in Beijing, some several times, and some of the Shanghai ones. If you need further comment on any of them, please ask.
PeterN_H is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 06:06 PM
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I expect both of them are spammers. First and only post for both, both with high praise for a Chinese company well known for spamming this forum.

Both posts will likely be gone before long.
Kathie is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2010, 06:42 PM
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Making a travel plan is really a headache, need to figure out who are spammers, just kidding. Anyway, best wish to your trip in China
fdwoo is offline  
Sep 5th, 2010, 10:49 PM
  #18  
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I truly appreciate the comments to date, although we are still quite confused and are bit frustrated as we attempt to make a decision on how to get about arranging our trip.

The good news is that we are more comfortable with the itinerary. Less time in Shanghai and Xian allows for more time in Tibet, Beijing and Guilin.

We are also comfortable in the properties was have posted. It appears that all of the properties from our list should fit our needs (no "dogs" on the list).

After spending hours reading China trip reports and forum messages here, on Frommers and TripAdvisor I am quite frustrated.

We have made the decision to use a tour company, even though many will consider us foolish. I am aware that I can make all my own arrangements. I have read that we can book hotels upon arrival and save money. We could choose to save by buying air tickets at the counter. But we have decided that we want all of our arrangements in place well before we leave next June. I am fully aware that we will pay a premium for this, and that is our choice.

The frustrating part is what tour company to use/trust. My experience to date has lead me to use local providers. When I wanted to book a "high end" safari in Africa I found that the Tanzanian operator that I used was actually the sub-contractor for many high end operators. So I was able to use the best guides and properties and avoid the US based middle men. From what I read about China operators (so much of it scares me) the opposite is true.

So...my question to you AUTHENTIC china experts out there (please no spammers - I know ....good luck with that)....How do I pick an operator?

I consider my expectations reasonable:

1. I am ok with paying a reasonable tip for quality service.
2. I want an English speaking guide who will take care of us (be respectful, keep my family safe, give us an insight to the culture and customs of China, be on time, be honest, etc)
3. I am ok with an occasional shopping tour, as long as it isn't too long. I get the economics with this...
4. We want a seamless tour from Beijing, Xian, Tibet, Guilin and Shanghai. A private tour that we are confident that our guide will be waiting for us at each airport and will pick us up each morning at our airport.
5. It would be great is we had a guide/operator who allowed us the flexibility to modify our private tour a bit so that we can stay a little longer or leave earlier if we choose (even at a modest cost).

As we narrow our choices it seems I read too many horror scenarios (some on this form..I have learned to respect your significant experiences and expertise but you need to know that scare the devil out of us newbies) and I just want to go back to Europe or Africa again and not even attempt China!

I am so much more comfortable with first hand accounts from "real people" who have used a specific operator. It seems that there is NO ONE who has used the operators that we are considering that might not be fakes!

Our short operator list includes Easy Tour China, Pacific Delights and China Odyssey. We would be thrilled with the proposals with any of these operators if they were legit and conformed with our expectations above. There are 3 other operators that we received bids from that we would be happy with. But we simply are at a standstill in choosing an operator with so much contrasting information.

I must admit that I place an enormous amount of respect on these forums. I have always been able to read through these posts (and from others) and been able to make choices in our travel plans that works for us. So far, China has been different, but I am confident that I will catch up with the rest of you and figure this thing out!

Once again I thank you all for your help.

JazzDrew
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Sep 6th, 2010, 03:53 AM
  #19  
 
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I think you are wise to go with your gut instinct. Only you can know how you prefer to travel. And one thing is kind of funny. Those same things that you call horror stories are often referred to by independent travelers as "another adventure". Just the other day a poster here referred to another post as "read about this trip were traveling independently was easy and no problems" and I saw numerous events in that trip report that would make many people have near heart attacks when they happened.

I've mentioned before that friends of mine were making their first trip to Europe and I helped them plan independently, helping them pick and arrange hotels, prebook their major transports, even providing them with maps and restaurant recommendations as I was well traveled in their destinations. They went and had a "good" time, but spent a lot of time worrying and fretting about every detail. The very next year they returned to Europe and did an organized tour. To this day they can't stop raving about it. They were so much more comfortable never having to worry about a single thing and they felt they accomplished so much more.

So to each his own.

I only wish I could help you with a specific recommendation.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Sep 6th, 2010, 05:13 AM
  #20  
Amy
 
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I have read good things about R. Crusoe: www.rcrusoe.com; they have arranged tours, but also do custom itineraries. I haven't used their services (I tend to do guesthouses/budget with one or two "splurges", and I usually travel solo/independently) but they do seem to be willing to do whatever you want, rather than what they want you to do.

Happy planning, and I hope you have a lovely trip!
Amy is offline  

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