My family of four, two adults (I'm 4-months pregnant) & 2 children aged 5 1/2 & 3 1/2 took a 14-day customized tour with China Discovery and I highly recommend this tour for families who are adventurous and keen to discover part of China. All you really need to do is that we have recommended this tour to all our friends and that we had an amazing time. If you want more details, read on.
The package we chose was the 10-day tour to Beijing, Xian, Chengdu & Shanghai but we added in a few extra days to explore on our own so it ended up being a 14-day adventure.
From the moment I first contacted the agency, Jack was very prompt and thorough with his responses, providing me with all the additional requests I made (such as writing me a letter in Mandarin to stick in my daughters's backpacks in case they got separated from us and sending over a complete invitation letter to obtain our travel visas) and answering all my questions, as well as adjusting our schedule to fit our needs. You will not have any problems communicating with Jack, and the planning was done professionally and put us at ease.
Hotels: The hotels varied somewhat in quality in each city: In Beijing the Crowne Plaza Hotel was comfortable and we had connecting rooms which was great. It is a somewhat older hotel and you can tell it used to be filled with smokers, but the location is perfectly central and we found good dumpling and Peking duck restaurants within a 5-minute walk. In Xian, the Sofitel was luxurious and the breakfast buffet blew us away, it was amazing. We didn't have connecting rooms so each adult slept with one of our daughters in case they got frightened at night. It was a new hotel, no smoke smell, very very comfortable and the location was central. In Chengdu, the Sofitel was slightly older and the breakfast a little less elaborate, and we once again had separate rooms but over all it was a great hotel. The location was once again very central. The Shanghai Howard Johnson was ok, older and a little less upscale, and the breakfast was lackluster compared to the others We once again did not have connecting rooms, which meant my husband and I were apart for a week. The location of the Shanghai hotel was perfect - super close to the bustling Nanjing road.
Our Beijing guide, Kai, was truly spectacular. He is so enthusiastic and passionate, you cannot help but learn things from him and be interested in what he shows you...even when you are a 3-year-old! My 5-year-old now knows the names of various Chinese dynasties and how they ruled. His English is totally clear and easy to understand.
Kemmy in Xian was great, totally understandable English. He understood that we didn't want to buy terracotta figures and we spent barely any time at the factory stop, which was great.
In Chengdu, we loved our tour guide Nancy. She was a young, vibrant woman with solid English skills who absolutely adored our children (and vice versa) and who took them by the hand to see the Pandas, giving my husband and me a little break to stroll on our own. She knew exactly where to go at the Panda exhibit to have the best view of the cubs having their breakfast (which was much appreciated, as within minutes, hoards of people showed up and would have blocked our view!) She was open and told us about her life, which was so interesting to hear.
In Shanghai, Laura was nice. She sometimes didn't answer my questions (I think she did not quite understand them) and it seemed a little more 'scripted' than with the others. We didn't click with her as well as with the others and did not appreciate that she took photos of our daughters (we did not specifically tell her not to but asked her what she planned on doing with the photos and were pretty sure our body language should have given it away that we did not like the photo taking...) and also of flowers etc.
We had some back luck weather-wise in mid-March and viewed the Forbidden City and Summer Palace under snow fall. And the Tiananmen Square was closed due to a plenary session so we never got to see that, unfortunately. The tea ceremony, although perhaps a somewhat obvious tourist trap was very welcomed because it was so cold. Later on we visited a jade factory and silk factory as well as the Terracotta figurine factory. If you do not want to buy anything at any of these locations, which we didn't, just let your guide know and hurry through the gift shop. There was never any pressure put on us to buy anything and the guide completely leaves you alone during that part of the tour so you can literally rush out of there without even looking, should that be what you wish to do.
The sights we visited were great and worthwhile. Definitely the Great Wall was an unforgettable experience, and I was amazed by the terracotta warriors. Both Xian and Chengdu were cities we knew little about and we were impressed at how modern and clean they are.
We had requested car seats for our children and received those in two of the four cities we visited. The driving in Beijing is very different than in North America so be prepared if you want to feel safe - bring your own car seats. We had two near-collisions in Beijing, which I have to note because they did scare me, but considering how crazy the traffic was over there, this seems like a low number...!
The transportation and transfers from place to place all went smoothly except for the Chengdu-Shanghai leg. It was nice to have to worry at all about where to go once we'd arrived at our next location, and never to wonder about where to park etc. I highly recommend this way of travel for non-Mandarin speakers who want to explore a lot with minimal discomfort. When we arrived at the Chengdu airport, it turned out that our flights to Shanghai had not actually been booked by the tour. This was disconcerting of course, and our guide was in hasty communication with Jack to buy us our tickets in time to catch the same flight. It was a good thing we got to the airport early. It all worked out in the end but definitely caused some stress.
I would highly recommend this tour. You will not be disappointed.
Tips: Bring wipes/tissues and hand sanitizer as most public toilets do not have paper or soap.
If you don't want your children to be photographed, don't go to China. It was really, really brutal at times how people crowded us, took photos of our children without asking and/or pointed their long lens cameras at them and snapped away.
Google/Trip Advisor some nearby restaurants as you will be taken to fairly Western-pleasing restaurants with the guides. For dinner, we chose more 'authentic' places where the food served was very different from what you would find in a North American food court.
Beijing, Xian, Chengdu hotels had no VPN so don't expect to use gmail.
Practice holding your kids over squatting toilets because that's sometimes all there is and it's a learned skill for kids not to pee on their clothes while in this position.
Learn the Mandarin words for cold water (which you probably won't get everywhere - hot water or tea is the norm- but you can ask) and for fork and spoon if your kids don't know how to use chopsticks, and for 'not too spicy' in the Sichuan province!!!
Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.