The best time of year to travel to China is spring and fall. Their climate is similar to ours (northern parts temperate, southern parts more tropic). However, tour prices are higher during these months. October 1 is the Chinese national holiday the Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, October 1, 1949. The celebration lasts a week and the cities will have large crowds of people in all of the popular venues, making getting around by foot or bus hectic. The biggest and most celebrated festival in China is the Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival) which starts on the first day of the new year containing a new moon and lasts for two weeks.
Consequently, mid-January to mid-February would be other dates in order to avoid crowds or, if you would like to be involved in this very traditional event, dates to consider. Other holidays where crowds could be a problem are the Public festivals designated by the government such as Women's Day, Labor Day, Youth Day, Children’s Day and Army day and many Traditional festivals, Ethnic Minority festivals and Tourism festivals.
Eeney, meeney, miney, Tauck
We knew we liked creature comforts, so the tour we would choose had to use first class hotels situated near shopping areas, good restaurants, and with easy access to local attractions. We wanted to spend at least two weeks in China, to justify our considerable travel costs. We wanted a tour company that had an outstanding reputation and that gave extra value through special excursions and activities that would be included in the price.
We wanted some free time to explore on our own or simply to take a nap. We wanted to spend more than one day in most cities so the unpacking/packing chores were minimized. We preferred to have choices for our dining experiences: not always Chinese food, and not always in a single restaurant. We decided that since fall was a good time weather-wise to be in China, we would go then. Expensive as it was, we opted for traveling business class, and looked for tour companies that offered a business class option in their airline package.
Because of our requirements, the tour companies that we considered were mostly in the Deluxe category. Among this group was Tauck World Tours, a group that we had traveled with five times in the past. The Tauck travel experience has a reputation for quality and a high-level of inclusions. Tauck tours include only the finest hotels in the most attractive locations. Fine cuisine indicative of the local flavor is another signature of Tauck travel itineraries. These tours provide “freedom-of-choice” dining, which allows guests to dine a la carte from several regular restaurant menus with whomever they want, at any time they want.
Fully experienced directors lead Tauck tours and provide cultural insight and share interesting historical tidbits about the destinations visited. Local English speaking guides are used in all of the cities visited to give authentic cultural viewpoints. Plus, with Tauck escorted tours all travel expenses are included: meals, transportation, sightseeing, special events. taxes and all gratuities except for the tour director. (Tour directors define the quality of the trip and their compensation should reflect that quality).
In our past experiences with Tauck, one of the most important factors in making the trips outstanding for us was the quality of the tour directors. Not only were they extremely knowledgeable, they were very personable and always looked out for the special needs of each guest, whether it was a walking and/or steps problem or a food requirement, or a medical emergency.
So it should be no surprise to learn that we booked Tauck World Discovery’s 17 day China, the Yangtze River & Hong Kong tour beginning September 25, 2007. (In 2008, this trip will be only 16 days with a slightly different itinerary). The five on-the-tour flights had to be purchased from Tauck, but the international flights did not. We purchased US Airways flights from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and the return ourselves, but used Tauck to book Cathay Pacific Airlines business class from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and Dragon Airlines business class from Hong Kong to Beijing.
Tauck reserves seats, both business and coach, for their customers but you must book early or you may not get a seat. Cathay Pacific Airlines is rated as the third best airline in the world at this writing. Cathay won particular praise for its first-class and business-class service, but Skytrax, a London-based consultancy, made it clear that "the best airlines keep folks happy back in the cheap seats, too.”
Not many US cities have direct flights to Beijing. Had we waited until 2009 to travel, we could have flown directly from Philadelphia to Beijing, because US Airways plans to begin its first-ever non-stop service to Beijing from its Philadelphia hub in 2009 beginning March 25, 2009. American Airlines will fly Chicago to Beijing effective March 25, 2009.
Some of the people on our tour, in order to use frequent flyer miles or to take advantage of special two for one rates (coach), flew rather convoluted routes that involved quite a few travel legs. One couple from Bermuda flew to London, then to Dubai, then to Beijing!