Went on a 2D1N overnight cruise on Halong Bay on New Year's Eve. Because it was peak period and we booked just a few weeks before, a lot of the popular boats such as Paloma were fully booked. Also, we preferred to go with a cruise that cruises the Bai Tu Long area which I read online was less crowded. There are only certain boats that depart from the other harbour (not Haiphong which most day tours do).
Found Travel Sense on tripadvisor and managed to chat with their sales person online at their website - a great service! David and Huyen were quick with their responses which I appreciated. Based on their recommendations, we chose to go with White Dolphin as the boat looks new and comfortable and with a limit of 22 pax, would be more private.
Huyen offered to come by the hostel we stayed to receive the remaining payment (paid a 30% deposit prior to secure the booking) which we appreciated so we did not have to travel to their office. She even brought a credit card machine but we decided to pay in cash. What I was impressed with was that she remembered to deduct the card fees from the total (as our quoted cost was all inclusive of card fee, taxes etc) amount! For a tourist, honesty is very important when selecting a tour agency and we're glad that we met with one such as Travel Sense.
The rooms were beautiful, new and well-maintained. It came with bath amenities and even a mini fridge. Had a big sundeck area and would've have loved to try diving from the boat but it was too cold in Dec! Meals came in set menu and were of good quality. We had an average of 6-7 courses for lunch and dinner and each menu came balanced with seafood, meat, vegetables and fruits. Drinks (which were not included in the cost) were surprisingly not too expensive and we ended up ordering wine and cocktails (about USD 6 each).
However some points to note -
- Avoid lower deck rooms as the diesel fumes are strong at that level. It doesn't help that I have a sensitive nose!
- The boat did not seem to travel far as we appeared to be parked in a bay area most of the time. I was expecting some introduction of the various islands/ rock formations but the guide did not provide any. We were left alone most of the time to enjoy the scenery. It would be good to have some posters or brochures with information about Halong Bay and its various attractions.
- The itinerary indicated visit to floating village and kayaking but we were told that the itinerary would change according to the captain's route. In the end, we had to choose between kayaking to the floating village or to a lake beyond a cave. The group decided on the second option. Kayaking is a GREAT way to experience the bay!
- There was no sound system available on board so meal time can be awkwardly quiet. Luckily some of us took the initiative and managed to play music from portable speakers and ipods to add some ambience.
- There is a lot of waiting time in between boarding and disembarking and for the shuttle bus back to Hanoi so do be patient.
Overall, it was still a great relaxing experience and we were happy with the service provided. I would recommend an overnight cruise for Halong Bay for a relaxing time. After travelling 4 hrs from Hanoi city to the harbour, it would have been too tiring and such a rush to appreciate the scenery for a day tour.
Resource : Tripadvisor