There’s something magical about Halong Bay. Floating gently past limestone cliffs covered in trees, the bright emerald water glistening under the sunshine. Spending days exploring hidden pockets, kayaking through caves, swimming and visiting floating villages. Watching the bright orange sunset while sipping on a cocktail, dancing the night away then slipping back to your room for a good night’s sleep. There’s nowhere else quite like Halong Bay, which is why it should be on every traveller’s bucket list. If you’re planning a trip to Halong Bay and need help choosing a great Halong Bay cruise company, here’s my full review of our experience aboard Paradise Cruise’ Paradise Elegance.
But first, watch this…
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Where is Halong Bay?
You’ll find Halong Bay in the north-east of Vietnam. If you haven’t visited Vietnam before, you’re in for a real treat. We’ve been a few times and love the genuinely warm, friendly, welcoming nature of the locals. The food is fantastic, service is always great and it’s a beautiful destination that happens to be very budget-friendly. If you’re planning a trip to Hanoi, it’s worth adding Halong Bay to your itinerary. I mean, if you don’t go when you’re visiting Hanoi, when will you get the chance to go again? We’ve done a 3 day 2-night cruise and a 2 day 1-night cruise. If you have the time, I recommend the 3 days 2-night option, you get more time and just feel like you experience it at a nice, slow pace.
How the heck do I get there?
We flew directly from Sydney to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines and loved it! The airline offered great food and service as well as comfortable seats and reliable service. Paradise Cruise operates a transfer service which picks guests up from Hanoi and drives them out to Halong Bay. Our transfer bus was super comfortable and luxurious, making the drive easy. The distance from Hanoi to Halong Bay is around 180km and generally takes around 3 1/2 to 4 hours each way, depending on traffic. The driver will stop at the halfway point for a toilet, snack and rest break.
Generally speaking, transfer pick-up should be around 7-7:30 am, arriving in Halong Bay around 11:30 am. If you’d prefer not to transfer early in the morning, Paradise Cruise has a hotel on Tuan Chau Island. You might like to stay the night before and/or after the cruise at Paradise Suites Hotel. This would mean, that on the day your cruise starts, you can sleep in, have a delicious breakfast, explore the area then board your cruise ship at 12:15 pm. We stayed the night before our cruise and loved the slow, easy start to the day.
What’s the cruise ship like?
We visited as part of a media trip and were treated to a 2 day 1-night cruise aboard Paradise Elegance II. Arriving into the harbour, the Paradise fleet all lined up together, flags blowing in the wind was a great experience. I love the design of the cruise ships, the perfect fusion of traditional Vietnamese and French design. Each of the Paradise Elegance cruise ships (there are two) is comprised of five decks, a dining room, a separate bar, a reading area, a sundeck and a spa. There are 31 cabins, which I loved because it meant we didn’t feel overcrowded.
There are 14 Deluxe Balcony Cabins, 13 Executive Balcony Cabins, 2 Elegance Balcony Suites and 2 Captain’s View Terrace Suites. We stayed in an Executive Balcony Cabin, located on the upper deck, and absolutely loved it. The cabins are a great size, 25m sq, with a huge king size bed and big fluffy pillows that ensure a great night’s sleep. The ensuite is also a great size, totally decked out like a hotel-quality ensuite. Just outside the ensuite is a walk-in wardrobe where you can spread out your luggage and hang up your clothes. The private balcony is equipped with a small round table and two chairs, offering privacy on both sides so you can sit and enjoy the view without seeing anyone else. You’ll also find a flat-screen, wall-mounted television offering plenty of English channels so you can curl up at night and watch a movie before going to sleep.
Now, look, Matt and I have done two Halong Bay cruises in our life. The first was with a budget cruise company, the second was with Paradise. I can honestly say, our luxe experience with Paradise Cruise was more enjoyable. Our cabin was so comfortable, yet not over-crowded, it was enjoyable for us to spend time in there. It was so nice to have our own private space where we could just sit and enjoy the view. It was also really nice knowing we were going to get a great night’s sleep and have a nice hot shower at the end of the day (our budget cruise shower wasn’t so great).
I loved how many different areas there were to hang out onboard Paradise Elegance II. We could hide out on our balcony or curl up in bed watching movies. We could sit out on the back deck and bask in the sunshine or get cosy on the upper deck with a few cocktails and incredible views of Halong Bay. After dinner in the restaurant, we could retire to the bar and listen to live music while sipping on a glass of wine. When you’re onboard a cruise ship it’s important there’s enough to see and do to keep you entertained and I really felt Paradise nailed that – we always had somewhere to hang out, something to do, or, if we wanted, our own comfortable, private space to retreat to.
But, what is there to do?
There’s so much to do! This is why I recommend the 3 days 2-night trip if you have the time to do it. You want to make sure you have a good balance of enjoying the ship and doing activities, so I think having 3 days gives you the right amount of time to balance both. Don’t worry, if you can only do 2 days 1 night, you’ll still get to see, do and eat a lot! Here are some of the activities you can get stuck into onboard Paradise Elegance I and II:
- Explore Sung Sot Cave, the largest cave in Halong Bay
- Attend a cooking demonstration and learn how to whip up Vietnamese delicacies
- Visit Titop Island and swim at the only beach in the bay before ascending the 200 steps to the top
- Check out Tung Sau Pearl Farm and learn about local pearl farmers
- Explore Cua Van Floating Village, one of only 5 remaining
- Discover the Luon Cave
- Climb aboard a kayak and paddle paste limestone rock formations
- Have some much-needed rest and relaxation at the onboard spa
- Join in a spot of squid fishing off the back of the boat, after dark
- Head to the bar after dinner for singing, dancing and karaoke, if you’re game!
- Rise with the sun and start your day with Tai Chi
- Catch a movie in the restaurant
Talk me through the food situation…
When you’re on a cruise ship with no other option, it’s imperative the food and service onboard are on point. You’ll be pleased to know, Paradise Cruise nail the food situation! We sampled all the meals onboard and enjoyed the food, drinks and service. Lunch was served buffet style, which can be a tricky thing to get right, balancing quantity and quality. But, they absolutely nailed it! The food was fresh and flavoursome, offering a great range of healthy, light options and more filling bites for a big hunger. I also loved how they incorporated local dishes too, offering a taste of Vietnam.
In the afternoon we were treated to freshly cut fruits and a selection of cakes and sweets served with coffee and tea in the bar. You could pop a few pieces on a plate and head out to the deck to sit and watch the world float by. Dinner was served a la carte and the menu was stacked with delicious choices. The food was top-quality and absolutely delicious and fresh, offering four incredible courses that were the perfect end to the day (did I mention the wine and cheese selection? Yummm!)
If you’re an early riser, you can get stuck into tea and coffee served with pastries and cookies as a pre-breakfast snack. Then, tuck into a delicious breakfast of cereal, fruit, cold cuts, cheese, pastries, yoghurts and juices as well as eggs, sausages and bacon. If you’re feeling like some alone time, room service is available for continental breakfast, snacks and drinks.
I really enjoyed all the food we ate on board! As I said, it’s incredibly important to get it right and, for me, Paradise does tick all the boxes and I found myself looking forward to each meal. Matt and I are both vegetarian and were spoilt for choice with veggie-friendly options! The staff had special sushi and Vietnamese rolls made up for is, so if you do have special dietary requirements, you’ll have no trouble getting something yummy to eat.
We loved our Paradise Cruise experience! While we got to experience Paradise Elegance, the fleet is larger, offering something different depending on your budget or travel preferences. I think a cruise with Paradise Cruise would be absolutely perfect as part of a honeymoon, birthday, anniversary or other special celebration. That said, it’s also a great choice for anyone visiting Halong Bay, whether it’s your first time or returning again.
The staff onboard were so attentive, genuinely caring and professional, we definitely experienced Vietnam’s signature hospitality. The food was fantastic, the cabins were incredible and the activities were great too! There was so much to see and do onboard if you wanted to, but also plenty of options to unwind and relax. I think Elegance does a great job of balancing adventure and relaxation, catering to everyone’s needs.
On our first visit to Halong Bay, many years ago, Matt and I had a really tough time choosing a Halong Bay cruise. Now, having experienced it for myself, I would quite happily recommend Paradise Cruise to my family and friends. They offer great service, fun activities, good food and a reliable, luxury service sure to make any holiday enjoyable. If you find yourself planning your Halong Bay trip, wondering if it’s worthwhile going for the luxury option… I would say yes, it is. We’ve done it both ways (luxe and less) and far preferred the luxury experience. The difference really is experienced at every level, from the food through to the cabins and beyond. It just makes for a more carefree, enjoyable, relaxing adventure.