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Tips for Choosing The Best Halong Bay Cruises

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As Halong Bay cruise tour is a must-do on many travelers’ lists, picking a good boat in Halong Bay makes a big difference to whether you come back raving about your trip or warning others not to make the mistakes you did. Here is our comprehensive guide to choosing the best cruise in Halong Bay.

Halong Bay, sometimes written as Ha Long Bay, is well-known as a stunningly gorgeous seascape that attracts a large number of tourists to admire the UNESCO World Heritage every year. Possessing an area of 1,500 sq. km in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is home to some 1,600 lush islands and rugged islets rising up from the turquoise waters.

As cruising is the best way to explore the charm of towering limestone rock formations, Halong Bay junk boat is widely popular among travelers to Vietnam. Furthermore, a Ha Long Bay boat tour offers a great deal of itinerary, transportation, accommodation, food, activities, and other worth-trying services. Set location in northern Vietnam, most travelers choose to take the Halong Bay cruise from Hanoi, which includes a shuttle bus transferring from Hanoi to Ha Long and a boat tour to discover the bay. Have you ever wondered how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise? Learn our tips to pick the best Halong Bay boat company to enjoy your excursion.

How to choose the best Halong Bay cruise

When it comes to choosing the best Vietnam Halong Bay boat, it must be struggling and overwhelming as there is plenty of cruise names, ranges, sizes, itineraries, reviews, and other criteria to consider. You have to compare a bunch of Halong Bay junk tours together and research Halong Bay cruise ratings before your trip.

How to choose best Halong Bay Cruise

9 step to choose the best Halong Bay Cruise

To avoid unexpected experiences and disappointments of Halong Bay tour in Vietnam, follow our guide on deciding the best one for you. Having worked as a Halong Bay boat tour agency for 10 years, we will share our handy tips on how to choose the best cruise in Halong Bay and other essential guides on cruising for the first time in Halong Bay.

1. Decide on which cruise itinerary you want to travel in Halong Bay

There are quite many options of travel route while picking a good boat cruise in Halong Bay. When the majority of boats sail the same routes to the most popular sights, some others take alternative routes to less touristic destinations. In general, there are 3 zones you can choose to visit: Halong Bay,Lan Ha Bay, or Bai Tu Long Bay. Normally, one cruise only visits one of 3 areas, some say that they travel through 2 or all 3 areas; but in fact, the cruise still lets you visit mainly in one zone, and with the others, they just passing by, not go deep inside.  

a corner of halong bay

Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay share the same natural beauty

Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay own the same natural geographic structure so all the 3 areas are stunning. However, it is not the same travel experience with all these 3 zones. See what each route has to offer to opt for the most suitable Ha Long Bay cruise line for you.

  • Route 1: Main Halong Bay

If you like the bustling atmosphere, just basically choose a cruise that allows you to stay overnight in the Halong Bay areas such as Paradise Cruise or Indochina Junks. This area is the most famous zone in the Gulf of Tonkin, so there are many tourists and cruises travel in Halong Bay every day. This area and also has the largest number of splendid ancient caves such as Sung Sot, Ti Top, Thien Cung, Dau Go, etc. If you are an active traveler, Halong Bay is just for you!

As the area with the most cruises working on it, Halong Bay has a wide range of Halong Bay overnight cruises for you to choose from. Some of the best 2-day Ha Long cruise recommendations arePresident Cruise, Pelican Cruise, Glory Legend Cruise, etc.

  • Route 2: Lan Ha Bay & Cat Ba Island

It is said that Lan Ha Bay is the most beautiful area here and it has been a hot trend of cruising in Halong Bay for about 2 years. Lan Ha Bay is not as crowded as Halong Bay and it’s really suitable for people seeking a true excursion of the best Halong Bay tour. Although Lan Ha Bay does not have so many interesting caves and beaches to visit as Halong Bay, you still go on a soft adventure by booking a cruise that travels through Lan Ha Bay and visits Cat Ba Island. A trip to Cat Ba Island normally allows you to enjoy a short biking tour along with a visit to Trung Trang Cave and Cat Ba National Park. Go for our best recommendations of Halong Bay boat tour to Lan Ha Bay, such as Orchid Cruise, Mon Cheri Cruises, Peony Cruise, etc.

  • Route 3: Bai Tu Long Bay

Comparing with Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay is the most less-touristy area. Therefore, if you need a few tranquil days, just go ahead and book a Bai Tu Long Bay cruise. As a lesser-known travel destination, Bai Tu Long Bay is a perfect place for kayaking and swimming with super clean wild beaches and crystal clear water which Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay cannot be compared with. Some recommendations for your Bai Tu Long Bay cruises are Emperor Cruise, Starlight Cruise, Swan Cruise, etc.

How can you know which area that a cruise will take you to? It is a piece of cake. Most Halong Bay junk tours provide a detailed itinerary of where they go on their website so just check it out.  

2. Consider how many days you spend on Halong Cruise

While considering the duration of your Halong Bay tour, it is required to answer a few questions on how to choose the best Halong Bay cruises for you. Are you seeking for true relaxation? Is this your once-in-a-blue-moon trip to Halong Bay or Vietnam? Have you come back to Halong Bay after a very long time? Or do you travel to Halong Bay for the first time? If all the answers are YES, don’t hesitate to pick an overnight Halong Bay cruise instead of a day cruise.

halong bay cruise

Choose an overnight Halong Bay cruise to get more chilling time

There are two main options of 3-day/2-night and 2-day/1-night to choose the best overnight Halong Bay junk boat. Actually, the 2-day Halong Bay cruise option only takes a 24-hour experience since you board around noon on the first day and disembark around 11:30 a.m. on the second day. Meanwhile, the 3-day Halong Bay tour offers a half-day on the first day, a full day on the second day, and a half-day on the last day. As a result, if you are not on a tight budget or time constraint, you should be wise to decide on a 3-day/2-night Halong Bay tour which allows you not to feel rushed and more relaxing with an extra night compared with a 2-day/1-night option.

In fact, a 2-day/1-night Ha Long Bay cruise tour is more popular among tourists reasonably due to the scant time and limited budget. Let’s see our list of the best 2-day Halong Bay boat recommendations you can opt for: Paloma Cruise, Era Cruises, Heritage Cruises, etc. If you look for a 3-day Ha Long Bay junk, opt for a balcony room to put your feet up with more chilling activities on board.

If you still wonder how many days you should spend on Halong Bay junk boat, you may also like this article "Halong Bay Tour Itinerary: 1 Night or 2 Nights On Cruise Is Better?".

3. Estimate your budget and pick the best price range

Among hundreds of Halong Bay boats, you absolutely can choose the one that suits your budget. While comparing various price ranges of Ha Long cruise, you can easily select the most appropriate cruise standard. A good price shouldn’t be cheap but reasonable for the quality. Normally, people opt for the cruise from a 3-star standard for their overnight trip to Halong Bay to guarantee the cruise’s quality. We can give you the nearly exact price ranges (per night) for different types of Halong Bay overnight cruises as below:

  • 3-star cruise: USD 120 – USD 135
  • 4-star cruise: USD 130 – USD 160
  • 5-star cruise: USD 140 – USD 200

Besides the above popular price ranges, there are many special luxurious 5-star cruises in Halong Bay with an unbelievable price which normally starts from about USD 300 per night such as Emperor, Paradise Peak, Orchid Premium, Ginger Cruise, Violet Cruise, etc. 

Halong bay cruise

Choose the most suitable range of Halong Bay boat for yourself

For more tips on how to choose the best cruise in Halong Bay by price ranges, please take a look at three levels of comfort you may opt for.

  • Luxury Halong Bay cruise

When money is not a big deal, just go for a luxury boat in Halong Bay. A high-end overnight Halong Bay boat should be comparable to a 5-star hotel stay, where a well-maintained boat is expected with well-equipped furniture, splendid cabins, high-end amenities, and excellent services. Depending on your budget, you can choose the best Halong Bay luxury cruise which suits your preferences, like an outstanding bathtub with bay views, a massive bed, a banquette style lounge, a restaurant serving a combination of buffet and a la carte, a Jacuzzi pool on the sundeck, and other more. If you prefer on-board activities, you would better choose a 5-star cruise to enjoy your Halong Bay tour to the fullest. For those who still wonder about which Vietnam Halong Bay cruise is best, check our best recommendations of the top 10 most luxury cruises in Halong Bay.

  • Mid-range Halong Bay cruise

On a smaller budget, the mid-range options get more limited as you will be more demanding about which is the best Halong Bay boat company. The top-end of the mid-range list of Ha Long Bay cruise will be comparable to a 4-star hotel, while the low-end will be corresponding to a 3-star hotel. Compared with the high-end cruises, the mid-range ones won’t be as spacious and as fabulous with fewer facilities and amenities. The short wine and cocktails list might not extend far past gin and tonics. There is also less staff with less guidance and fewer activities. Nevertheless, you can enjoy most of the experiences like you wish it would be on luxury boats.

If you decide on a mid-range boat, try out some highlights of the top 10 recommended 4-star Halong Bay cruises in our travel guide.

  • Low-budget Halong Bay cruise

When you are on a tight budget, it is quite challenging for you to decide on the best Vietnam Halong Bay cruise. You should do some research based on Ha Long Bay cruise ratings and find some feedbacks from previous travelers so as to avoid troubles. Budget Halong Bay boats usually have small size and capacity with basic furnishings. Very few amenities and facilities are expected, corresponding with a lack of staff and services. To be honest, you will find a low-budget cruise in Halong Bay equivalent to a 2-star hotel. Hence, it is really confusing when you consider how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise on a shoestring. Currently, there are some new gems of budget Halong Bay junk that you can give a try with our recommendations of the top 7 cruises for budget travelers in Halong Bay.

4. Choose a Halong Bay cruise tour by category

It becomes effortless when you know how to choose the right Halong Bay cruise relying on your special needs. Every group of people has their own needs, some of which can’t be abandoned even while you are traveling. The choice of Ha Long Bay cruise tour depends on who you travel with (your family, your friends, or your darling), which type of traveling you are into (young backpackers, middle-aged, or retirees), etc. Below are some common special needs that you may have and a few Halong Bay tour suggestions to solve your problem and help you choose a good Halong Bay junk boat.

  • Cruise cabin

Basically, there are only 2 – 3 types of the cabin on a cruise, including double, twin, and family. All cruises from 3 – 5-star standards have double and twin cabins. However, not every Halong Bay boat has a triple room, family room, or connecting room. Therefore, before deciding to book a cruise tour, you have to consider carefully about your requirements and the cruise you like as sometimes you need a family room but the boat you choose doesn’t have that type of room or the price for that room is too expensive. Some suggested cruises have family cabins or family connecting cabins with reasonable price are Swan Cruise, Paloma Cruise, Peony Cruise, etc.

swan cruise family connecting cabin

Swan Cruise's family connecting cabin

  • Kid-friendly cruise

Unfortunately, there are not many Ha Long Bay junks that have a kid club to probably babysit your children. However, if you really need some spare time for yourself, you can consider Azalea Cruise or Emperor Cruise. On the other hand, don’t have a kid club doesn’t mean that it is not a kid-friendly cruise. If your kids are not so small, you can ask for babysitting help from cruise staffs, if they are not so busy or in a hurry, it’s pretty sure there will be someone willing to help you take care of your kids for short time. Some best Ha Long Bay cruise recommendations for babysitting services are Signature Halong Cruise, Bhaya Legend Private Cruise, La Regina Cruises, etc.

kids club on emperor cruise

Kids club in Emperor Cruise

  • Honeymoon cruise

When choosing a suitable Halong Bay boat tour for your honeymoon vacation, you must consider a private cruise. In Halong Bay, there are some overnight cruises which give couples and newlyweds an individual atmosphere from cabin décor, dining table set, and special offers. What is better than enjoying dinner on the sundeck with candles, flowers, and wine? Or sharing sweet moments together while admiring the sunset in Halong Bay? Plenty of Ha Long cruises offer honeymoon packages at a reasonable cost. The best recommendations of honeymoon cruises in Halong Bay include Emperor Cruises, Valentine Premium Cruise, Heritage Line Violet Cruise, L'amour Junk, etc.

5. Select the most suitable size of cruise

The size and capacity of the Vietnam Halong Bay cruise do matter when you compare a list of junk boats. All cruise lines in Ha Long Bay provide information on the boat size, the number of cabins, and how many passengers it can take. You should do your research for the most appropriate Halong Bay boat company.

Some travelers might be socializing and happy to meet people, while some enjoy their own solitude. With the medium size of the cruise, the space is so limited that you might have to share the space with strangers. Remember that the bigger the cruise is, the more spaces you will have. That’s the reason why if you prefer a private space, you should go for a large cruise or consider one of the top 5 private Halong Bay cruises.

6. Take the cuisine and dining into account

How to choose the best cruise in Halong Bay considering your preferences for food and drink? Learn about the cuisine style and detailed menu of the cruise on their website where a great collection of magazine-style photos illustrate appetizing dishes. There is a blend of Vietnamese food, Euro-Asian fusion, Western cuisine, and seafood as you would expect. The overnight Halong Bay cruises generally serve a combination of buffets, set menus, and/or a la carte (lunch and dinner).

More than this, there is an array of unique dining styles on the Halong Bay junk: Orchid Cruise plays traditional instruments serving meals, Heritage Cruise serves Royal Dinner that passengers can dress like Kings and Queens and feel like royalty. For more special requirements, you can ask for well-served kid meals on some cruises like Orchid Cruisesand Bhaya Legend Private Cruise. Other requirements may include food allergies and intolerances, vegan, Indian, or Halal food. It is highly recommended to contact the cruise line before booking to make sure they can accommodate.

royal dinner on cruise

Having dinner in King & Queen costumes on Halong Bay boat

  • Vegetarian or Halal food

Actually, if you are a vegetarian, most of the Halong Bay junk tours can help you to keep going on your special diet. All you have to do is notify that you are vegetarian before your trip a few days and they definitely can provide you all meals with vegetarian food.

However, it’s not easy to find a Halong Bay cruise that provides Halal food. Up until now, Mon Cheri Cruise is the only one serving authentic Halal food with the official certificate. Therefore, if you keen on eating Halal food, just simply choose to book Mon Cheri Cruise. On the other hand, if you prefer other cruises, you can ask them to prepare vegetarian meals for you as a back-up solution.

Mon Cheri Cruise's Halal Certificate

Mon Cheri Cruise's Halal Certificate

7. Pick out your favorite onboard activities

The most effective way to choose the best Halong Bay boat is to see which activities they have to offer. Basically, the overnight Halong Bay cruises provide passengers with more diverse activities than the day cruises do. Instead of lounging around with a great book or sightseeing in the bay, you can join various on-board activities on a 2-day/ 3-day Halong Bay cruise.

  • Kayaking 

Kayaking is one of the must-try activities on a Halong Bay tour. Most 2-day and 3-day Halong Bay cruises list kayaking in their itinerary and excursion. You will kayak among the uprising limestone karsts or through dark & bright cave to get closer to the charm of Halong Bay.

kayaking in halong bay

Kayaking is one of the most popular things to do in Halong Bay

  • Cycling

Another must-try activity of a Halong Bay boat tour is cycling. You can go cycling to off-the-beaten-path routes and some local villages. It is the best thing to do while traveling with family, friends, and the other half.

  • Tai Chi Exercise

Many overnight Halong Bay cruises offer Tai Chi as a morning exercise to start a new day on the rooftop deck. Tai Chi is a gently physical exercise giving relaxation and beneficial retreat to your health.

  • Yoga class

Instead of Tai Chi lessons, some cruises give yoga classes as a fitness activity onboard. It is perfect to do meditation retreat while soaking up the refreshing air in Halong Bay. As an addict of yoga and meditation, you should not miss out on Scarlet Pearl Cruises and Dragon Legend Cruise.

  • Cooking class

For those into traditional Vietnamese cuisine, a cooking class is a great opportunity to learn basic cooking methods and demonstrations of Vietnam through the instruction in rolling fresh/ fried spring rolls. Actually, you don’t have to cook anyway. It is an interesting way of socializing and relaxing.

cooking class on halong bay cruise

Join a cooking class on Halong Bay junk

  • Night squid fishing

Squid fishing is such an amusing night activity on the Ha Long cruise. You will be guided by the staff on how to catch a fresh squid by fishing rod.

  • Sunbathing

Either sundeck or spacious balcony is an ideal place to get a tan skin. All you have to do is putting your feet up and laying down on a sun-bed, sometimes a good book can be a great companion.

  • Pool party

If you travel in a group of friends, you can consider choosing a Halong Bay cruise which has an outdoor Jacuzzi pool to enjoy an exciting pool party. Some Halong Bay boats with a Jacuzzi pool that you should have a try include Jasmine Cruise, Orchid Cruise, etc.

  • Spa and massage

Spa and massage are ways of exhilarating and relaxing on the cruise. If you are a fan of spa treatment, book a Ha Long Bay tour with a spa that is available on most cruise boats.

8. Check what included in a Halong Bay cruise

In fact, most of Vietnam Halong Bay cruises can offer these basic services: transportation, full facilities cabin with air-con, meals, sightseeing, kayaking, night fishing, cooking class, spa & massage, swimming, and Tai-chi class. However, some cruises can provide different sightseeing itineraries with others. For example, Mon Cheri Cruise takes you to Cat Ba Island and kayaking at Dark & Night Cave, Orchid Cruise also lets you visit Cat Ba Island but it also takes you further into the less touristy area in Bai Tu Long Bay, Swan Cruise gives you a chance to swim at Cap La Island and visit the amazing Thien Canh Son Cave. It is necessary to compare for the best Halong Bay cruise companies together.

Jacuzzi on Halong bay cruise

Choose a luxury Halong Bay junk to get experiences of high-end services

It is also easy to see that the higher standard the cruise, the better the cabin. However, the expensive 5-star cruises bring much more than you can expect. Some have a swimming pool and Jacuzzi on deck like Jasmine Cruise,Orchid Cruise; Stella of the Sea Cruise has a mini-golf course on its 4th deck; especially the Emperor Cruise brings the unique experience to its guests by giving them the all-inclusive services with unlimited spa & massage, food, and beverage (include alcohol) services, each room is taken care by a different staff (24/7 duty), etc.

Just consider carefully about what you really want and need for your trip to Halong Bay, you can find the most suitable Halong Bay cruise which definitely meets your demands.

9. Find the best travel agent to choose Halong Bay boat tour

You can find hundreds of travel agents that advertise that they can provide you a 2-day/1-night or 3-day/2-night overnight cruise in Halong Bay at a super-saving cost both online and around Hanoi Old Quarter. However, it is the fact that cheap price doesn’t mean the best price and although the travel cost in Vietnam is quite low, an amazingly cheap price of services, especially for the Halong Bay junk boat seems unbelievable. You should check carefully to find the best Halong Bay boat company before deciding on the chosen one.

The most effective way to find the best travel agent for your trip to Halong Bay is to get as many reviews as possible. The Halong Bay cruise ratings can come from your friends who used the services before and several reputable travel forums such as TripAdvisor, Travel Blog, TravelFish, etc. These forums provide an ecosystem sharing trustworthy reviews from travelers while the services providers can hear, answer its customers’ questions, and solve problems. Normally, the best travel agent will be available in the top 10 of TripAdvisor or mentioned a lot in other travel forums, even appears in reputable newspapers. You can also check the website of a travel agent for other customers’ reviews which most trustworthy travel agents provide openly on their website. These guidelines will help you find which cruise in Halong Bay is the best.

How to pack for the best Halong Bay cruise trip

  • Passport

Every foreign passenger needs a passport to embark on a Halong Cruise. Your tour guide will ask it during your bus ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay. It is an essential document to bring along whenever needed. So, you better have your passport in your handbag rather than pack in your luggage.

  • Snacks and drinks

Some snacks and drinks are for the 2.5-hour bus ride to Halong Bay or short excursions around the bay. Although the journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay has one stop at a massive store, the selling items are really expensive, especially the snacks. Just pack a few snacks and drinks in case you are hungry or thirsty during the excursions.

  • Bottled water

You should bring your own bottle to avoid littering plastic bottles in Halong Bay. Note that some luxury cruises provide free drinking water while others may charge an extra fee. You might get a bottle on the bus and two in your cabin, then pay for the rest while on board. Sometimes, you will receive a glass bottle as a souvenir from some Halong Bay cruise lines.

  • Swimsuit

Don’t forget about swimming among the calm waters in Halong Bay. There is no need to pack your towel as Halong Bay boats offer toiletries. You only need to pack one or two swimsuits for swimming, kayaking, or snorkeling around Halong Bay.

  • Sunblock/ sunscreen

Except for the wintertime, Ha Long Bay is almost sunny all year round. Especially, Halong Bay summer experiences mid-30s temperatures and high-UV indexes. You definitely need sunblock and sunscreen for outdoor activities in Ha Long Vietnam, lounging on the sun deck, sunbathing on the beach, kayaking, cycling, and other more.

  • Wide-brimmed hat/ Umbrella

If you go for a Ha Long Bay cruise tour in summer, sunblock and sunscreen are not protective enough to prevent sunburn in Halong Bay. You better pack a wide-brimmed hat or an umbrella while going out. Also, it is a perfect fashion item to take selfies with.

halong bay packing

A wide-brimmed hat is a must-have item to pack to Halong Bay 

  • Binoculars

Halong Bay is a complex of natural heritage sites, some of which are only admired from afar. It is best to have binoculars and feast your eye on stunning limestone karsts from a Halong Bay junk boat.

  • Waterproof Cellphone Case

A waterproof cellphone case shouldn’t be missed on a beach excursion to Halong Bay. There is a number of water sports like kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, etc. that require a waterproof phone case to protect your phone from getting splashed.

  • Electrical adapter

In Vietnam, the most common types of electrical plug and socket are type A (two flat vertical pins), type C, and type F (two round pins). Make sure you have an adapter in case you use 3-pin plugs. Furthermore, the electricity supply in Vietnam is at 220V/ 50Hz. You better check the voltage of your device in advance since many countries in North and Central America usually use 110V.

For more tips, check this article out to find 9 Packing Tips for Your Trip to Halong Bay.

All in all, we hope our guideline on how to choose the best Halong Bay cruise will help you pick a right boat that suits your needs. Follow our travel tips and experiences in Halong Bay, Vietnam then opt for one of our top-rated Halong Bay cruise recommendations.

You may also like: Top 10 Best Cruises in Halong Bay

MinKJ & Nhung Dang

 (Image source: Internet)

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