It should come as no surprise that Halong Bay is a little slice of heaven on earth. You’ve surely seen the photos of this popular spot, that draws as many as 8 million people to the region every single year. And it’s easy to see why – the region is natural spectacle (it’s even been considered on the 7 Natural Wonders of the World).
Due to this popularity, it should also come as no surprise that there are hundreds of cruise operators all claiming to be the “best Halong Bay cruise” and trying to convince you to book with them. They range in price from affordable to luxury, and each have their own marketing angles – traditional junk boats, small 10-room cruises, sustainability-minded cruises, and so on.
So how do you possibly pick the best Halong Bay cruise? It’s overwhelming, I know. And I’m hoping this article can bring you a bit of clarity. Because I am convinced that Doris Cruise really offers one of the best Halong Bay cruise experiences.
want to know more about doris cruise: a halong bay luxury cruise
read on to find out more!
how to choose a halong bay cruise?
When choosing the right Halong Bay cruise, there are a few things to consider:
How many days in Halong Bay? We opted for a 3 day, 2 night cruise because we wanted to get the full Halong Bay experience. But I understand that seeing this landmark may not be your top priority, or your itinerary may not allow for three days allocated to Halong Bay. With that being said, I do recommend spending at least one night on Halong Bay. Halong Bay town isn’t that nice to stay overnight in, and getting from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes at least 3 hours each way (depending on traffic). If you only stay for one day, it would make for a very long and tiring day. Plus, day trips stay close to the harbor surrounded by hundreds of other ships. This makes it difficult to truly grasp the beauty of this region.
What is your Halong Bay budget? The cost of visiting Halong Bay can vary greatly, depending on the length of your stay and the type of ship. We opted for a luxury Halong Bay cruise, but I understand that this isn’t for everyone. Compared to everything else in Vietnam, the prices of visiting Halong Bay will seem inflated (even for the cheap options). Keep this in mind when booking. For myself, instead of comparing the price tag to hotel/food prices in Vietnam, I compared it to the prices of similar experiences at home and was easily able to justify this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you look at it from this perspective, any Halong Bay cruise would be considered a very good value.
How do you feel about crowds? This one is important. You’ll want to consider where your cruise is sailing to avoid being surrounded by hundreds of other boats (especially during peak season). Opt for cruises that visit Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay instead of just staying in Halong Bay. Coincidentally, these will have a higher price tag. But it will be worth it to be able to experience this beautiful region crowd-free.
Visiting Halong Bay with DORIS CRUISE
Doris Cruise is part of a brand new family of luxury 5-star Halong Bay cruises that began sailing in late 2019. The cruise offers two itineraries to choose from (1 night or 2 nights) and takes you out to the serene Lan Ha Bay, off the coast of Cat Ba island. We loved sailing out to this part of the region because there are very few Lan Ha Bay cruise operators, which means we rarely saw any other boats!
on board amenities
Doris cruise was filled with all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury Halong Bay cruise line – and the best part was that the entire ship was BRAND NEW.
The rooms were immaculate and spacious with huge bathrooms and one of the comfiest beds I have ever slept on. They were stocked with premium towels and linens, coffee and water, and toiletries. Walk into the bathroom and you’ll be greeted by a bath tub with views of the surrounding Halong Bay. And when you’re done, you can throw on a robe and continue to take in the views from your own private balcony.
If I can offer one piece of advice … If your budget allows for it, choose a Halong Bay cruise with a private balcony. This was a game changer!
The on-site Doris Cruise spa offers services that include nail care and massages. After a day of activities, I opted for an on-board pre-dinner massage and I can easily say it was one of the best massages I have ever had.
Upstairs in the common areas you’ll find a massive sundeck on the roof, with chairs for lounging. An outdoor hot tub. A fully-stacked bar and dining area. And all kinds of other on board activities like fishing, cooking classes, and more.
And above all else, what made the experience extra special was the staff, who were true professionals. They went above and beyond to make our stay perfect, were extremely engaging and helpful. It was a pleasure getting to know them during our time on board. A special shout out to our server, Hero, who went above and beyond to make sure Sebastian’s peanut and sesame allergies were minded.
doris cruise itinerary
As I mentioned before, you have two itinerary options on Doris Cruise. We opted for the two night option, but if you only choose the one night itinerary, you can remove the second day of activities.
8:00-9:00 AM : Luxury Limousine Pickup and Transfer to Halong Bay
The transfer was on time, comfortable, and smooth, with in-car amenities including water and free wifi. We made a pit stop half way to Halong Bay for a bathroom break and snacks.
12:30 PM : Check In, Welcome Drink & Lunch
When you arrive to the port, you’ll board a boat that takes you out to the cruise ship, which is docked outside of the harbor. The staff was helpful in making what could have been a very chaotic situation go smoothly. Once you arrive, you are warmly greeted by the staff and offered a welcome drink. From there, you go through a safety demonstration, and are served your first lunch (a delicious five course meal, perfectly catered to all allergy and food preferences). From there, you head to your room to get unpacked.
Mid-Afternoon : Kayaking & Swimming
After lunch, head to the back of the boat for kayaking and swimming. It was a bit cold for swimming when we visited in January, but it would have been fantastic during the warmer months. The kayaking is a lot of fun and the views are surreal. You can kayak up to the small inlet beaches and take in the views of Ba Trai Dao Islet with very few other ships around.
5:00-7:00 PM : Sunset Party
The bar opens up and it’s time to mingle with other cruise guests before dinner. During this time, the ship also hosts a happy hour (buy 2, get 1 free) and around 6:00 they host a cooking demonstration and teach you how to make spring rolls.
7:00 PM : Dinner
Dinner begins and it is served buffet-style. The options were plentiful, with food options ranging from Vietnamese to Western. And lots of delicious dessert and fresh fruits.
9:00 PM : Squid Fishing, Games, and more
Choose from a variety of games to play, or try your luck at squid fishing. Or, if you’re like us, take the party back to your private balcony and have a glass of wine together.
Tip: Drinks on board are not included, so I’d suggest packing some beers or a bottle of wine. But, if you forget to bring along something like us, keep an eye out for these ladies rowing alongside the boat selling beer, wine, and snacks. We took full advantage and bought a bottle of local wine, which was delivered to us by fishing net (the local hussle is reeeaal).
6:30 AM : Tai Chi on the Sundeck
If you’re an early riser, get up and get movin’. Tai Chi is a great way to wake up at sunrise and enjoy the beautiful Halong Bay surroundings. I mean, it really doesn’t get more peaceful than that.
7:00 AM : Early Breakfast
Even if you decided to “sleep in,” day two starts early (although this is ok if you’re like Sebastian and I who fell asleep at 9:00 pm with the lights on because the bed was SO comfy and the jet lag was REAL). Breakfast is buffet-style and has loads of options: pastries, fruit, eggs, noodle dishes, and more.
8:15 AM : Head Out for a Day Trip
Board a smaller boat and you’re off for the day. First stop: Viet Hai Village. This small local village lies on Cat Ba island. While many others visit the village by car, you’ll get the unique option of biking to the village – and taking in spectacular sights along the way. In the village we saw what day-to-day life was like for locals, tasted some local wines (with with 40% alcohol content so I’ll use the term “wine” loosely) and learned about the history of the Viet Hai community.
Next, we biked back to the harbor and boarded the boat where we enjoyed a massive (5-7 course??) meal.
Our final stop was a floating fish farm near Van Boi Beach where we got to see the locals fishing. These floating villages used to scatter Halong Bay, however many of them have since been given opportunities job on land by the government as tourism has grown in the region. This may seem a bit sad, that this tradition is being extinguished – however, guides said that the alternative jobs have provided a better quality of life for these locals, and that in many cases the change in welcome.
At the fishing village you’re also able to enjoy more swimming and kayaking. Afterwards, you’ll head back to Doris Cruise, arriving around 3-3:30 PM.
Here’s a few highlights from this awesome day:
5:00-9:00 PM : Sunset Party, Dinner & Activities
Evening activities are the same as they were on night one. You can reference the “Day 1” section for these details.
6:30-7:45 AM : Tai Chi & Early Breakfast
These activities will be the same as day two.
8:00 AM : Bamboo Boat Ride to Hang Sang & Toi
You’ll leave the boat and head out on your last excursion, where you’ll get on a bamboo boat and explore Hand Sang & Toi – which was used as a filming location for the most recent King Kong movie. The region was breathtaking and you could hear a pin drop… it was so serene and quiet. There wasn’t a single boat or tour group around. Locals rowed us around the inlets, as we were able to take in the beautiful surrounding area.
9:30 AM : Checkout & Early Lunch
Head back to your room, finishing packing, and complete the check out process. From there, to you’ll head up to the dining room to enjoy one last early lunch, and take in the beautiful surrounding scenery one last time.
11:30 AM : Back to the Harbor
You’ll say your goodbyes, disembark Doris Cruise, and head back to the harbor by transfer boat. From here, you’ll be greeted by your luxury limousine driver and will make your way back to Hanoi (if applicable).
Ready to Book?
I would highly recommend emailing them directly versus booking with a search engine. If you book directly, they are more likely to include added perks, such as a free shuttle to/from Hanoi.
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And don’t forget to check out my very detailed Hanoi Travel Guide (complete with map!) to use while you’re visiting Hanoi.