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Halong Bay, with 2,000 limestone outcrops emerging dramatically from the water, is a breathtaking must-see for any visitor to Hanoi. The UNESCO world Heritage Site is featured in the James Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, with Michelle Yeoh. An overnight cruise is much preferable to a day trip if you have time, because it takes 3 hours to travel the 65 km of narrow roads from Hanoi, plus a short boat ride to the cruiser.
The Alova Gold (overnight) Cruise deserves its excellent reviews here. The boat turned out to be charming, spotlessly clean with dark wooden interiors and 11 comfortable cabins that each sleep 2-3 people, and ensuite bathrooms with a shower and hot running water.
It came as part of our Calypso Legend Hotel’s 6 day-7 night package. I’m so glad I had decided against a travel agent’s recommendation to upgrade to a luxury cruise, because that was quite unnecessary.
We were blessed with unseasonably warm (perfect!) weather in winter on Feb. 3, 2013 and water so calm that it didn’t bother my seasick-prone cousin at all. The views from Titop Island and Surprising Cave were spectacular. We had fun kayaking as promised, and the water didn’t seem polluted, as some reviewers had complained about. Our guide, Vuong a.k.a. Lucky, helped to enhance the experience with his care, humor and stories delivered in an unexpectedly Australian accent acquired from working 11 months in Sydney.
The food quality was moderate but reasonable for a package tour, and beautifully presented with flowers carved from carrots and cucumbers. One of the crew members (with a big Viet-fro hairdo) showed us how to make those veggie flowers on the ride back to the shore. The prawns on the cruise tasted surprisingly bland — a sign that they are farm-raised rather than from the sea. Throughout our 6-day Vietnam trip, sauteed chicken was consistently tough, perhaps because the poultry is free-range rather than cooped up in cages.)
To fill time more productively on the mostly boring 3-hour drive from Hanoi, the buses could be fitted with TV screens to show video travelogues, dance or puppet shows — or even just audio recordings — to help tourists learn more about Vietnam
Arrived in Hanoi with my girlfriend and had little idea on what to do! Hotel staff at charming advised Halong Bay and Sapa were must do’s! We only had a four days in Hanoi so halong bay was probably the closest and prettiest (so I had heard) place to see! Found a tour service called GoAsia travel. We met the manager- Martin and straight away were sold on the tour…. Everything Martin explained was so appealing and reasonably priced. Opted for the 2day 1 night tour on alova gold cruises and was perfect for our short stay in Hanoi. Bus arrived on time and was well appointed with air-conditioning, a friendly tour guide (Mr.Peter) and water! Trip was scary – traffic in Vietnam is crazy but we arrived at port in one piece! Everything was on time and well planned we were shown to our room on the boat which was beautiful and clean. Decent sized bed and own toilet and shower! We did plenty of activities – kayaking, swimming and even an on board cooking class. The food was never ending and absolutely delicious!! Omg everything tasted so good!!! My girlfriend (who’s vegetarian) had her own meals- they looked and tasted amazing!!! Cocktails were cheap and very tasty! There were about 10 of us on board and yet we felt we had a lot of privacy too! All the meals were fantastic! In the morning the cave trek was beautiful and had never seen anything like it… So beautiful and so glad we did the tour… Martin and his team have really thought of everything and I would highly recommend this tour and company! For the price we paid it felt like 5 star service!! Well done guys
Visited March 2013
The husband and I were booked on a 3D2N cruise with Alova Gold Nbr 1. Our guide was Johnny(hwee). Very smiley, loves to joke and crisp, clear communication from him. Charming lil guy, he definitely got us to co-operate with him well in keeping to scheduled program.
On food and rooms : great food and plenty to go around! Rooms were also clean and spacious, considering we are on a mid-size Vietnamese junk. Decent size toilets too!
Program : We knew prior to joining the cruise that the programs were fixed so we went along with it — kayaking, cooking class, cave visits etc. On Day2, those of us booked on the 3D2N schedule shifted to a smaller sized boat, while the rest of the folks (2D1N) headed back to Halong Harbor.
Now this is where Alova ‘lost’ a star. The ‘guide’ on the smaller boat was no where near Johnny in terms of hosting(where are we, what are the highlights of the area etc). He was, at best, keeping us to a scheduled list of activities. “now we kayak. 45 mins”. “Next, we have lunch, 45 mins.” At lunch, we offered drinks on a tray while being told by another staff to ‘please take one’. All of us at the table thought it was included in the program so we helped ourselves to beer and cola. To our surprise, we were billed just before we disembarked. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge amount of $$, but there were no communications from the lady (nor price list) that the drinks were chargeable. (on the other boat, a price list was displayed so we know what we are in the know).
Bad Weather Management :
30 mins after lunch on Day 2 , we were told by the ‘guide’ that all boats were being called back to Halong Harbor in lieu of bad weather ahead. There would be slight changes in our scheduled activities, after which we will all head back to one of the bigger boats where we will be taken back to Halong harbor and bussed back to Hanoi for the night.(It seemed our current group is a moltey crew fm 3 different boats – 2 fm Alova, and another cruise company). Needless to say, we were all disappointed. But if it was truly bad weather and a Port master recall, we were all ready to comply. However we had many questions, to which ‘guide’ seemed neither trained nor equipped to answer us. 2 couples were told Alova staff will pack their belongings from their cruise junk and have it sent to the main cruise junk that would take us all back to Halong harbor – they were clearly unhappy with that arrangement! When we finally arrived back to our cruise junk, we were finally advised by the new tour guide, Sunny on the process. Essentially, we head back to Hanoi for the night(arrangements have been made to secure a room at our respective hotels where we spent the night before the cruise) and a tour representative from Alova will contact us regarding refunds. By 5 pm, we were joined by 2 groups of 2D1N travelers who had to make do with a ‘day tour’ program. We all arrived into Halong Bay by 6 pm(choppy waters!) and a very wet Hanoi by 10 pm. Seemed it rained all night.
There are 2 aspects here that I’d like to share and comment on : The people and the Process.
When we met Sunny at the main cruise junk, I could tell he’s had one flustered day. He assured us that all arrangements would be made, tour representatives will contact us as soon as we reach Hanoi for refunds etc etc.. He apologized profusely and explained that it was something beyond their control. No guides were smiling that day and I can certainly understand why. He has done his best given the circumstances, trying to placate almost 20 upset and disappointed travelers. As for the ‘guide’ on the smaller boat – i think Alova could do with some training and more hand holding there. We met with our tour representative the following day where we were fairly refunded on the portions of cruise that the company could not fulfill. At this point, I’d like to add that those 2 days happened to be public holidays – Vietnam”s 38th Reunification Day, followed by Labor Day (30th April – 1 May). It seems most of their staff have gone home to their respective provinces, yet all arrangements and meetings still took place as promised.
2 nights after this episode, the husband and I traveled down south to Danang on a sleeper train. We shared a cabin with a couple who was also caught in the ‘bad weather’ program. Their experience was somewhat different, in that :
a) They were given a choice to turn around and be driven back to Hanoi immediately OR convert to a day tour program which will take place ONLY if there were sufficient numbers to make the trip out. (vs Alova’s ‘auto conversion’ of day tours)
b) They had to take care of their own accommodation arrangements back in Hanoi that same evening(vs Alova’s arrangement for us while we were still out stranded in Halong Bay – the same arrangements also extended to the stranded 2D1N travelers as well)
This is where I can see the level of professionalism shining through for Alova Gold. Given that Halong Bay is out in the sea, we are susceptible to the weather. I’d rather be safe than sorry under such circumstances.. and I’m glad we had them take care of our needs in bad weather. I would advise travelers to ask your cruise companies what is their process for bad weather – it never occurred to us but after this episode, I would so be asking this question for future weather-dependent activities!
I took a 2d1n trip on this tour with my fiancee from Hanoi. The bus journey to the port is about 3 hours. The ride is bumpy, and if u can’t stomach motion sickness, prepare some medication before hand.
Checking into the boat is a breeze from the port. The tour guide will help with the necessary documents. As we depart from the port on a smaller boat and into the open sea to embark the main cruise, I was quietly hoping that our cruise is one of the “newer” looking ones. Fortunately, it turned out that Alova Cruises had one of the better maintained cruise. The boats had a fresh coat of paint and is nicely done up.
Once on the cruise, we are treated to a welcome cocktail. The guide and bartender on the boat speaks relatively good english. Itinerary includes all meals on board, kayaking, trekking to the top of one of the islands in Halong Bay, cave exploration etc. The tours are alright since the main attraction is just to soak yourself in the amazing scenery of Halong Bay.
Not sure for other cruise, but Alova’s onboard meals are quite nice. There are efforts to decorate the dishes and make them appetising. The presentation and taste can be comparable to some restaurants in Hanoi city. But as most Viet cuisines, some dishes are repeated and it gets a bit boring eating the same thing from all the tours in Hanoi and Halong Bay.
The room on the cruise is nicely refurbished. I guess our boat was renovated not long ago. I paid for the higher price room which is at the lower deck. It has a attached toilet and is away from the busy kitchen and bar at the upper deck. There is no views from the lower deck though, but at least there is some privacy. The room has a double bed and a day bed next to the window. No TV, but there is an aircon. The toilet is clean and actually quite spacy despite it being a cruise.
As for the staff, they are friendly and caring. I was down with gastric and diarrhea on my 2nd day, and the staff was caring enough to bring me medicine. They also allow me to rest in the cabin, although it is time to checkout.
Lastly, do not save $ on the room. I think the rooms at the upper deck ain’t comfortable enough. Although there is nice window view towards the ocean, but there is no attached toilet. It is also next to the bar and kitchen. Kitchen smell, loud music, engine noise, foot steps can be a turn off whenever u stay in the room for a quick nap or rest.
During my visit to Hanoi on April with my colleagues, I joined the Alova Gold Cruises Day Tours . This cruises is not those very big cruises which just feel nice to stay on. Its calm and oozy when stay on cruise. Its clean and the foods provided are very nice. During night time, it will have happy hour for buy 1 get 1 free drinks, which the bar tender, Mr, Cheng also doing his good job in prepare meals and drinks for us.
Furthermore, our tour guide of that two days was Lucky Vuong who is a fluent English speaking guide. He took great care of us and he is a humorous guy that make our trip full of laughters!
He did a great job! Look for him when you visit Hanoi.
We spend 2D and 1N in Halong Bay last June 7&8 with Alova gold cruises. I should say it was a very great time to unwind and relax even if it was a short trip. Everything was well planned and we have all the time to enjoy the cruise and the halong bay view. Our tour guide Sunny was so nice, helpful and he made sure we were attended to all our needs. The cruise is just perfect. Our room is so comfortable. Toilet was clean. Food was great.
It was a wonderful trip and I thank Alova Gold Cruise for managing everything for us, from airport pick up, hotel stay and of course, Halong Bay cruise. Special thanks again to Sunny
We stayed 2 night and 1 day with alova gold cruise. It was a great cruise with best service. we have lunch and dinner with set menu. The room very small but so clean, but the only (-) is that the AC position is above my head so the wind always blew to my head. My guide Sunny was very best tour guide i ever had. He always help us in all condition, and he always take a picture of us, even in kayak game, because usually we didnt bring our camera in water games. And he keep his promise to send our picture via email. Thank you Sunny… hope we will meeet again in another tour in hanoi. The chef was so friendly and always explaining to us all about the food. I lov join in this tour because i can meet another friend for various country…So we recommended you to take Halongbay cruise with Alova gold cruise since the price is very reasonable, not too expensive, but i dont recommend to visit hanoi in June or July because the weather is very very hot and humid, maybe better in august or september…Thank Sunny and Alova
We did with the three people a 2 night, 3 day trip with alova gold cruises through Ha Long Bay. It was just great! Pick up was on time, enlish speaking Tourguide (Mike), when you start to get to the alova cruise the staff is helping you and is really caring for the people! Safety standard on board is for Asia pretty high, everybody gets a life jacket and the guide is giving a safety training etc.
The tours and activities you are doing, are also very good, the staff is always helping and is warning the guests from hazards, we were told from Johnny our second tour guides, to wear closed shoes, no flipflops, when visiting the caves, because of the heavy rain last night! Best advice!
The food on board is Vietnamese cuisine with a touch of western style. The guides are also giving cooking courses and you can make your own spring rolls. The drinks, which are not included in the price of the cruise, are sold on board on a reasonable pricing level (1,50 € for a beer and 1 € for a coke, water 0,60 €)
I can just recommend these operator! Was a great tour, we and all other guests were very satisfied!!!