Review: Paloma Cruise Halong Bay

REVIEW: PALOMA CRUISE

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A cruise on Halong Bay is a highlight of any trip to Hanoi. The area is an UNESCO listed heritage site and is deservedly popular with visitors. Dramatic limestone karsts rise and fall in calm turqouise waters. In the early morning, mist obscures the distant islands and the imagination sees fantastical shapes – dragons, turtles, and eagles. Halong Bay itself means “Descending Dragon,” and the creation myth of its beginning tells tale of a celestial dragon making her home in the waters of the bay.

There are many choices when it comes to choosing a Halong bay cruise and in most cases you get what you pay for. We were after a comfortable experience, with an interesting itinerary, towards the higher end of the scale that offered enough entertainment without the rowdiness of a party boat. After some extensive research, I went with Paloma Cruise, choosing the 3 day 2 night itinerary.

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Review: Paloma Cruise | Transit to Ha Long Bay City

Pick up from the hotel was scheduled for between 7:30 to 8:10 AM and we were then taken to Paloma Cruise’s office to pay for our trip. The drive to Ha Long Bay city took almost 4 hours, with a toilet break in between. The stop is at a giant tourist souvenir shop, where you can pick up silk products, lacquerware, postcards, local foods and other gifts. There was no pressure to buy when we visited. The van we were in was relatively comfortable, but for such a long trip, the break and the chance to stretch our legs was most welcome.

Review: Paloma Cruise | Boarding the Paloma

The ship itself is moored away from the harbour. To get there, we boarded a transfer boat. A short 15 minute ride later, and we were welcomed aboard with a cold towel and a refreshing welcome drink. The manager then took us through the itinerary and lunch was served.


Review: Paloma Cruise | The boat itself

A traditional wooden Chinese junk, the Paloma is quite spacious, with 4 decks and 20 cabins. Her lines are clean and when her sails are up, she’s actually quite a beauty. She accommodates 40 guests and 20 crew but it never felt crowded on board due to the split itinerary and amount of space available on board.

There are lovely couches and chairs set up on the upper decks where you can while away the hours watching the landscape go by. The common areas are the most popular spots on the Paloma – breakfast outdoors or a cold drink while lazing on the wicker chairs is the perfect way to enjoy Halong Bay. There is also a spa, a bar, and television area onboard.

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Review: Paloma Cruise | The rooms

We booked the deluxe double room, which meant that we were on the 2nd deck. Our room was was quite large and kept very clean. The room had an ensuite with, what I thought was a luxuriously sized shower for a cruise ship! Bathrooms on any ship are always tiny! As there was only one copy of the key, if you wanted your beds remade, you had to turn in your key to the manager in the morning, so that the crew could enter and turn over the linen. There was a tiny bar fridge and a study desk and chair in our room.

Review: Paloma Cruise | Food & drink

There was a good mix of Western and Vietnamese food served. Some were a little hit and miss – I enjoyed the Vietnamese cuisine the most. The food was always fresh; on our disembarkation we watched the crew stow a shipment of fresh foods from the mainland – the manager informed us that they receive fresh food each day for the guests.

Dietary requirements are catered for, if communicated in advance and the portions are generous – there is more than enough for everyone to eat. I was most impressed by breakfast where there was an omelette station, as well as hot, fresh pho – it reminded me of breakfast offerings by luxury hotels. There was some bananas in the room when we first checked in, but these are not replenished daily.

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Drinks are not included in the price of the cruise – this is standard practice and consistent with my experience on other cruises. You get two small bottles of mineral water on your first day on board, and that’s it. There’s plenty of options to purchase on board, from fresh juices to beer to cocktails. Drink prices (as at October 2013) were: VND30,000 for soda, VND20,000 for water, VND60,000 for fresh juice, VND95.000 for a rum & coke. Beers were priced at about VND80,000 if memory serves correctly. Drink orders are added to your tab, and the bill tallied when you check out on your last day.

Review: Paloma Cruise | The itinerary

There are two options on the Paloma – the 2 day 1 night, and the 3 day 2 night. The latter gives you mroe time to see Ha Long Bay itself. These itineraries are very rigid – attendance at each of the events, at the time set, is pretty much expected! So it’s not quite as relaxing as I thought it would be and you don’t get much time to just sit and veg out. There are places to go and things to see!

The main sights and things to do on offer are a local fishing village at Vang Vieng, a beach on one of the islands, kayaking, caves to explore. a daily sunset party with free sangria and fresh fruit, a cooking demonstration, and at night, squid fishing – though no one caught anything on the 2 nights we were onboard.

For those on the 3 day 2 night itinerary, the second, full day on the cruise is actually spent away from the main ship. We packed a day bag and was put on a smaller cruise ship, also called the Paloma. This took us to a quiet beach on Soi Sim Island (which later turned crowded as a day trip boat filled with Koreans arrived), where we had a chance to sit in the sun and swim in the calm waters of Ha Long Bay. We took a short hike to the top of the island – the views from there was spectacular.




Our next stop was Lan Ha Bay, where we had the chance to kayak around another floating village, through and out some caves and just generally laze around and enjoy the time outdoors. The itinerary mentioned lunch on the beach, but we ate on the boat instead – not a big deal, but there are some minor deviations from the itinerary given.

The last day of the cruise was spent packing, then exploring Sung Sot (Amazing) Cave – chockful of tourists, but it’s well worth a visit as the inside is filled with interesting limestone formations. After the visit, it’s a quick dash to get your stuff sorted, have lunch, pay the tab and disembark the ship.

Review: Paloma Cruise | Overall

We loved the Paloma – it’s not the cheapest option to cruise Ha Long Bay, but for what we paid we felt like we got good value. The staff worked really hard to make our experience a pleasant one, and the ship is kept in tip top shape. The itinerary was a little rigid, but it did pack a lot in and I felt like the 3D2N was the best option if you really want to experience Ha Long Bay. The Paloma does seem to take a different route from most other boats, though she moors in the same spot as hundreds of other Ha Long Bay cruise ships – during breakfast on both days, we saw dozens on dozens of white ships flying orange sails. Overall an excellent experience, one I would highly recommend!

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25 Comments

  1. Sounds fun! especially since there’s night ‘fishing’ involved. And sure as hell beats my experience of heading to Halong Bay trying to recover from food poisoning

    1. Yeah but the squid fishing was not fruitful on both nights! Apparently there is a season for it and October was not it! Your experience of Halong was definitely marred by the food poisoning. Go back one day?

    2. Hoa Jenijer says:

      Paloma Cruise is excellent attentive service. Food & Beverage: Very well made, amazing presentation. Itinerary: Very well organised. Excellent. Tour guide: All guides and staff were excellent with great English skills

      1. I agree Joa! I had a lot of fun exploring Ha Long Bay with the Paloma

  2. Tina Schell says:

    Excellent review! We did a similar, 1-night cruise that I posted here http://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/dp-challenge-victory-the-water-villages-of-ha-long-bay-vn/ . If you have the time for the ride to/from the location I put it at the top of the “things to do in Vietnam” list! Well done

    1. It’s most certainly a highlight! I really enjoyed the time spent in Halong and can see why so many rave about it. Did you find the 1 night cruise a little rushed for time though?

  3. JK says:

    Hi,
    Fantastic review! Well-written and very informative….thanks! I’m really thinking of going on the Paloma too.
    May I ask please….are the beds comfortable, ie generally firm but NOT super hard? I really can’t sleep on the super hard type, so the answer to this question is really imporant to me.
    Hope to receive your reply. Thanks!
    Regards. JK

    1. Hi JK glad you found the review useful! The beds were comfortable and I didn’t find them super hard. I do prefer them quite firm though so I think it’s a matter of personal preference. Hope you find a cruise that suits you best! Happy cruising.

  4. kf says:

    Any info on tipping?

    1. We left a tip at the end of the cruise for all cruise staff of VND100.000 or about USD5. This was for both me and my partner on a two night cruise. We tipped our guide the same amount. The tip is discretionary – tipping to me can still be a bit of an alien concept given that I’m not used to it!

  5. souvik says:

    Hey,

    Great review. My wife and I are planning on cruising Halong Bay for 3 days & 2 nights and found your review extremely helpful. We are in the process of booking Paloma cruise through Ha Long Bay Legends travel agency. And I have a question for you, we are scheduled to fly out from Hanoi to Bangkok on the 3rd day and the last day of our cruise. Do you think it will be possible to drive back from Halong Bay to the airport in Hanoi on time for our flight at 4:45pm? Our cruise is schedule to end by 11:45pm on the 3rd day.

    Thank you

    1. Hi souvik! I would double check with Ha Long Bay Legends travel agency and ask them to confirm if it is possible to catch the 4:45pm flight on the day that you disembark from the Paloma Cruise. From memory we had lunch on the Paloma, then disembarked, and then made our way back to Hanoi, which is a journey of about 3-4 hours, depending on the traffic. I would say it’s cutting it a little close, but best to check with the local tour agencies and see what they say! Good luck!

  6. Ravi says:

    Nice to read your paloma cruise experience. Even I am planning to book for my visit in september last week.

    Just a quick question .. As per their Itinerary mentioned , would they cruise to Bai tu long bay and in return cover the Halong Bay ..I am taking 1N2D Itinerary as I am on a strict tour plan.

    Regards,
    Ravi

    1. How exciting! Hope your trip is really great. The cruise itself is in Ha Long Bay so you will see quite a lot of it while the boat goes around, regardless of if you were on the 2 day or 3 day tour. Safe travels!

  7. Doris says:

    Hello,

    I found your review quite helpful! I just have a couple of questions:
    1) Do you know what to expect weather wise in Halong Bay in May? I haven’t been able to find a blog where they went on a 3 day cruise during that month.
    2) How far in advance did you book your cruise?

    Thank you,
    Doris

    1. Hi Doris, glad you found this article useful! I’m very sorry but I don’t really know what the weather will be like in Halong Bay in May. It is spring though so shouldn’t be too nasty? Also, I booked the cruise on the Paloma about 2 months in advance. Hope that helps!

  8. Becki says:

    WOW, I have just known Paloma cruise has the 3 day 2 night itinerary. Last year I enjoyed the 2 days 1 night Paloma cruise with my boyfriend. Great food and drinks, interesting activities, good service. My bf is an vegetarian and the chef prepared the special dishes just for him.
    It took me about $130/pax at http://www.bestpricevn.com/halongbaycruises/. My question is how much did your 3D2N tour take? I’m planning to book it for my next family trip.
    Hope to see your reply

    1. Hi Becki, sorry for the late reply. The 3D2N cruise was about USD$250 per person.

  9. ankey86 says:

    Great and beautiful cruise in Halong Bay

  10. i use to enjoy halong bay tours on paloma cruise, it was an interested travel in my life

    1. Halong Bay is a beautiful part of the world, agreed!

  11. Hanoi Tours says:

    Halong is one of the most beautiful destination in Vietnam, Taking the time to enjoy Paloma cruise in Halong bay. Don’t miss it one coming to Vietnam

  12. Halong Tours says:

    Enjoy Paloma cruise to discover Halong Bay in Depth. A Story in the future

  13. chipms says:

    Great review! I enjoyed Paloma cruise 2 days with my wife last year. It was my perfect trip

Comments are closed.