When asked about my top recommendations for luxe-budget travel, Ha Long Bay always comes to mind, simply because of its all-inclusive cruises! They’re surprisingly super affordable, considering the price covers everything from meals, activities, and private suites, and given the abundance of options available, you’re destined to find one that fits your price range. Plus, the scenery alone- thousands of floating limestone rock formations atop emerald seas- is enough to make it a priority on any traveller’s bucket list!
There’s about 300+ cruise lines to choose from, so how does one choose the right one? Here are 2 tips, along with a tour through the luxe-budget option I went with: Swan Cruises!
Tip #1: You get what you pay for! The cheapest cruises generally mean low-quality food and rooms and disorganized transportation and activities. Also, the service is obviously not as attentive as the 5-star cruise lines! The most expensive tours come with high-quality, gourmet meals, spacious suites (sometimes with balconies), accommodating staff, and top-notch organized itineraries.
Tip #2: Consider taking a Bai Tu Long Bay cruise, rather than the more popular, widely known Ha Long Bay cruises. Don’t get confused just yet- I know this post is titled “Ha Long Bay” but only because not many people know yet about its cleaner, less touristy cousin! Now that I have your attention, hear me out! Only a few select cruise lines are permitted to sail within Bai Tu Long Bay, unlike Ha Long Bay where tourism has completely taken over and is rumored to be destroying this beautiful place. To paint you a comparison of the two, they both have the same exact gorgeous scenery, but Bai Tu Long is a more private experience without the floating trash and overwhelming crowds that plague Ha Long Bay. It may be pricier (depending on which tour you choose), but it was worth the added cost in my opinion!
Considering these 2 notions, I booked my 2 day, 1 night all-inclusive tour with Swan Cruises. They seemed to be the “in-between” option when it came to it’s pricing of $120 USD/person/night, and definitely seemed to give the most value for my money. The transportation, schedule, and itinerary were well-organized, the staff was friendly and helpful, the food was great (and never-ending), and the suites were private and comfortable! Other cruises with the same price (and even higher prices) didn’t include as many activities, while some didn’t even include meals and transportation in the overall price, so I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth with Swan Cruises! I wouldn’t describe them as a high-end luxury line, but you will leave the tour feeling like you got more than what you payed for ?
Keep scrolling for a tour of the ship, activities, and Bai Tu Long Bay, as well as a detailed list of what’s included in the $120 price tag!
Activity #1: Cave hike!
Activity #2: Kayaking to private beaches!
Sunset views from the “Sunset Party”
- Free roundtrip transportation from Hanoi to the dock and back in a coach bus with comfortable seating and AC. Pickup/dropoff at your Hanoi hotel is also included!
- Free water bottles/non-alocholic refreshments on the bus, as well as on the boat in the suites, during meal times, and during activities
- All meals included: 1 breakfast buffet, 2 lunches, and 1 dinner. Each meal was about 9 courses, including both Western and authentic Vietnamese dishes
- Free welcome drink and cold towel
- Large tanning deck with an abundance of lounge chairs
- “Sunset Party” with free snacks and refreshments
- All-inclusive activities including: a hike to a cave with stalagmites/stalactites & a viewpoint over the bay, swimming and sunbathing at one of the island beaches, kayaking around the bay and to private beaches, the option to visit a floating fisherman’s village (instead of kayaking), nighttime squid fishing for anyone interested, an early-morning tai chi demonstration, and a Vietnamese cooking demonstration
- Private suites with queen beds, windows looking over the bay, and private bathrooms/showers with hot water
- Fully-stocked bar accessible at any time (at an extra cost)
- English-speaking guides and staff that will help you with any concerns/questions/needs
- Bai Tu Long Bay entrance and sightseeing fees included in the overall price