Halong Bay cruise with kids
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Vietnam Halong Bay Cruise with kids
When you’re planning a family road trip through Vietnam, boarding a Halong Bay Cruise must’ve crossed your mind. So, is a trip to Halong Bay for a cruise worth it? Let me tell you that a Halong Bay cruise with children is one of the best family activities you can do in Vietnam. A Halong Bay cruise is a fun thing to do for every member of your family.
Halong Bay, spelled as Hạ Long Bay in Vietnamese, is located in the Gulf of Tonkin. In this bay you’ll find about 1600 islands of all shapes and sizes. Together they form a magnificent collection of beautiful limestone karsts. No wonder that it was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. In 2007 it was labelled as one of the 7 New World Wonders of Nature. Adding a Halong Bay Cruise to your Vietnam family travel itinerary is a must, you don’t want to miss this wonder of nature.
In this post I will tell you all about the different cruise options, safety and facilities on board and more. All to make sure you’ll have an unforgettable experience cruising through Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Start your tour from the port in Halong Bay or from Hanoi and use the info in this article to make the most out of your trip!
Halong Bay cruise with a toddler
Children of all ages can go on a Halong Bay cruise. Some of the activities are not suitable for a baby or a toddler, meaning one of the parents has to opt out of those activities. Like kayaking for instance. Everyone is obligated to wear life vests in the kayaks, so if you feel like your toddler is up for it, you can bring them along. Just bring your own life vests to feel more secure.
One of the activities is a ride in a sampan. Like with the kayak excursion, you’re obligated to wear life vests. You can bring small children along, but do know that sampans are row boats. There is no room to move about and a kid can fall overboard pretty easy. So unless your kids can sit still for an hour, without getting grumpy and you hold on to them at all times, skip this activity too.
Halong Bay and the descending dragon
The translation of Ha Long is descending dragon. This is because of the legend about a dragon defending Vietnam from invaders from this part of the country. The dragon did not only use fire, but also jewels. Emeralds and jades landed in the ocean and formed the karsts and islands in the bay. This made it impossible for invaders to set sail to the coast of Vietnam.
This story makes a visit to the already fairytale like surroundings even more magical.
Bigger cruise ship the better option with young children
So what is fun for toddlers or babies to do on this cruise? Chilling on the sun deck. Or the balcony of your family room. A standard 4 star junk cruise boat is not that big. Generally, you’ll find 12 to 17 cabins on these junks. They have a nice restaurant area with a bar. Here you’ll mostly find a chill zone with a few couches and games, but the games are aimed at older kids. Chess, monopoly that kind of stuff.
When traveling with a baby or toddler pick a Halong Bay cruise aimed more at families. Go for larger boats, which size is comparable to the ones cruising down the Nile in Egypt, but with less levels. They often have more entertainment on board. Some have a small pool and/or jacuzzi’s. Most have a kid’s corner filled with toys or even an indoor playground and all of them offer a kids menu.
The biggest draw towards these cruise ships is that you can ask for baby safety gates in your room and on your private balcony and most offer a babysitting service. So you guys can go kayaking or hop on a sampan. These boats are called luxury boats.
I do have to say that luxury wise there’s barely a difference between a 4 star junk ship and a 4 star luxury ship. The difference is that in all aspects the latter is more spacious. And they offer more entertainment on board.
Choosing the right Halong Bay cruise for families
There are a few things you should consider before booking your family cruise to Ha Long Bay. Let’s list them:
- Check the age limit. This differs per company, some don’t allow kids, others kids aged 5 and up and others allow kids of all ages
- Check if there are life vests on board for kids. And even when they do, consider bringing your own for smaller children. I’ve heard stories from parents who said there weren’t enough kids vests or they didn’t fit well enough.
- Which activities and excursions are available? Maybe some will offer entertainment others don’t. Do you want to book a cruise with a small swimming pool? Or maybe you want some quality time with your SO on the water and you want to book a cruise that offers babysitting.
- How off the beaten path will the ship go? If you want to avoid the day tours and the 2 days 1 night tours, you should find a company that will go more off the beaten path. We did and choose a suite cabin on the Treasure Junk. After about 3 hours on the water we only saw a handful of other cruise ships and we had a much more serene experience.
We loved our junk cruise and highly recommend Treasure junk, but we were traveling with a teen. We liked a more authentic experience with less guests around. However, we would’ve chosen a bigger luxury cruise ship had we had a toddler.
Best time to go on a Halong Bay family cruise
Spring and Autumn in North Vietnam
It really depends on which places you’re visiting in Northern Vietnam, where Halong Bay is located. But generally Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to travel to Northern Vietnam. You’ll get temperatures between 18 to 25 degrees Celsius in the far north, like Sapa. A little further down, around Hanoi, it will be a bit warmer with temperatures between 21 to 30 degrees Celsius.
Winter in North Vietnam
Winter can be cold in the evenings and nights, but quite pleasant during the day. We were in North Vietnam in December and January. In Sapa we had to wear warm clothes and coats and temperatures never got above 15 degrees Celsius. But in Hanoi we walked around in shorts and t-shirts and it only rained once during the 4 days we were there. Halong Bay was a different story. It was about 15 degrees and foggy. But I have to say that we loved our time here during this period. The rain showers didn’t last long and the fog made everything even more mystical.
Summer in North Vietnam
Summer is great when visiting the mountains in the north with great temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees and lush rice fields to look at. While Hanoi will be very hot with temperatures just below, but more often above 30 degrees. And lots of rainfall. Halong Bay gets even hotter during summer, about 35 to 38 degrees. Late summers you can expect storms and rains, which is no fun when on a boat. Especially with kids.
In conclusion, look at your entire itinerary of North Vietnam and then take your pick. But if you’re only hitting Hanoi and Halong Bay then I’d go for Spring or Autumn. Do note that Autumn is the peak season, meaning more crowds and higher prices.
How to get there
If you start your Vietnam family vacation in Hanoi, book your international flight via Expedia. They usually have some great deals available. But always make sure to double check the prices at the website of the airline to make sure you get the best deal. Before you leave, spend a few days here to check out the best things to do in Hanoi with kids.
If you want to fly domestically from Ho Chi Minh City, then fly to Doan Ket’s Van Don International Airport. This airport is located about 55 km from Halong Bay. About 65 km from Halong Bay, you’ll find Cat Bi International Airport in city Hai Phong. You’ll likely arrive at this airport if you’re coming from Da Nang, Nha Trang, Da Lat and Phu Quoc. I like to buy domestic flights through 12Go. They are known to offer the best and cheapest options.
Hanoi is about 180km from Halong Bay. You might think that a train ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay is the best way to go. But while it’s relaxing and you see some of the country, the ride takes almost 7 hours. It’s a beautiful train ride though, so if you’re not short on time, head to 12Go and buy your tickets.
Every morning a bus leaves from Hanoi to Halong Bay. For about 9 euro per person the Sapa Express will take you to the harbor in 2,5 hours. Buy your tickets from 12Go.
Where to book a Halong Bay boat tour
To go on a Halong Bay cruise you need to book a tour. You can either do that online before you arrive in Vietnam, or in person in Hanoi or Ha Long.
Get Your Guide is a great place to see the different junk and luxury boat tours and make your pick. Or you can book your tickets directly from the website of the tour operator.
Another option is to buy your tickets once you’re in Hanoi or Halong Bay. If you’re a solo traveler buying a ticket a few days before you want to board, this is a good idea. But as a family I would not go for that option. Either book online, especially if you have special wishes and/or traveling in high season, or visit one of 100s of tour operators in Hanoi. You’ll find most of them in and around Backpackers street.
Transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay
Note that if you buy a tour that starts in Hanoi, almost all of the operators include a transfer from your hotel or the booking office to the harbor in Halong Bay. This will safe you from booking transportation yourself.
What to expect from a Halong Bay junk cruise
Like I already wrote, the luxury 4 star ships are more spacious and offer more activities on board for small kids. Other than that, there’s isn’t much difference between that option and a 4 star junk cruise. The rest of this article focus on the latter. Simply because it’s not just our family’s favorite, but is generally the most booked choice.
A junk is a traditional boat you can mainly find in China and Vietnam. The way it is floating on water makes it seem like it’s sliding on the water. They give a more authentic feel, especially with the sails out.
Because most of these type of junks have around 10 to 17 cabins, it’s a quieter experience.
Note that it’s prohibited to bring large suitcases or backpacks along. You can bring a weekend bag sized piece of luggage per person. We made a deal with our AirBnB host back in Hanoi. He held onto our luggage, until we got back to Hanoi.
Family room on a junk cruise
At the back of the boat you’ll find the bigger rooms. The suites. They have room for more beds and are the best option for a family. We had a very spacious room for the three of us. A second single bed also fits, because the family next door had two kids and two single beds in the same sized room.
These suites also have a private balcony, which we really enjoyed. The bathroom was luxurious with not only a shower with steam room, but also a bathtub, that doubled as a jacuzzi.
In the standard rooms they can fit a crib and a third bed, but your room will be pretty filled up.
Restaurant and bar
All junk boats have a common area in the center of the ship. This area is used as a restaurant and the bar is also located in this space. After you board you are all welcomed in here and you’ll get info about the schedule and the activities during your stay and also safety instructions. After this talk is over, the room is transformed back into a restaurant.
Here you’ll have your breakfast and dinner. If you’re on a 3 days 2 nights Halong Bay cruise then you’ll also have lunch in this restaurant. Most cruises offer Vietnamese food only. So if you want a mix or more western food, you have to search for a cruise that offers that.
Food and drinks included?
All meals are included. Beverages are not. You have to pay for those separately. Of course this also goes for the drinks you order at the bar.
Tips are very much welcome, our junk had a tip jar on the bar. If that’s not the case, tip staff separately or hand out an envelope to one of the staff members when you leave. Make sure you do that when there are more staff members nearby. This way you know that the money will be divided amongst the group. As opposed to in the pocket of only one or two people.
Do you enjoy this article about a Halong Bay cruise with kids?
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Health and safety aboard a Halong Bay Cruise
Your trip starts with a safety meeting. You’ll hear where you have to go in case of emergency. And they’ll tell you where the life vests are and where you have to go if you need first aid.
It all felt safe and there were more than enough life vests aboard. I didn’t see any life vests for younger kids, but that doesn’t mean anything. They must have them, I just didn’t look for them since we only had a teen with us. If it gives you peace of mind, bring your own. I always do, just to be sure.
First Aid Kit
There was a first aid kit aboard. Two people were appointed to us as being the ones we should approach in case of emergency. But a lot of the staff is not on the boat during the day, they join the excursions or activities. That’s why I also always bring our travel first aid kit along.
I hate having to look around for too long, if I need something from the kit. And like to keep matters into my own hand. This way you know that everything that could be important, is available for you to use when needed.
Excursions and activities on the Halong Bay cruise
The same kind of excursions are pretty much offered by all operators of Halong Bay luxury cruises and junk cruises. Some might offer something that others don’t so always check what’s included, before booking your cruise.
All excursions and activities are included in the price, except otherwise noted. Check the list of exclusions before booking, just to make sure you’re not surprised with an large bill at checkout.
Halong Bay excursions
What are the most common excursions, that require you to leave the boat?
- a kayak tour, kayaks are available for everyone to use. You can take them at your own leisure, but they also offer a kayaking tour. A guide takes you through the bay and you’ll check out caves, pause at a beach for a little swim and simply enjoy the serenity on the water. It’s very beautiful and relaxing.
- a sampan tour to a pearl farm. On this tour you’ll pass by a floating fishing village and stop at a pearl farm to see how they harvest the oysters and get the pearls out. Of course you can also buy pearls at this farm. A small jewellery shop is your latest stop, before hopping back onto the sampan. After this visit you’ll cruise through the bay for another 20min, before being dropped off at your cruise boat.
- a short visit to an island. Which one? That depends on where you’re headed with your ship. Some visit Cat Ba island, the largest in the bay and others stop at Titop island.
Halong Bay activities on board
There’s enough to do on board to enjoy yourselves with.
- a Tai Chi class. Most junks and luxury boats have a Tai Chi trainer on board. In the morning you can enjoy a class with your family. This mostly takes place on the sun deck. The amazing surroundings make it a class to remember.
- a cooking class. Right after lunch time you get the chance to follow a cooking class. Often the lesson includes making fried rice and spring rolls. A fun activity to do with kids while on a Halong Bay cruise!
- chill on the sun deck. The best activity is to lounge on the sun deck, while enjoying the bay and all the islands and islets. Order some fresh fruit juices for the kids and some cocktails for mom and dad and you’ll have the afternoon of your lives.
- squid fishing. After dinner the fishing rods come out. Head out to the side of the junk and throw your line overboard. The bait has a luminescence to it, to attract the squids. It’s a very fun activity to do with kids.
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Is a Halong Bay cruise eco-friendly?
Choosing a cruise, is leaving a carbon footprint. While junk boats have sails, they generally use a motor to get around. But you can’t compare a Halong Bay cruise with other cruises. And here’s why.
First of all they don’t have huge generators running 24/7 when the boats are docked. Electricity is needed on board, so they do use them, but for a lot less guests than on a general cruise ship.
One important thing I must note, is the fact that they don’t work with buffets. You get your portions served to you on a platter. The chance that there’s lots of food left that gets thrown out is not that big.
If you want to travel more sustainably, find yourself a company that hires locals only and doesn’t promote activities that involve petting or feeding wild animals.
Furthermore, if you want to be sure you’re booking with a travel company that commits to sustainable travel, be on the lookout for partnerships with these organizations:
- International Union fo Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
- The Responsible Travel Club of Vietnam (RTC)
- Travelife Sustainability System
If you spot a company operating with one of these organizations, you can be sure that they’re committed to eco-tourism in Halong Bay.
We absolutely loved our 3 day 2 night tour of Halong Bay on a junk cruise. And highly recommend that extra night, just to get away from the crowds.
When opting for a 2 day 1 night tour, you’ll also get away from the crowds a bit, so do book if you don’t have the time to stay longer.
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