The 1,200-ton President Cruises is the newest, and the largest vessel ever, to take to the emerald green waters of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. It is the debut ship of the new Vietnamese luxury cruise operator Lion Asia, whose Canadian-born general manager, Franco Muzzone, is all praises for the new vessel, saying, “It’s bigger, it’s bolder and it’s better than anything Ha Long Bay has ever seen.”
Ha Long Bay is one of Southeast Asia’s most-visited UNESCO World Heritage sites; a natural wonder with over 2,000 jungle-clad limestone outcroppings, islands, floating fishing villages, grottos and caves stretching from the shoreline of Ha Long City deep into the Bay of Tonkin in the South China Sea. It is only two and a half hours on a modern highway from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, to Tuan Chau Island marina, where the President Cruises docks. Good to know: Staying at Lion Asia’s luxury 179-room all-suite Paradise Suites on Tuan Chau is a good option for travelers who prefer a late start and a relaxed breakfast before boarding their cruise.
The bay is a very busy waterway, with an estimated 200 overnight craft and another 300 smaller vessels offering day tours. The best time to discover it is from March to May — although it can rain — and in the peak season from October to December. From June to September, the weather is humid with a risk of storms, while January and February are cool and wet, and can also be foggy.
Top Tip: For a sneak peek of the bay, wing it on a seaplane from Hanoi’s International Noi Bai Airport. Carrying eight passengers, the hour-long flight includes a 15-minute bird’s eye ride over the bay and can be arranged through Lion Asia, President Cruises’ operator ([email protected]).
A Premier Balcony Suite has a private, furnished balcony and offers either a double Queen-size bed or two single beds.
The signature feature of the 282-foot President Cruises is out-and-out luxury, from its 46 elegant staterooms and suites and sleek dark wood interiors, to its abundance of areas for relaxation and its Michelin dining.
At the marina, the luggage is whisked away by staff and left in the cabins, while passengers are checked in and invited to attend an introduction to the ship, its safety features and the cruise itinerary before lunch, which is served buffet-style in the dining room that has wrap-around picture windows.
Our cabin on the main deck was a 323-square-foot Ambassador Balcony. The mood is chic colonial with dark wood herringbone floors, walls with framed woven bamboo features, and a double bed that can morph into two singles. Cabins have comfortable leather armchairs with footrests, but the most striking features are the floor-to-ceiling windows leading out to the private balconies, which have a small table and two chairs. The bathrooms are very spacious with attractive black and white floors and large shower stalls.
The Premier Balcony cabins on the upper deck are similar and 12 of these connect, which is good to know for families. Senior passengers and passengers with disabilities get special attention with the elevator (the first on Ha Long Bay) that makes for ease of movement between the five decks.
Shown here is the 377-square-foot Cabinet Suite on the upper deck of President Cruises.
The premium accommodations are the Cabinet Suites (377 square feet), Nos. 201 and 202 at the back of the ship on the upper deck, and the even more spacious Treasury Suites (409 square feet), Nos. 222 and 223 on the same level at the front of the ship. These suites have larger day areas and large, private terraces with comfortable seating and Jacuzzis.
The Presidential Suite at 968 square feet is the largest stateroom on Ha Long Bay. On the fourth level at the front of the ship, it has extra large wrap-around windows, a freestanding bathtub outside the glass-enclosed bathroom, a living-dining area, a large walk-in closet and a Jacuzzi on the spacious terrace. And guests staying presidential style have a private butler at their beck and call.
Director of sales Cong Vu ([email protected]) told us he is the person to contact for special requests, and that bookings can be made by calling 011-84-243-939-2929, or by e-mailing [email protected] Vu told us the ship’s maiden voyage last November drew an eclectic mix of travelers from the U.S., Europe, Asia and other parts of the world who loved experiencing Ha Long Bay in luxury.
The President Cruises’ dedicated staff is a huge added value — the girls wear elegant black velvet dresses and strings of local pearls — and they deliver sophisticated and smiling service in the dining room, the lounge bar and on the sundecks. The spa on the lower deck has two treatment rooms and features a menu of relaxing treatments and Sothys products.
The Sundeck on President Cruises is the largest on Ha Long Bay at 937 square feet.
Although it is difficult to take your eyes off the bay’s spectacular, ever-changing scenery, we found the Michelin-starred menus in the dining room every bit as eye-catching. These are the brainchild of celebrity British chef John Burton-Race who says his 40-dish menu “packs as much of a punch on all the senses as Ha Long Bay itself.”
On the days we boarded, Burton-Race’s buffet lunch was a triumph of sushi, shashimi and seafood, and his free-flow à la carte dinner is another first for Ha Long Bay. On our dinner menu, the fillet of turbot with truffles and the beef were melt-in the-mouth, and both lunch and dinner were matched with a fine selection of wines from the Bordeaux producer Maison Castel.
There are comfortable indoor seating areas on the various levels, the most enticing being the elegant piano bar where we were entertained by a Brazilian piano and vocal duo. But it is outside, on the decks, that passengers spend most of their time, and not just for the stunning scenery. There is a large Jacuzzi pool and, yes, you guessed it, the largest sundeck on Ha Long Bay at 937 square feet, plus a slightly smaller upper deck, thus ensuring that all passengers have ample areas in which to relax.
On our two-day, one-night cruise there was an afternoon excursion on the President Cruises’ speed boat to one of the bay’s most scenic spots, the Sung Sot Cave, which has stalactites and stalagmites that can be admired from a paved walkway. We also took an afternoon cooking class with one of the Vietnamese chefs who guided us through the making of Vietnam’s famous deep-fried nem spring rolls.
Shown here is the ship’s restaurant, whose 40-dish menu has been crafted by celebrity British chef John Burton-Race.
After dinner many of the guests dabbled in squid fishing, which entailed dangling bamboo rods and lines over the side of the boat into the water that had been spotlighted by the crew, but we opted to relax on our balcony to enjoy the balmy night and the sparkling lights of the ships docked nearby.
Breakfast was a rich selection of international and local favorites and was especially appreciated by those passengers who had taken an early-morning Tai Chi lesson or gone swimming to Ti Top Island. Vu told us that guests on the three-day, two-night cruises also have time for a visit to a fishing farm and for leisurely kayaking. And, of course, they get an extra 24 hours to indulge in yet more delights from Chef Burton-Race’s magnificent menus. Stop Press: The President Cruises II, which Lion Asia plans to launch on Ha Long Bay in Q1 2020, is rumored to be an adult-only ship.