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Trip Report Halong Bay Cruise Review: Violet from Heritage Lines

Violet Cruise - Worth the Splurge!

My spouse and I spent two days and one night on the Violet from Heritage Lines in late March 2014. We made our booking on-line using their website, and staff was quick to make contact with us through e-mail to finalize the details and answer questions. (Be sure to use the official Heritage Lines website; many other travel websites sell space on this cruise line, but you may prefer to deal directly with Heritage rather than a middle-man.) Guests must provide their credit card number when they make their booking, although nothing is charged (not even a deposit) until you arrive on the boat. On the last day of your cruise, you pay for your drink tab, mini-bar charges, and perhaps a massage or souvenir. Guests settle their bill after breakfast on the last day as they prepare to disembark.

The Heritage Lines reception / waiting area at the dock / pier on Tuan Chua Island is classy, furnished with all-weather wicker chairs and tables set beneath a fabric canopy. Attendants in traditional Vietnamese dress provide table service. Bathrooms are located inside a public building, and a few stalls nearby sell drinks and souvenirs. We did not see any taxis for hire waiting for passengers, so it seems that guests pre-book their transportation. Heritage Lines pre-arranged our transfers as a supplement to our room rate.

Guests tender to the Violet from the docking area. Passengers wear life vests in the covered tender, and the small boat holds all twelve passengers and two crew members.

The food was good quality, varied, and nicely presented. Each dish uses interesting ingredients and creative presentations. On our two-day / one-night cruise, we were offered a sit-down lunch immediately after boarding, dinner later that evening, followed by breakfast the next morning. For lunch and dinner, the staff presents each guest with a menu that contains at least three choices for each course. Breakfast was a semi-buffet; each guest served himself from a cold buffet that contained fruit, yogurt, and bread / pastry, followed by a plated bowl of Pho rice noodle soup or another Western entree. Although not requested to, passengers retained the same table for all three meals, a method that may be unfair because three of the tables were located adjacent to windows, with the other three tables located towards the center of the room (although the guests could see out of the same windows). We initially claimed a table next to the windows, but we offered to trade positions with another couple sitting towards the inside so that they could also enjoy the view. However, in March, guests cannot see anything during dinnertime because it is dark and other boats are not close by.

Because guests are physically on the Violet for just under 24 hours, not much time exists for activities. After our welcome lunch, guests boarded the tender to visit Cua Va fishing / floating village and Tien Ong Cave.

Back on the Violet in the late afternoon, we participated in a fresh spring roll-making class, with the chef first demonstrating and then everyone making a roll. We ate the food that we created as appetizers during cocktail hour. Guests can order one free drink during this cooking session as a sunset welcome drink. A morning activity includes a Tai Chi class on the sundeck. (If you choose the three-day / two-night cruise option, you can ride bikes, kayak, and other activities.)

The staff on the Violet is friendly, outgoing, and multi-talented, performing several jobs to make the boat operate smoothly. The staff works hard! For example, on the last day, after we vacated our cabin and ate breakfast, I returned to our room to use the bathroom because there was a line of passengers waiting to use the small public half-bathroom located off the dining room. I encountered a flurry of activity by previously unseen staff members in their tasks to clean and reset the cabins before the next group of cruisers arrived. Heritage Lines recommends that you tip the staff $15 per guest per day, which you deposit in a wooden tip box on the bar in the dining room.

The Violet is a gorgeous vessel! Only six cabins exist: four Suites (Phoenix, Dragon, Cloud, and Moon) and two Deluxe Rooms (Mountain, and Water). We requested (and were granted) the Phoenix Suite, although the cruise line makes no promises for specific room assignments when guests book. (However, we assume that if guests book a Suite, they would not receive a Deluxe Room, and vice versa, because a price difference exists). Room keys were the old-fashioned brass kind, and we left them on-board when we visited the floating village and the cave.

The Dragon and Phoenix suites are located side-by-side on the Upper Deck, and they have forward-facing balconies. The additional suites (Cloud and Moon) are also located on the Upper Deck, but have side-facing balconies. Two deluxe staterooms (Mountain and Water) are located on the Main Deck, directly below Dragon and Phoenix, and thus have forward-facing balconies. The Main Deck houses the bar, dining area, spa, gym (and kitchen, although that is not accessible to the guests). The Main Deck also holds the massage room, tiny fitness room (with two pieces of old equipment), bar, and dining room. The library / lounge area is located on the Upper Deck, and on the Sun Deck (on the rooftop), both covered seating (tables and chairs) and uncovered seating (lounge chairs) are available. At the bar in the dining room, books that tell the story of the Violet (accompanied by pretty pen and ink / watercolor drawings) are available for sale. As amateur book collectors, we bought this souvenir (approximately $15) to add to our home library.

Our cabin was unbelievably spacious (it would have been huge even on land!), with a forward-facing balcony that contained two padded chairs and a small table. Passengers can smoke on their balconies, and the boat provides little covered ashtrays for that purpose. The bedroom area was enormous, with a king-size canopy bed, one nightstand, a small desk that served as the second nightstand, and a small divan kind of sofa. Cabins and public areas are air-conditioned.

Our en-suite bathroom was also large, and contained a sink, corner soaking bathtub, separate standing shower, and armoire that held bathrobes, rattan slippers, and an electronic safe. Our entire suite featured large floor-to-ceiling windows that spanned the front and side of the suite. Therefore, we face a dilemma when we were in our room and bathroom: do we allow the shades to remain open to soak in every bit of the gorgeous scenery and take the chance of another boat sailing by and looking in our windows? Our only issue with the suite was that the double-wide sliding doors to the bathroom did not completely close (at least an inch of space was open between them), which hindered privacy.

The room had pre-recorded TV, but guests needed to request that their room attendant turn it on. No television reception, cellular telephone service, or Internet are available on the Violet. Because no Internet connectivity exists, no public computer is available, so guests are truly “off the grid” for a few hours. The mini-bar contents were not included with our room rate (nor were any drinks that we ordered with meals), although two bottles of water in our cabin were complimentary. We drank everything in our mini-bar, which amounted to four beers and four cans of different kinds of soda. The staff placed a complimentary fruit bowl and hard candy in each cabin

We loved the Violet, and we were glad that we splurged on such luxurious accommodations. Fantastic weather blessed our trip to Halong Bay, and we spent a lot of time on our private balcony watching the scenery of the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage site pass by.

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