Halong Bay is known for the breathtaking scenery of limestone rocks and islands, rainforests, and emerald green waters. Located in north-eastern Vietnam, Halong Bay is a cruise experience on most travellers bucket list and a must see when travelling to Vietnam. However, few would consider it a possibility when travelling with a baby or toddler. We decided to give it a go, since we were hardly going to miss the opportunity to do a Halong Bay cruise during our Vietnam holiday.
Halong Bay is a popular cruise destination, with numerous cruise companies operating in the area. Many of these are run on traditional style junk boats, to give that authentic Halong Bay cruise experience. These are both overnight and day trip cruises, with the amenities on the junk cruises being somewhat basic due to the size and age of the boats.
Initially the idea of a junk cruise sounded like fun, but on second thoughts, cruising with a toddler changed my mind. Sure there are horror stories of these boats sinking quickly and unexpectedly due to being made of wood, but there are horror stories for most travel experiences if you ask Google. For us it was more about having the space and amenities to suit our family travel, so instead we chose a more luxurious cruise company. It just so happened we found an awesome deal online for a heavily discounted rate – bonus.
Our Halong Bay cruise was with Au Co, which happen to have the tagline of being ‘THE BEST HALONG BAY CRUISES’, having launched only in 2012. They are more of a cruise liner than a ‘boat’ like many of the other cruises, and offer the first 3 day cruise option in the area. The cruise takes in the sights of three different bays in the Gulf of Tonkin, including the spectacular Cat Ba Island.
Our first afternoon included a visit to the Sung Sot caves, which meant walking up and down a lot of stairs. We popped Lily into our baby carrier and away we went. She slept half the time, and enjoyed the parts she was awake for. Plenty to see.
The food on the cruise was impressive! We love food and there was so much of it. Multiple courses, buffets, omelette bar, exotic fruit and the most fantastic presentation. It was like art on our plates. This also kept our toddler happy… Lily at 14 months and full of adventure. She was happy to eat whatever was put in front of her. There was everything from tropical fruits, seafood, meats, salads, soup, desserts and so much more. Pretty amazing what they managed to plate up onboard a boat and everything was ready to serve at once for all guests.
That was great until she got sick on our first night and made quite a mess of our cabin. Ick! That was the first time she had ever been sick at all… so of course we were extremely worried parents, on a boat, in a foreign country. Thankfully she woke up her happy and healthy self, so it may have just been the excess of food and the impact of being on a cruise that caused it, rather than the dreaded international travel bug you always hear about.
We skipped the first excursion the following morning, which was a visit to a traditional floating village. Disappointing but we wanted to make sure Lily was well. Meanwhile, the amazing staff replaced our room sheets over breakfast. Phew! Then by the time everyone returned from the morning outing, we were reading to join the next optional activity of kayaking. Yes… we took a toddler kayaking.
At first she was a little nervous, however it didn’t take long before Lily was loving the kayaking adventure around the limestone rock formations. The sights were amazing.
Then following lunch (a small one for Lily), we visited Cat Ba Island. There was quite a walk ahead of us, since the option of riding bikes was out with a toddler in tow, but again with the baby carrier strapped on, away we went. Lily enjoyed the ‘walk’ and actually did get out a few times to stretch her legs along the way for short distances, as well as at the final destination, where we met some villagers. She loved all the chooks and dogs everywhere.
Back on deck we went for a jacuzzi, which was a bonus due to staying in an executive cabin. This was exciting for Lily for a short while, as exciting as a giant bath with no bath toys can be, before she got bored, so we headed back to the room to shower and dress for dinner.
That night was an incredible feast on the top deck of the boat. We kept Lily’s food fairly basic, despite her wanting to try everything. A little cautious after our previous night. She was delighted to be up the top deck at night though, with the staff providing some entertainment as we dined.
The next morning we were headed back to land and farewelling our Halong Bay cruise.
Thankfully, aside from the one hiccup with the upset stomach, the cruise was a success and all 3 of us enjoyed our time. The cabin views were great for down time on the balcony and we managed without a cot, as while there is the option, there really isn’t much room in the cabins so it would have been pretty squishy with a cot. Luckily we co-sleep normally anyway with our little miss.
There was enough to keep Lily occupied otherwise, with a couple of toys we brought along for quiet time, her afternoon nap and of course plenty of outings and activities to wear her out. The cruise staff were fantastic with Lily and many of them went out of their way to spend time with her for a couple of minutes here and there. But the Vietnamese love kids!
Tips for a Halong Bay cruise with a Toddler
- Choose the cruise company carefully, with safety considered
- Common sense, but never let kids out of your sight while cruising
- Take some small toys and activities on board for quiet play time
- Be mindful of the impact of lots of new foods
- Consider taking some familiar foods and snacks just in case
- Babywearing is perfect for excursions
VERDICT – Would we do another Halong Bay cruise with a toddler or baby? Yes, aside from the stomach upset, it was a great experience for all of us.
One tip though – the worst part is the transit from Hanoi to Halong Bay. The so called 3 hour drive is much longer than 3 hours and over the bumpiest and most horrendous roads ever! This is the part that is hardest for entertaining a toddler or child so be sure to pack plenty of snacks, activities and hopefully encourage some nap time. There was only one rest stop in the middle.
Au Co Cruises – They offer the only 3 day, 2 night Halong Bay cruise option, with private balconies and quality facilities. Our cruise was part of a discount package we found on an online deals site.
Our pre-cruise accommodation was at the Hilton Hanoi, and was inclusive of our cruise package, along with transport to and from Halong Bay from Hanoi. The hotel provided quality accommodation and facilities.
Is a Halong Bay cruise on your bucket list?