Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was another bucket list destination we ticked off on our Vietnam and Cambodia trip (together with Angkor Wat!). Should you go on a Halong Bay Vietnam cruise with kids? Well, we knew this was a no-brainier destination whilst in Vietnam and we just had to make it work with the kids. But, we did go around in circles with a few things – safety, length of time, activities etc – I am sure if you haven’t been you possibly have lots of questions also. Hopefully this post will answer your questions on tackling a Halong Bay Cruise with kids.
Experiencing a Halong Bay cruise as a family was a wonderful experience and I really don’t think a trip to Vietnam would be complete without a visit. But (there always seems to be a ‘but’ when I write about Vietnam) – we knew that Halong Bay is a popular tourist destination but the experience was marred for us by the sheer number of tourists. Yes, you can and should go with kids – just be prepared to be sharing the experience with many (many) others.
What you can find in this post
How to choose the best Halong Bay tour with kids
There are a couple of points to consider when looking for the best family cruises available on Halong Bay. There are many cheap (or cheaper) cruises available but I wouldn’t recommend these with a family – you want to make sure you choose a company which has come recommended, has great reviews (but don’t rely too heavily on this), a perfect safety record and is suitable for families.
The reason I say don’t rely too heavily on reviews is they can be quite subjective. We have read reviews of attractions and accommodation which were so far off what we actually experienced. Even our overnight train trip from Hanoi to Da’Nang had horrible reviews – but we went anyway and was one of our best Vietnam experiences.
The best way to see Halong Bay is on an overnight cruise, I think there are day trips available but there is no way I’d recommend this with kids – the journey is just too far from Hanoi.
Another option for a visit to Halong Bay is to stay on Cat Ba Island – I think if you have the time this could be a great alternative. The day trips from Cat Ba Island take you away from the crowds and you have the options of hiking and bike riding on the island. Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Halong Bay and is gaining in popularity each year. For a good overview on Cat Ba Island please have a look at what Travel with the Greens thought (they loved it!).
Things to do on Halong Bay with your cruise company
There are so many different Halong Bay tours and it can be rather tricky to work out which company is going to be best for you and your family. We decided on our company, Bhaya Cruise Company based on a recommendation, but from the research I did all the tour companies do tend to follow basically the same itinerary and offer similar activities including –
- Swimming and kayaking, squid fishing in the evening and tai chi in the early morning plus a visit to the caves
- All cruises include all meals on board but drinks are extra (I think all boats offer ‘happy hour’!)
- All cruises offer return transport from Hanoi (it may be an extra charge)
Bhaya Cruise boat options
Bhaya does offer different boat options for your trip. The cruise boats on offer include –
- Premium Classic
- Au Co Luxury Cruise – which is a 3 day luxurious cruise
- Private Charter Boats – which would be a lovely way to experience Halong Bay (but obviously a very expensive way to visit!).
We were booked on the “Bhaya Cruise Premium Classic”. At the end of the day we went with recommendations on the best service available with children.
The Bhaya Classic Premium Line features smaller boats with only 3-7 cabins per boat. The cabins are designed to fit 3 adult passengers. We had our family of 4 in one cabin as Olive was still considered an infant. They do have interconnecting family cabins available. Each cabin has its own private balcony.
Our Bhaya Cruise Premium was a small boat and we only had 9 people on board. There was us, another family of 3 from Germany and an Aussie couple. This made for a really intimate experience – although I am not sure the others were expecting a 5 and 2 year old! I have more information below on the features of the boats.
On the Bhaya Classic boat (the larger boat) there were a couple of families and sometimes I do wish we had been on this bigger boat so that the kids had some other kids to play with (for a change from us!). There are 4 Classic Boats and each has between 15-20 cabins – so a fair bit bigger than our boat.
I’d recommend thinking about this when booking your trip. For some, smaller boats are better but for others the bigger boat is better. Have a think and work out which might suit your family better – think about number of cabins, number of people. number of floors, stairs, emergency exits, distance from cabins to main floors etc.
The Premium Classic and Classic boats both followed the same itinerary and offered the same services. The only real difference is the size of the boats, number of cabins and therefore the number of guests.
Should you choose a Halong Bay 2 night cruise or a 1 night cruise?
Bhaya (and the majority of cruise companies) offer a 1 or 2 night trip and in hindsight I think it would have been a better experience to have booked the 2 night cruise. I did contact Bhaya before we booked and asked if they recommended 1 or 2 nights with kids our ages and they suggested 1 would be plenty.
This is something else I would recommend thinking about carefully before your book your trip. For us it felt very rushed, we had less than 24 hours on the boat with a four-hour car journey two days in a row.
Please ask your cruise company in detail about the 2 night cruise if you decide to book this option. With many companies you need to transfer off your larger boat and onto a smaller boat for the 2nd night away to explore deeper – an issue? There are reviews of people being surprised about this – just need to be aware this might be the case.
But who knows, having 2 nights on the boat may have been too much for the kids? Tough one to make a call on without having experienced both options….
Check out what Go Live Young has to say about their 2 night cruise on Halong Bay – reading this I really do wish we booked the two night cruise to get away from the crowds.
Halong Bay Weather
It is quite tricky to to work out the best times to visit different parts of Vietnam as being a long skinny country it has various weather patterns. We were in the north at the start of July and we knew this was our only chance to visit Halong Bay so we booked regardless of the weather. I believe that each season has advantages and disadvantages and depends if weather makes a difference to you or whether you prefer to find a cheaper deal.
- During January and February it can be quite cold and foggy – visibility is not as great.
- March, April and May are noted as a great time to visit. The weather is clear (possibility of some light rain).
- We visited in July and June to August can be stinking hot (which it was) with thunderstorms and typhoons (which we luckily didn’t experience), it has been known for cruises to be cancelled over these months due to severe weather. Since returning I have also found out that June-Sept is an extremely busy time for domestic tourists – one reason why we found Halong Bay to be so packed.
- September to October are some of the best times to visit weather wise (and there are also no local domestic holidays).
- During November and December it starts to get quite chilly and you’ll need to bring warmer clothes and rain jackets.
Our 2 day, 1 night Bhaya Cruise itinerary on Halong Bay
We were staying at The Hotel Tirant in the Old Quarter in Hanoi and had arranged a private transfer directly through Bhaya from Hanoi to Halong Bay. It is approximately a four hour journey. We had a stop half way at a tourist centre selling clothes and souvenirs (with toilets and small selection of food).
Upon arrival at the docks you are taken in to the private Bhaya Cruises waiting area and offered a cool drink while you wait to board.
Our bags were taken straight to our room by the porters, which felt very posh, while we all boarded. We had a lovely cool drink whilst listening to the safely briefing and our tour leader pointed out our journey to us on a Halong Bay map – made it easier to see how far we were going etc. Then, we had a massive seafood lunch. I was just recovering from a dodgy tummy, Olive and Ross don’t eat prawns, so Ned had a lot to eat! I did ask Bhaya before leaving about child friendly meals but was told they have to eat what everyone else does. A staff member did ask everyone in the waiting area if they are happy eating seafood and we all said yes (without realising that meant prawns, prawns and more prawns!). In hindsight we definitely should not have said yes for all of us – with only Ned and I enjoying prawns there was a lot wasted (every meal included prawns and oysters!).
The magnificent scenery started almost immediately when we started off, and it was exactly that – magnificent, absolutely beautiful. This is the Halong Bay I had been dreaming of.
We then had some free time to unpack our bags in our cabin. The cabin was small but had everything we needed for the overnight stay – it had a double bed and a single roll away. I shared the double with the kids and Ross had the single – the kids thought this was awesome. They do offer connecting rooms for families but given Olive was still classified as an infant we saved some money and all stayed in the one room. All the cabins have a balcony which was lovely to be able to see the scenery but to be honest we didn’t have the balcony door open much as it was too hot! Each cabin had a private bathroom which was small but really we didn’t spend much time in there! There were plenty of life jackets and we never felt unsafe on the boat with the kids.
Upstairs was the cozy bar and restaurant area. All meals were in the restaurant but you could enjoy drinks on the back deck or up on the sun deck.
Our first stop for the afternoon was Luon Cave. The boat docked, and we hopped into the little tender (with life jackets) and went off to a floating ‘pontoon’ of sorts where many kayaks were moored. We had the option of paddling a kayak or sitting in a bamboo boat with a local lady paddling us around. I think our guide was very surprised when we opted for the kayaks!
Again, the scenery was amazing and paddling through the cave and out into the lagoon was beautiful. Luon Cave is approximately 60 metres long and 4 metres wide. The height of the cave changes with the tide so the only way to access is via a kayak or bamboo row boat. The water was completely calm and looked so very inviting! It was stinking hot and we did spend a lot of time chasing the shady areas. There was lots to look at and investigate along the rock walls.
After a wobbly exit from the kayaks and a little ride on the tender again we were back on the main boat and off to our next stop.
We then had the options of a hike and a swim on Titov Island. Pulling up to the island Ross and I were just saying ‘on my goodness’, or possibly something stronger than that (!)……I don’t know if we timed the trip badly or this is just how busy Halong Bay is these days, but it was crazy. The boat couldn’t get close to the pier, so we caught the tender over. The little beach was so busy with tourists it was standing room only in the water. We were desperate for a swim though so we had to brave the masses!!! I really did not enjoy this part of the trip. There were tour groups who had a group leaders with megaphones! It was just crazy. We are so annoyed that we forgot to pack the camera for this excursion, so we haven’t got any evidence of the crowds!!! You’ll just have to believe us when we say it was just ridiculously crazy busy.
Ned and Ross walked to the top of Titov Island – there are 400-ish steps but Ned made it fine. Ross said the view from the top was amazing but we are annoyed that we forgot the camera – one of the best views on all of Halong Bay.
We then had some free time on deck before happy hour started at 5.30! The staff make a very big deal out of happy hour!!
It was great for Ned and Olive to see the floating ‘shops’ pull up along side the boats – shopping on water!
Activities before dinner included spring roll making which Olive loved – but it was Ross who was crowned king and walked away with the grand prize of an apron! It was also here we learnt to say 1,2,3 cheers in Vietnamese – Mot, Hi, Ba, Yo, when we (Ross and I) tried rice wine from a coconut. We are still saying Mot, Hi, Ba, Yo now!
Dinner was at 7.30pm (with no option for an earlier dinner for the kids) – this was definitely a stretch for Ned and Olive as they are normally in bed before 7 – and was stressing me out for a long time after we booked the trip. But once again the kids were fantastic, and it was a non-issue, they just went with the flow – something that just seems to happen so much easier when travelling. We did keep them amused with Pringles and Sprite – and the spring rolls definitely helped also.
Dinner was a 5-course masterpiece! The meals were huge and after having the spring rolls earlier I think the kids only managed to pick on a couple of things. There definitely should have been the option of half serves for the kids as there was just far too much food.
We also had to ask for the kids meals to be served without the copious amounts of chilli all over!
After dinner we all went straight to bed, there was squid fishing offered but we were all too tired to stay up for that! There was also tai chi at 6am but no one from our boat was up early enough for that. Both these activities seem to be offered by all boats.
The next morning the alarm went off nice and early and we went up to the restaurant for a light breakfast of toast, fruit, croissants and cereal before another tender boat ride to the “Sung Sot” cave (Surprise cave) – the biggest cave in Halong Bay with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. We were there early before the queues of tourists which was great (the reason for the early alarm!). There were some really interesting formations and it was much, much bigger than I was expecting. We were advised to wear proper shoes, but all we had packed for the Halong Bay trip was our thongs for all of us and we were completely fine – there are quite a few steps to climb which could get slippery after rain.
After exploring the cave we had a buffet breakfast on the boat including eggs and pho whilst heading back to the docks. We were off the boat by 10.30am after a big thank you to the staff.
It was another long 4-hour car journey back to the hotel. We could have caught the train that night to Da’Nang but we decided to have another night in Hanoi – mostly so we could relax and have a swim after the long car trip.
Top things to note on a Halong Bay cruise with kids
- You will need to leave your main bags at your hotel in Hanoi and only take day packs onto the boat
- We only had thongs – these were fine for the cave but it may be slippery after rain. We were not advised beforehand to pack shoes.
- The meals are massive and extremely seafood heavy so make sure you let them know if you don’t like seafood.
- The 4 hour car trips are very long for the little ones – entertainment, snacks and hopefully a snooze is necessary!
- Have some snacks for the car trip – always passes the time and apart from the one stop along the way there are no opportunities to buy food.
- Also have snacks in your backpacks for the boat. Yes, the meals are massive but kids always need snacks! Of course, there is the option of buying from the ‘floating shops’!
- Request a private transfer. Or the journey could be so much longer if you are dropping off people at 10 different hotels before yours!
- Check the weather as at certain times of year you might need a light jumper (we didn’t in June). Certain times of year the cruises are cancelled due to weather.
- We were told that we should have something ‘dressy’ for dinner – this was unnecessary – summer dresses and shorts were fine.
- Check if the company has smaller sized life vests. I am not sure if the smaller sized life vests on the Bhaya Cruise were kids sized or smaller adults – they were too big for our kids before they were tightened but ok once you did up all the straps tightly.
- We didn’t need any cash – you can fix up your bill whilst sailing back to the docks via credit card.
- Don’t forget to pack your passport as you won’t be able to board without it (there is a safe on board)
- Think carefully about the size of the boat – number of cabins, people, staff when travelling with your kids
- Think carefully whether it might be too rushed for a 1 night trip – you’ll see more if you stay for 2 nights but it could be too much for the kids
I have read so many wonderful reviews of Halong Bay cruises with kids. The scenery was amazing, we definitely loved most of the experience, the kids loved the whole experience – I just wish that when you were looking out from the sundeck on the boat that you couldn’t count 80 boats in the water with you!
Let me know in the comments below if you also found Halong Bay to be crowded?
Wow your cruise was plush compared to ours. Great points on family travel on a cruise boat we love your adventures and l love the idea of a spring roll contest
Thanks so much Marianne. I think there are lots of ‘plush’ cruises these days! Olive was all over the spring roll making competition – loved it….to be honest it’s all pretty touristy but you have to visit don’t you?!
Perfect trip, look like a dream. I will try to go kayaking and explore Halong Caves and eat local foods in Halong Bay. I have a plan travel to Halong Bay in August, hope the weather is good
I hope you get great weather also. Apart from the crowds we had a really fantastic trip. Enjoy…