Your Essential Athena Royal Cruises Review

Halong Bay (also known as Ha Long Bay) is located in Northern Vietnam, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to see Halong Bay is by booking a cruise. The cruises are on junk-boats they are a peaceful and fun way to explore the landscape.

On a Halong Bay cruise you can witness the bays 1,600 limestone islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited by humans. The landscape is dramatic as it is beautiful, cruising around the karst limestone pillars that rise up from the water feels like a scene from a movie. In fact, Halong Bay has been the setting for many popular movies, Kong Skull Island (2017), James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Pan (2015).

Along with the karst limestone cliffs there are caves, arches and other interesting landmarks to be explored.

Halong Bay
Halong Bay | Cruise Review

When To Visit Halong Bay

The tourist season spans from September to January when rainfall is low, but prices are higher and crowds are abundant.

From February to April, it’s less crowded, but there’s often heavy mist and fog that can obstruct the views you came to see! I visited during this time and experienced a lot of fog, yet it gave the bay a mystical feel, reminiscent of a movie set.

May to September marks the off-peak season. The weather is hot, ideal for water-based activities, but there can be unpredictable thunderstorms. However, May offers warm, dry weather, fewer crowds, and fewer storms.

August typically experiences the worst weather, with heavy rainfall and potential typhoons.

Halong Bay in February was misty and mysterious!

How To Get From Hanoi To Halong Bay

Halong Bay is about 163 kilometres from Hanoi, it is easy to travel between the two. It takes about 2 – 3 hours. Here are a few options:

1. Cruise Company: Good news is that most cruises will offer a transfer to the location that your boat departs from, this is usually Tuan Chau Port. These buses are very comfortable and make frequent stops for the bathroom.

2. Public Bus: The biggest bus station in Hanoi is B?n Xe M? ?ình, most buses to Halong Bay will depart from here. You can purchase tickets on the day, some companies that operate here are Kumho Viet Thanh, Phuc Xuyen, and Anh Quy. Prices range from 100,000 to 200,000 VND.

3. Private Car: If you would like the luxury a private car, Vietnam has very affordable prices. A round trip can cost between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 VND. You can book a private car via 12goAsia.

The Best Halong Bay Cruises

Athena Royal Cruise (?9/10)is the cruise I went on and will be reviewing in the next section. Activities include hiking, kayaking, and exploring caves. If you opt for the 2 day cruise you will go on a 4 hour trip around the less visited Lan Ha Bay. It is a mid-range cruise, prices start at €316 / 8,316,000 VND per night.

Rita Cruise (?9.2/10) is a luxury cruise with top class facilities, such as an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, steam room, spa, and jacuzzi. All cabins have their own private balcony, flat screen TV, and most en-suites have a hot tub. The activities include kayaking, visitng Frog Pond (location of King Kong), swimming and visiting caves. Prices start at €443 / 11,653,000 VND per night.

Victory Cruise (?8.6/10) is a good option for travellers on a budget. It is one of the cheaper cruises, it includes all meals and activities, there is also an onboard massage therapist. Prices start at €229 / 6,024,000 VND per night.

Halong Bay Cruise Review – Athena Royal Cruise

We choose Athena Royal Cruises due to their spacious room and fun itinerary.

Price

We booked via Booking.com for a total €700/ 18,412,000 VND for 3 days and 2 nights. The price was mid-range compared to some cruises that can cost over €1,000 for 3 days.

Although Athena offered a 1 night / 2 day cruise this seemed a bit short since Ha Long bay was a bucket list destination for us for a long time so we choose the longer 3 days and 2 nights.

The price included a transfer from our Air Bnb to Tuan Chau Port . The bus was a limousine bus with reclining leather chairs, it was so comfortable and spacious I slept most of the way. The journey took 3.5 hours and included a stop at a pearl museum & shop.

What Is The Athena Royal Cruise Boat Like?

The ship has three decks, deck one & two are where most of the rooms are located. The restaurant and bar is also on deck two. Deck three has a jacuzzi, open air bar, sun chairs/beds and two large suites.

We stayed in the executive room which included a balcony. The room was very nice and surprisingly spacious, it included a table, two chairs, a small wardrobe, mini fridge and flat screen TV. The bathroom was also large with a rainforest shower with a large window overlooking the bay (maybe don’t do that while showering as lots of ships pass by).

Athena Royal Cruise Itinerary

Once you board the ship you have about 30 minutes to unpack followed by a one hour buffet lunch. The buffet lunch is excellent, dishes include fish, chicken, cooked vegetables, salad and fruit.

It is during this lunch you will receive the itinerary with all the activities you will do throughout your stay.

If you are going the 2 day 1 night cruise just skip day 2 of this itinerary as day 2 will not apply to you, but day 3 is you day 2 itinerary.

Athena Royal Cruise + The Athena boat you transfer to go on activities

Athena Royal Cruise Day 1 Itinerary

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot translates to surprise cave and actually, to be fair the cave actually did surprise us! It is very large inside, to get there you need to climb about 200 steps to reach the entrance, it then evens out but there are a few more stairs inside.

Ti Top Island

Ti Top Island was my favorite part of the trip. Unfortunately, you only have an hour here, which might not be enough on a warm day if you’d like to hike, swim, and enjoy a beer.

We chose to climb Ti Top Mountain. This was a relatively easy climb of about 500 steps, taking around 25 minutes up and down, but it was very busy, so the pace was slow.

The views from the top were incredible, although there were many people from all the other cruise ships. After the climb, we sat on the beach with a beer for 30 minutes.

Cooking Demonstration

Back on the boat there is an evening cooking class before dinner. You are shown how to make a fresh spring roll with rice paper, a tasty and healthy Asian snack! It would have been really nice to learn how to make something more complicated but you need a large kitchen to facilitate this so completely understand.

Dinner

Dinner was served at 7:30 pm. They gave us five courses and the portions were really big. The following is what was served:

Appetisers: Cream of pumpkin soup, fish cake with Papaya salad, Beef noodles
Main Course: Sea bass with oysters and prawns
Desert: Cake & fresh Fruit

*If you have allergies or dislike a type of food they will happily substitute. My boyfriend does not eat fish and they gave him chicken instead.

Shrimp Fishing

After dinner they had shrimp fishing on the top deck but I did not do this as I was so tired from the early start. The TV in the bedroom has plenty of pre-downloaded films if you just want to rest or you can stay in the bar.

Athena Royal Cruise Day 2 Itinerary

Day two began with breakfast at 7:30 am. However, there was Tai Chi on the boat deck at 6:15 am, but we were too tired to attend. Other guests mentioned it was excellent!

The breakfast comprised a set menu with pastries, fruit, and a cooked meal including bacon, sausages, and eggs.

As we were the only ones on our boat doing a 3-day cruise, we transferred to a smaller day boat. There, we joined another couple from a different Athena cruise boat, and we slowly cruised around Lan Ha Bay.

Lan Ha Bay

Lan Ha Bay is a smaller and less touristy alternative to Halong Bay. It’s an incredibly peaceful place; during our 90-minute journey, we only passed maybe two other ships.

The first stop was the Halong Pearl Museum, where we received a demonstration of how pearls are retrieved from oysters and were then directed into their very large pearl shop. To be honest, this was a little awkward as we had no intention of buying anything, and the salespeople were quite pushy. However, learning about the pearls was interesting, even though we didn’t have room in the budget for them.

After the pearl museum, we were allotted one hour to kayak around the area. The entire experience was incredibly peaceful as we were the only kayakers there.

There are various types of kayaks to choose from; you can either share one or go alone. One hour was sufficient as kayaking can get tiring.

Lunch

The boat crew served us a generous lunch on the day boat, including oysters, deep-fried squid, noodles, and chicken salad. It was a large amount of food, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. The food was served in the middle of one table with a single serving spoon. This was a bit awkward as we weren’t very familiar with the other couple, and we didn’t receive new cutlery for each dish, so we had to share as a group.

Amaze Cave + Viewpoint

The next stop was a cave called Amaze Cave. The cave itself is small, but there’s a viewpoint at the top that offers a magnificent view of the bay. We were the only people there, which was a pleasant change from the previous day at Ti Top Mountain.

We then made a quick trip back to the main boat, where there wasn’t much else to do but rest until dinner.

Dinner was really good; they changed the menu so we weren’t having the same meal two nights in a row. We were served spring rolls, deep-fried squid, rolled chicken with potatoes in a Thai sauce, followed by cake with fruit.

Athena Royal Cruise Day 3 Itinerary

Another early start, breakfast was at 7 am and by 7:30 am we were on another boat to Hang Lu?n where we could either explore via a kayak or a larger bamboo boat with a driver.

The cave was really cool! There were numerous monkeys trying to approach the boats and kayaks. I found this experience incredibly enjoyable as it was my first time seeing monkeys in the wild. However, it’s worth noting that they could get aggressive toward people who teased them with food, snarling and attempting to jump on the boats.

This activity lasted about 40 minutes. Afterward, we returned to the boat for an early buffet lunch, which was fantastic.

Is Athena Royal Cruise Worth It?

I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 days on Athena Royal Cruise; I departed feeling like I had experienced the best of Ha Long Bay. I would highly recommend opting for an overnight cruise rather than a day trip.

If you prefer to relax, you can choose not to participate in any activities and stay on board. However, there isn’t much to do unless you’re interested in getting a massage.

One downside of the cruise was the price of drinks, which were double the cost compared to on land, significantly adding to the total trip expense. Additionally, they only provided one bottle of water per person per day, which wasn’t sufficient, requiring additional purchases of bottled water.

Before the cruise, I expected the ship to continuously cruise around the bay. However, it actually anchors and doesn’t travel around. This was disappointing, especially since we booked a room with a balcony and large window, hoping to enjoy panoramic views of the bay. It seems that all cruise ships only anchor and use day boats to travel between points.

To get the most out of your time in Halong Bay you cannot go wrong with a cruise!

Please note some of my links throughout this post are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through my link, I might make a small commission. However, this does not change the price you pay but it allows me to cover the costs of running this website. Thank you for understanding !

Related Posts

fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh