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This was our first planned activity on our first trip to Vietnam, and it ended up being the absolute highlight of our trip. We appreciated the stops along the way to the departure location, for souvenir shopping at a workshop for disabled Vietnamese and a pearl farming center. We loved the small size of the boat compared with others we say 11-14 people on ours plus 5 crew. We loved the activities, including visiting caves, kayaking, squid fishing and cooking class. We loved having a top deck where we could socialize with the other travelers, enjoy the stunning scenery and have drinks. And we LOVED the food! It was plentiful and delicious. It was served family-style, with shared platters for each table. We made a point of rotating tables for each meal so our entire group could have a chance to get to know each other. The presentation was first-class flowers carved out of vegetables to adorn the shrimp cocktail. I know we got lucky with our group, made up of 3 different nationalities and with everyone getting along splendidly. But I definitely think being on a smaller boat contributed to the positive chemistry, and encouraged us to mingle more than we would have if we were on a big boat. Overall, the highlight of our trip!
This was my first time booking through Viator and I think it works by helping tour operators sell excess inventory - thats why the operators name isnt published. In this case we ended up with White Dolphin -it was certainly our fault for waiting until the last minute to book as it felt like we ended up on the reject boat.
On the way there, we took a route that was 40mins longer than the one recommended by Google Maps. Why? So that we could do a mandatory 20 minute pit stop aka shopping stop at a giant souvenir complex. We were dropped off in the front and picked up in the back so that wed have to walk trough the entire thing. This added an hour to our trip and we arrived after 12.
The following day at the end of the cruise, we docked at 11 but didnt leave until 12 because the incoming van of course had to do the shopping stop and take the long way.
On the way back, we took the 3h40min route plus 25min stop this time for shopping, as opposed to the direct 3h route.
Im sure many operators work this way, if I had a longer lead time I would have researched a company that didnt. Seeing that part of the entire operation was extremely off-putting.
The service on the boat was generally bizarre, especially meal service. One plate per table brought out at a time with no explanation of what anything was.
Most importantly, the food was pretty horrendous. This made me really sad because we just spent a week eating the most delicious Vietnamese food and every meal on the boat made me think of of the great Hanoi street food I could be eating instead.
The poor vegetarian couple next to us had it even worse- most of their meals were potatoes and bread in some form. At breakfast when everyone got a large plate eggs, sausage, toast, melon they just got the toast and melon...the rest wasnt replaced with anything.
Overall this part felt amateurish, as if this was the staffs first meals service together...not like a well run operation.
My recommendation to other travelers is to research the tour company and book in advance.
The effort is there and with just a little more time I feel like this cruise can be great. The food was just alright left much to be desired. Additionally, they know that weather may be an issue in cancelations, so they should come up with a system and put that in place although they were good on the fly.
I wanted to find an overnight option that didn't include activities. This was it. There were a couple of things I liked the idea of which we saw and the things i didn't want to do, i didn't, with no pressure from the guide, except maybe having another drink.
The rooms and boat itself was very comfortable with soft beds, good air con and the food was fantastic. If i remember anything it will be the food.
The star is lost because the guide spoke very rudimentary English. so we were not given any history or explanation of what we were seeing or where we were going. I tried to have a simple conversation about where does your family live and even that was tough.