HALONG BAY, Vietnam — Leave it to a company called Paradise to launch the most heavenly boat Halong Bay has ever seen.
Last week, one of the leading providers of luxury hospitality services in Vietnam put the first of two Paradise Elegance cruise ships on the water.
The 200-ton steel craft measures 61 meters long and 13 meters wide, making it the biggest overnight option in the UNESCO World Heritage site, ever.
But it was the bold vessel’s modern design and plethora of conveniences that most impressed the first passengers.
“(Paradise Elegance is) top-of-the-line,” said Arlene Bassett, a guest from New York who claimed to have traveled around the world three times and been on about a dozen cruises. “Maybe the most comfortable and stylish cruise I’ve ever experienced.”
In addition to 31 high-design cabins that range from 25-35 square meters and include private balconies, walk-in closets, rain showers and floor-to-ceiling glass doors, Paradise Elegance features an array of upscale amenities, including an artfully sectioned dining room with piano bar and a spa with four treatment rooms.
“Halong Bay has never had anything like this,” said Nguyen Cao Son, Chief Operating Officer of Paradise Group Vietnam, which now owns and operates more luxury cruise ships than any other company on the bay. “We’ve always strived to be the best, and this move speaks to that.”
To further set itself apart from the competition, Paradise Elegance offers continuous cruising, enabling passengers to see more of Vietnam’s most famous natural attraction over a 24-hour period than they could with any other overnight operation.
To that end, excursions such as visits to various caves, islands and fishing villages are serviced by tenders that zip between Paradise Elegance and the on-shore marvels.
Moreover, Paradise Elegance excursions take place during off-peak times, giving guests the opportunity to experience the bay’s most popular sites on an intimate level.
Onboard, the main attraction figures to be the top deck, which can accommodate up to 70 people and is equipped with a circular bar that sits under a large shade sail.
Because of the amount of protection the canopy provides, General Manager Edgar Cayanan believes the space will beckon guests no matter the weather conditions.
“The sundeck, as we call it, is roomy, elegant and sheltered in a really smart and sophisticated way,” said Cayanan. “I think it has the potential to be the premier spot for small- to medium-sized gatherings and events on Halong Bay.”
Paradise’s newest nautical masterpiece is also the only boat on the bay that offers a la carte menus for both lunch and dinner as well as the freedom to dine wherever — be it sundeck, dining room or private balcony — and whenever, from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.
The cabins are divided into two room categories, with 27 Deluxe Balcony Cabins comprising one grade and four Terrace Suites forming the other.
Paradise Group Vietnam plans to launch a second Paradise Elegance in June, bringing its total number of cruising vessels to 11.
Established in 2008, Paradise Group Vietnam currently owns and operates four other fleets as well as the 156-room Paradise Suites and Paradise Trend hotels — the first and only boutique luxury hotels in Halong Bay — and three restaurants, including two in Hanoi that consistently rank on TripAdvisor among the top 10 dining venues in Vietnam’s capital.
With more than 2,000 limestone karsts jutting from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay makes for a mystical landscape that lures millions of tourists each year.
Every experience with Paradise Cruises includes ground transportation between Hanoi and Halong Bay in a converted Ford Transit Van, which is outfitted with six seats — instead of the customary 16 — flat-screen TVs in the headrests and high-speed wireless Internet access.
The transfer takes approximately three-and-a-half hours, although highway improvements scheduled to be finished by the end of the year are expected to cut an hour off that time.