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Old 08-17-2014, 10:43 PM   #1
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Starlight Cruises - grand white on immense blue

There are hundreds of white boats cruising Halong Bay, but when I arrived at the Bai Chay wharf it was easy to spot the majestic 58 meter Starlight Cruise ship which offers unparalleled luxury.


Floating against a backdrop of magnificent green islands standing proud in the emerald waters, Star Light Cruise provides an unprecedented cruising experience among the UNESCO listed Halong Bay.


There are more than 500 overnight cruises on offer in Halong Bay, but boarding the Starlight Cruise ship remains unique. My experience started before I set foot on-deck with a group of cruise staff waving us toward our vessel from the wharf.

The ship has 32 cabins from 22sqm to 50sqm. All are well-equipped with first class amenities and bring guests a five star experience.
Even in the smallest cabin class (Deluxe) in which I stayed, there is a large comfortable bathroom with a private double Jacuzzi looking across the mesmerising vistas of the Bay. The ship feels like a luxury hotel.

Our lunch was served right after check-in. The Mercury Restaurant amazed us all with its vibrant look and spacious feel. Located on the first deck over 350sqm, it offers local specialties, blended with international flavours. Nothing is more relaxing than enjoying food while viewing panoramic views of the poetic bay.

After trekking to the high outlook post on Titop beach and viewing Sung Sot cave, we headed to Cua Van fishing village via boats rowed by local men. My boatman told me about his floating lifestyle and how the recent Haiyan typhoon had swept several house roofs away. The village is also home to a school with seven classes, mostly of kids in grade 1 and 2. The pearl farm was our final destination of the day; there, I excitedly learned about how an oyster creates a unique pearl.
Once back on the ship darkness fell and the stars sparkled beautifully in the sky and the moonlight reflected on the sea. Indulging in the warm water of a relaxing Jacuzzi and enjoying a delicous dinner with live music was the perfect way to end a memorable day.

Those seeking the ultimate in romance can choose to dine in more privacy on the deck with candle light. The ship’s chef also offers spectacular wine dinners in one of the Bay’s caves depending on tide level and weather. If all this isn’t enough, guests who have tired limbs can opt for a sauna and massage to boost energy levels.

A CRUISE OF SUSTAINABLE
DEVELOPMENT

The five-star quality Starlight is the result of VND50 billion total investment – a figure which may make this seem like a risky project given the economic downturn. However, when considering the strategy of the cruise’s leaders, it does not seem at all reckless.
Bui Van Chi, director of the Oriental Sails Fleet which includes Oriental Sails, Calypso and Starlight Cruise, says: “It is a long term business. With a small boat, it is hard to add facilities, it is hard to keep to safety requirements. For us, we aim to be more sustainable. Starlight is the first cruise on the Bay with double hulls and bottoms which enhance safety. And thanks to its size, all the first-class amenities such as the library, mini-golf course, cellar, bar and lounge have been added, creating the most comfortable ambiance for guests.”
Asked about competition, the young director is optimistic: “On one hand, competition in the cruising sector here is tough due to the number of cruises. On the other hand, the number of big cruises with first class facilities is small. Most boats have 5-7 cabins. The development of the industry in Halong has been very fast and has lacked direction. As a result, the competition in the high-class segment is in fact not particularly strong.”
Chi’s optimism seems well-placed given the ship’s growth figures. In November 2013, the cruise welcomed around 1,000 guests, nearly triple the number that boarded in its first month of sailing.
“Starlight cruise was created with an aim to be a navigator - a leading light to make the whole bay more brilliant and heighten its beauty,” Chi said, adding that 2016 will see the launch of a further Starlight branded vessel.

"Hong Nhung - Time Out Magazine writes".
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