Just came back from the 5-night Indo China Explorer with stops in Sanya (China), Chan May and Halong Bay (Vietnam) and wanted to share my thoughts.
Mainly Asian retirees. Out of 1,700 guests, over 1,110 from Hong Kong and China, 150 Japanese, 100 Koreans, a few hundred other Asians and just a few Europeans and Americans. There were very few children of any age on this cruise but that likely changes during school holidays. Most of the passengers were with tour groups and didn't speak much English, which meant very low attendance for the onboard activities.
As a smaller ship, dining options are limited with only the Windjammer and Dining Room. Pizza, hotdogs and hamburgers are available by the pool, as well as a midnight snack starting at 11pm. Seating in the Windjammer is quite limited, resulting in difficulties finding a seat during peak times. There are a number of bars, but most were empty throughout the cruise. Food at the Dining Room More
wasn't as good as NCL's Caribbean cruise, but acceptable. At the Windjammer, lunch and dinner were quite varied, but breakfast was the same each day.
For leisure, there are both indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis, as well as a climbing wall, mini golf (uninteresting), shuffle board, ping pong, 400m running track and fairly large gym. A card room (mostly used by Majong players) and library round off the facilities.
The live music was excellent, with the singers catering to the multilingual audience by singing in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese. The guest performers were pretty good but the song and dance group was only average.
About half of the staff are from Mainland China and while they don't speak fluent English, they had no problems understanding our requests. The Stateroom Attendant and Waiters were very good about remembering personal preferences.
On to the trip itself...
Tip: If you have luggage you need delivered, enter on the Ground Floor of Ocean Terminal (the part of Harbour City closest to the Star Ferry). Otherwise, you will be inexplicably directed to take the luggage down via escalators and a few steps. There's an elevator, but I think it comes out in the middle of Toy R' Us, which may confuse some people.
Finding the Check-in is a bit difficult to find as Ocean Terminal is part of the very large Harbour City shopping center. Thankfully, the are lots of multilingual shopping center concierges at the major intersections who can point you in the right direction. If coming by taxi, asking to be dropped off at the Star Ferry may be most convenient.
Since we had completed online check-in, there was no wait. If you didn't bring passport copies, they'll copy your passports on the spot (you'll need these for your ports of visits). There was some brief confusion about visas by experienced staff but that was quickly sorted out and we breezed through Immigration. After that, your passport will be collected by the ship staff for visa purposes and then a standard security check and you're onboard!
Oddly enough, there weren't many staff to point you in the right direction, which caused a bit of chaos at the entrance. Since we had cruised before, we were able to figure out how to get to the stateroom. We got a great deal on a Superior Interior, which had a 3-seat sofa and vanity and lots of storage. Ship announcements can't be heard inside the stateroom, which is nice if you want to sleep in.
A on-time departure at 5pm gave great views of Victoria Harbour as the ship threads its way out to the open sea amid the ferries, cargo ships and yachts. Then full speed ahead for Sanya, China.
Day 2 - Sanya, China
Tip: You'll need your passport to get off, so be sure to pay attention to the pick up times. Also, go 10 min earlier to pick up disembarkation tickets.
Hong Kong to Sanya is quite far and we didn't dock until 1pm. Disembarkation is controlled via tickets due to the Chinese Immigration process and although I had picked up tickets right at start of distribution at 12:30, we were already Group 7, probably due to tour guides picking up tickets for their groups. It was around 3pm before were were able to disembark, which didn't give us much time. However, even though Sanya is considered the "Hawaii of China", it's a far cry from Hawaii and we knew that there wasn't that much to see in Sanya anyway.
After getting through Immigration, you can take the ship's shuttle which costs US$8/person roundtrip and leaves every 30 min for the city. Or, there's an RMB 10 electric cart that will take you just over the bridge off the island (saving you the 15-20min walk). Otherwise, you can book a van to take you around the city for a few hours, which may be a good idea if you don't speak Mandarin. We took the electric cart across, got a taxi and headed to Yalong Beach, the best beach area in Sanya, about 20 min drive. After spending some time walking on the beach, we headed back to the First Market in the city, which was a bit boring and then the Pedestrian Shopping Street near the ship and a taxi back to the ship. You can pick up some coconut candy while you're in Sanya, but there's not much else I recommend. The stop in Sanya is quite short, resulting in a number of groups just getting back to the ship when we were supposed to have set sail and delaying the departure by 30 minutes.
Day 3- Chan May Port, Vietnam
It was pouring rain when we arrived in Chan May Port, an industrial port located quite far from anything. Taking the ship's excursion or booking your own beforehand are the only 2 options I would recommend. Otherwise, you have to walk about 400m out of the port and negotiate with some drivers on where to go. We booked Smile Tours, who had arranged an itinerary similar to the ship's excursion but with an extra river cruise, visit to the Imperial Palace, lunch and stop at the Market. We were picked up in a Mercedes 12-seater with driver and headed off for the1.5h drive to Hue and the Imperial Tomb. The Tomb wasn't particularly interesting, but that may have been because of the pouring rain. Then we moved on to the river cruise to the Pagoda. There wasn't anything scenic about the river, so you could skip this and save some time. The Pagoda is located in an operating monastery, but they were closed for lunch when we arrived. You can still wander around outside, but you won't see any of the monks. After a brief stop, we headed to the Imperial Palace, the highlight of the tour. Similar to the Forbidden City in China, this palace housed a number of Vietnamese emperors. Personally, I think you could skip the river cruise and Pagoda in order to spend more time exploring the Palace. We had a lunch of Hue pancakes and noodles at Lac Thanh (you can also try Lac Thien next door) just outside the Palace and made a quick stop at the Market. It mainly sells low-quality, Chinese-made goods, but if you want to buy some Vietnamese coffee, it's probably better here than in Halong Bay. Then it was back on the van for the journey back. Likely due to the weather, everyone was back onboard by the appointed time.
Day 4 - Halong Bay, Vietnam
Unlike other cruises, the Legend actually cruises through the karsts and into Halong Bay (although the tenders don't land near the main harbor), providing for spectacular views between 9-10am as the ship sails through, which was the highlight of the cruise. Once the ship gets into the Bay, there's nothing interesting to see. Since we were unsure where we would dock, we went for the ship's Halong Bay excursion, as we didn't want to sit in the car for 6-7 hours for the Hanoi excursion. The excursion leaves directly from the ship and while 4 hours in length, a lot of time is spent getting to the interesting scenery in what appeared to be converted fishing boats (don't expect to break any speed records in these). The weather was good and the boats had 38 passengers for the 48 seats inside. Aside from the amazing scenery, there's also a stop at a cave with stalagmite formations. If you aren't able to climb up and down 5 stories of stairs, you will want to skip this part. After the cave, we puttered our way back to the ship. We decided to get directly on to the tender and head into the city. It's about a 15 min walk from the tender dock to the Tourist Night Market and some restaurants. There's not a whole lots, except a lot of stalls selling cheap handicrafts and Vietnamese coffee (although not particularly fresh). We didn't try any of the seafood in the restaurants, but the passengers who did gave all of the restaurants a thumbs down.
Day 5 - At Sea
After leaving Halong Bay, the seas became much rougher and there was a much more noticeable motion. It was also extremely windy, which put outdoor activities out of consideration. There weren't many scheduled activities during the Sea Day compared to Norwegian. However, most of the passengers seemed pretty happy spending their money at the stores onboard.
Day 6 - Disembarkation
We arrived slightly later than expected at 7am but were able to start disembarking at 7:15am. Despite the disembarkation schedule's warning not to wait near the exit, basically, you can go to Deck 4 mid-ship and get off at any time if you don't need luggage assistance since the tour groups generally don't leave until 9am. Less
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Cabin review: Superior Interior Stateroom
Lots of storage space, small shower but convenient access to the elevators.