Cruise planning is important if you want to have a memorable vacation in the majestic Halong Bay. However, concerns around whether to book Halong Bay cruise online in advance, or through a local travel agent on arrival is becoming a hot issue. The question pops up as a result of the competition between the growing online booking services and the experienced travel agencies. This blog will guide you through many aspects to help you choose the suitable way.
In this blog, I also share opinions from 4 travel experts from all around the world about this concern by asking them simple questions:
“Among 3 aspects I listed in my post (availability, transparency and price), which aspect to you is most important while booking Halong Bay cruise? Which method of Halong tours booking (online or on arrival) can better meet your standards in this aspect? And why?”
Availability: much more choices online
It is obvious that online Halong tours booking websites have a huge advantage over travel agents within this category. Travelers are able to book any cruise in Halong. With the development of online marketplaces and services, a wide range of cruises from mid-range to luxurious are just a few clicks away. The cruises are defined by your specific search requirements (room size, amenities, etc.), and you can plan ahead early to snag those luxurious, and popular small cruises, months before your trip for two. You can plan for your entire family and friends without worrying about the availability, and many times availability updates will even open up opportunities that weren’t initially available. When you arrive in Halong, you and your family and guests just need to head straight to the boat, relax, and enjoy many breath-taking attractions that Halong Bay offers to you. One more special thing is that you can book cruise online after arriving at Halong as long as you have a smartphone with internet access. It would save you tons of time instead of asking agents one by one.
Robert Shrader, a popular travel blogger from LeaveYourDailyHell, shows his flexibility when it comes to booking his trip “For me, it depends on the circumstances of my trip to Vietnam. For example, if I am taking a longer trip, then booking on arrival works better, because I am flexible—if I have to wait an extra day to depart, I can. Plus, I can bargain and haggle to get the price I want! On the other hand, if I only have a limited amount of time in Vietnam, I want to book online so that I am guaranteed availability in Halong Bay, and in this instance the price isn’t as important.”
However, if you want to wait until arriving at Halong to start looking for your dream cruise, you will still be able to handle business, but it is definitely more of a challenge because each year Halong Bay is becoming a busier and even more highly competitive tourist attraction than in the past. In order to find a suitable and affordable enough cruise among thousands of other people doing the same thing, things become a fight against the inevitable, and suddenly your relaxing vacation is no more. It can be like “finding a needle in a haystack” due to most of the cruises having been full or booked in advance. Yes there are always some cruises left for last minute booking, but there are reasons why they are ignored by other tourists. Agencies that book in person also may tend to bend the truth when it comes to price and true availability, in order to make a higher profit than if you had just booked safely online in the first place.
Transparency: a must for online business
One can easily see the price listings, information, itinerary and what’s included listed right on the webpage. Transparency is a must for a successful online venture in the world of travel. Word spreads fast if a service is phony and unreliable, and reputation is all one has. The only difficulty when you are booking Halong tours online is the unpredictability of weather. Your cruise schedule might meet a bad day with rain or a raging storm, and that is obviously impossible to foresee 1 or 2 months ahead of time. However, you can get up to 100% refund due to bad weather cancellation and other policies are also clearly listed on the website.
Chris Dikmen, a travel expert from CruiseReport agrees that transparency is a crucial factor. He told us “We like to plan ahead and book most of our destination attractions online. A vacation is a big investment and we don’t want to leave an important attraction to “chance”. When shopping online for any local attraction, transparency is the key feature. We always look for a website that clearly describes the refund policies. A good TripAdvisor rating is also a big plus.”
“We prefer booking online so we can do some research on which cruise is the best. Typically, we’re looking for the best transparency. A cruise that thoroughly communicates what the experience will be like. Once we find one we like, we look for the best price and hope that its availability works with our schedule.” said Jacob from LocalAdventurer, among popular travel bloggers, also believes that transparency is the most important one among 3 factors.
And Deriece Swift, a lovely but also famous travel blogger, from GoatsOnTheRoad, totally agrees with Chris and Jacob “The most important aspect when booking a cruise or a tour is transparency. We want to see reviews about the company that we’re going to book with. Online is a great place to find reviews about companies – always look to see what other travellers’ are saying. Review sites are a great place to start, but take it a step further and check out blog and independent review sites as well.”
On the other hand, if you want to depend on local travel agents to arrange your cruise in Halong for you, their experience is an asset to your trip. They can easily find an available cruise that might suit your basic needs. If you are lucky enough to meet a nice and honest travel agent, you might get to do a few extra activities from the list provided. Sadly, many times as soon as the agent gets their hands on your money, the customer service ends. This is often how the tourism industry operates. Therefore, if you still want to book Halong cruise after arriving there, you should ask your hotel to book it for you because no hotel wants their customers to return with a horrible experience, essentially saying farewell to a potential loyal customer forever.
Price: pay a little extra for peace of mind. Just be clever
Price is definitely an aspect that every tourist must look into before taking a cruise trip in Halong. It is true that prices on websites change daily, and can be higher than the offers that travel agents at Halong would give you. However, there are always special deals and offers on the websites if you put effort into your research. There is always a way to outsmart the websites by checking them diligently and being first to book when prices drop. Whether that is understanding that during a certain season prices might be down, or the week before or after a big holiday there might be a lack of business so prices may be more competitive. There is always a way, and let’s face it, online is just easier if you put the groundwork in.
Many other tourists have been getting a very decent price on arrival through local travel agents. Some might get an offer of only 60 USD, which is half a price of that from a select online booking. However, it is always true to say that “you get what you pay for”. As mentioned above, customer service is really bad for a no-bargain price like that. The cruise is not one month but maybe few years old and those activities like swimming, fishing or kayaking that you should have, either would not be allowed, or would be completely disappointing.
Combine everything we have written in this post, and it is pretty much a hands-down win for online booking services in the fierce competition of claiming your ideal Halong Bay cruise. I would recommend you to book Halong Bay cruise online for the best experience for a pleasure-filled cruise. After all, the Bay is a place for you to relax and merge with the nature. Therefore, there is no need to challenge yourself to join the fight of dealing with travel agents and bringing any unnecessary concerns or worries into your vacation.
If you agree with us and are eager to get on a Halong tour, you might want to check out these thirteen most luxurious and recommended cruises on our website or other offers from Agoda and Booking. If not, you can totally share with me and other readers in the comment section below why it is much better to book a cruise on arrival.