Passengers will come away with a deeper understanding of the people and cultures of Vietnam and Cambodia after this cruise, thanks to the movie screenings, documentaries, lectures and non-touristy shore activities. Even the entertainment at night has an enrichment element, with local performers demonstrating traditional dances and songs. A keyboardist in the Saigon Lounge brings the non-traditional music (Celine Dion ballads, for example).
Generally there will be two shore excursions offered each day, one in the morning and one after lunch. All are included in the fare. The activities include a look at the Cai Be Floating Market, visits to temples and craft villages (silversmiths and silk weavers), as well as more sobering excursions to sites such as the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The legendary Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is a highlight, as is the ornate Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
For shore excursions, passengers are divided into two groups of about 25 to 30; each group is looked after by one guide who stays on the cruise until the border crossing. That is, two Vietnamese guides escort the groups in Vietnam, before handing over to two Cambodian guides at the border. The cruise director, Rosie, stays onboard the entire cruise.
Passengers will experience the excursions by many different types of local transport, including sampan boats, rickshaws, oxcarts, coaches and on foot. People need to be able to walk to join the outings, with some navigation on unpaved roads requiring a certain level of mobility. Wheelchair access is not available.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
The Saigon Lounge is where it all happens, with keyboard tunes in the evenings, a crew show and relevant documentaries and film screenings. Local performers are invited onboard to sing and dance in national costume on two nights.
There's an emphasis on learning about the local cultures of Vietnam and Cambodia while onboard, with hands-on opportunities to learn how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, fold napkins and wear the national Cambodian costume. The onboard guides present talks on the places that will be visited, and a documentary is shown. There are no additional fees to participate and no advance registration is required.
Saigon Lounge (Sun Deck): This is the central meeting point, as well as the sole bar and lounge on the ship. Passengers meet here at 6.30 each evening for cocktail hour and briefing on the next day's itinerary. The bartenders come up with a specialty cocktail each day, such as the Long Island iced tea. There is ample seating, mainly in groups of four or six. Evening entertainment and movie screenings are held here. It's also the public area where passengers sit during the day to read, access Wi-Fi or enjoy a coffee or alcoholic beverage.
Most passengers order local spirits or beer, as well as juice and soft drinks.
The Sun Deck provides a relatively large area for outside recreation, with ample deck chairs and recliners. There is shade, and also areas with no shade for the sun-seekers. The pool is smaller than one might have expected; it is a circular whirlpool accessed by climbing a few steps. Although the crew advised it should accommodate 10 passengers, it worked most comfortably with six or eight at most. As the outside area is directly connected to the Saigon Lounge, it's not far to walk for a cold beer or water. On the other side of the Saigon Lounge is a small open-air area with a few chairs where smoking is permitted.
Helpful crew at reception can organise wake-up calls, DVD loan, extra towels or hangers and other requests to ensure a pleasant stay. Laundry service is available at a reasonable cost (US$1 for a T-shirt wash-and-dry).
The cruise director will help to change currency at a money exchange. Worth noting that any extra Vietnamese dong left over after the border crossing into Cambodia can be used to settle the tab at the end of the cruise.
Wi-Fi is free and can be connected in Saigon Lounge, though it's only available at certain times depending on the ship's position.
A small boutique is located on the upper deck, adjacent to the restaurant. It sells silk dressing gowns, T-shirts, inexpensive jewellery, ties, chopsticks and other souvenirs.
The 'library' is a bookcase in the Saigon Lounge with books, magazines, jigsaw puzzles and a Scrabble set.
Two small rooms on the Sun Deck are utilised for spa treatments including aromatherapy massage, neck and shoulder massage, reflexology, manicure, pedicure and facials. Shampoo and blow dry salon services are also available. Treatments last from 30 to 90 minutes and represent good value: a 60-minute aromatherapy massage is US$40. Appointments are available from 9am to 9pm. With just one therapist to look after the needs of up to 60 passengers, it's advisable to book as soon as you get on the ship to secure preferred times.
The fitness centre consists of one exercise bike and one treadmill, adjacent to the Saigon Lounge, located near the spa rooms and smokers' deck. The location does not particularly encourage passengers to work out. A few towels, bottled water and some sanitising spray wouldn't go astray. There is no relegated jogging/walking track on the Sun Deck.
Officially, all ages are welcome. However, the demographic is certainly skewed to the over-50s age group with activities, facilities and menus planned to suit this group. There is no special programming or activities for children. The deluxe suites can be configured as connecting cabins, with two beds set up in each room (four beds in total).