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No T7 Villa, Tuan Chau Marina, Tuan Chau, Halong, Quang Ninh, Vietnam

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Dozens don black tie for spectacular feast in Halong Bay’s Surprise Grotto

Emeraude Classic Cruises set sail with a capacity crowd May 26 on a Wine and Dine Cruise on Halong Bay, lighting up Drum Cave with a black tie affair that ranks as the most glamorous gathering on Vietnam’s social calendar.

The 8th Annual Wine Cruise drew passengers from as far afield as Berlin and the United Kingdom for this event, though most of the 68 passengers hailed from Hanoi.

The crowd embarked from all walks of life. There were teachers from the United Nations School, the chancellor from the German Embassy, the Australian Ambassador, Canadian expatriates, people up from Danang, and a lovely Vietnamese family from Hanoi whose daughter recently returned from study abroad in the United States.

The weather was iffy on the day of departure, but the uncertainty collaborated with the festive ambitions of the passengers for a decidedly dramatic cruise.

“It was a mysterious weather situation,” said Kurt Walter, group general manager of Apple Tree Group Hospitality. “Sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy, but with perfect temperatures. And then, as we were dining in the cave, there were heavy clouds massing outside. It was great drama.”

The annual feast in the cave was a three-hour affair, conducted by the Press Club’s executive chef, Marcel Isaak, and complemented by a range of wines from Chapoutier, one of 2012’s most admired wine brands.

While dining, DJ Cache from Brisbane enhanced the surreal ambiance with jazz selections and crooners from back in the day. Meanwhile, the recent rains trickled amongst the grotto’s crevices to underscore that this was no usual dinner.

After dinner, the passengers ferried back to the Emeraude where DJ Cache segued from jazz to party music and rocked the boat till the small hours.

It wasn’t all wining and dining on the cruise. There was beach kayaking and sightseeing. “But mainly it was about wining and dining,” said Walter. “That, at the end of the day, is an annual priority on this cruise.”

The 9th Annual Wine and Dine Cruise is set for May 25, 2013.