We’d thought, with the rain coming, that disaster loomed. After all, we were preparing to cast off from Emeraude Pier and steer for the depths of Halong Bay on an inimitable cruise. My passengers came aboard the way they mostly do, in shorts and easy-wear travel clothes. But each was packing something special — gowns and black tie dress. And that’s why my concern about the rain. Penguins can stand a good dousing, but men in penguin suits don’t do so well.
Still, a disarming rain was not to be this May 26 and 27 during Emeraude Classic Cruise’s 8th Annual Wine and Dine Cruise. Sure, we had patterings of drops as we made our way among the karsts, but mostly the skies lent drama to this one-of-a-kind social spectacular.
My passengers embarked from all walks of life. There were teachers form 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.
None of them were tourists, none transient. They were all committed to Vietnam, or had committed to Vietnam in the past, and knew this cruise as something special. None of them, either, were daunted by the prospect of rain. The temperature was perfect, and the humidity was not all over us like a wet glove.
I’ve manned the helm on this Wine Cruise for years, and every year, the crowd mixes in a different way. Sometimes, they break into smaller groups. This year, the entire crowd mingled as a single group, from the beach where they played volleyball before the big event to the wee hours while kicking up a storm on our dance deck.
The annual feast in the grotto 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, underscoring that this was no usual dinner.
After dinner, the passengers ferried back to the Emeraude where DJ Cash 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 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.”