In the fading light, elegantly attired passengers descend the gangplank of the Emeraude, an immaculate all-white, near-replica of a 1930s paddlewheel steamer.
Tenders ferry the vessel’s entire passenger roster to the mouth of Hang Trong, or Drum Cave. Beneath the craggy ceiling of the ancient vault, flickering candles throw shadows into the walls’ rocky crevices and the tables are set with soft white linen, fresh flowers and sparkling glasses.
The most glamorous social event in the north of Vietnam gets underway this May 25 in -- where else -- a cavernous grotto sealed off from the outside world by the jade waters and mythical karsts of Halong Bay.
A study in contrasts, the Emeraude’s Wine & Dine Cruise Classic may be the most exquisite fine-dining-slash-caving experience on the planet. Last year the cruise sailed at capacity. Now in its 9th year, the Emeraude’s nostalgia for old-world charm and age-of-explorers romanticism comes through in every aspect of the cruise.
The itinerary begins with a continental or Vietnamese breakfast at the Press Club Hanoi, where guests will get acquainted before making the three-hour journey to Halong City. After checking in at the Emeraude Café and getting settled in their cabins, passengers will dine on a seafood buffet aboard the vessel. Before the main event of the night, there’s the option to soak up some rays on the pristine beach of Soi Sim Island and sample sunset cocktails and tapas on the sundeck.
This year’s Black Tie Gala Dinner features acclaimed vintages from the Jim Barry winery in Clare Valley, Australia. Classically trained Swiss Chef Marcel Isaak creates the accompanying gourmet four-course menu. After the meal and back aboard the boat, the party continues late into the night with beats provided by rising Vietnamese DJ, Polo.
The following morning, guests are presented with premium wines as a souvenir from the event, before returning to Hanoi on the Emeraude’s shuttle.
“It’s a cinematic experience,” said Kurt Walter, general manager of Emeraude Classic Cruises. “To see people in black tie promenading the decks, with the karsts looming all around, and the Emeraude, the moonlight and the dark waters as a backdrop -- well, ‘mesmerizing’ is the only word that really comes close to describing it.”