Earlier reviews of Ha Long Bay itself mention trash. I was very pleased to see barely any trash once we got away from the port area. Single-use plastics have been banned for some time now, which will have helped enormously.
Anyway, to our trip... from our pick-up at Hanoi Opera on an extremely comfortable minibus to when we were dropped back there the following day, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
The staff were excellent. The boat has 22 cabins and was full, I think. Each cabin has a private balcony, where you can sit and enjoy the views. There was a corner jacuzzi in our cabin, which would be nice if you go in winter.
There were only 5 Westerners onboard, but both the boat manager and assistant manager spoke very good English and made sure that all announcements were made in English as well as Vietnamese.
The other staff were also excellent and the service of a high standard. The food was good and plentiful - a bit too plentiful, actually. We felt guilty at having to leave so much of what was put on our table. An earlier review mentioned lack of drinking water. Perhaps that comment was acted on, as there was free drinking water with all meals, on the launch for trips off of the boat, and there to greet us when we returned from them.
The short trips off the boat are all worth doing as long as you know what to expect. The trip to Surprising Cave was our favourite. The cave is massive and the lighting shows off the features well. The kayaking is for only a short time around a small bay, which was crowded with other kayakers. The 'bamboo boat' option around the same small bay was not on bamboo boats, just large rowing boats. The swimming trip is to a small man-made beach, but it was lovely to get into the water to cool off.
My daughter enjoyed the karaoke in the evening, which had lots of Western songs to choose from. However, the best thing of all was sitting up on the top deck, sipping a G&T and watching the incredible sunset.