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Asia’s first luxury cruise line, Dream Cruises, has launched in style. Bernadette Chua joins Genting Dream’s maiden voyage.

The new Genting Dream has been branded as the first luxury ship built specifically for the Asian market. And she is living up to the label.

The first ship from Dream Cruises, a Genting Hong Kong company, exudes all the luxury and sophistication of sister company Crystal Cruises, and is a lovely melding of East and West.

Adorned with beautiful furnishings, plush armchairs, fine German and Japanese hand-painted china, exquisite paintings and marble bathrooms, it’s an amazing feat for Dream Cruises. But what sets it apart from other luxury/premium cruise lines designed for the Asian market is that it follows the ethos of “freestyle cruising”. Guests are given the options to dine in a more casual setting and are not confined to seating arrangements, and they can watch shows and lounge acts wherever and whenever they like.

The 3,400-passenger ship is on her repositioning cruise from Singapore to Nansha in China, calling at three ports in Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang and Danang. From her homeport in Nansha, and nearby Hong Kong, she will then be sailing on five-night Vietnam cruises and two-night weekend getaways. Itineraries to Japan will start in 2017.

While the ports are exotic, the ship is the main attraction.

Asians love food and Dream Cruises has designed more than 35 restaurants, bars and cafes for the ship. It’s evident after a couple of days which are the biggest hit.

While the ship has unique and first-time partnerships with whisky brand Johnnie Walker and winemaker Penfolds, these bars are not heavily populated. In the evening, most guests head towards the Tributes Bar, which has a Chinese band singing Mandarin and Cantonese love ballads. In Bar 360, Anna and Emma sing American and British pop songs.

The star restaurant, especially for the Australian crowd, is Bistro by Australian chef Mark Best, former owner of the three-hat Marque in Sydney (see page 78). Best has amalgamated Asian and Western cuisine to provide something truly unique. Guests can indulge in Iberico pork, Rangers Valley beef, potatoes cooked with duck fat, fresh oysters and the beautiful “Three Rivers” dish of Murray cod served with Sichuan potatoes and a butter sauce.

Bistro has a private dining area for small groups as well as a large table that can seat up to 30 people.
Umi Uma Restaurant and Umi Uma Teppanyaki serve modern Japanese cuisine. The teppanyaki bar is great for big groups looking for an interactive dinner while the restaurant, which serves Japanese-style tuna ceviche, sashimi, wagyu fillet and teriyaki chicken, to name a few, is delicious. The seafood is surprisingly fresh and the quality is good. Unfortunately for us, dinner service was poor, with some guests on the table receiving only two or three of the dishes they ordered and one only receiving her dessert.

The Food Federation is a major hit. The area is decked out with colonial-style decorations from Southeast Asia and has a cool and kitschy vibe. The best dishes are Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, Nonya chicken curry and Malaysian rice noodles with beef. But guests who fancy a bit of American fast food can grab a burger or hotdog. It’s the best place to get a midnight snack, too.

There is also the Bread Box bakery, Boba Cha bubble tea counter and other small eateries. Guests are required to pay in these areas, as not all food outlets are included in the cruise price, which some guests from Australia have complained about.

The main free dining areas are the Genting Dining Room, Lido Deck and World Grill. The Genting Dining Room serves a mix of Western and Asian dishes. Think hot and sour soup to start, chicken breast with natural jus for main and a cheesecake for dessert. The Lido deck offers a buffet including Indian curries, Chinese congee and for breakfast, bacon and eggs. In the World Grill, behind the pool, guests can dine in the open area on salads, hot dogs and hamburgers.

Genting Dream’s cabins have been well designed – from interior cabins to suites in the exclusive Dream Palace. The marble and wood bathrooms are large and well designed. Guests in suite class and above have a tub, shower and two sinks. Etro brand toiletries are offered. Spa suites have a king-sized bed, a 60-inch TV, large three-seater sofa as well as a walk-in wardrobe and dressing table/desk. While the suites look as if they may be from a five-star European hotel, little touches including the floral motif carpet and koi paintings on the wall give it an Asian flair. Guests in the suites have access to Dream Butlers who will book shore excursions and spa appointments as well as fetch you meals from the Dream Palace kitchen.

For VIP guests, the Dream Palace is the crème de la crème of accommodation. Even compared with other cruise lines which have exclusive areas, it is a world of its own. Guests have their own lift, private bars, gym and pool area, as well as the Dream Palace Dining Rooms. There are two floors of 142 suites with the best being the Garden Penthouse, with its own private outdoor sitting area, two bedrooms, a separate living and dining room and a grand piano. Like Crystal, Dream Cruises has beautifully decorated sitting areas, filled with Chinese porcelain, European photographs and brass ornaments – a true meeting of East and West.

There are two spa areas. The Crystal Life Spa for Western treatments, and the Crystal Life Asian Spa. I was lucky enough to be offered a Deep Tissue Swedish Massage, which was performed by a slight and attractive girl from the Shandong province in China. Hu Ming, or “Angel” as she goes by to Westerners, was extremely polite, friendly and most of all, amazingly strong for such a tiny girl.

Guests who book a massage or facial have access to the male or female steam room and thermal bath. There is also a men’s barbershop and ladies’ hairdresser.

The Crystal Life Asian Spa’s biggest selling point is its reflexology centre, which boasts 100 chairs where guests can have their aches and pains rubbed away. Next door, the Crystal Life Wellness area offers MRI scanning, as well as injectable fillers, anti-aging laser treatment and mesotherapy (a cosmetic treatment involving multiple superficial injections).

For the more adventurous guests, there is a rock-climbing wall, zipline and waterslides on deck 16 and 17. There is also mini-golf and a basketball court.

At the Little Pandas Kids Club on deck 16, kids can hang out and play under the supervision of Dream Cruises staff. The Little Pandas Club leads out to the pool area, which has four hot tubs surrounding the large pool. There is a shallow tiled area where you can sunbathe while you cool off. There are lots of deck chairs and lounges so you can enjoy a cocktail in the sun.

Behind the waterslides, Zouk nightclub has an indoor and outdoor area where a DJ plays the latest tunes from around the world. The outdoor area has a stunning tiered seating area and an ankle-deep pool where you can dance in front of the big screen.

Speaking of entertainment, there are shows every evening in the Zodiac Theatre with specially choreographed performances created for Genting Dream. Voyage of a Lover’s Dream tells the tale of a romance between a mermaid and astronaut – you’ll see the characters painted on the ship’s hull. But the highlight is, without a doubt, the Dream Girls who perform an erotic but tasteful burlesque show every evening in the Silk Road restaurant.

Currently, Genting Dream has only one shore excursion available in each port. In Ho Chi Minh, the tour includes visits to a lacquer factory, the War Remnants Museum and lunch at a local restaurant.

In Danang, guides take you to the beach, Marble Mountain and to the UNESCO listed Hoi An. This beautiful French colonial town was the highlight. It was buzzing with night markets, cafes, restaurants and tailors who will take your measurements in the morning and have your garment ready in the evening. While it is very touristy, it has retained its charm. Many of the streets are closed off to cars and you can either walk, rent a bike or go for a ride in a rickshaw to see the town.

If you’re not a coach-tour fan, you’re also able to step off the ship and explore the towns and cities by yourself. Keep in mind, the port in Ho Chi Minh is about an hour and a half drive from the centre of the city.

The Genting Dream staff are extremely friendly and enthusiastic, but like all new ships, there were some teething problems. While the butlers were impeccable, fast and ready to fulfill your every wish, some of the waiters were slow. The English of some of the staff is limited, so if your Mandarin is not up to scratch, you may struggle to communicate complicated requests.

Overall, once the kinks have been worked out, it will be a dreamy experience.

The Verdict

Highs: The beautiful interiors are reminiscent of Crystal Mozart (sister company Crystal Cruises’ first river ship). It’s chic and elegant and there are plenty are bars and food outlets.
Lows: Smoking is allowed on balconies so if you’re a non-smoker, this may be a downside.
Best suited to: Multi-generational families – there’s plenty for the kids to do while parents and grandparents can watch, and cruisers who love to eat.