BUDAPEST — This season, Emerald Waterways, the first new European river cruise line to set sail in more than six years, was born with the launch of two gleaming, custom-built ‘star-ships’: Emerald Star and Emerald Sky, with two more joining the fleet next year.
Already there are kudos; Cruise International Magazine nominated Emerald Sky for best new ship in its upcoming cruise awards.
The younger ‘sister’ of Australian-owned luxury line Scenic Cruises, Emerald Waterways is targeting a younger crowd and experienced cruisers seeking greater value. The four-star line is more affordable than five-star Scenic and says it is less expensive or on par with its competitors, but is nearly all-inclusive.
Claiming more amenities and state-of-the-art features than other lines, Glen Moroney, Emerald Waterways’ innovative founder, is set on revolutionizing European river cruising with firsts like a heated stern-facing infinity pool with retractable sun roof that transforms, via a retractable floor, into a cozy cinema and bar (call for service), with self-service hot beverage station.
Floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides allow swimming or lounging while sightseeing.
To check it out, recently I embarked on the 182-guest Emerald Star in Budapest for a one-week Danube Delights voyage to Nuremberg, plus three-night Classic Prague land extension. Although a Budapest extension is not offered, it is well worth booking clients extra time in the gorgeous city to explore sights not included in the ship’s city tour.
Overall, I was impressed with the sleek, contemporary ship, the meals, the walking and coach tours led by local guides, and, especially, with the friendly staff who got to know passengers’ interests.
Soon after boarding, it was evident Emerald has succeeded in diversifying river passenger demographics, at least on this sailing. While many guests were retired, there was an age mix (perhaps partially due to a small dental convention onboard). Unlike my voyage aboard sister Scenic last summer with mostly Australian guests, Emerald passengers primarily hailed from the UK, Canada and the U.S.
Emerald’s ships have 72 suites, in three categories, and 20 staterooms, including two single occupancy. I had a mod’, European-styled 180-square-foot Panorama Balcony Suite (third category) on the Horizon (third) Deck.
The bright panoramic floor-to-ceiling window, fronted by an indoor teak deck for two chairs (clunky for the small space) and table, drew me like a moth to light. A hydraulic switch easily lowered the upper half of the window, allowing fresh air in. Unlike the French balcony common on most ships, this space is usable regardless of weather. Larger suites separate the balcony from cabin with sliding doors.
The cabin has tons of storage with a bank of push-touch drawers and a closet with mini bar (extra) and safe. Complimentary bottled water was restocked daily. The bathroom placement, with a sliding door next to the bed, I (and others) disliked.
Bathrobes and slippers are included for suites on request, as was a feather pillow, upon which a different chocolate perched at turndown each evening. Complimentary WiFi in my suite was spotty and more often off than on (perhaps because my laptop is old), but connectivity was better in public areas.
There are two dining venues. Reflections is the main dining room. The Terrace, at the front of the lounge, which also has outdoor seating, serves light breakfast and lunch.Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner and complimentary self-serve hot beverages are always available. Dress is casual, with more dressy attire on the first and second-to-last night (gala and farewell dinners).
On-board evening entertainment included a folklore show, a musician, movies, a funny crew show, disco night and Bavarian music. A hairdresser and massage therapist provided pampering (extra).
For the energetic, there is a rooftop putting green, running track, a tiny fitness room and good bikes to borrow.
This year, the ships sail five eight- to 15-day European itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Mosel rivers, starting at $2,055. Next year, seven voyages are on offer from $2,455 (until Aug. 31, save $500 per person on 12- and 15-day itineraries and $250 off shorter itineraries).
The 2014 season is nearly sold out and sales are brisk for 2015. Travel agent reservations 1-855-265-2899 or emeraldwaterways.ca. Order 2015 brochures on the website or download.