Who is Emerald Waterways anyway?
Emerald Waterways entered the river cruise market in 2014. They were awarded the “Best New River Ships” designation in Cruise Critic’s 2014 Editors’ Pick Awards. (As two would-be mermaids the on-board pool would have gotten them our vote!)
Owned by Scenic Tours they are taking competitive aim at Viking River Cruises, the current dominant player in the market. Emerald Waterways’ cruises are in the 4 star category as are Viking’s. Emerald Waterways offers many of the same things such as no tipping, most shore excursions are included and if you drink the house wines (which are quite nice and flow freely) there is no extra charge. Their ship designs seemed to us to be the most obvious competitive edge.
Each ship has an onboard pool that at night is covered and the room is converted to a cinema. They have had operational issues with this design and we experienced a “pool outage” on our cruise, but we loved the pool. There was a rumor that jet-lagged guests could even enjoy a nap by the pool but we wouldn’t know about that…
They also have a nice outside dining area but we did not have the weather to enjoy it. (Emerald Waterways really needs to hire someone to guarantee better weather!).
And we appreciated (but idiotically failed to photograph) our cabin’s “inside balcony”. Given the weather we had that was the only way we felt as if we were outside without having to actually be outside! Also the balcony windows can be pulled down which we were delighted to do in sunny Budapest.
What are the pluses of cruising with Emerald Waterways?
Emerald Waterways’ ship design and services offered
We really liked the ship design and everything worked well; amply sized bathroom, room design that included a desk/vanity/storage area and of course the inside balcony.
They even had a special offer when we were onboard to iron, for 12 euros, all of the clothes you could stuff into one of their laundry bags. Blonde may have bankrupted them with her ability to stuff a laundry bag!
The wi-fi (which is included in the price) worked well by river cruise standards. It was working except when we were in locks or somewhere remote. We love our wi-fi so that was a real plus.
Emerald Waterways shore excursions
This doesn’t really fall into the “shore” excursion – it was a water excursion. Our cruise began in Budapest and ended in Nuremberg. The first night the ship did a mini-cruise of the Danube with all of the lights of the city and it was a spectacular way to begin. Nice touch!
Most of the shore excursions are included in the price of the cruise. Emerald Waterways uses gadgets that you plug an earphone in to so each person can hear the guide without having to cluster around asking “What did she just say”?
The local guides Emerald Waterways selected were of a high caliber and good at adjusting what they could cover if there had been schedule changes because the ship had been held up in a traffic jam at a lock or something of that sort. We never fail to be dumbfounded by how much guides know (or make up as Blonde tends to suspect). They are so knowledgable and really work hard for their money so we tended to tip them although, strictly speaking, you don’t need to do so.
We did two optional excursions (meaning you pay extra for them because all of the shore excursions are optional really); a concert in Vienna and a day-trip to Cseky Krumlov.
The concert was perfect; only an hour long, emceed and conducted by a charming, witty concertmaster, in a beautiful old theater, high caliber musicians and singers and just the right amount of information and culture for an after-dinner outing!
Our excursion to Cseky Krumlov is a separate post, but this UNESCO World Heritage town in the Czech Republic was an offering we haven’t noticed with other river cruise companies. We were thrilled to have the chance to go there. It was two a hour bus ride which meant we didn’t have time to also tour Passau, but it was well worth it. (BTW, bus drivers are truly the unsung heroes of river cruises.)
Emerald Waterways staff
The staff on our ship was great! They were friendly, efficient and always able to at least feign delight at seeing us. Blonde overheard the reception counter staff being treated inexcusably rudely one day by some grumpy old man and they handled it with grace. (She would have – pun alert – decked the guy.)
Our Cruise Director Simona was amazing, She would be handling a million things and still come on the loudspeaker with a lovely, calm voice as she kept us well-informed. She did all of the daily briefings, was sort of a one woman concierge and managed to make things you might think would be boring (daily briefing) fun by giving out local prizes. It’s such a hoot that a bunch of well-heeled people can be so over the moon to win a free jar of mustard!
The captain, Boris, looked like he’d been sent from Central Casting to play the role of the captain. Maybe he had been but that was fine with us as he was one of those people who seems to exude competence.
What are the minuses of cruising with Emerald Waterways?
Impressions – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
We were surprised that Emerald Waterways failed on first and last impressions. This is an easily fixable problem and we hope they will do so (or by now have done so).
We are not towers of strength (or anything else) and really struggled with our luggage and trying to hold umbrellas. Blonde ended up swiping an umbrella (let me know what I owe) and Brunette got soaked trying to figure out how to return hers. Some nice waterproof people helping with our bags and holding umbrellas would have made a massively better last impression.
Perhaps because, at this time, Emerald Waterways has a more European than American clientele they have more smoking areas than that competitor whose butt they’re trying to kick.
On the roof deck people could smoke in the middle so no matter which way the wind went you got their secondhand smoke. People could also smoke where the doors automatically opened to the stairs outside. That meant that every time someone walked past the door you would get hit with smoke again. Admittedly we are off-the-charts intolerant of smoking but there are ways to better isolate the smokers (leave them on shore – whoops)!
Another competitive thing that could be easily addressed is to hand out bottles of water to guests as they leave on shore excursions. When you’re with a group and thirsty it can be tricky to bop into somewhere and get water without getting too far from your group. (They do give you daily free bottled water in your room but it’s too large a bottle to carry around town.)
Anything else we should know about Emerald Waterways?
Probably because the clientele is primarily European, the guests make an effort to dress up and look their best for dinner. It definitely isn’t required but in the beginning we didn’t realize we should up our game but then we enjoyed doing so.
Would you cruise with Emerald Waterways again?
Absolutely, it was a delightful experience overall and we’re sure they’ll get right to work on that bacon now that we’ve tactfully hinted at the need for a minor improvement.
Disclosure that we’re not sure is required in this case but we’ll do it anyway. We went on this cruise for free. Yippee! Blonde won the trip in a contest sponsored by Emerald Waterways and Johnny Jet.