Nearly Two Years On, Emerald Waterways Isn’t Slowing Down
Emerald Waterways is the new kid on the block when it comes to river cruising. Founded in 2014 by Scenic President Glen Moroney, Emerald Waterways isn’t intended to compete with Scenic’s own luxury river cruises throughout Europe. Instead, Moroney envisioned Emerald Waterways as the perfect line to go head-to-head with river cruising’s undisputed heavyweight champion: Viking River Cruises.
To that end, you won’t find a lot of the luxe bells-and-whistles that Scenic’s more upscale “Space Ships” offer, like butler service, GPS-enabled self-guided touring devices, and fully inclusive beverages. What you will find, however, are more inclusions than you might expect from a line that is priced very competitively with lines like Viking and AmaWaterways.
Known as Evergreen Waterways in Australia, Emerald Waterways is nonetheless the name that most river cruisers will recognize this line and fleet by.
On Emerald Waterways, beer, wine and soft drinks are always provided complimentary with lunch and dinner. But the line also includes all gratuities in the cost of the cruise, along with transfers to and from the airport to your river cruise ship.
Tours ashore favor the inclusive side, with only a few additional-cost options that most river cruisers can probably pass up. Bottled water, both in-room and ashore, is provided free of charge, and beverages that aren’t included (for example, mixed drinks and spirits) are very reasonably priced. The onboard currency is the Euro (€).
Emerald Waterways currently boasts a fleet of four modern river cruise ships. Emerald Sky and Emerald Star both entered service in 2014, and two near-identical sister-ships – Emerald Dawn and Emerald Sun – entered service in the summer of 2015. A fifth ship, Emerald Belle, is on the way for 2016.
All vessels feature modernly-styled décor, with plenty of marble, mirrored and textured surfaces that combine to create an elegant yet stylish interior ambiance. Of particular note is the two-story atrium that glitters with glass panels, mirrored surfaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows combined with Murano-glass light fixtures for a feeling of openness and light by both day and night.
Unique to all four ships is an aft-mounted public space that functions as a swimming pool by day and a cinema by night. With wall-to-wall wraparound windows topped with a skylight, the swimming pool features a telescoping floor that can be fully raised during the evenings to completely cover the swimming pool, turning the entire area into a near-nightly cinema featuring popcorn and first-run movies or destination-specific classics like The Sound of Music.
All the way forward, Emerald’s four ships feature a subtle nod to the Viking Longships in the form of an outdoor terraced seating area, albeit a very small one. The Emerald ships make up for this lack of outdoor forward-facing seating by having an oversized Observation Lounge that is never crowded, and that features spectacular 180 degree views of the passing waterway vistas. Of particular note here is the forward-facing, café style seating that’s popular with solo travelers or workaholics who don’t want to take up an entire table with their laptops or iPads.
The Lounge also features one of the most impressive self-serve coffee machines we’ve seen on any ship, plus a full library of destination-specific fiction and nonfiction books.
Standard accommodations are spacious, and the vast majority of staterooms feature Emerald’s pseudo-French balconies that electronically open with the push of a button to create a combination indoor-outdoor seating area within your stateroom. It’s an ingenious feature that isn’t unique to Emerald, but which seems to be better-executed aboard Emerald’s ships than on other lines. This seating area includes two canvas “director’s style” chairs, faux teak flooring, and a small circular steel table that’s suitable for a couple of books and a few glasses of wine.
The only drawback to Emerald’s accommodations are the bathrooms, which have an odd configuration that requires guests to enter by squeezing their way between the bed and the bathroom wall; the bathroom doesn’t open up to the main entry hallway as on most other river cruise ships. With the exception of the truly-spectacular, glass-enclosed shower, bathrooms feel cramped and suffer from a lack of storage space.
One area that Emerald Waterways excels at is catering to solo travelers: two staterooms aboard each ship are specially designated (and priced) for cruisers travelling alone.
Although Emerald Waterways initially operated only a handful of itineraries on the Danube and the Rhine, the company has rapidly expanded their destination offerings. As of 2016, Emerald will offer 10 separate itineraries in Europe, many of which are available either as cruise-only journeys or as longer combination cruise and land tours.
While Emerald Waterways’ sails the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, it is the company’s eight-day Danube Delights itinerary that has proven to be one of the most popular – and affordable, with a price point that starts at part with the average weeklong ocean cruise through the Mediterranean or Northern Europe.
Emerald Waterways has always offered passengers the option to enjoy the use of one of their many onboard bicycles in each and every port of call as their own personal exploration device. Beginning next year, these complimentary-use bicycles will also be utilized for guided excursions on several of the line’s European itineraries. These guided bike tours will also be part of Emerald Waterways’ new Discover More program, which has been created to provide guests with more options for exploration ashore including deeper insight into cultural themes and the opportunity to participate more fully in popular immersion activities in key ports of call.
New For 2016: Europe and Beyond
In 2016, Emerald Waterways is expanding beyond Europe to include one of river cruising’s fastest-growing and most exotic destinations: Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is like no other destination in the world, and Emerald’s entry into the region signals that the company is serious about taking their casual yet inclusive brand of river cruising worldwide.
Right now, only two departures are available – August 27 and November 7, 2016 – but the itinerary that Emerald Waterways has prepared is a spectacular one.
Beginning in the emerging city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon), these 16-day river cruise journeys include six days of exploration on land and another 10 nights of adventure aboard the 56-guest Irrawaddy Explorer. The ship blends traditional English Colonial style furnishings with modern comforts to reflect the timeless elegance of a complete contemporary cruising experience. Features include a lounge, sun deck, spa, fitness room and library as well as spacious oversized suites that deliver a luxurious standard of cruising through one of the world’s most mysterious locales.
Also new for 2016 are Emerald Waterways’ Paris & Legends of Moselle, Rhine and Main and the 13-day, Munich-to-Budapest Enchanting Forest, Mountains & Rivers sailings—both of which offer the opportunity to extend the journey with land-based tours before and after the cruise.
The 14-day Paris & Legends of Moselle, Rhine and Main itinerary begins in Paris and travels to Prague, giving guests two full days to explore each of these iconic European cities. The cruise portion of the trip, which sails from Trier to Nuremberg, winds through Southern Germany and explores charming, small towns steeped in history.
The Enchanting Forest, Mountains & Rivers itinerary, on the other hand, includes two days on land in both Munich and Budapest, along with an overnight in the beautiful Austrian city of Vienna. This itinerary is also available as an eight-night, cruise-only sailing.
Next year, Emerald Waterways will celebrate their second anniversary. But with 10 different river cruise itineraries available throughout Europe and one new itinerary on offer in Southeast Asia, this fledgling river cruise company is showing no signs of slowing down.