Emerald Star Sets Sail Along the Danube
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
I awoke just before seven this morning aboard Emerald Waterways’ Emerald Star, fully recovered from the lingering jetlag of last night. The verdict on the bed in my Panorama Balcony Suite: between the comfortable mattress, the soft pillows and the inviting European duvets, it’s one of the most comfortable I’ve slept in on a river cruise ship.
Emerald Waterways offers two different types of breakfast service: a light breakfast in the Horizon Lounge, and a full breakfast in the Reflections Restaurant on Deck 2. I chose to have the full breakfast, and I wasn’t disappointed in the offerings, which include a variety of fruits, vegetables and hot dishes. To drink, you can enjoy juices, teas and coffee – all within view of the Danube outside the massive windows that line both port and starboard sides of the room.
Today, Emerald Waterways was offering a bus tour of Budapest, interspersed with some opportunities to walk and enjoy some free time. I’ll be honest: I don’t like bus tours. When I am in a place, I want to get out and explore on-foot. But, that’s part of the reason river cruising is so fantastic; even our Cruise Director Daniela said that guests were under no obligation to participate in the tours.
Instead, I took the opportunity to finish yesterday’s blog this morning in the Horizon Lounge. I was even able to enjoy a freshly-made Cafe Late and read the daily news – delivered each morning to the Lounge – while I waited for the photographs to upload. It was so relaxing and enjoyable, I may make a habit of it!
Afterwards, I set out on my very own walking tour of Budapest.
First, I made my way from our berth at Batthyany 1 on the Buda side of Budapest to the emerald-green Liberty Bridge, or Szabadság híd in Hungarian. Built between 1894 and 1896, it was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, who placed the last rivet on the bridge himself. The walk from the pier to the bridge took approximately 45 minutes.
My ultimate goal was Budapest’s Great Market Hall. Unfortunately, I forgot today was Sunday: the market was closed. So, I altered my course and enjoyed a pleasant three hour wander through the city, eventually crossing the Margaret Bridge over to the Buda side of Budapest where the Emerald Star sat in wait.
A look at what’s happening today here onboard the sleek Emerald Star:
- 06:30 – 10:00 – Light Breakfast; Horizon Lounge
- 07:00 – 09:00 – Breakfast; Reflections Restaurant
- 09:00 – 12:45 – City tour of Budapest, 4 busses, 4 local guides (mostly bus, partly walking and some free time).
- 12:30 – 14:00 – Light Lunch; the Terrace
- 12:30 – 14:00 – Lunch is Served; Reflections Restaurant
- 15:15 – All aboard! Ship sails for Bratislava, Slovakia.
- 16:00 – 16:30 – Tea Time; Horizon Lounge
- 16:30 – 17:00 – Brief Cruise Overview with Daniela; Horizon Lounge.
- 17:00 – Port Talk with Daniela; Horizon Lounge
- 18:45 – 19:00 – Captain’s Welcome Cocktail; Horizon Lounge
- 19:00 – Captain’s Gala Dinner Served; Reflections Restaurant
- After Dinner – Live Music with our musician, Angello. Horizon Lounge.
- 21:00 – World Cup Final: Germany vs. Argentina. Horizon Lounge,
- 22:00 – 22:30 – Late Night Snack. Horizon Lounge.
When Emerald Star rumbled to life shortly after 3p.m, I was just waking from a one hour ‘cat nap’ – the result of jet-lag really kicking me in the you-know-where this trip. Or was it my 10k walk through Budapest? We’ll just never know.
I will say this: Emerald Star is whisper-quiet, and right up there with Viking’s Longships in terms of lack of vibration. Even though it’s located at the very back of the ship, there is no vibration or noise at all present in my Deck 3 stateroom. I’ll admit I was a bit spooked when I saw two new pairs of earplugs situated atop the safe yesterday afternoon, but I needn’t have worried. Even in the Pool Area all the way aft, vibration and noise were at a minimum, and soft, Enya-style music played over the PA system could be easily heard.
This afternoon, our Cruise Director Daniela told us all about the tours – both included and optional – that are coming up for our week ahead. They’re stellar. In fact, at the moment I am trying to choose between revisiting Czech Republic town of Cesky Krumlov – which I absolutely love – and visiting Salzburg for the first time. I think Salzburg will win…but I had better sleep on it first!
On this itinerary, four optional, additional-cost tours are offered in addition to the included Emerald and EmeraldPlus excursions. They are:
- Vienna: Schonbrunn Palace Tour (€40 per person; 3.5 hours.)
- Vienna: Classical Evening Concert (€65 per person; 3.5 hours)
- Cesky Krumlov: (€75 per person; 8 hours)
- Salzburg: (€80 per person; 8 hours)
Take, for example, the most expensive tour: a full-day excursion to nearby (and decidedly inland) Salzburg, Austria. At €80 per person, that’s only €10 per person, per hour. Very affordable for an all-day tour. I’m leaning towards this one because the description specifically states that this won’t be an all-out, Sound Of Music love-in. Instead, it will showcase Salzburg for what it really is: a diverse city nestled within a picturesque valley, with an industry that historically favors in the salt trade.
Tonight, our Captain’s Dinner kicked off with a bang-literally. As we sailed past Esztergom, Hungary, we were treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning storm – the likes of which I have never seen on the Danube. Fork lightning shot out of the sky like jagged electrical swords, and rain pelted the huge windows that flank the Reflections Restaurant.
The storm made the atmosphere all that much more inviting here onboard Emerald Star; personally, I have always found that stormy weather outside only enhances the atmosphere inside, and the inclement weather did just that as we enjoyed our multi-course Captain’s Dinner.
Tonight, I had roasted potato cakes with salmon and dill; mushroom soup; veal; and herb-encrusted Halibut. Fresh fruit acted as my dessert, along with my red wine. Food quality, presentation and portioning are excellent and exactly on-par with what I would expect of a river cruise product of this calibre. I also “road-tested” the complimentary wine policy by quickly powering back a glass of red, only to have it refilled before I had a chance to see the bottom of the glass. Bonus points, Emerald. Bonus points.
Oddly, just a single dinner menu is provided per table. This means that everyone at the table has to take turns viewing and ordering from the same copy of said menu. I know there are costs involved with printing numerous copies of the same menu, and in ordering the very elegant folder that it comes in, but it’s just not something I’ve seen done before. On the plus side, the unique menu situation does encourage conversation…
On the passenger front, I have to say this is one of the most engaged, outgoing group of river cruise guests I’ve ever cruised with. Normally, by the time 10p.m. – or 22:00 hours – rolls around, I am the only one in the Lounge aside from the bartenders and the poor fellow on the electric keyboard playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to the furniture. The bar staff are usually at such loose ends that they’ll typically come over every five minutes or so to see if I am done with my cognac, and would I like another?
It’s a different story here aboard Emerald Star. Last night was an epic passenger turnout for the first day of a cruise, and tonight – as I write this at nearly 10:30 pm – the Horizon Lounge is still packed with folks who are far more alert than I am. Everyone is drinking wine, beer and spirits and watching the final World Cup Soccer match between Germany and Argentina. Of course, when Germany won, there was much cheering and yelling, depending on which team you were rooting for.
Here onboard the Emerald Star, everyone is having fun – as they should be. It’s exciting to see people from around the world bonding over a single experience – and quite the thrill to be here in Europe, travelling with guests from Australia, Canada, the United States and the UK, and watching a soccer match happening in South America. I don’t know the first thing about World Cup Soccer, but I do know this: this has been one great evening here on the Danube.
Emerald Waterways, Budapest to Nuremberg
|Saturday, July 12, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||Embark Emerald Waterways' Emerald Star in Budapest; Welcome Aboard Dinner|
|Sunday, July 13||Budapest, Hungary||Guided tour of Budapest including Fisherman's Bastion and Castle Hill|
|Monday, July 14||Bratislava, Slovakia||Old Town walking tour; EmeraldPlus excursion for tea with a local Slovakian family|
|Tuesday, July 15||Vienna, Austria||Panoramic "Ringstrasse" tour of Vienna; free time and optional Schonbrunn Palace Tour and Viennese concert.|
|Wednesday, July 16||Vienna / Durnstein / Melk, Austria||Guided tour of Melk Abbey; guided tour of Durnstein|
|Thursday, July 17||Linz, Austria / Passau, Germany||Walking tours & free time in Linz and Passau; Optional full-day tour to Salzburg, Austria|
|Friday, July 18||Regensburg / Weltenburg, Germany||Guided tours of Regensburg & Weltenburg Abbey; optional traditional Bavarian entertainment excursion|
|Saturday, July 19||Nuremberg, Germany||Disembark & onward journey home.|