A river cruise ship floats past a village

Learning to Love Cruising on an Emerald Cruise through Europe

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Wallace and I sailed the Emerald Luna on the Main, Rhine and Danube Rivers in the fall of 2022 – photo Emerald Cruises

We swore we’d never do it. The crowds, the line-ups at the buffet, the noise, the nothing-to-see at sea. And then we did it. Wallace and I signed on for our first cruise, but not just any cruise, a 15-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Emerald Cruises. We didn’t know if we would enjoy it or jump ship. Read along and find out in this story from 2022.

Embarking on an Emerald Cruise: Don’t Overthink It
There were a few things to consider before we left home for our first post-COVID trip.
Travel bookings were hitting an all-time high, and mountains of lost luggage were piling up in
the world’s major airports. We always travel with carry-on bags. Would a limited wardrobe be
woefully inadequate in the luxury cruise world?
To further complicate things, in the summer of 2022, Europe was experiencing the worst
drought in 500 years. We had been warned that one or possibly two transfers to another ship
might be required, depending on water levels.

As it turned out, we were worrying about nothing, as usual. We were greeted at Schiphol
Airport by our friendly Emerald Cruises representative, and whisked away to the
dock. The Emerald Luna was waiting for us, polished and bright as a half-moon, floating on
the graphite water.

A river cruise ship at a dock
Ready to come aboard in Amsterdam

After a welcome cocktail, we checked into our sleek modern cabin and proceeded to half-unpack, ready to move to another ship quickly if needed. Apparently this is a common occurrence on this route. Passengers sometimes have to be taken to the next port by motor coach. But thanks to the skill of our splendid captain, that wasn’t necessary. Although he loved his morning swim, he made a sacrifice and emptied the onboard pool for two days, ensuring that Emerald Luna would be one of the few ships to make the entire journey to Budapest.

Once it was announced that we weren’t changing ships, it was a pleasure to completely
unpack and discover the amazing amount of usable space in our cabin. We had the most
popular configuration, a Panorama Balcony Suite.

River boat cabin interior with a view of the shore
Our home away from home complete with towel puppy

A floor-to-ceiling window looked out on the river and took up one entire wall. It could be lowered halfway to create an open-air space called a French balcony, with enough room for two chairs and a side table. The bed was deliciously soft and piled with pillows.
We had an LCD television with enough channels to keep us happy and fast Wi-Fi. At three by seven feet, the bath was a design triumph, with so many niches that we never got to use
them all. And the on-demand shower was hot and steady at all times.

Vital Statistics

Launched in 2022, Emerald Luna measures 443 ft (135m) in length with 91 cabins. The
newest of the Emerald Cruises starships certainly sparkled like a star. From the crystal
chandeliers in the atrium to the sophisticated black marble of the Horizon Bar & Lounge, it
was a luxurious hotel on the water.

At capacity, Emerald Luna carries 180 guests and 51 crew members along the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube rivers, through 68 locks and under more than 300 bridges on the “Splendours of Europe” route.

A riverboat passing through a canal by moonlight
The ship passed through many of the locks at night

We left Amsterdam with about 90 guests, so the already spacious ship had even more room.
This made it easy to table-hop and meet fellow passengers from the United States, Australia,
Ireland and Canada for trivia games and entertainment in the lounge each night. It surprised
us to learn that this was the first river cruise for many of them, too. Everyone had their own stories to tell. Some were celebrating anniversaries, for some it was a bucket list trip, others had sailed with Emerald many times before and loved it so much they booked again.

The Pleasures of the Table on Emerald Luna

Dining was a pleasure every day aboard ship. Breakfasts were served buffet style with platters of fresh pastries, good coffee and tea, oatmeal and assorted fruits and an omelet station. The pace was never rushed and the white tablecloth service was top notch, even at breakfast.
Lunch was a choice of a warm entrée or light salads and sandwiches. And there were always several choices at dinner, including vegetarian and gluten-free options. Complimentary wines sourced from the vineyards on the hillsides, or hearty local beers are served at both lunch and dinner. The menu changed daily, reflecting the cuisine of the countries we passed through. The chef told me that he often hopped off the boat and made the rounds at local markets for fresh produce in the early morning hours.

My business casual wardrobe was perfect for every occasion, with the addition of some jewelry and a different shawl or two for evening wear. A collared shirt and long pants were the norm for men at dinner. Jackets are not required.

Excursions and Diversions

Half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets in Miltenburg
Half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets in Miltenburg – photo Debra Smith

Emerald Cruises generally include at least one free tour daily, with a choice of activity level so our days took on a pleasant routine of presentations, tours, and free time. EmeraldACTIVE is perfect for go-getters who like to hike and bike and EmeraldPLUS brings demonstrations and performances on board, like the violin player who serenaded us after dinner and the glass blower who created tiny crystalline animals right in front of our eyes. DiscoverMORE tours take a deeper dive into local culture, like a trip to visit a local family, a distant castle or an enchanting vineyard. There is a modest additional fee for DiscoverMORE tours.

Every evening during the port talk our cruise director would outline the next day’s activities One highlight for us was the morning we spent on the top deck as we sailed through the Middle Rhine, one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites included on the trip. We lounged in the sunshine, listening to the commentary and spotting the picturesque castles, riverside towns, and rows of lush vineyards on the hillsides between Koblenz and Rudesheim.

On a typical day, we would head off with a local guide to visit a town and follow the cobblestone streets to a museum, a baroque church or a restored castle, learning about their unique histories. Most tours were included in the fare. An unrepentant city mouse, I loved the international flair of Vienna, Nuremberg and Budapest. Several times we stole a few minutes alone to explore a market or sip coffee at an outdoor cafe. Some of our boatmates didn’t make it past the closest beer garden.

A couple standing on a balcony with a castle in the background
Day trips were always enjoyable, like this one to Melk

All in all we loved our first river cruise.. Exploring medieval cities and towns, stopping for local pastries and charcuterie, and shopping for souvenirs was just part of the fun.

Cruising is a great way to de-stress. Just unpack and let the crew handle all the details from delicious dining to tour planning. With Emerald, all gratuities are included. All you need to do is choose from a multitude of pleasant options. Consider us cruise converts.

For more information check the Emerald Cruises website.

Follow Debra Smith:

Travel writer and luxury hotel reviewer

An experienced and trustworthy travel writer, Debra writes about luxury hotels and resorts, soft adventure, fine dining and cultural experiences in Europe and North America. Posting to Instagram since 2013 as @Where.To.Lady. Curious, attentive to detail and fun company, Debra is based in Calgary, Alberta. Member of SATW, IFWTWA, TravMedia USA, BA English, Art History U of C, former Chair TMAC AB/NWT.