Whenever an exceptionally fine cruise experience coincides with the first public sailing of a brand-new line, that’s something special.
As part of Australia’s Scenic Tours Group, which also operates Scenic Cruises’ top-notch “five star” program in Europe, the new Emerald Waterways line has been positioned as the company’s “four star” product and is being marketed independently of its sister division. Although the company as a whole, which caters exclusively to English-speaking guests, has been little known previously in the United States, its North American sales efforts are now being expanded significantly.
Good things were evident during my Magical Rhine and Moselle sailing from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, April 15-26.
Emerald Sky is one of four brand-new, 182-guest vessels that are smartly decorated with contemporary furnishings and initially compose the Emerald Waterways fleet. Upon boarding, it was immediately apparent that it was going to be a positive experience. Although one-bedroom suites and larger staterooms are available, as well as slightly smaller cabins and two singles on the lower deck, most accommodations aboard are well-equipped, 180-square-foot units that feature floor-to-ceiling windows, the upper part of which retract to create an innovative type of open-air “balcony.” I kept mine open throughout much of the cruise, even at night, because we were fortunate to enjoy exceptional weather.
As a four-star line, virtually everything is included, options largely being beverages from the bar and a few premium excursions. Guests automatically receive airport transfers, a comprehensive program of well-guided shore excursions throughout, delicious meals with wine/beer/soft drinks at lunch and dinner, unlimited bottled water, Wi-Fi Internet access, all port charges and all gratuities. Our itinerary and schedule of port calls was extremely well designed and even allowed time for me to take a personal trip to Luxembourg by rail following our tour of Trier, Germany. Incidentally, as I had been promised by cruise directors on other vessels, the Moselle is indeed the most beautiful river in Europe.
Naturally, the ship’s being new, not everything aboard Emerald Sky had reached perfection. Since the swimming pool was not functioning properly, as compensation, all guests were provided with unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks throughout the cruise, not just during mealtime, as advertised. Now that’s proof of a class act, considering how few guests were likely to use the pool anyway.
I also need to comment on the exceptional service aboard Emerald Sky. Surprisingly, for an operation just getting started, everyone was friendly and knowledgeable, spoke English well and seemed willing to bend over backward to be helpful. Since I frequently ate dinner at a table by myself, servers quickly caught on that I was not looking for an extended dining experience and speeded up the process so I could get an earlier start on exploring our ports by night. Even Emerald Sky’s captain seemed omnipresent, chatting with guests and personally overseeing the delicate maneuvering of the vessel in and out of locks and docking facilities.
To sum up, group coordinators seeking excellent value and a memorable European river cruise experience would, unquestionably, be well advised to consider Emerald Waterways.