The legendary rivers of Europe have long been celebrated in both prose and song. Serving as major highways during ancient times, these waterways have continued their crucial roles as both sources of sustenance and avenues of transportation. Throughout history, major cities, villages and medieval strongholds have been built along their banks. The Main and Rhine rivers in Germany are unspoiled examples of this, offering captivating sights that include hillside castles, terraced vineyards and verdant valleys.
The rivers are also ever-increasing in popularity as vacation options providing a means to entertainment, exploration and relaxation. Emerald Waterways, the more affordable sister to Scenic Tours, began operating on these rivers in 2014 with contemporary cruising ships long on both style and substance. The Emerald Star’s reception foyer glistens with backlit panels, vitrines containing carefully curated artifacts and artwork, and spiky, spherical chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Glass and mirrors, along with white leather-and-chrome minimalistic furniture, create an ultra-chic, pristine backdrop. In subtle contrast to the crispy glitz, the general vibe is laid-back and comfortable. Just off the foyer is the Horizon Lounge, which is the ship’s gathering place for passengers to relax, visit, read, and, of course, enjoy a cocktail at the bar.
Wine and beer are included and served copiously at lunch and dinner. Drinks aboard, except at mealtime, are not included, however passengers can purchase a drink package or just pay. Other inclusions that make Emerald Star pleasantly affordable are unlimited Wi-Fi, all gratuities and daily excursions.
Each excursion is carefully assembled to connect Emerald’s passengers to the most exceptional aspects of a destination. The immersive tours, led by English-speaking guides, allow guests to experience the best art, history, cuisine and culture in every port. Passengers may use personal audio headsets, charged and ready-to-go in everyone’s cabin, to listen to the commentary.
Emerald seeks out new ways for their guests to experience local culture in a unique way—and in a way to fit their pace—from a gentle walking stroll through a village to a guided bicycle tour or hike to a hilltop castle. Bicycles are free to use on a first-come first-served basis.
For the avid fitness-minded, Emerald Star has just about everything: a small fitness center with bikes, weights and a rowing machine; a sun deck with a cushioned jogging track; and a golf putting course. On the aft deck is a beautiful infinity swimming pool—very unusual for a river ship—that, in the evening, transforms into a comfortable movie cinema with seating for up to 30 guests.
Accommodating a total capacity of 182 passengers, Emerald’s cabins are modern and beautifully appointed. The most common, the Panorama Balcony Suite, is 180 square feet of elegance, with a huge window wall overlooking the river. The beds are super comfortable, and storage is plentiful, which is an unusual and welcomed plus. No expense was spared on fixtures in all of the cabins, including sumptuous linens, top-quality Bose speakers, and Duravit and Grohe bathroom appointments. Flat screen TVs and mini-refrigerators add to the cabin’s serviceability. A stunning innovation on Emerald Star replaces the tattered Do Not Disturb card that normally flaps on a door handle—there is a button inside each cabin that illuminates a tiny light on the baseboard in the hallway, letting housekeepers know when it’s not a good time for service. Brilliant.
Cabin choices are varied. In addition to the Panorama Balcony Suite, on the lower deck Standard Staterooms are 162 square feet and have a fixed window. For the ultimate luxury experience, there are four two-room Owner’s Suites that are 315 square feet, and eight Grand Balcony Suites, which are one-room cabins, measuring 210 square feet. Besides enhanced room amenities, passengers in a Grand Balcony Suite or Owner’s Suite may order room service breakfast and receive complimentary cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres and after-dinner sweets. Guests occupying an Owner’s Suite also get a coveted invitation to dine with the captain.
The ship’s cuisine, served in Reflections restaurant, is based on local ingredients and specialties. Breakfast and lunch buffets, each featuring multiple chef stations for made-to-order dishes, are ridiculously plentiful and varied. Weather permitting, special lunch and dinner buffets are held on the open sun deck at various times throughout the cruise. Dinner offers a “Chef’s Favourites” menu as well as a more extensive one from which diners can choose an appetizer, soup, main course and dessert (or cheese). The dinner menu changes daily, but there are always standard choices of Caesar salad, steak frites, poached salmon or grilled chicken breast for the less adventurous. Accompanying wines and beers are from the region as well, and some uncommon wines (Sylvaner, Prädikat and Rotling—which is a blend of light and red grapes) are poured in addition to more common Rieslings and Müller-Thurgaus.
Because you won’t find hot nightlife or sprawling casinos, the appeal of a river cruise is simple: You unpack once, and get to see an immense swathe of countryside without having to navigate train schedules or rent a car. In addition, most river cruises are adults-only. River-sailing ships tend to attract a more sophisticated—and yes, older—crowd, though young travelers shouldn’t be deterred if they’re more concerned with destinations than with onboard parties.
For the Nuremberg to Amsterdam cruise on the Main and Rhine rivers (and reverse), the Emerald Star crew encourages guests to tap in to the heart and soul of Germany, beginning with the printed guides placed in each cabin that describe the country’s history and customs, and even a mini lesson in speaking German. Each morning, guests are given a map and highlight sheet of that day’s excursion. This background and insight into each destination helps guests fully appreciate the experience and shows off the region’s captivating destinations in a way that they’ll never be forgotten.