River cruising in Europe has doubled in popularity in the last five years. After experiencing Emerald Waterways Enchantment of Eastern Europe trip on the Danube, I understand why. For years, ocean vessels were the way to go — and the way I went. This was my first river cruise and I am hooked! Here are just ten of the many things I loved about the experience.
I. Today, there’s the possibility to glide along fabled rivers in North and South America, Europe, Egypt or Asia, with itineraries to appeal to everyone from wine lovers to arts and history buffs to nature enthusiasts. My ten days travelling through five countries in Eastern Europe was a far richer cultural feast than I could have imagined.
II. The ease with which all this happened still amazes me. The bus to the dock pulled up within a few steps of the short gangway, where the crew was waiting to welcome us aboard and show us to our cabin — all very relaxed, casual and friendly. Security consisted of nothing more than submitting our passports.
III. I unpacked once. What a treat! Thankfully the Titanic days of having to dress to the nines are ancient history. Casual for day and dinner is de rigueur on the river. My cabin had more thoughtfully designed drawers and closets than needed, with ample room to stash a suitcase beneath the bed.
IV. Small by necessity, to navigate narrow passages and locks and sail under bridges, our ship, the Emerald Sky caters to about 160 passengers, providing a boutique hotel or clubby ambiance. The public rooms were never crowded and lineups were nonexistent. This intimate atmosphere added to the overall charm.
V. I loved the innovative use of space and the sleek, contemporary décor —elegant simplicity with a Scandinavian vibe. A retractable roof over the infinity swimming pool let it morph into a cinema in the evening, the epitome of a clever dual-purpose design.
VI. Riverboats provide a captivating front-row seat surrounded by slowly changing scenery, while also taking you right to the heart of enchanting cities and quaint towns. Emerald Sky is slick and slim enough to slip into a curbside berth. In Belgrade, for example, that translated into a mere five-minute walk to museums, restaurants, shops and the historic National Theatre.
VII. You never have to worry about a choppy passage or getting seasick. The sail was so smooth that, throughout the night, I couldn’t tell if we had tied up at the next destination or were still moving.
VIII. Open seating in the dining room gives you the choice to dine alone or choose your tablemates at each meal — an easy way to meet and enjoy fellow travellers.
IX. All of the shore excursions were memorable. At each port of call, we had a choice of tours. Often, deciding which one to take was the most arduous challenge of the day. There’s nothing like an exceptional tour guide (particularly a storyteller with a sense of humour) to bring a location and its culture to life.
X. Emerald’s mostly all-inclusive fare which covers airport transfers, gratuities, exceptionally good house wines served with lunch and dinner, shore excursions — even bicycles to take for a spin at various stops — eliminates having to settle up a shipboard account while knowing gratuities are taken care of.
My expectations were high and all were exceeded.