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When sailing onboard Emerald Star with Emerald Waterways, clients can float down the river in more ways than one. This can be, of course, while comfortably situated in their private cabins or in a public venue, but it can also happen while actually submerged in water.
No, there’s not a watersports platform off the back of the vessel, but there is the next best thing: a swimming pool. In fact, for an introductory river line, the pool — which converts into a cinema at night — is quite the value-added perk. As I discovered when I experienced the brand for the first time last fall, Emerald Star consistently exceeded my expectations.
Built in 2014, Emerald Star is no longer brand-new, but it has been maintained to high standards, and it also exudes high style. Upon first stepping onboard, I noticed that the decor is contemporary but not cold, with pops of color — such as fuchsias in the Horizon Bar and Lounge — giving it a warm feeling.
Cabins present a good first impression, notably due to their signature sliding balcony windows. The outside veranda space can be brought inside at the push of a button. The unique approach has been mimicked by other lines, including ocean ships from Celebrity Cruises.
Grand Balcony Suites and Owners One-Bedroom Suites afford even more room, as the sliding feature is situated beyond a dividing glass partition, similar to what one might find on Celebrity Edge, for example. (The only cabin categories without a balcony of any kind are the Emerald Stateroom and Emerald Single Stateroom.)
I frequently enjoyed the functionality of my Emerald Panorama Balcony Suite. The space is generously laid out: Indoor-outdoor chairs sit on a wooden floor just inside the balcony railing, and the wardrobe, which contains a minifridge and a safe, rests beside it. At the foot of the bed, there is no shortage of drawers, although some might prefer a bit more room for hanging clothes.
The mounted flat-screen television offers an extensive selection of included on-demand programming. Electrical outlets, meanwhile, are European-style, requiring adapters (save for one U.S. version). Onboard costs are also listed in Euros. A singular USB charging port is nice, but more at the nightstands would be helpful.
The only disappointment onboard Emerald Star, though, was the stateroom bed. The mattress is plush enough, but was far too thin for my taste; it compresses down to the hard frame under the weight of one or two people. I heard some passengers complain about the minimal bathroom being too close to the bed, but its position didn’t bother me. The shower is well-placed and the footprint takes advantage of every square foot. If anything, a counter to the side of the small sink would go a long way to accommodate more toiletries.
Emerald — a brand from parent company Scenic — does not skimp on inclusions, though. Like most river lines, it offers complimentary shore excursions at every port; these are well-organized, with active and gentle-walker options. House alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are free at lunch and dinner, and the brand also bundles gratuities and airport transfers.
Beyond the pool/cinema, there’s also a convenient fitness area, a massage room and a hair salon that I found better than those onboard some of Emerald’s competitors.
Another bonus is Emerald Star’s exceptional crew. The activity manager wore multiple hats including entertainer, both playing piano and singing to guests, and the attentive cruise director effortlessly oversaw it all as congenial host and leader of the attentive staff.
When it comes to dining, Emerald Star features just one main restaurant, but the efficient crew does an excellent job of extending food selections to The Terrace and Sky Barbecue on the deck above. Flavor profiles stand out at four-course dinners and regional lunches showcasing local delicacies such as German sausage and pork knuckle.
Otherwise, options are self-serve, with hearty breakfasts and hybrid buffet and a la carte lunch items. Sandwiches served for lunch on the terrace leave something to be desired, but sitting out and enjoying an ice cream, for example, while watching the scenery pass by was very enjoyable.
Though there were a few areas where I felt Emerald Star fell short, I think that, overall, the cruise line is doing an impressive job with its added perks and inclusions. If the company’s newest ship, Emerald Harmony, is any indication, the line is evolving to become even more outstanding.
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Emerald has temporarily suspended its operations, but at the time of publication, the line plans to restart sailing in September 2020. Executives say that guests can be assured of the brand’s commitment to maintaining the utmost in hygiene and sanitation when its riverboats return.
The DetailsEmerald Waterwayswww.emeraldwaterways.com