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Review of an Emerald River Cruise in Europe: What to Expect

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After two years of little travel and with ongoing pandemic issues around the world, we weren’t entirely sure we were ready for a cruise in 2022. We knew for certain we weren’t ready for a big ocean cruise with thousands of passengers. But based on previous river cruises we’d taken we knew there would be under 200 guests. This felt like a better way to ease back into cruising. 

We did some research on different river cruises, checked travel advisories in Europe and looked at the health and safety measures on board. Feeling like we had covered all our concerns we decided to go ahead with a European Emerald River Cruise in Germany. This was to be our first experience with Emerald Cruises. Was it the right decision? Read on for our full, unbiased review.

Why Explore Europe on a River Cruise?

Emerald river cruise
View of Cochem Castle

First of all, why do we recommend a European river cruise? In our experience, a river cruise is a fabulous way to explore Europe in comfort and without the stress of arranging multiple hotels and transportation. With a European river cruise, everything is taken care of for you. From transportation to accommodation, meals, tours and entertainment.

Once you board the ship, check in to your stateroom and unpack, there is nothing to think about other than what to have for dinner. Or, whether or not you want to join the next day’s excursion. All of the research and planning for each port your ship will visit has been done. And it will be laid out for you daily so you can easily decide how to spend your time.

Whether you’re traveling alone, with a partner or with a group of friends, a European river cruise makes an enjoyable and memorable trip. 

Newly single or have a partner who doesn’t travel? A river cruise is a great way to ease into solo travel. You will not have to make any big decisions on your own. But, you’ll have the security of being part of a group yet still free to create your own personal experience. Plus, you’re guaranteed to make new friends on board if you’re keen on socializing.  

Note: A huge benefit for solo travelers is that most of Emerald’s ships have a couple of single cabins which don’t require a single supplement charge.

Emerald Panorama Balcony Suite
We stayed in an Emerald Panorama Balcony Suite

Couples will also enjoy river cruises. The comfortable cabins with ever-changing, romantic views are perfect for enjoying a glass of champagne while sailing past a castle or vineyard. In the dining room, there are tables for two and the sundeck is perfect for starry night dates.

River cruises are also suitable for groups. It makes planning activities and meals together a breeze without worrying about the logistics of group travel. Alternately, it’s easy for those who want to break away from the group to do so without upsetting the itinerary.

But the best thing about a European river cruise is the views! There is something so magical and amazing about sitting in the lounge or having dinner as you glide past fairy-tale castles, miles of vineyards and picturesque riverside villages. Or going to sleep at night in one place and waking up in the morning to yet another gorgeous town to explore.

Who Offers the Best River Cruises?

Emerald River Cruise Star-Ship Dawn
Our Star-Ship Emerald Dawn

There are several companies specializing in European River Cruises and they all have multiple itineraries to choose from. So how do you decide which one is right for you? If this is your first river cruise it’s a good idea to take a look at 2 to 3 different cruise lines. 

At first glance, you may feel that they are all quite similar. This is true to a degree. In general, riverboats will all have a similar design, the price will include meals and tours and they will all have comparable itineraries along Europe’s rivers.  

However, as you dig a little deeper you will find some differences that should help you to decide which cruise line and which itinerary is best for you. 

After doing some research ourselves, we selected Emerald’s Legendary Moselle & Rhine River Cruise through Germany. Following are some of the things that contributed to our decision.

Why We Chose an Emerald River Cruise

Enjoying an evening cocktail on the sundeck
Enjoying an evening cocktail on the sundeck
  • We liked the fact that Emerald has a smaller fleet of river boats in Europe compared to some of the other cruise lines. Bigger isn’t always better and sometimes smaller companies (in any industry) put more focus on the customer experience. It’s also often the case that employees of a smaller company are more connected, take more pride in their job and feel more like part of a team. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but when it is we find that connection translates into a better customer experience.
  • Emerald Cruises is all-inclusive. All European river cruises include many things within their price. For example, accommodation and transportation by riverboat are included in the price as are three meals per day and some excursions. However, Emerald stood out for us in that their price also included free-flowing beer and wine with meals, a variety of excursions each day and gratuities for all the staff on board. So, unless you want to drink some fancy cocktails or get spa treatments you really don’t need to spend another penny on board.
Indoor pool with retractable roof.
Indoor pool with a retractable roof. Photo courtesy of Emerald Cruises
  • The Emerald riverboats in Europe also have some additional amenities that we had missed on other river cruise lines. Some of our favorite amenities with Emerald were a gym, an indoor swimming pool with a retractable roof and a small spa offering a menu of massages and beauty treatments. The indoor swimming pool even turns into a theatre for movie nights. Emerald also has an activity manager whose sole job is to coordinate onboard and on-shore activities tailored to a variety of fitness and mobility levels.
  • Emerald’s price point is considered mid-range which is especially appealing to us at this time. As it likely is to many people right now. We were interested to see how it compared to the higher-priced river cruises we’d taken in the past. The truth is we didn’t find a huge difference in comfort, service, food or excursions. There were a few minor hiccups during our 8-day cruise but these were more to do with the world situation than any fault of Emerald. Cruise lines have been grounded for two years so it’s understandable there will be some growing pains as travel returns. Overall, we completely agree that Emerald is of incredible value and we would not hesitate to cruise with them again.
Enjoying the scenery from bikes on our Emerald River Cruise
Enjoying the scenery from bikes on our Emerald River Cruise
  • Additional options for active guests were another big plus for us. It’s true that the average river cruise guest is at, or beyond, retirement age. However, age doesn’t mean there aren’t guests looking for a quicker pace and slightly more challenging activities. Emerald is fully aware of this and so they offer different types of tours and excursions with varying levels of activity. They call it Emerald Active and it includes hikes and cycling when docked as well as onboard exercise classes.

A Day on an Emerald River Cruise

Emerald Cruise Staff
Introducing some of the amazing staff

This article is a review of our Emerald River Cruise experience rather than a minute-by-minute description of what we did each day. However, we do want to give you a taste of what you can expect on your voyage if you go with Emerald.

Every evening, usually just prior to dinner, guests gather in the lovely lounge to hear a 15- minute “Port Talk.” Attendance is not mandatory, of course, but you definitely don’t want to miss this talk. This is when you’ll hear all about plans and options for the following day. You will learn about the port location, details of the various excursions available, meal times and evening entertainment.

Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier
Admiring the Cathedral of Saint Peter on an excursion in Trier

If you do miss the port talk the itinerary will be posted on your TV so you can check it at any time. In order to cut down on paper Emerald no longer prints out itineraries to place in your room each day. However, you can ask for a printed version if you need it or take a photo of the TV screen on your phone.

Port Talk is followed by dinner, usually about 7 pm. The dining room has a variety of table sizes.  So, you can choose a quiet dinner for two, or join a larger table for some fun conversations with your fellow cruisers. Personally, we do a bit of both. We have made many friends on our river cruises that we still keep in touch with. 

Emerald Cruise Food
Emerald Cruise menus have options for all tastes

After dinner, there will be some form of entertainment in the lounge. Could be dancing, karaoke, live music, trivia or movie night at the pool. If you prefer cocktails and a quiet chat there is the open top deck and the forward sun deck for stargazing. Sometimes you’ll be docked for the night in which case you may wish to explore whatever port town you’re in for the evening.

Movie night
Movie night. The pool room magically turns into a theatre. Photo courtesy of Emerald Cruises

In the morning there is an optional fitness class (yoga, pilates, strength, aqua aerobics, etc). Breakfast is available as a full meal in the dining room or a light meal in the lounge. Excursions usually begin about 8 am or 9 am and you will either walk, bike or take a comfortable coach to the tour destination. Of course, you are also free to just explore on your own. The Activity Director will have local maps and details available.

Excursions normally return to the ship in time for lunch so there is no need to spend money unless you want to try a local restaurant. Some days there may be additional excursions in the afternoon. Otherwise, you can enjoy relaxing on the sun deck, go for a swim, take a nap in your cozy suite or find a quiet corner to read or play cards. The lounge is open all day serving drinks and there is also a coffee station with cookies. 

Emerald River Cruises at a Glance

Emerald River Cruise Views
Ever-changing gorgeous views
  • Emerald Cruises has 8 Star-Ships sailing along 6 of Europe’s most beautiful rivers. Each ship is unique in size and design and some were purpose-built for specific rivers. They also have one riverboat in Southeast Asia and two Super-Yachts for ocean cruises.
  • True to their word, at a mid-range price point, Emerald provides exceptional value with amenities and services comparable to the higher-priced river cruise lines.
  • The Star-Ships hold between 112 and 180 guests and there is plenty of space for this number so it never feels crowded on board.
Enjoying a well deserved refreshments after a cycling tour to gorgoeus Beilstein
Enjoying well-deserved refreshments after a cycling tour to gorgeous Beilstein
  • Dynamic guests will love Emerald Active which offers higher energy excursions, hiking and exercise classes as well as bikes on board for guest use at port stops.
  • Guests must be over 12 years of age and under 19 year olds must share a cabin with an adult.
  • Emerald European River Cruises are all-inclusive. Unless you want a few extras like fancy cocktails or spa treatments you won’t need to spend an additional penny.
Emerald Cruise stateroom view
Emerald Cruise stateroom
  • There is a range of cabin styles and sizes. But each room has luxury hotel beds, a flat-screen TV, a spacious clothing closet and an en-suite bathroom. Plus the floor-to-ceiling windows in each suite have the unique feature of lowering halfway to provide fresh air and a clear view.
  • Emerald’s Star-Ships have great amenities all included in the price such as a large sun deck with seating and loungers, an indoor pool, a gym and bicycles. There is also a spa with services at an additional cost.
Morning coffee by the pool
Morning coffee and a swim
  • We found all the staff to be a perfect combination of efficient, friendly and professional. From the cabin attendants to the food servers, activity director and everyone else on the crew we have absolutely nothing negative to say about the service on board. 
  • The dress code is smart casual so no need to pack a suit and tie or ballgown. All they ask is that men not wear shorts and flip-flops to dinner. Having said that you would also not be out of place with a smart shirt or a more formal dress.
  • The food on board is excellent with both a small buffet and a decent-sized menu of appetizers, main meals and desserts. Emerald staff will also fulfill any dietary restrictions on request.
Selection from the buffet
Selection from the buffet
tenderloin and spatzle
Delicious tenderloin and spaetzle
Chocolate overload
Chocolate overload
  • Don’t worry about packing toiletries. Each room comes with luxury shampoo, conditioner, soap and a hair dryer. You will also find a bathrobe an umbrella and trekking poles in the closet. 
  • Emerald cares about the environment. Your room will have a large glass bottle for water that is filled daily. Plus you’ll find your own takeaway metal water bottle which you can fill at the multiple water stations on board and take on excursions. 
  • An Emerald River Cruise in Europe is great for solo travelers, couples and groups. Guests generally range in age from 40s to 70s. Kids over 12 are allowed if staying in a room with an adult. But entertainment and activities are definitely more adult-focused. Therefore, those under 17 may be better suited to a larger ocean cruise.
  • If you prefer not to have to plan on your vacation, Emerald will take care of that for you will full and detailed daily itineraries. However, everything is optional so if you just want to relax and watch the incredible scenery go by that’s fine too!

Was an Emerald River Cruise the Right Decision for Us?


Absolutely yes! We are generally on the younger end of the age scale of river cruisers. But this has never bothered us. We enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and generations and have fond memories of many interesting and humorous conversations on river cruises.

Our river cruise with Emerald was no exception with plenty of fun times and good chats. But we did enjoy the slighter younger average age along with the greater percentage of active guests and available active options. We would definitely go with Emerald again and hope to someday sail in Southeast Asia or on an ocean cruise. Stay tuned!

Note: We were hosted by Emerald Cruises in order for us to share the Emerald experience with our readers. All opinions in this article are solely based on our personal experience as regular cruise guests.

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