Emerald Waterways' fleet will increase to five 182-passenger, 443-foot long ships by the start of 2016. All will be built by De Hoop shipyard in Holland. Emerald Star and Emerald Sky launched in 2014, Emerald Sun and Emerald Dawn are slated to debut in 2015, and Emerald Belle is set for launch in 2016. All five are essentially identical and scheduled to sail interchangeable seven- to 14-night itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Danube and Mosel rivers.
A 2014 debut complete with two innovative new sister ships -- Emerald Star and Emerald Sky -- makes Emerald Waterways the newest river cruise line to launch in Europe. Two more identical ships, Emerald Sun and Emerald Dawn, will join the fleet in early 2015 and a fifth will launch in 2016.
Emerald Waterways is positioning itself somewhere between the three- and four-star markets. The line aims to compete with established four-star brands like Viking Cruises and Avalon Waterways by boasting a handful of innovative design touches and less expensive fares that still include a lot within the price of the cruise. Folding in the cost of drinks, shore excursions, transfers and tips in the cruise price tag, Emerald's main marketing push is with English-speaking clients.
Emerald Waterways, known as Evergreen Tours in Australia, launched in 2014 as a division of Scenic, a company that offers everything from land tours to luxury river cruises. Emerald made quite a statement with its first two European ships in 2014 and launched two more ships in 2015, with yet another to come in 2016. Overall, the line has significantly raised the bar within the "cheap and cheerful" river cruise market.
The most innovative bit of design for the fleet is a dual-purpose area at the aft of the ship that transforms from an indoor, heated pool with retractable roof during the day, to a cinema at night. Other vessels such as Uniworld's S.S. Antoinette offer separate pool and cinema facilities, but Emerald's reconfigurable room is a unique-to-river feature. A second impressive state-of-the-art feature is the balcony cabins that transform into conservatories at the touch of a button.
The rest of the ships' innovations have become fairly standard on newly built ships in the modern, "post-Viking longship" era of European river cruising, but nonetheless represent a significant improvement on the three-star experience. These upgrades include: Good-sized suites, balconies in a majority of cabins and an open-air alternative dining space.
The alfresco dining area at the bow provides an informal alternative dining option for breakfast and lunch, while most meals onboard are served in the main dining room, Reflections Restaurant.
As is the case with many river cruise lines, Emerald Waterways includes quite a lot within the cost to the overall cruise fare. Shore excursions and transfers are included, although in-depth or unusual shore excursions levy a fee. Coffee, tea and water, as well as wine and beer with dinner are included; all other drinks, from martinis to draft beer to soda, will require you to sign a chit.