Emerald Sky Entertainment
Sky doesn't have the in-depth daytime lectures offered on some ships. An overview of the next day's port of call and excursions is provided in the cruise director's nightly port talk, which is reiterated in the daily program left on the bed each night. If the ship is cruising past particularly historic areas, the cruise director will provide a commentary through the personal transistor headsets and earpieces available in each cabin and usually used on shore excursions. This means people who are interested can listen in, while passengers who want to enjoy peace and quiet won't be disturbed.
A guided excursion at each port of call is included in the cruise price, typically a walking tour or bus trip to an interesting sight. Each cruise also includes a couple of optional "EmeraldPLUS" tours, such as a canal cruise in Amsterdam or an evening concert, available at extra cost. On our cruise, there were complaints that small bottles of water were not handed out before excursions. (The complimentary bottles in the cabins were too large to carry.) The line is looking to change this policy in 2015. In the meantime, we recommend that passengers take one of the smaller complimentary bottles from the gym or swimming pool area.
Onboard entertainment on river vessels is always a low-key affair, and Sky is no exception. Before and after dinner, the resident onboard pianist performs a pleasant mix of pop, light rock and classical music, as well as show tunes. There are also visiting guest entertainers, including traditional musicians, dancers and a glassblower. We were enthralled by an enthusiastic couple who played Swiss cowbells -- much more melodic than you'd think! On one night each cruise, the crewmembers throw themselves into a lighthearted talent show, followed by a crew and passenger disco.
The absolute star of the show on Sky's entertainment scene is the onboard cinema, which is set up in the swimming pool area when passengers are at dinner. The base of the swimming pool rises to create a floor, and the comfortable pool loungers are rearranged to face the large pull-down screen at the aft of the ship. Films range from modern-day blockbusters to old favorites themed to the area ("The Sound of Music" when cruising through Austria, for example). Reasonably priced drinks are available from the bar in the corner (3 euros for a beer and a little more than 6 euros for a cocktail). To add to the atmosphere, everyone gets a large complimentary container of popcorn. There are usually three film nights on a weeklong cruise, and entry is free. Because space is limited, passengers are asked to sign up at reception on a first-come, first-served basis. Everyone is issued with a pair of quality, fully adjustable headphones, so there is no noise disturbance to passengers in nearby cabins.
Emerald Sky Public Rooms
The heart of the ship is the Horizon Lounge, situated on the bow on the upper deck. With floor-to-ceiling windows and a mix of comfortable seating -- including sofas, chairs, stools and individual seats, plus an assortment of tables of different heights -- it's the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by, catch up on emails or read the news in the condensed newspapers printed each day. The "library" is a cupboard beneath the coffee machine, and it's not clearly visible. The entertainment manager points out the location during the introductory talk, and crewmembers also put out a selection of books on some of the lounge tables. They include beautiful coffee table books on fashion and design, which complement the vessel's stylish interior, along with novels and local guidebooks. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the public areas and in the cabins, and the signal is generally excellent.
The mismatched furniture, in a variety of colors, is typical of Sky's boutique style. This extends to the striking artwork installed by Dutch company Oasegroen -- "green oasis" -- which specializes in eco-friendly, sustainable art. Eye-catching exhibits in the lounge and other public areas include nonendangered coral, ancient petrified wood that resembles marble, marlin's teeth collected from seashores, and Native American necklaces made from natural materials. The standout items, in every sense of the word, are giant plant holders made out of eggshells.
Glass, mirrors and shiny metal surfaces abound throughout the ship, including the bar where colorful bottles double as another art installation.
Outside the lounge at the front of the ship is the Terrace, with chairs, tables and reclining seats and footstools. There are also plenty of loungers and more chairs and tables up a level on the Sun Deck.
Unless your cabin is on the Riviera Deck, it's easy to miss the nod to an onboard shop, which, in reality, is a number of display cabinets with jewelry, sunglasses and other accessories that can be bought via the reception desk. Toiletries and other small personal items are not stocked and have to be bought in ports of call, which are invariably in the heart of towns and cities and close to shops. As a new and novel cruise line, Emerald has probably missed a trick by not stocking logowear.
The full-length central atrium, which runs through all three decks, is topped by attractive lights and again creates a sense of light and space. The decks are linked by one elevator and a flight of stairs.
Throughout the ship, all of the members of the English-speaking staff were helpful and attentive, with ready smiles and a willingness to help if needed.
Emerald Sky Spa & Fitness
This area is home to the other half of Sky's "wow" factor. By day, the cinema is transformed into a 258-square-foot mosaic-tiled pool, which is large enough for a swim and has wall-mounted steps on one side. This flexible space, with a retractable roof, is a fantastic spot to lounge, enjoy a drink and watch the passing scenery or simply relax if you decide to stay onboard when the ship is docked.
A very small gym houses a stationary bike, rowing machine and bench, and onboard bikes are available for passengers to borrow free of charge to ride along the riverbank or into town.
Other facilities include a hair salon and a massage room. A wash, set and blow-dry for women is priced from 30 euros, and men's styling is 24 euros. Beauty treatments include a 30-minute facial for 35 euros and a 60-minute massage with aromatherapy oils for 60 euros. Manicures are also available with prices ranging from 15 to 32 euros.
The Sun Deck has a 410-foot circular walking and jogging track. Passengers are asked not to use it before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m. to avoid disturbing people in the cabins below. There is also a mini-golf course with three holes.