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Cruise Line Cancellation Policies: A Closer Look
Cruise Line Cancellation Policies: A Closer Look
Emerald  Liberte
Emerald Liberte

Emerald Cruises vs. Viking River Cruises

Emerald  Liberte
Emerald Liberte
Jeannine Williamson

Viking River Cruises might be better known than Emerald Cruises, but both offer solid river cruise options on head-turning vessels.

Viking River Cruises is well known for its Viking Longships and having vessels on waterways from the Mississippi to the Mekong. Meanwhile, Emerald Cruises offers great-value-for-money and sailings on its modern Star-Ships. If you’re curious about these two popular river cruise lines and how they compare, read on to find out which one will suit you.

On This Page

How Do Viking River Cruises & Emerald Cruises Compare on Price, Inclusions and Booking Policies?

E C E R  Emerald  Sky 1972x1200
E C E R Emerald Sky 1972x1200

With a raft of deals and promotions offered by both lines (a common practice with virtually all river cruise companies), it can be tricky trying to compare Emerald and Viking prices; which also vary depending on the time cruises are booked and the date of the sailing. In general, Viking's costs come out slightly higher, usually by around $200 to $500 per voyage, but this is not always the case.

Both lines are similar in terms of inclusions and amenities. They sell their itineraries on a cruise-only or airfare-included basis, offer airport transfers and include wine, beer and soda with lunch and dinner. The most notable difference is that Emerald includes gratuities in its fares, and Viking does not.

Both lines require a non-refundable deposit at the time of booking, with the balance payable 120 days before the date of departure for Emerald Cruises and 10 weeks for Viking, or in full if a cruise is booked less than these periods before sailing. Viking passengers who cancel more than 70 days before departure lose the deposit only and with Emerald a cancellation more than 120 days before a cruise results in forfeiture of the deposit. After that, Viking imposes a forfeit of 50 percent of the fare for canceling between 30 to 69 days before sailing, and the total fare for cancellations less than 30 days prior to departure. With Emerald, passengers who cancel more than 120 days before a cruise forfeit their deposit, 50 percent of the fare for canceling between 91 and 119 and forfeit the entire amount for cancelling less than 90 days before departure.

Choose Emerald if You Want Gratuities Included

Emerald's fares include all gratuities for onboard and shoreside staff, which is a big plus point for U.K. passengers and any other nationalities that don't share the same tipping culture as the United States. Viking passengers are requested to settle onboard gratuities at the end of the cruise. Viking automatically adds $15 per passenger per day to passengers’ shipboard accounts, which is to be settled at the end of the voyage.

Related: Cruise Line Tipping Policies: Luxury Lines

Choose Viking if You Want Your First Choice of Cruise or Might Have to Reschedule

With a fleet of 55 Longships in Europe alone -- compared to Emerald's nine Star-Ships -- you are far more likely to get the cruise itinerary and departure date of your choice with Viking. Similarly, if you have to reschedule your trip it will be much easier to find another sailing with Viking simply because of the number of ships they operate.

How Do Shore Excursions Compare on Viking River Cruises & Emerald Cruises?


The fares on both Emerald and Viking include an excursion -- sometimes two -- at each port of call. The lines work in conjunction with expert local guides and passengers use personal audio headsets to listen to the commentary. These tours are a combination of walking tours and coach excursions into the local countryside, stopping at historic towns, castles, monasteries and other sights. All tours are included on Emerald, and Viking offers some optional excursions, for a fee. These are special interest experiences, such as an art class or Cognac-making workshop.

Choose Emerald if You Want More Active and Complimentary Options

Emerald has a fleet of onboard bikes, free to guests on a first-come first-serve basis, and also offers escorted bike rides of varying lengths. While Viking does not have onboard bikes, they do offer cycling excursions in some ports.

Emerald Cruises also has activity managers onboard to help run its EmeraldACTIVE excursions and onboard activities, such as hiking, biking and canoeing on land and Pilates and yoga classes onboard.

Emerald's more immersive "EmeraldPLUS" excursions are included in the fare and there is at least one per week, such as a home-hosted tea with a local family or an evening theater trip.


Choose Viking if You Want to Take Things Easy or do Your Own Thing**

Viking goes to great lengths to grade its excursions according to their difficulty level, such as the amount of walking that will be required and any steps or steep gradients. Passengers can also choose between regular or slower-paced walking tours. There is also an onboard concierge who can suggest independent sightseeing itineraries, recommend places to eat and drink and make bookings for spa or hairdressing appointments in each port of call. The concierge service is free of charge.

Viking’s River Cruise Fleet Is Known for its Longships in Europe, Emerald Cruises Offers Space-Ships in Europe and Southeast Asia

C C  Longship  Budapest  Horiz1  Longships
C C Longship Budapest Horiz1 Longships

No line can top Viking in terms of fleet size, and in total it operates 77 vessels. The majority of its fleet comprises 55 near identical Longships that sail on the rivers of Europe and carry 190 passengers. Emerald has a slightly lower passenger ratio, and carries 180 passengers in its mainland European Star-Ships, which are also purpose-built to the same design, and smaller ship, Emerald Harmony, custom-built for the Mekong.

In Europe, both lines sail on the Rhine, Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhone, Saone and Douro, typically on seven- and 14-night voyages with Viking offering some longer itineraries. Viking also sails on the Seine, Elbe, Garonne and Dordogne.

Outside of Europe, Viking sails on the Mississippi, U.S., the Nile, Egypt and on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia; while Emerald also sails on the Mekong. Both lines also offer Christmas market cruises.

Choose Emerald if You Want to Sail with an Assorted Mix of Passengers

With its Australian heritage, Emerald counts a large number of passengers from "Down Under," with the rest coming from the U.K., United States, Canada and other English-speaking countries. The line's trendy, boutique-style ships also attract first-time river cruisers, including passengers in their 40s and 50s, which is younger than the average river cruise demographic.


Choose Viking if You Prefer to Sail with a Familiar Crowd**

U.S. passengers who enjoy traveling with their fellow countrymen will want to stick with Viking. Most passengers come from North America and are a mature, well-traveled bunch, although often on their first visit to Europe. Also on board are a sprinkling of Brits, Canadians and other nationalities.

How Do Cabins Compare on Viking River Cruises versus Emerald Cruises?

Ship Exterior on Emerald Star
Ship Exterior on Emerald Star

The majority of cabins on Emerald vessels are Panorama Balcony Suites, which measure 180 square feet. On the lower deck, standard staterooms are 162 square feet and have a fixed window. There are four two-room Owner's Suites that are 315 square feet and eight Grand Balcony Suites, which are one-room cabins, measuring 210 square feet.

On Viking Longships, Veranda Cabins are 205 square feet, including the walkout veranda, and French Balcony cabins, where you can look out rather than step outside, are 135 square feet. Passengers in lower deck cabins that have a fixed window benefit from more space, 150 square feet in total. Two-room Veranda Suites are 275 square feet and two-room Explorer Suites (two on each Longship) measure 445 square feet.

It's worth noting differences in the bathrooms, particularly for passengers who might have mobility issues. Bathrooms on Viking Longships are accessed from the cabin corridor and feature a good-size shower with, on newer vessels, a pair of glass doors that fold right back to create the feeling of a wet room or generally larger bathroom area. The bathroom door on the Emerald ships is sited alongside the bed, as opposed to facing out into the cabin, and the amount of space between the wall and bed is not great. Some passengers might have difficulty walking between the two, especially if the cabin is set up in a twin-bed configuration.

Choose Emerald if you are Traveling Alone

There are two single cabins measuring 117 square feet on each Star-Ship that measure 130 square feet. Viking does not have any single cabins.


Choose Viking if you Want a Balcony and Larger Suites**

If you like stepping out, and sitting on a proper balcony then Viking is the line for you. The Explorer Suites on Viking are also particularly spacious and have a wraparound balcony.

How Do Cabins Compare on Viking River Cruises and Emerald Cruises?

Emerald Star Cabins
Emerald Star Cabins

When it comes to mealtimes, there is little to differentiate Emerald and Viking. Food on both lines is consistently good, with imaginative menus that feature regional specialties and "always available" classic dishes. Both lines include wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.

Both serve buffets at breakfast, with made-to-order items off the menu. At lunchtime, Emerald has a buffet with a live cooking station and Viking has a buffet and a served a la carte menu. Neither line has a full alternative dining room, but both serve an early bird breakfast and lighter lunch and dinner options in their lounges, with the option of eating outside. A standout feature on Viking is the Aquavit Terrace, a sheltered indoor/outdoor eating and alfresco lounge area right at the front of the ship. Occupying space used on other vessels to store nautical equipment, it was created by designing the Longships with a blunted, rather than pointed, bow. Both lines have self-serve complimentary tea and coffee stations available 24/7.

What Does Each Line’s Enrichment Programme Look Like?

Emerald UK Aug-Oct Advertorial
Emerald UK Aug-Oct Advertorial

Both lines offer similar enrichment programs that are themed to countries visited on the cruise, such as language lessons, cooking demonstrations and shows by local dancers, singers and musicians. On Emerald, staff put on a light-hearted crew talent show.

How Does Scenic and Viking River Cruises Compare on Onboard Amenities?

Emerald Star
Emerald Star

Where Viking scores with its Aquavit Terrace, Emerald comes out on top with its range of onboard amenities. The biggest "wow factor" is a swimming pool with a retractable roof that converts into a movie theater at night. During the day, the area at the back of the ship is a deep 258-square-foot mosaic-tiled pool and lounging area. At night, the base of the pool rises to create a floor and the loungers are rearranged in front of a large pull-down screen. Movies are screened around three times a week, on a free first-come first-serve basis, and passengers are given headphones and complimentary popcorn. There is no pool on Viking.

Other amenities featured on Emerald, but not on Viking, are a small gym, massage room and hair salon. However, the Viking concierge can arrange salon treatments and hair appointments for passengers while in port. Ships on both lines have elevators, offer free Wi-Fi and a for-fee laundry service.

The Bottom Line: Which River Cruise Is Best for Me?

Emerald  Liberte
Emerald Liberte

Positioned in the middle tier of the river cruise market, Emerald and Viking both offer good value for money with plenty of inclusions. The final decision comes down to personal preferences. Viking is a good choice for passengers who are more interested in a culture-rich experience rather than extras on the vessels. Emerald will appeal to active types who enjoy various onboard activities and amenities.

Updated December 21, 2022

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