I went on this cruise unexpectedly. My mother and sister had gone on several river cruises but I had not - they always struck me as an over-controlled experience with more focus on the ship than on the places visited. But when my mother ... Read More
I went on this cruise unexpectedly. My mother and sister had gone on several river cruises but I had not - they always struck me as an over-controlled experience with more focus on the ship than on the places visited. But when my mother set up this trip for her 80th birthday I got a chance to see what the fuss was about.
Wow. WOW. First off, you do get to see PLENTY! And one of the wonderful things about Emerald Waterways is that they do all of the planning for you: passes, passport review (Enchantment of Eastern Europe goes through 5 countries in 9 days, so this is a LOT of paperwork off my plate), tour buses, guides, the works. Given I'm over burdened with logistics in my day-to-day life, this all-inclusive experience takes a lot of the stress out of planning a vacation. Emerald also coordinates experiences that going it alone can't, most notably an in-home visit for a homemade lunch with a Croatian family.
The guides on all off-ship excursions are excellent. If you're a history buff (like me!) you get a lot of history and context for what you're seeing, from someone who lives there and has lived that history. Given how little I knew about eastern Europe in general this was a huge plus for me. I didn't know about the long shadows both the Roman and Ottoman empires cast over this part of the world, nor the varied and nuanced experiences of the Cold War and communism in the Balkans. I went back to the ship each night with a dozen notes for follow up at the library when I got home.
The ship itself was exceptional. Service was incredibly attentive - within two days the waiters knew me and my coffee preferences on sight. The cruise director briefed us each night, so we'd know what to expect in terms of activities, local currencies and time changes, menu (more on that later), and was incredibly approachable and knowledgable.
One thing that always daunted me about the idea of a cruise was getting lost on a huge boat of hundreds of people. I appreciated the fairly small ship and crew/crowd size (I think plus crew it was less than 200 people). I think this allowed both for better service and easier interactions between fellow vacationers at dinners and on excursions.
The food was fantastic. They never overfed you, but I can honestly say my stomach never growled once the entire time I was on board. Dinner was previewed each night with a handout and chef recommendations, the latter of which almost never set a foot wrong. The food was excellent, in small enough portions to not feel overstuffed by appetizer, soup, main course and dessert. "One" glass of wine is provided with dinner, but that glass is constantly refilled by the attentive wait staff. Breakfast and lunch buffets were equally good. All meals included vegetarian options, and the staff even accommodated dietary restrictions on the family lunch visits.
My only reservations:
I'd have preferred a bit more "quiet space". Even during in the quietest times in the public areas there was music running, when I would have just preferred to hear the lull of the water against the ship's hull.
I would have welcomed more opportunities to exchange cash/go to ATMs. While most of the countries on this trip (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary) take euros some of the time, each country has its own currency and not all vendors take credit/debit cards. It was quite easy to wind up with a handful of currency on Wednesday that you couldn't use Thursday and couldn't exchange easily.
I would also have liked the opportunity to visit a post office to send souvenirs home, but this may be out of an unrealistic desire to avoid overweight bag charges.
The short version: would I do again? You bet! You get to see a lot with very little logistics on your part and you only have to unpack once. The food is phenomenal and all of it is included, including tips. The staff can help you with just about anything where you might get stuck, and you go home with unique memories and even more curiosity. Read Less