Emerald Harmony provides at least one free excursion in almost every port. Passengers are divided into small groups, so the experiences are intimate and uncrowded. Tours showcase life in Southeast Asia, taking passengers to important landmarks and small villages along the river.
Emerald also offers Discover More tours for a modest extra fee and Emerald Plus excursions that are exclusive to the line. For instance, the Emerald Plus tour we tried out had us visiting a local Vietnamese family's home for some live folk music before touring a coconut farm and walking over a monkey bridge to try local fruits.
Excellent English-speaking guides provide context and bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultures, and they keep groups moving at a comfortable pace -- particularly important in the hot climate, where a too-long tour could quickly wear out visitors. The tours maintain a fine balance for passengers unaccustomed to the Eastern ways of life who still want to experience a bit of local flair that isn't too touristy.
Extra touches also help the excursions to stand out. As part of the line's commitment to help the environment, a reusable water bottle is provided for each passenger at the beginning of every sailing. They can be filled up prior to each excursion at a dispenser in the atrium, near the reception desk. On the way out the door, expect to be offered an umbrella if it's raining. When cruisers return to the ship, they're greeted with cold towels and delicious "welcome back" drinks, as well as shoe cleaning services on days when market visits leave footwear icky.
Emerald Harmony employs a somewhat archaic keycard system in which each passenger has to exchange his or her room key at reception before leaving the ship so the crew knows who's ashore. There is no swiping of cards to disembark, nor do passengers receive keycards with their sailing dates printed on them to keep as mementos.
Daytime & Evening Entertainment
Daytime entertainment is mainly shore excursion focused. If you opt to stay onboard, you can expect a quiet, low-key vibe where you'll need to create your own diversions to pass the time. Head to the Lotus Lounge to grab a daily news print out, play a game or work on a puzzle; visit the Horizon Bar & Lounge to watch some TV; go for a dip in the pool; hit the onboard gym; take a nap; or enjoy some sun on the top deck. During the odd sea day, the chef might offer a galley tour.
At night, entertainment primarily consists of mingling with your fellow passengers over dinner and drinks. Local performers are brought onboard in various ports of call -- think Apsara dancers in Cambodia and lion dancers in Vietnam -- and a piano player might entertain during the cocktail hour. However, these happen before dinner, as most passengers retire early to rest up for the next day's shore tours. The single exception on our sailing was an after-dinner pool party on the night before one of our later excursion departures.
It's worth mentioning that local onboard performances happen outside on the Sun Deck, generally after dark. Although it's a bit cooler at that time of day, mosquitoes can be particularly pesky, so be sure to load up on bug spray before you venture up there to watch. Don't let that scare you away from attending, though. The performances, often put on by local orphans, are fascinating and beautiful. The line works with them to provide support in exchange for this sharing of culture.
Each night before dinner, the ship's cruise director gives a port talk to brief passengers on what they can expect the following day in terms of port calls, excursions and special meals or performances. These talks generally last about 15 minutes; little else is offered in the way of onboard enrichment.
Horizon Bar & Lounge (Deck 3): This area serves as the ship's main lounge, where cocktail hour and most port talks are hosted. It's also the meeting point for shore tours. It offers plenty of comfy couches and chairs with throw pillows, complete with tables for drinks. Those wishing to stay close to the bar can choose seating there.
The ship's main coffee and tea facilities are found there, as well, along with a piano, which rarely seemed to be used.
Wall-mounted TVs -- one at each corner of the room -- provide a chance to watch sports and news, connection permitting.
Despite the space's inviting ambiance, it was often too hot and stuffy to be comfortable for spending long amounts of time, particularly during times when all passengers were gathering there. We asked if the air-conditioning was working and were told it was. Engine noise can also be a problem there.
Lotus Lounge (Deck 2): The Lotus Lounge, found at the front of the ship, provides an alternate lounge space for cruisers wishing to read, play games or do puzzles. The room also has a small library of books, tea facilities and light snacks, along with a TV.
Pool Bar (Deck 4): Found on the vessel's Pool Deck, this bar caters to those using the wake-facing onboard pool. It also provides drinks to passengers watching local performances on the Sun Deck (one deck above) in the evenings.
A couple of notes: Plastic straws are not offered onboard. Passengers can choose from paper or bamboo. Smoking is not permitted anywhere inside the ship, including cabins. A small designated smoking area can be found on Deck 5 (the Sun Deck).
Emerald Harmony doesn't skimp in the outdoor deck department. There is an aft-facing swimming pool with ample seating options and a retractable sun shade situated, appropriately, on Pool Deck (Deck 4).
One deck above, the ship has a full bow-to-stern Sun Deck with lounge chairs, a jogging track and an outdoor games area. It is worth noting that the Sun Deck might be closed when traveling under low bridges, but that isn't as common along the Mekong as it is on European rivers like the Rhine and Danube.
Guest services and cruise director desks are both positioned in the atrium, just outside of the Horizon Bar & Lounge on Deck 3. Staff members there can answer questions about everything from what to expect in port to what time dinner will be served, exchange currencies, settle your onboard tab and address any issues you might have while sailing.
Laundry rooms aren't common on river cruise ships, but in a region where the climate necessitates multiple wardrobe changes each day, being able to do some wash mid-cruise is a welcome luxury. The self-service facilities are found on Deck 1, just beyond the fitness center. They include three washers and three dryers, which are free to use. Use of laundry powder and an iron are also complimentary. Send-out laundry and pressing services are available for a fee; dry-cleaning is not offered.
The ship does not have a casino, dedicated shore excursions desk or medical center.
Emerald Harmony boasts a small spa with two onboard treatment rooms for massages, facials, body scrubs and foot reflexology, while the salon provides manicures, pedicures, and hair shampooing and blowout services for a fee.
The small onboard gym is actually impressive for its size. Passengers have access to a treadmill, an elliptical and a recumbent bike -- all Technogym -- as well as a weight bench, free weights up to 14 kilograms (31 pounds), yoga mats and exercise balls. Towels, water and hand sanitizer are provided.
A small jogging track is found on the Sun Deck, but be warned: it's small, and it will take you forever to hit a mile. The climate in Southeast Asia also isn't conducive to outdoor cardio. On the same deck, early risers can take advantage of free stretching, yoga and tai chi sessions each morning.
There are no children's facilities onboard Emerald Harmony. While you might see the odd family traveling onboard, this is an experience best suited to adults.