The main dining room is the Reflections Restaurant on the Vista Deck, which serves the breakfast and lunchtime buffets and a la carte evening meal, all on a freestyle dining basis with no seating plans. Tables seat two, four and six and can be put together to seat larger groups. There are also circular tables for six, and, as with the rest of the ship, the dining area has a pleasant, spacious atmosphere.
While times can differ slightly depending on shore excursions, breakfast is generally served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Unlike some other lines, which require passengers to show up exactly when the dining room opens, Emerald takes a more relaxed approach to the timing of the evening meal. Passengers who prefer to eat a little later won't be frowned upon for tardy arrivals.
Breakfast features an extensive selection of hot dishes, cold meats, cheeses, cereals and pastries. A station serves freshly cooked omelets and fried eggs, plus a healthy choice section of fresh fruit, yogurts and smoothies. Juice and hot drinks are served at the table. Aussies and Brits will be pleased to know that Emerald serves both Vegemite and Marmite.
Lunch is along similar lines, with soup of the day and a wide choice of salads, hot dishes and a daily freshly cooked option, such as pasta. This is followed with desserts and cheese.
Dinner is table service and includes a choice of two appetizers and two soups, three main courses (one vegetarian), two desserts and a cheese plate. On gala dinner nights, there's an amuse bouche and an additional course. Typical dishes include deviled eggs, minestrone soup, beef in a Cognac and pepper sauce, asparagus in a mille feuille parcel, carrot cake and fresh fruit salad. Special diets can be accommodated, and "always available" main courses of steak, chicken or salmon can be ordered. Complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks are served throughout lunch and dinner.
In addition to the included wine served with meals, there is a premium list featuring wines from Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Bulgaria and Slovakia. These range from a very reasonably priced 16 euro Romanian Cabernet Sauvignon to a 47 euro Austrian Riesling.
The Horizon Lounge, on the upper deck, is used for a self-serve early-bird breakfast from 6:30 a.m. (earlier on some days, depending on the excursion timetable), with a selection of fruit, muesli and pastries. The same area at the bar also serves a light lunch option, with soup, sandwiches, salads and a hot dish. On fine days, it's really nice to eat this out on The Terrace, the sheltered open-air area at the front of the ship that seats around 25. Cruisers can also dine upstairs on the Sun Deck, where there's plenty of seating and panoramic views over the river. There's usually an alfresco barbecue lunch at least once a week, weather permitting.
No afternoon tea service is offered, though small pastries and biscuits are available throughout the day at the 24/7 complimentary tea and coffee station inside the Horizon lounge and at the pool bar. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, outside of mealtimes, can be purchased at the bar.
Waiter service meals were slick and attentive, and the food was well presented and of a consistently good quality throughout. Vegetarian dishes on the menu and buffet are helpfully marked with a "V", and there are signs on the buffet flagging up foods that are gluten- and lactose-free. Gluten-free bread is always available on request.
On embarkation day, the ship offers an evening buffet with a sandwich station. It's a particularly good idea as arriving passengers who don't want a full meal can make up their own light snacks with cold meats and cheese.