* May require additional fees
Emerald Sun offers at least one complimentary shore excursion in every port, and sometimes there's more than one; you'll also have the opportunity for "Discover More" excursions that come with an extra fee. The free excursions are usually a combination of bus tour and walking tour; one bus or tour is always designated for gentle walkers.
We found the quality of the complimentary walking tours, which are led by independent city guides, to be mixed. The QuietVox listening devices seemed very temperamental and there was more than one communication breakdown. One included tour that is not to be missed is the visit to a local house in Slovakia. Passengers are divided into small groups of 15 or so to have coffee and cake in peoples' homes. Almost everyone returned to the ship after the excursion with interesting stories from their visit.
EmeraldActive excursions are held periodically throughout the cruise, and these are also free of charge. They could include a hike up Buda Castle Hill, a bike trip around Vienna or a 22-mile bike ride through the Wachau Valley. We were impressed that the ship made these available even in chilly December for those who wanted some exercise. In 2019, the line is adding Active Managers to help passengers understand their options and lead fitness classes onboard.
The extra fee "Discover More" tours can range in price from 50 to 90 euro. These are typically more involved and may run at the same time as the complimentary tour, forcing you to make a choice. On the Danube, for example, the "Discover More" tour to Salzburg takes eight hours and means you'll miss out on Passau. One tour that earned rave reviews was a classical music concert at a small palace in Vienna.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Because most people book river cruises for the ports and not the ship, daytime activities on the ship are limited. There's a small collection of cards and games in the Horizon Lounge and there may be a cooking demonstration for those who stay onboard.
One nice highlight for those who stay is that they can use the enclosed and heated indoor pool at the back of the boat; we found this space underutilized on our trip (which means you can have it almost completely to yourself). There are pool loungers and bottled water available. At night, the boat has very cool technology that covers the pool and turns the space into a movie theater, complete with popcorn. On our sailing, Christmas movies were shown almost every night.
Before dinner, the boat had local entertainment twice on our cruise. Both the Hungarian dancers and the German oom-pah band were fairly entertaining, getting the crowd involved. One night, a rousing game of Christmas trivia took place. Otherwise, the entertainment consisted of David, a not-so-nice piano player who would cycle through an unusual mix of easy listening songs; requests were highly discouraged. Once per cruise, the lounge turns into a disco, which was heavily anticipated by the millennials on our sailing (and some of the crew, who came out to dance with passengers). Unfortunately, David served as DJ, selecting an idiosyncratic mix of music from his computer (and again, fending off all requests). Still, the party went on until midnight, fairly late for a river cruise.
On our sailing, enrichment was fairly limited. On scenic sailing days, the cruise director narrated what we were seeing along the river. TV screens in the Horizon Lounge also broadcast "fun facts" about the Main-Danube Canal system during one stretch. There was also a Christmas cookie demonstration one morning.
Otherwise, the main onboard information you receive about where you're visiting comes in the evening before dinner during the cruise director's "port talk." These talks are mostly logistics-focused, however.
There's only one main bar on Emerald Sun: Horizon Lounge. It has a contemporary look of black, white and gray, accented with purple. The sofas and chairs are set up for group conversation and there's an awesome long black table at the front of the lounge that's perfect for having a cup of coffee and watching the river ahead.
During the day, Horizon is a nice place to hang out with a quiet book, have tea or enjoy a light bite. On scenic sailing days and before dinner, it can get crowded; if you're in a group, go early to grab seating.
Outside Horizon at the front of the ship are several outdoor tables and chairs that also have great views. During our winter sailing, it was generally too chilly to use it but we can imagine these would be popular in the summer months.
A range of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are served in the lounge, with most costing around 5 euro. Wine lovers be warned: There are only three house wines on the menu -- white, red and prosecco; we did find, however, that if we had enjoyed a certain wine at dinner, the bar staff would get it for us. A range of drink packages were available. The wait service in the bar was not enough for the crowds and often disappeared without notice. We also found we had to ask for things that should have been automatically available, such as small containers of peanuts.
At night around 10:30, the bar staff usually put out a small snack of canapes. One night after the classical music concert, a special evening presentation of goulash and international cheese made things festive.
Another highlight of Horizon Lounge is the specialty coffee machine that made excellent cappuccinos, lattes and espressos (as well as hot chocolate). You can use the included cups or get a paper cup for takeaway. The coffee from the machine was much better than what you'd find downstairs in the dining room, and there were often lines at the machine before excursions or during scenic sailings.
The pool area also has a small bar area, but it wasn't staffed during our cruise; bar staff from Horizon did run some drinks back there but most people watching movies found it easier to get their own and carry it back. There's also a coffee machine in the area, and a refrigerator with bottled water.
Emerald Sun has a gorgeous indoor infinity pool at the back of the ship that has a retractable roof pool. It's heated, so you can use it all year round. Loungers surround the pool, which is open 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; after that, it becomes a movie theater. On our cruise, it wasn't used much, but we're sure it gets more use in the summertime. In 2019, aqua aerobics classes will be added.
The upper deck of Emerald Sun has a small putting green and a walking/jogging track -- six laps equals 1 mile. The pool is indoors, though the roof can be opened on nice days for open-air swimming.
Most of Emerald Sun's services are on Deck 2. Here you'll find the reception desk where you check in when you enter the boat, settle your bill and book salon or spa services. On Emerald Sun, you not only receive a room key, you get a personalized fob that you scan when you get on and off the ship. Complimentary bottled water for excursions is located near the reception desk.
The cruise director's desk is on Deck 2, right across from the elevator and in front of the restaurant entrance. There's a table with city maps and recommended attractions, language sheets and other information. The cruise director is also on hand to give advice about different tours, call a cab or generally be helpful (he directed us to an excellent cafe with strong Wi-Fi in Bratislava).
Wi-Fi on the ship is complimentary but can be very slow, especially when the bulk of passengers are onboard. We found it could handle posts to social networks, but wasn't as good with downloads. Don't expect to use it when you're going through the many locks on the Main-Danube Canal.
An elevator runs between the first, second and third decks; it does not go to the sun deck. People with mobility issues should be aware that gangways can rise and lower depending on the level of the river, and you can't use a walker or wheelchair on them. Occasionally, too, you'll have to walk across another ship, over the top deck, to get to shore. On bus tours, there is space under the coach to store a walker and the driver will get it in and out for you (make sure you tip). In general, European river cruises can be difficult for people with severe mobility issues; you might want to consult the cruise line to see how active the itinerary will be.
You can't do your own laundry on Emerald Sun, but the ship will launder and iron items for you, either paying by the piece or by the bag.
There's a very small gym on Emerald Sun with two stationary bikes, some free weights and mats for stretching or yoga (although you'd likely want to bring these to the top deck as the gym itself is tight).
During daylight hours, the top-deck track is good for walking and jogging. Keep in mind that the top bridge closes on rivers with low bridges such as the Main. Smokers do use the area behind the wheelhouse.
Emerald Sun has both a salon for hair styling, manicures and facials (which is not the norm on European river cruise. There is also a massage therapist onboard who is excellent (although the room he works in can be a little drafty). Prices are fairly reasonable: a wash, set or blow dry for women with short to medium hair is 34 euros (39 for long hair); and massages are 42 to 79 euros for 30 to 60 minutes (two styles available). Appointments can be made at the reception desk on Deck 2.
Emerald Sun is not recommended for families with young children; the minimum age to sail is 12. There are no cabins set up for families or programming for kids.