We swore we’d never do it. The crowds, the line-ups at the buffet, the noise, the nothing-to-see at sea. And then we did it.

Wallace and I signed on for our first cruise, but not just any cruise, a 15-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Emerald Cruises. We didn’t know if we would enjoy it or jump ship.

Embarking on Emerald Cruises: Don’t Overthink It

Ready to come onboard Emerald Cruises in Amsterdam - photo Wallace Tobin

Ready to come onboard in Amsterdam (credit: Wallace Tobin)

There were a few things to consider before we left home.

Travel bookings were hitting an all-time high, and mountains of lost luggage were piling up in the world’s major airports. We always travel with carry-on bags. Would a limited wardrobe be woefully inadequate in the luxury cruise world? 

COVID was still making the rounds. We both got boosters and brought masks. 

To further complicate things, in the summer of 2022, Europe was experiencing the worst drought in 500 years. We had been warned that one or possibly two transfers to another ship might be required, depending on water levels. 

As it turned out, we were worrying about nothing, as usual. We were greeted at Schiphol Airport by Monica, our friendly Emerald Cruises representative, and whisked away to the dock. The Emerald Luna was waiting for us, polished and bright as a half-moon floating on the graphite water.

Our home away from home, complete with towel puppy

Our home away from home, complete with towel puppy

After a welcome cocktail, we checked into our sleek modern cabin and proceeded to half-unpack, ready to move to another ship quickly if needed. But thanks to the skill of our splendid captain, that wasn’t necessary. Emerald Luna would be one of the few ships to make the entire journey to Budapest.  

Once it was announced that we weren’t changing ships, it was a pleasure to completely unpack and discover the amazing amount of usable space in our cabin. We had the most popular configuration, a Panorama Balcony Suite.

 A floor-to-ceiling window looking out on the river took up one entire wall. It could be lowered halfway to create an open-air space called a French balcony, with enough room for two chairs and a side table. The bed was deliciously soft and piled with pillows.

We had an LCD television with enough channels to keep us happy and fast Wi-Fi. At three-by-seven feet, the bath was a design triumph with so many niches that we never got to use them all. And the on-demand shower was hot and steady at all times. 

Meeting and mingling On Emerald Luna

On Emerald Cruises Luna Meeting new friends is a river cruise perk

Meeting new friends is a river cruise perk

Launched in 2022, Emerald Luna measures 443 ft (135m) in length with 91 cabins. The newest of the Emerald Cruises starships certainly sparkled like a star. From the crystal chandeliers in the atrium to the sophisticated black marble of the Horizon Bar & Lounge, it was a luxurious hotel on the water. 

At capacity, it carries 180 guests and 51 crew members along the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube rivers, through 68 locks and under more than 300 bridges on the “Splendours of Europe” route. 

Emerald Luna passed through many of the locks by moonlight

Emerald Luna passed through many of the locks by moonlight

We left Amsterdam with about 90 guests, so the already spacious ship had even more room. This made it easy to table-hop and meet fellow passengers from the United States, Australia, Ireland and Canada for trivia games and entertainment in the lounge each night. It surprised us that this was the first river cruise for many of them, too. 

Dining aboard Emerald Cruises Luna

On the top deck of Emerald Luna passing castles and towns along the Rhine

On the top deck of Emerald Luna, passing churches, castles and towns along the Rhine

Dining was a pleasure every day. Breakfasts were casual affairs with heaps of fresh pastries and fruit, plus an omelet station. Lunch offered a warm entrée or a la carte light entrées. And dinner always offered several choices, including vegetarian and gluten-free options and complimentary wine and beer. 

The menu changed daily to reflect the cuisine of the countries we passed through. My business casual wardrobe was perfect for every occasion, with the addition of some jewelry and a different shawl or two, in my case, for evening wear. Jackets are not required. A collared shirt and long pants were the norms for the men at dinner. 

Activities both onboard and on shore

Days took on a pleasant routine of presentations, tours, free time and various activities. Emerald Cruises generally include at least one free tour daily, with a choice of activity level. These included hiking and biking with EmeraldACTIVE and EmeraldPLUS onboard demonstrations and performances. DiscoverMORE tours take a deeper dive into local culture for an additional fee. 

Our cruise director would outline the next day’s activities during the evening port talk. One highlight was the morning we spent on the top deck as we sailed through the Middle Rhine, one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites included on the trip. We lounged in the sunshine, listening to the commentary and spotting picturesque castles, riverside towns, and rows of lush vineyards on the hillsides between Koblenz and Rudesheim. 

On a typical day, we would head off with a local guide to visit a town filled with half-timbered houses, a baroque church or a restored castle, learning about their unique histories. Most tours were included in the fare. An unrepentant city mouse, I loved the international flair of Vienna, Nuremberg and Budapest. Several times we stole a few minutes alone to explore a market or sip coffee at an outdoor cafe.

Half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets of Miltenburg

Half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets of Miltenburg

Last thoughts on Emerald Cruises Luna

Ultimately, we loved our cruise, the passengers we met, and the fantastic, friendly crew. So many places we visited have gone on our must-see list for a return trip that we’re already planning our next escape with Emerald Cruises. 

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Activities are available for passengers of every age and stage, from hillside hikes to gentle walks. 
  • Yoga or Pilates classes are held in the morning by the pool, and there’s also a small gym onboard.
  • All-inclusive pricing includes gratuities for tours and services, taking the guesswork out of tipping.
  • Pack light if you wish, but the laundry facilities are fast and reasonably priced.

Take note

  • Ships will sometimes moor side by side at a dock, called rafting up. This requires passengers to walk through and sometimes over the deck of another boat to reach the shore. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes when touring, and watch for loose cobblestones and uneven pathways.
  • Emerald Luna has a glass staircase and a tiled atrium. Watch your step, especially if it’s been raining. Umbrellas are always available at the door. 

Disclosure: The writer was a guest of Emerald Cruises. As always, her opinions are her own.

Follow Debra Smith’s travels on Instagram @Where.to.Lady or wheretolady.com 

All photo credits: Debra Smith, except for lead photo (Emerald Cruises), unless otherwise shown.

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