Emerald Waterways in Review

Emerald Waterways is one of the newest lines in the European river cruise market.  About a year ago, our own John Lane cruised with Emerald from Budapest to Nuremberg.  Read more below:

Cruise Escapes:  Since this was not your first river cruise, what was the first Emerald distinction you noticed once you boarded?

John:  It was very open and airy.  Lots of glass floor to ceiling windows bring the outdoors in.Emerald Waterways dining room

CE:  What about accommodations; how did your cabin compare to your other river cruises?

John:  The cabin was  also open and airy with a wall to wall and floor to ceiling window that lowered by a push of a button.  It was very well designed with the most storage space in any cabin that I have seen.  The bathroom was smaller but adequate with a sliding door.  Cabin service was good but you would have to ask for extra toiletries and no tissues were in the cabin which bothered me.

CE:  So would you rate your cabin as about the same, as your previous (with AMA and Tauck), better, or less impressive?

Emerald Waterways cabinJohn:  I would say I was more impressed with my wall of glass (window) that brought the Danube into my cabin.  I boarded in Budapest and we were docked directly across from the Parliament building and I had the most magnificent view of it.  At night it took on a completely different feeling.  I just sat their and savored the view.  It was wonderful.

CE:  That sounds great!  Now, how about the food onboard; what would you have to say about dining on Emerald?

John:  Dining was open seating breakfast, lunch and dinner like all river cruise lines.  Breakfast and lunch were buffet only.  I would have preferred at lunch to have had an option to order from a menu a lighter lunch instead of the standard luncheon buffet.   Made to order options were not available as they stuck to the menu.  The wine and beer flowed at both lunch and dinner.

CE:  On your Danube itinerary, did you have a favorite port, or what were the most memorable highlights for you?

Emerald Waterways Christmas MarketsJohn:   I was on a Christmas Markets Cruise and it was quite magical. I highly suggest a Christmas Market cruise!   We were fortunate to have beautiful warm weather in December.  The itinerary was full of wonderful ports:  we had an extensive tour of Budapest, a home visit in Bratislava (a Emerald exclusive) along with an evening concert in a monastery,  toured the beautiful Melk Abbey which is a must see, Vienna and a side trip to Salzburg captured the beauty of the Austrian countryside.

CE:  So Emerald sounds like a good choice for river cruises; are there any special offers coming up?

John:   Yes!  Emerald just notified us of a really attractive offer for 2017 sailings with FREE AIRFARE from DFW & most major U.S. cities!  There is a flyer below, but for full details and rates give us a call soon; this won’t last long!

click image to enlarge:

Emerald Waterways fly free offer

A Bed With A View

by Don McCann

Avalon Waterways Panorama Suite

Avalon Waterways likes to make a big deal out of the way their “Panorama Suite” cabins have the layout designed with the bed facing the window (as almost ALL river lines have the bed facing sideways, toward the wall).  Well, I’ve sailed in one of these cabins, as well as on another river line, and I can tell you that they are correct – it IS a big deal!  With the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling sliding windows, these cabins give you a fantastic view from the bed, as well as from anywhere in the cabin.  European river cruising is all about the scenery and you’ll not miss anything with the Avalon accommodations.  In addition to the bed layout, the bathrooms are also extremely well designed and spacious (even more so than many ocean ships I’ve seen).

October is THE time to reserve your river cruise.  If you’d like more info on Avalon, click here and don’t miss this month’s outstanding special offer, found here

River Cruise French Balcony


by Don McCann

Most of our experienced ocean cruisers prefer to travel in a balcony cabin (and if you have ever experienced one, you certainly know why!)  So when booking a river cruise, many are unsure as to the meaning of a “french balcony” and how that will compare.  Well, to begin with, the entire river cruise experience is so different that the balcony preference is not nearly as relevant.  In Europe, all river ships are restricted in size due to the many locks which they will traverse during the cruise.  This limited size requires the ship designers rethink and rework the standard cruise accommodations.  So in order to allow the maximum amount of space for the cabin itself, the ‘balcony’ space is a challenge.  Therefore, many ships feature the french balcony, which is really floor to ceiling, sliding glass doors which open up for the fresh air (and to stick your head out), but you don’t actually step out onto a true balcony; many people like to think that this transforms the whole cabin into a balcony!  Also, the nature of river cruises is such that you are in port a great deal, so there is not as much time to sit out on the balcony as you might think.

To illustrate how different lines offer their accommodations, I’m enclosing a few photos:

Avalon Suite Ships cabin

Avalon Waterways Suite Class French Balcony


AMA Waterways split balcony

AMA Waterways French Balcony (left) and Outside Balcony (right)


Viking River Cruises balcony cabin

Viking River Cruises balcony cabin

As you can see, there are many options and we can help you sort them out.  Whichever you choose, river cruises are wonderful and we hope you’ll be taking yours soon!!

River Cruise? Don’t Wait!

by Don McCann

European River Cruises have become quite popular in recent years, so that many people are now ‘aware‘ of river cruising and many people are interested in actually taking one, too.  However, we see time and again that potential river cruisers are surprised that their cruise of interest is either already filled, or has very limited availability.  Unlike ocean cruises which accommodate hundreds, or thousands of passengers, river cruises usually accommodate about 160 guests!  So if you do some simple math: high demand + low capacity…then it only stands to reason that planning in advance is essential.

So when to plan?  Well, September is actually one of the peak months for booking European cruises in the following year; in other words, NOW is a good time!  While this does not mean that you will not be able to find anything if you wait, it does mean you’d have to be flexible on date and accommodation type (the lowest deck is actually the least popular and what is usually “leftover”).  September is also when some of the last advance booking discounts expire.  One such example is with Avalon Waterways…..they currently have a discount on their 2016 cruises, plus they also have an airfare discount, as well.  If you’d like more info, just click here.

In our office we’ve all been on river cruises and we all love them (in fact our Alice Burkhart is onboard one right now!).  So if this is of interest to you, please contact us; we’d love to assist you in planning YOUR River Cruise!

Avalon generic aerial

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Sunday Afternoon in Les Andelys

by Don McCann

On our recent Avalon Waterways cruise on the Seine River, we had two ‘ports of call’ for our second day.  After a fantastic morning exploring the gardens and home of Monet in Giverny, we stopped in Les Andelys.  Perhaps my favorite part of this stop was just as we were gliding into position along the dock, there were locals strolling along the waterfront, enjoying their Sunday Afternoon and only passively interested in our arrival.

We had the choice of a walking tour through town, or ‘up the hill’ to Chateau Gaillard which was built by King Richard the Lionheart as a fortress in 1196.  We opted for the town tour, which I thoroughly enjoyed; nothing special, just a walk in the heart of another charming, quaint, little French jewel along the river.  However, I wish there had been enough time to also hike up to see the ruins up close.  My camera was able to zoom in pretty well though; it looks impressive.

After our tour, we walked around on own, first along the riverfront, then up the hill a ways, overlooking town.  With only about 150 passengers onboard a river cruise, once you disperse and explore on your own, you feel like you’ve blended into the local culture as a respectful visitor (rather than arriving with thousands at a port on an ocean cruise and being seen as invaders!)

Just a really enjoyable Sunday afternoon in Les Andelys!

Les Andelys arrival

arrival in Les Andelys

Les Andelys Chateau Gaillard from town

Chateau Gaillard as seen from town

Les Andelys Chateau Gaillard

Chateau Gaillard with a zoom lens!

Les Andelys church

Les Andelys church & town square

Les Andelys from hill

Les Andelys as seen from the hill

Les Andelys Tapestry II

Avalon Tapestry II docked in Les Andelys

Les Andelys timber architecture

Les Andelys examples of timber architecture

Monet, Monet

by Don McCann

In a previous post, I mentioned about my recent Avalon Waterways cruise on the Seine River to the Normandy Region of France.  On our itinerary, the first port of call was the quaint town of Vernon, the gateway to Monet’s home at Giverny.  I think most of us probably envision lily pads on a tranquil pond when we hear the name “Giverny” and that’s JUST what we were lucky enough to see that first morning!

Vernon, France on a quiet Sunday morning

Vernon on a quiet Sunday morning

Our tour departure time allowed us enough time to disembark and wonder the little town of Vernon before we boarded the motorcoach for the short drive to Giverny.  Being a Sunday morning, Vernon was noticeably quiet and made for a delightful early walk as we quickly explored what charming & historic sights the village had to offer.  As is true with so many European locations, the church was the dominant landmark and it was a very short distance from our ship.

As we arrived in Giverny, the anticipation grew with each phase of the tour.  First, a walk from the parking lot to the outer area of the village, then into the gardens themselves, next into Monet’s home, and finally a short walk to the far end of town to the cemetery for Monet’s grave.  In the gardens, on the path, over the famed arched bridge, it all seems as though the paintings of Monet have come to life and you are directly ‘in the thick of it’!  It is an area of impressive beauty and its preservation seems to have been successful to maintain an authentic “Monet experience”.  I could say more, but the photos say it best, take a look…

Giverny, France lily pads

Giverny lily pads

Giverny, France foot bridge

Giverny, France foot bridge

Giverny, France area map

Giverny area map

Giverny, France gardens

Giverny, France gardens

Monet home in Giverny, France

Monet home in Giverny

Monet's bedroom at Giverny , France

Monet’s bedroom at Giverny

Monet's grave in Giverny, France

Monet’s grave in Giverny

for more on Avalon Waterways, click here

It Was Only a Matter of Time


by Don McCann

With all of the growing popularity of European river cruises, it’s not too surprising that one of the major ‘ocean’ cruise lines has decided to launch their own river cruise division. Recently, Crystal Cruises announced that they will begin river cruises within Europe in 2017. At the time, they released virtually no details, but earlier this week they announced some date information and even showed us a couple of renderings!

Crystal Cruises European River CruiseCrystal Cruises will begin European river cruises in March, 2017 and reservations will open in December of this year, in 2015. That far in advance, you might ask? Yes! With the demand for river cruises and the limited number of cabins onboard, they sell much further in advance than many ocean cruises.

The river vessels from Crystal will each feature standard ‘suites’ at 250 square feet,Crystal Cruises river cruise suite as well as two 500 square feet penthouse suites. Accommodations will have walk-in closets, king-size beds and the bathrooms will have double vanities. As with their ocean ships, the river ships will include their signature Palm Court, which will have a glass roof & dance floor and there will be a fitness center and spa. The ships will carry only 140 guests.

The other lines in the luxury arena of European river cruises (Uniworld, Tauck, and Scenic) will surely be interested to see how Crystal will create their own style of luxury river cruises and we’ll all be interested to see at what price point, as well. Stay tuned for more info!

First Stop: Bratislava

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

Marek in local Bratislava costume

Marek in local Bratislava costume

After sailing from Budapest, we were treated to a “Bratislava preview” with our Onboard Tour Director, Marek.  He is originally from Slovakia and he even dressed in traditional ‘costume’ to present his talk on the homeland.  Many are unaware that, after the fall of the iron curtain, Czechoslovakia actually split into two separate countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Marek told us that they simply parted ways with a friendly divorce!  Bratislava is one of the capital cities featured on this Danube itinerary.  He then ended his presentation by suggesting that we all “spend our money” in Bratislava!

Since we were arriving in the afternoon, that left time in the morning for an Apple Strudel Demonstration in the Lounge.  It was actually quite interesting to see the chef, with her two volunteers, roll out the pastry dough, work it into the right shape and thickness, and then to add the filling mixture.  Of course it looks to me as if it is one of those classic “do not attempt this at home” type of exercises.  I mean they made it look easy enough, but I doubt it would work out quite as easily in our own kitchen.  Regardless, the best part is that they passed out finished product samples during the demo and then gave us nicely printed recipes to take with us.

Arriving in Bratislava we were reminded just why we brought those umbrellas with us; yes, it was sort of rainy; not really ‘coming down’, but enough to warrant the umbrella, none the less.  Because of the weather, Bratislava was not nearly as enjoyable as it would have been with more favorable weather.  Don’t get me wrong, we made the best of it and we really liked it, but the first stop on the tour was at Bratislava Castle, up on a hill which overlooks the town down below.  This would have been a lovely view on a clear day, but for us it was a bit misty.  Regardless, we enjoyed seeing the restored exterior of the castle (which looks a bit more like a stylish fortress) and the very impressive gates at either entrance.

Once back in town, our tour continued on foot, through the cobblestone streets of charming Bratislava.  Even with the light rain, we found the old town to be delightful and interesting.  Since the Christmas Markets here were only just being set up for opening a few days later, we opted for some browsing in a few local shops.  One shop in particular converted our ‘browsing’ into ‘buying’:  ULUV Slovak Folk Art & Crafts.  Our few handicraft souvenir purchases may not have been enough to Marek truly happy, but we were quite pleased with them.

A short walk back to the ship included a few moments of confusion about how to cross the busy street using the foreign crosswalk lights, but some cars eventually stopped for us and we were back on the ship in a jiffy.  We freshened up, went in for a talk on our next port, Vienna, had some fantastic chateaubriand for dinner, then finished the evening with a folkloric show onboard in the Viking Magni’s Lounge.  So a day with a little rain, yes; an enjoyable day, ABSOLUTELY!

Apple Strudel Demonstration

Apple Strudel Demonstration


overlooking Bratislava

overlooking Bratislava


Bratislava Castle gates

Bratislava Castle gates


Bratislava - getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava – getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

check back for our next post on Vienna!

“Danube Waltz” River Cruise

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

It would have been nice to have made blog posts about our recent Danube River cruise during the cruise each day.  However, the wi-fi signal was erratic, inconsistent, and let’s just say too poor to actually work!  Therefore, I’m going to post about each day, one day at a time, to the best of my recollection.

Our cruise began in Budapest.  To fly from DFW to Budapest there are many, many options and all involve at least one connection.  Ours actually involved two connections, in Detroit and Paris, and I have to say that all flights went very well AND that our checked bag arrived with us (not always the case these days).  With an arrival time of 3:00pm in Budapest, once our cruise line representative met our flight, gathered the other couples, and directed us to the waiting minibus, it was about 5:00pm when we arrived at the ship.

The Viking Magni was docked in the very heart of Budapest, directly under the iconic Chain Bridge and across the Danube from the Royal Budapest Palace.  In other words, a very exciting setting in which to begin our Danube River cruise!  We walked onboard, gave the front desk our names, were quickly given our room keys, shown to our cabin just down the hall, and voila – we were in our cabin; so easy and relaxed, compared to traditional ocean cruises.

Viking Magni Cat D cabin 212

Viking Magni Cat D cabin 212

Having been introduced just two months ago, the Viking Magni is brand new and is the latest in Viking Cruise Line’s “long ships”, their exclusive design for modern river cruising.  She carries 190 passengers and has such attractive features as the Aquavit Lounge & Terrace overlooking the front of the ship, many cabins and suites with balconies, and an overall open & airy feeling with great views throughout.  Our cabin was a Category D French Balcony room at 135 sq ft.  What – only 135 sq ft?!  Yes, I have to admit that I was concerned about the cabin size prior to sailing, but it actually is designed very well and was quite comfortable.  There was ample storage space, including a safe and fridge, and the bathroom had a great design for the space provided AND included a heated tile floor!


Still having a bit of jet lag, but excited about our new surroundings, we decided to put on our jackets and venture across the Chain Bridge for a quick stroll over and back before dinner that first night.  There are those who say that Budapest is more beautiful at night, than in daylight, because of they way they masterfully light up the buildings & bridges.  As we made our way across, we could see the palace just ahead and from the other side we saw the famed Parliament Building down the river; all of which are no less than stunning the way they are lit at night.  Returning to the ship for dinner, I ordered the lamb chops and have to say it was the best I’ve ever had; a great first dinner onboard!

The next morning we took the included city tour, which began on the “Pest” side of the river.  The city was originally separated into two sections, “Buda” and “Pest”; a little fact of which many are unaware.  This perfectly sunny day began at Hero Square, then past the impressive local architecture to continue over the Danube to the more hilly “Buda” side.  Here we were treated to a tour inside Matthias church and the wonderful views from Fisherman’s Bastion.  The tour ended back at the ship, in time for lunch.  The sun had given way to clouds in the afternoon, but the weather was still quite agreeable for our long walk as we explored the surrounding neighborhoods and ended at the very impressive and sobering Shoes on the Danube Memorial site.

After dinner, the ship departed as almost everyone gathered up on the top deck to photograph and enjoy the nighttime sights of Budapest as seen from the Danube.  We found Budapest to be a wonderful city which is deserves a visit of more than the 30 hours we had; will have to plan to stay longer next time!

Budapest Chain Bridge at night

Budapest Chain Bridge at night

Budapest Royal Palace
Budapest Royal Palace as seen from our cabin

Budapest Heros Square
Budapest Heros Square


Budapest Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion

Budapest Parliament from Fisherman’s Bastion

Budapest Chain Bridge

Budapest Chain Bridge as we departed


Budapest Parliament at night
Budapest Parliament at night

 ……. check back for our next post on BRATISLAVA

Viviers, France

by John Lane

A dreary day, but great time on the Rhone River

We are floating up the Rhone towards Lyon and enjoying every minute of it.
Avignon was our second stop and the Palais de Papes (Palace of the Popes)
dominates the city.   This walled city dates back to the 14th century and I
always wonder how they built all this stuff so many years ago. Shopping and
sidewalk cafes dot the streets and we enjoyed all.   I enjoyed a typical
french lunch at a local restaurant compliments of Tauck which they gave
each guest 20 Euros to immerse themselves in the local French food…and
we did it was wonderful.

Viviers, Fr

Viviers – unique trees lining the street into the city center

Viviers, a small ancient city of about 4,000 is a maze of small
cobblestone streets and not much life as most of the people have left the
town and moved to the countryside.   We did visit a local potter and
purchased two bowls that would of cost three times the cost in the U.S.   I
will enjoy those and put the chocolate sauce, carmel or basil mustard that I bought in Avignon in them…YUM! Lyon will be our last stop and hoping for better weather but on the river all things are good and relaxing!

Note: John is onboard the Swiss Emerald with Tauck River Cruises this week, sailing from Arles to Lyon, France and will be posting blog updates as his time allows; check back for more!

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