Enjoyable but Underwhelming River Cruise - be awar
We are very frequent cruisers (50+ ocean cruises) but we recently took our first ever river cruise aboard the Emerald Sun travelling from Budapest to Nuremberg. The holiday didn't start off well with the airline (KLM) arranged by Emerald cancelling the outgoing flights due to 'high winds' whereby instead of arriving at the ship at lunchtime it was after 6.00 pm we eventually arrived. Despite our late arrival the transfer arrangements worked well and we received a warm welcome on board. Prior to the cruise Emerald described their cabins as some of the biggest on the river cruise market. We had nothing to compare this with but when we were shown to our cabin - a panorama balcony cabin - we found it to be very, very compact. It was the smallest cabin we have ever experienced. It did have a large bathroom, probably disproportionately large when compared to the size of the cabin with the entrance sliding door only 40 cms or so away from the side (pillow end) of the bed. The cabin was well appointed with drawer space but seemingly at the expense of hanging wardrobe space. One half of the wardrobe contained the fridge and safe so the remaining hanging space was even too short for trousers folded in half on a trouser hanger or blouses, etc. There was a very large flat screen TV with a reasonable amount of channels and free to view movies and the electrical sockets required the standard 'European' adapter. The sockets were poorly placed, however, particularly for my wife as there wasn't a mirror near to the sockets where she could 'do' her hair or apply her makeup. We had our own hairdryer with us with a relatively long lead so my wife resorted to sitting (or kneeling) round the corner in the entrance hallway, which was in itself poorly illuminated and using the full length darkened mirror - not ideal. There was adequate lighting and mirrors in the bathroom for her to apply her makeup. One omission that I would have expected to find in such a modern ship was usb charging points to prevent having to fiddle about with adapters, etc. As we arrived so late on the ship we made our way to the main lounge as quickly as we could and did see the last 15 minutes or so of the performance of the Hungarian folk group. They were very good as were the Bavarian 'oompah oompah' band on our last evening. All other entertainment was staff led and while the resident pianist was okay a decent singer or two would have made all the difference. As stated at the outset we have nothing to compare this experience against so perhaps this is the 'standard' aboard such relatively 'high end' river cruises. The Gala Welcome Dinner was quite a disappointment. There were relatively few choices, again this may be standa5rd across the river cruise industry, and the food that was served was at best warm. I eat anything but my wife is less adventurous when it comes to food. There were a few daily 'alternatives' always available such as clear soup, chicken breast, rump steak, which she resorted to on a number of occasions. I asked for a steak once - medium rare - that was delivered very well done. I would point out though that most of the meat served on the cruise was very good quality and very tender, but it was seldom served hot. Breakfasts offered the standard fare and a reasonable variety but again the hot food was seldom hot. I'm not a great lover of warm beans and scrambled egg. The breads, cold cuts, cheeses, etc., were, however, very good so I resorted to those for most breakfasts. Coffee on the ship was excellent with modern bean fed coffee machines available and delightful short crust biscuits to enjoy with the coffee. Bus and/or walking tours were included in this cruise and were very well delivered, with excellent guides providing the clearly well informed commentary. The audio devices provided worked very well. All the towns/cities we visited on this cruise were most enjoyable. These included Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Melk, Passau, Regensberg, with Vienna being the exception, not because of the scenery, but because after the walking tour we had 2 hours free time before the earliest bus back to the ship. It was a very cold day and because it was a Sunday all the 'regular' shops were closed. Highlight of the cruise was probably the evening sail in Budapest with all the important buildings and landmarks illuminated. What we didn't realise about this cruise was the 25 locks to navigate between Budapest and Nuremberg. Experiencing some of these in daylight was actually very interesting, but actually quite alarming on occasion when these were navigated at night. We were often awoken with loud bangs and shudders caused by the ship coming into contact with the lock walls. Coming awake on such occasions it was actually quite disorientating looking out the full size window to see 'nothing' but a dark, wet lock wall only a few inches away. Some might even find this experience quite claustrophobic. We really enjoy sitting on the top deck of the ship watching the landscape go by but when negotiating some locks we were sometimes restricted from doing due to low lying lock structures, etc. This was most evident on the last section of the cruise when were negotiating the Maine-Danube canal and the top deck was closed for more than a day due to low bridges, etc. If we are to repeat our river cruise experience we would certainly do our research beforehand and avoid rivers with locks, or at least so many locks. As part of our cruise we had a 'premium drinks package' and the ship had a good selection of beers, wines and spirits to allow us to fully enjoy that package. Dress code was quite casual throughout the cruise. I took from the cruise brochures that I would occasionally wear a jacket and tie, so I took a dress jacket, a couple of appropriate shirts and suitable ties, but when I wore it to the Welcome Gala dinner I realised immediately that I was completely overdressed so it never 'escaped' from the wardrobe again during the cruise. So all in all a reasonably enjoyable and relaxing cruise holiday, but not one that we were 'blown away' with. If we are to consider another river cruise we may check out the 'competition.
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