by Theresa Storm

From an infinity pool to an evening cinema, this ship puts a new shimmer on river cruising.

Emerald StarCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

“In Bavaria, you can’t divide church and beer,” says Daniela, the ever-smiling tour director of Emerald Waterways’ almost spanking new Emerald Star. We see plenty of the former and drink lots of the latter on our one-week Danube Delights voyage between Budapest and Nuremberg, plus three-night Classic Prague land extension.

Although her comment seemed, perhaps, a touch irreverent, we learn its truth on an included afternoon tour of the ornate Baroque cathedral at Weltenburg Abbey, followed by a salty pretzel and frothy stein of dark Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel brewed in the world’s oldest monastery brewery, founded right here in 1050. Not only is it old, it’s famous. Three times, it has won the international dunkel (dark) title at the World Beer Cup awards. 

“Church and beer, church and beer, all one needs is church and beer!” these are the lyrics I imagine for a new Broadway musical starring happy and boisterous Benedictine monks, the ilk of Sister Act.

Emerald Star_peopleCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

But perhaps not! Truth is we did not see a single monk (only 14 now reside here) amongst the throng of visitors, many whiling away the hot summer day at umbrella-shaded wooden tables in the courtyard biergarten. If beer is your thing, Bavaria is your utopia.

It’s day seven, the last of our Danube voyage, and our only full day in Germany, the fifth country this week for those of us who took the optional Discover More Tour to fairytale-like Ceský Krumlov, (pronounced Cheskee Kroomlov) in the Czech Republic (well worth the €75 extra cost).

Today’s jam-packed itinerary (the fullest of our voyage) sees us embracing Bavaria with Oktoberfest gusto, first with a too-quick tour of medieval Regensburg, home of Wurstkuche, the world’s oldest sausage kitchen, then a themed Bavarian lunch back onboard with heaps of bratwurst and sauerkraut, served, of course, with a sediment-laden Bavarian beer.

As the temperature reaches 34°C, we’re downstream from Weltenburg atop the deck of a ferry looking longingly at the scores of rafters and bathers splashing in the cool water of the scenic Danube Gorge, fenced by precipitous 90-metre cliffs.

Emerald Star_PoolCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

Hot and sticky, I have a one-track mind as we rejoin Emerald Star in Kehlheim, embarking along with a quintet of Bavarian entertainers clad in lederhosen (imagine leather in such heat!). Before they break out the oom pah pah tunes, I bolt for the infinity pool with a view, located in a stern-facing sunroom, jumping gratefully into its refreshing aqua waters.

Though it is not large, a pool is a novelty on river cruises. Even so, Emerald Waterways took the sunroom design a step further, adding both a retractable sun roof and floor that covers the pool, transforming the space into a cozy evening cinema, an industry first. It is here I find my liquid emerald bliss. Floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides allow swimming or lounging while sightseeing. A light food and bar menu (call for service, extra charge) and self-service hot beverage station and bottled water means bathing suit-clad guests don’t have to don cover-ups and flip-flops to troop to the lounge.

Emerald Star_loungeCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

Claiming more amenities and state-of-the-art features than other lines, innovative founder Glen Moroney, also owner of the Scenic Tours Group and luxury river line Scenic Cruises, set his sights on revolutionizing European river cruising with nearly all-inclusive Emerald Waterways.

The first new line to set sail on Europe’s rivers in more than six years, the four-star Emerald Waterways was born in Spring 2014 with the launch of two edgy, custom-built “star-ships”: Emerald Star and Emerald Sky. Two more ships joined the fleet in 2015- Emerald Dawn and Emerald Sun and Emerald Belle will arrive in 2016.

With the growing popularity of river cruising, it’s surprising there were no new players on the water for so long but, like all fine gems, design dazzler Emerald was worth waiting for. Hoping to appeal to a younger crowd, Emerald’s 182-guest ships are sleek and contemporary, offering short eight-day sails, like this one, for the working set, first-timers just wanting a taste and experienced cruisers seeking greater value.

Emerald Star_AtriumCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

Everything is clean and minimalist. Space-age touches immediately catch your eye, like multi-image video walls and lots of glass and chrome in reception, plus sparkling fiber optic chandeliers suspended in the atrium that look even better at night. A bright plexi-glass art wall leads into the Horizon Lounge and art nooks frame the corridor to upper Horizon Deck staterooms, where my home away from home was located.

As soon as I opened the door with a magnetic chip key, the bright panoramic floor-to-ceiling window of my180-square-foot Panorama Balcony Suite draws me like a moth to light. Unlike the French balcony typical on river ships, this category has an indoor teak deck with two chairs and a table, making it usable regardless of weather. Best of all, a hydraulic switch quietly lowers the window’s upper half, allowing fresh air in and making for much better photo taking.

Emerald Star_Balc SuiteCourtesy of Emerald Waterways

Outdoor seekers with energy to spare can head up to the sundeck to burn it off on the walking/running track, putting green or giant chess set. Emerald also has a tiny onboard fitness room and a fleet of good bikes to explore ports of call.

For water babies like me, though, hands-down it’s the cool pool and the sunny, tranquil sunroom that beckon every time – frosty Bavarian beer close at hand, of course.

Originally published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Winter 2016 issue.

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