Driving a rental car through a country when you can’t read the signage really ups the vacation tension factor. It’s fun to see the sights of course, but not exactly relaxing. 

That’s why boarding our Emerald Cruise Line ship proved to be such a contrast. We’d loved our days on the road, but there was something soothing about handing over travel control to the white-uniformed captain and his crew. We’d see all the sights between Amsterdam and Budapest but someone else would be in charge of getting us there—the lazy joys of river cruising.  

The fun began before we set sail with a private boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam. Gliding along ancient waterways was the perfect way to settle into a cruising state of mind. 

Later, after boarding, we watched through the glass doors of our suite as the ship pulled away from the dock. We unpacked and congratulated ourselves for booking this mode of travel. There would be no more traffic and no schlepping of suitcases from car to hotel for a week. We had a floating home! But lovely as our suite was, we didn’t linger—there was too much to see and do. 

We started with a visit to the bridge, and drinks on the sunny upper deck. The captain was eager to explain how his huge collection of dials and gauges worked and even offered us a chance to take the wheel. We’d have happily chatted with him and lolled in the sun forever but soon had to head to the lounge for our first port talk.   

Never having explored this part of Europe, we found the daily port talk covering the next day’s adventures made it easy to plan. Emerald offers shore excursions each day, most of which are walking or small group bus tours of local sites, but you’re also welcome to explore on your own. Each port talk gives you an orientation to the next day’s stop, explaining whether you’ll dock in easy walking distance to a town or if you’ll need transportation. You can choose between what Emerald offers, or hire one of the cabs or private tour companies that are always gathered at the dock. A word to the wise – if you choose to explore on your own, be sure to arrange for a return that’s at least an hour in advance of sailing. If you’re not on board when the ship leaves, it will be up to you to make your way to the next port! 

Emerald Cruises Grand Balcony Suite

After the port talk, dinner was next on the agenda and we were impressed not only by the extensive menu choices and the elegant dining room décor but also by the service. The chef and his team pride themselves on creating menus that celebrate the cuisine of each region the ship sails through, so our first night’s dinner included such Dutch treats as herring, bitterballenkrokets, rookworst (sausages) and snert (a traditional pea soup). We tried a little of everything, trying hard to remember that each day would bring a different collection of culinary treats. Is it any wonder that cruise guests come home heavier than when they left?  

The post-dinner entertainment that evening was low-key but charming—a local band who came aboard to play traditional Dutch tunes in the lounge. Afterwards, we headed to our suite to watch the lights on the river bank twinkling in the darkness. We knew that the week ahead would be filled with the wonders of Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. There would be fascinating medieval towns and hilltop castles to explore, and we’d ride the ship’s bikes through the countryside and along the rivers our ship was sailing. We’d visit wineries and enjoy guided tours of not one, but four exciting capital cities along the wayand Emerald’s talented staff and crew would handle every detail.  

We were already captivated by the magic of river cruising and it was only day one. 

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