Active European River Cruises on the Rhine & Moselle
By John Roberts.
When it comes to the great rivers of Europe, those often enjoyed on a delightful river cruise, the Moselle is too often overlooked.
This stunningly gorgeous river is a tributary of the Rhine, and it’s notable for its terraced vineyards that grow some of Germany’s best Riesling.
The Moselle is also where I started my “Legends of the Moselle, Rhine and Main” river cruise with Emerald Waterways, embarking in the scenic upriver town of Bernkastel-Kues.
Our ship for the week, Emerald Destiny, would take us on a journey to the towns of Cochem and Koblenz before reaching the Rhine River. Then along this great waterway we would visit Miltenberg and Wertheim in the Lower Franconia region of Bavaria and continuing to Wurzburg and Bamberg as we traversed the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.
The entire voyage was similar in many regards to the more than a dozen European river cruises I have enjoyed on the Rhine and Danube rivers, with walking tours of the towns and villages alongside hearty meals onboard the ship. We also had a full menu of castles, ruins, churches, terraced hillside vineyards and charming towns that provided wonderful eye candy as we sailed lazily along the winding rivers.
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The cruise on Emerald Destiny, however, differed in many important ways to me. I was particularly drawn to try this cruise because of Emerald Waterways’ new EmeraldACTIVE program.
Offered on all of Emerald’s European river cruises, the program offers a wide range of cruise entertainment and activities led by activity managers. Traditionally, river cruises have entertainment offerings that typically include a piano player in the main lounge each afternoon and at night after dinner, as well as a selection of guest performers who come onboard in certain ports to highlight song and dance styles from their region of Europe.
You might also have cooking demonstrations or an activity like a painting class.
However, the EmeraldACTIVE program delivers a more energetic vibe, ideal for families with kids as well as any travelers who are simply young at heart.
Each day, passengers were offered a broad array of cool things to do, from exercises to interactive entertainment, led by our engaging Activity Manager Harry Jordan, who hails from the U.K.
The ship does not have a piano player, by the way. I dove right in to participate in as much as possible, and in fact, I had one of the most fun cruises I have ever had — on the rivers, or anywhere else, to be honest.
A Week on the Move
Bernkastel-Kues, our embarkation port, is a small town of just more than 7,000 residents that sits in the Middle Moselle region, the heart of wine-growing Germany. Highlights include the colorful half-timber buildings and the Medieval Market Square.
We kicked off our EmeraldACTIVE week with a 12-mile bike ride around the town and countryside. Emerald Destiny carries a fleet of bikes onboard, and passengers can sign them out for personal use in each port or on guided bike excursions led by local guides.
We docked for an overnight on the bank opposite the bustling town and with the iconic Burgruine-Landshut Castle ruins looming overhead. The castle has been a ruin since a fire in the late 17th century, and Harry led a large group of passengers on a post-lunch afternoon hike to take in the views from high above the river and town. The hike was the second active endeavor of that first full day.
I was really liking the active nature of the cruise so far. I mixed in a morning run, as well, to round out my day.
The full scope of the EmeraldACTIVE program became clear during that evening when Harry, who is a trained singer and dancer, gave his “Not Quite Diamond” cabaret performance in the ship’s main lounge. Harry ran down a nearly complete list of all the Neil Diamond classics, teasing us until the very end when he feigned signing off for the night with one notable omission from his song list. Alas, the night was complete when we all joined in to a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline” before finishing off our cocktails and heading back to our cabins.
The EmeraldACTIVE program also features a lineup of fitness-focused sessions. Pilates took place outside on the Sun Deck; morning stretching classes were in the lounge; and yoga and aqua aerobics were conducted in the indoors pool area. (Emerald Destiny’s large indoor pool with a sun roof can be opened in good weather conditions.)
You also can enjoy petanque, a game similar to boules, as well as golf putting competitions on the Sun Deck.
Activities for all Fitness Levels
AmaWaterways was the first river cruise line to offer a wellness program and onboard wellness hosts, and that line’s programming is decidedly more challenging and aimed at exercise fanatics.
But the Emerald Waterways program has more activities and a broader appeal — designed mostly to keep people entertained and interacting with one another.
The activity manager is essentially a co-cruise manager. The position adds a lot of value for passengers, says Ray Muehlbauer, corporate cruise director for Emerald Waterways.
“What our Activity Managers do is probably five main categories,” he says. “One is the EmeraldACTIVE program, supporting it together with the professional guides. That helped us massively because now we have the guides and someone from the ship who can help the guests and answer any questions.
“Plus, all the wellness activities. We’ve had requests from people to be able to do morning stretch, yoga, Pilates and maybe some mild walking on the deck. On top of that, we do onshore activities (like the hike in Bernkastel-Kues) to show the guest a little more of the towns and cities. Maybe take them to a beer garden or something like that, or for bike rides, hikes, walks — whatever the city has to offer.
“When we’re cruising, we we provide nightly entertainment and game shows, trivia, karaoke, passenger talent shows and dance classes, you name it.”
I had fun doing yoga, daily runs, bike rides, walks and hikes during the days in port. But it was indeed the daily afternoon and night-time activities that made this cruise a standout.
Most activities were well-attended, with more than a dozen passengers participating in the putting contests and Pilates sessions. The trivia sessions were packed and lively in the main lounge. A handful joined me as Harry led yoga and water aerobics classes.
That said, most passengers I mingled with didn’t book this cruise because of the focus on activities, though it was a bonus for many who enjoy being active and maintaining some daily fitness regimen.
The crescendo of the whole voyage, however, was the ship’s end-of-week disco dance party. Harry spun tunes as DJ, and the dance floor was packed with 70-plus people at a time. It was raining men, indeed — and women and crew members — as we were heaving and whirling all around the floor with arms pumping late into the evening.
The Week’s Itinerary
After leaving Bernkastel-Kues, it was on to Cochem, home of the imperial Cochem Castle and its majestic views over the Moselle Valley.
I began my day with run along the river before joining the walking tour of the town and shuttle ride up to the castle, which I think has the most picturesque and iconic river views of any destination along the Moselle or Rhine Rivers. We were blessed with an especially sunny day, which made the image even more stunning.
Emerald Destiny set sail at 1 p.m., and we enjoyed lunch and activities onboard as we journeyed toward Koblenz, which sits at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine. A few of us went out for an evening walk and a couple beers in Koblenz.
The next day, passengers rode the cable car up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress during a drizzly morning. I ran across a bridge crossing the Rhine and then up to the fortress before taking the cable car back.
At noon, we set sail for Miltenberg. This period of afternoon cruising took us through the Middle Rhine Gorge, always a highlight of a Rhine River Cruise, as you get to pass the famed Lorelei rock and dozens of historic villages, castles and ruins.
Sailing continued overnight and into the next morning before we arrived at Miltenberg for a city tour and short hike up to Miltenberg Castle. The ship then sailed and we would meet it later as in Wertheim. We were free to carry on with our adventures in these two splendid German towns.
I was able to break off for a quick run after our tour in Miltenberg, and when we arrived in Wertheim, I found a secluded hiking route up to the castle there. The weather was hot, and by the end of the day, after exploring the two cities, I was more than ready for a hearty dinner and cold beers back onboard Emerald Destiny.
Harry delivered his second cabaret act after dinner, sending us off the bed with the songs of the Rat Pack still on repeat in our heads.
Our ship arrived in Wurzburg harbor the next morning, and after a morning stretch session with Harry, passengers were off to tour the Wurzburg Residence — a UNESCO World Heritage site and a beautiful baroque palace — and a visit one of the country’s oldest and largest winery for a tasting session.
We had free time to explore the historic old town area of Wurzburg, and many from our ship settled in for a glass of wine and snacks or a sausage at a café or wine bar near the Old Main Bridge (Alte Mainbrucke), while some ventured to the Market Square to pick up souvenirs and sweets.
We then sailed from late afternoon until the next morning until we reached Bamberg. During the evening, we enjoyed a festive time on Emerald Destiny with the farewell gala dinner featuring choices of Chateaubriand (roasted beef filet) or salmon and chorizo, followed by Baked Alaska for dessert.
Afterwards, dozens of people hit the dance floor as Harry played DJ for Disco Night. I have never seen such enthusiastic passenger participation on the dance floor. We worked up a sweat and sang along to familiar hits from the 70s and 80s.
In Bamberg, another city tour was on tap. The ship arrived after lunch, and we shuttled to town to explore the cathedral, a garden and other sights.
But the highlight on this day would a sampling of the city’s famed “smoke beer.” The stout dark brew owes its smoky flavor to the process that uses malted barley dried over an open flame. We all washed down a couple salty pretzels with the cold and flavorful beers.
This unique taste of Germany was a pleasant way to toast the end of a great voyage with new friends — half of our week’s 170 passengers were from the U.S., with a quarter each from the U.K. and Australia.
The next morning, the journey would end in Nuremberg, and we would all go our separate ways, but with fond memories of a special trip.
Onboard Emerald Destiny
The ship carries up to 182 passengers in 92 staterooms (two solo cabins), and it basically owns the standard design you’ll find among almost every other European river ship. There are four decks, a Sun Deck up top, small gym, main dining room and a bar/lounge area that also has a small library and coffee area.
But Emerald Destiny and all other Emerald Waterways ships are unique with a large indoor pool at the back of the ship. This space was my favorite aside from being out on the Sun Deck.
The pool area has loungers with soft cushions, foot stools and a bar. There is a swim-against jet in the large pool (4.5 feet deep), and the activity manager offers aqua aerobics classes in the water and yoga sessions on the pool deck. The roof opens above the pool when the weather is nice. The pool area also serves as a movie theater at night, as the water is drained and pool floor raised to provide more seating. A screen drops down, and a surround-sound system offers the perfect environment as you can watch select recent releases each night.
The lounge also offers plenty of comfy seating, and an area near the front of the lounge offers bar-style seating or tables so you can enjoy the views over cocktails or during lunch or breakfast. A small buffet is set up daily in the lounge for a lighter breakfast and lunch option.
An outside deck at the bow in front of the lounge is also available with a few lounge chairs, and this is a relaxing spot to enjoy the scenery as you sail or navigate locks.
Cabins are spacious and comfortable enough, with plenty of storage. Minibar drinks and snacks come with an added fee, but water bottles are replenished in your room as needed. You don’t have a full walkout balcony but a flexible indoor/outdoor space that converts with the touch of a button that drops down the glass to railing level so you can enjoy the fresh air and views.
Check out John’s video tour of the Emerald Destiny’s public areas and cabins!
The main restaurant features a breakfast and lunch buffet with select featured menu items daily. The highlight of the voyage for many was the traditional Bavarian lunch feast put out as we sailed from Miltenberg to Wertheim. This featured sausages, pork loin, sauerkraut, spaetzle and pretzels — with servers circulating around the room handing out mugs of German lager at a furious pace.
Dinner includes appetizers, soups, main courses (meat, fish and vegetarian choices) and desserts. Wine, beer and soft drinks are included in your fare for lunch and dinner.
Some of the delicacies we enjoyed: onion soup, mushroom risotto, forest mushroom cappuccino, trilogy of lamb, breaded hoki fish filet, pork tenderloins, poke bowl (tofu) and sliced duck breast and leg.
Desserts included panna cotta, pumpkin seed parfait and Black Forest cake.
I found the service to be excellent, and the crew always on the lookout for how they can help and ready with a friendly greeting and smile. This was a nice change from lukewarm hospitality I have seen on other river cruises in recent years.
I should note that the itinerary, sailing from the Moselle and on through to the Rhine-Main-Danube on the way to Nuremberg takes you through numerous locks and under low bridges such that the Sun Deck is off limits to passengers for most of the latter stages of the cruise. This could be a disappointment if you aren’t aware of this detail on these itineraries. However, Emerald Destiny handles this nicely by offering the pool area as an alternative, with wonderful panoramic views and an open roof to the skies above.
Next time you’re on an Emerald Waterways European river cruise, head out back to the pool, and you just might find me there again.
In a nutshell, John says …
- Emerald Waterways has carved out a space offering affordable and higher-energy fun river cruises.
- The new EmeraldACTIVE program ensures passengers will always find an activity to keep them entertained and engaged.
- The indoor pool (it transforms into a cinema at night) is a highlight of an attractive and comfortable ship, and service stands out.
At 182 passengers, the space-per-passenger ratio is a bit smaller than on the spacious boats of the luxury river cruise lines.
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