To explain the title: Due to low water on the Rhine and Danube we had to change ships, from the Emerald Sky to the Emerald Destiny, stopping at the emerald Star for lunch. Towards the end of the cruise we had to change again from the Emerald Destiny to the Emerald Sun. Although I would have rather avoided this, it did give me the chance to see four ships covering all three generations of the Emerald fleet.
Cabins and Facilities
Starting with the Sky (1st generation): The cabin was of adequate size, very clean with good storage (mainly consisting of 6 huge drawers). My only criticisms are: the wardrobe was half filled by a mini bar and safe meaning that they was less than 2 feet of hanging space (this issue has been resolved on 2nd and 3rd generation ships - more later) and Insufficient storage in the bathroom (only two shallow cupboards and no shelves)- my wife had nowhere to put her creams and potions. Other issues on the ship were that there was only one central flight of stairs causing problems at meal times and the layout of the central buffet bar in the dining room (hot food was all at one end, once again causing crowding in one area) A final niggle was that the very popular cook, providing eggs to order only had a single burner and pan leading to long queues around his station (which was also where the toasters were located). It is worth mentioning that the Emerald Star is also 1st generation and has exactly the same issues. On to the Emerald Destiny (3rd generation): The minibar and safe have been move out of the wardrobe, effectively doubling the amount of useful hanging space, but there relocation has led to the removal of two of the six drawers mentioned earlier. This would have been acceptable but for the fact that two more drawers have been removed and replaced with a small dressing table and chair. Further detrimental changes have been made in the bathroom: The two cupboards that were available in the Sky have been removed and replaces with a small shelf and a poorly designed under sink unit with awkward side access. The shower door now opens inward, which results in a user of above average size having to flatten themselves against the wall of the shower so that they can get out. Worse of all there is now a significant step between the bedroom and the bathroom - I lost count of how many times I tripped over it. On the plus side the egg cook on the Destiny now has two burners doubling his egg output! The Emerald Sun (2nd generation) Has the same storage layout as the Destiny, but the bathroom has much better storage and no treacherous step. It also has the improved buffet layout of the Destiny. Overall the 2nd generation ships would be my choice given what i know now.
A very similar experience on all of the ships: All of the meals were at fixed times, meaning that the dining room went from empty to full in around 5 minute. Sitting near to the ends of the dining room kept the noise down to a bearable level. The tables are not allocated so you sit where you like at each meal. Some people did not like this, but I enjoyed the chance to sit with different people at each meal. Breakfast was the usual buffet affair offering both hot and cold food. Quantity and quality were both excellent, (including the much mentioned eggs). The afternoon meal offered both hot meals selected from a menu and served by the waiters and a buffet selection. The evening meal was waiter service only and was usually four or five course consisting of three main choices (Meat, Fish and Vegetarian). Its worth noting the the portions were fairly small so five courses was not too much. In addition Steak, Roast Chicken and Grill Salmon were always available if nothing on the menu took your fancy. For those with a larger appetite there was afternoon tea and a late night snack. All of the ships had a Tea / Coffee station situated in the lounge and in the pool area. A second station in the lounge would have been useful as there were often queues for hot drinks. Talking of drinks - soft drinks and alcoholic drinks are served free with lunch and dinner. The waiters were usually very quick to refill any empty glasses.
These pretty much followed a formulae: A guided walk around the town followed by some free time to explore on your own. The guides were all good and used a "Quietvox" system (this mean the guide had a small radio transmitter and the tourists all had a small receiver and earpiece - so no struggling to hear what they were saying). Special mention must be giving to Jim - a Lederhosen wearing Scotsman who was our guide in one of the German towns (I forget which) he was absolutely brilliant and funny as well. One thing that is not immediately obvious from the brochures is that the ship does not always dock within walking distance of the town - a short coach ride was often the order of the day.
This review is becoming longer that I intended so to cut things short:
The staff on the ships were very friendly, efficient and helpful, although those on the Sky were significantly better that any of the others, always seeming to go "the extra mile"
The sun deck was not always available - having to be closed for three days to facilitate passing under low bridges (I was told this was normal, not caused by low water levels)
Entertainment was ok, consisting mainly of a resident musician / singer and a library of movies. As dinner usually went on until 2130 - 2200 this level of entertainment was fine
I have to mention the slick and speedy way we (and our luggage) were transferred from on ship to the other to get around low water areas. I cannot think how they could have improved on the process - other than the nuisance of having to pack and unpack it was completely painless. I suspect this was due in a large part to the efforts of Wes, our cruise director who stayed with us throughout. Wes was always available, cheerful and helpful working something like a 16 hour day for 14 days solid. He was an absolute superstar.
In summary a great cruise with only a few minor niggles - I would definitely do it again