Built expressly to sail into the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Emerald Harmony is Emerald Waterways' first ship built exclusively for the Mekong River. It's a unique feature, as most other river cruise ships plying the Mekong are forced to dock in a large industrial port outside of the city and bus passengers in.
Functionality aside, the ship also feels homey, like a comfortable boutique hotel where, at the end of each day, passengers can seek respite from some of the less comfortable aspects -- lack of clean drinking water, extreme heat and humidity, and overt poverty -- of a trip to Southeast Asia.
Since debuting in Europe in 2014, Emerald Waterways is perhaps best known for its fleet of contemporary "Star Ships," which combine affordability (they are a fraction of the cost of their most upscale brethren, Scenic) with contemporary design and inclusive features.
Emerald Waterways has brought the same elegant but understated style to Emerald Harmony, which outwardly looks more like a yacht than a traditional river ship. Capable of carrying just 84 passengers, it offers a nearly 2-to-1 crew ratio and a wide variety of accommodations, from value-added cabins to suites that span 450 square feet and include wraparound balconies and private hot tubs.
From the neutral palette in the spacious cabins to the cozy layout of the plush furniture in the ship's main lounge, the calming onboard atmosphere truly does make the ship feel like home.
The vessel also includes some unexpected touches like a soaring atrium, a swimming pool with a retractable sun shade, an onboard hair stylist and even self-service laundry facilities (a rarity on river cruise ships and one which we found exceedingly helpful, as the climate necessitated at least two wardrobe changes a day).
Overall, we found the ship to be exceptional. What it lacks in entertainment options and cabins with traditional balconies, it more than makes up for with its stellar shore excursions and large picture windows. The cruise director and crew go out of their way to make sure passengers are comfortable, and dining options are considerably varied for a ship of Emerald Harmony's size. It's a great way for Southeast Asia first-timers to experience the region in style.
Passengers on Emerald Harmony include a mix of people from the U.S., Canada and the UK, as well as Australia, due to the country's relative proximity to Asia. (The line does business in Australia as Evergreen.) On our sailing, passengers ranged in age from early 30s to late 80s with an average age in the late 60s.
Daytime: Emerald's dress code is relaxed and informal, but that's especially true on Emerald Harmony, where the weather is hot and humid all year. Passengers will be most comfortable in long, loose clothing that will protect them from sun and mosquitoes while meeting modesty requirements for the many temples they'll visit. Sturdy shoes are a must.
Evening: Casual attire is fine for dinner, but some cruisers choose to wear collared shirts or informal dresses. Shorts and flip-flops are not allowed in the restaurant during dinner.
Not permitted: Bathing suits are not permitted in the restaurant, and shoulders and knees must be covered to enter temples ashore.