One complimentary shore excursion is offered as part of the Emerald Waterways' fare in each port. Excursions are generally two to four hours long and can be a walking or bus tour, or a combination of both. On some tours a tasting might also be included -- in the Netherlands, chances are you'll be nibbling cheese, while in Germany it might be beer or sausage. Every included walking tour has a gentle walking option for those who can't do the full-length version.
Additionally, one "active" excursion is offered free of charge on most seven-night sailings as well. Active excursions are generally hikes or bike tours. These tours always fill up fast so sign up as quickly as possible. We found our "hike" was billed as being much more strenuous than it actually was.
Several extra-fee excursions, called Discover More tours, are also offered on sailings. For instance, on our sailing extra-cost options included a bus tour to Rothenburg, and a tour of Bruhl Castle. How many additional tours depends on the ports visited in a sailing. Itineraries that feature bigger cities will typically have more extra-fee offerings; those that visit smaller towns might have only one or two per sailing. These excursions go further away from the boat's port of call, generally requiring longer bus rides. These excursions usually take place at the same time as the complimentary offering, so typically you can't do both.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Daytime entertainment is limited to cards and board games in the Horizon Lounge and the occasional enrichment lecture. The in-room TV offers 25 channels, but eight are ship-related and more than 10 are news, sports or in German. However, a large selection of on-demand movies, both classic films and new releases are available free of charge.
In the evening, entertainment comes in the form of a piano player in the Horizon Lounge (expect a lot of elevator-type versions of popular songs), the periodic movie in the pool area -- on our cruise, the movie choices included Spectre, The Intern and Everest -- or packed sessions of trivia (sadly, held just once on our cruise). On one night the lounge transformed into a "disco," with the piano player selecting a bizarre selection of tunes (Rod Stewart, ABBA, the Bee Gees, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers and Billy Idol, as just a few examples) from his computer. People did get up and dance for about an hour, before heading off to bed.
Also one night per sailing, the crew performs in a "talent" show. Not meant to be taken seriously, it's wonderfully terrible -- bring your sense of humor and you won't be disappointed.
On days that require longer sailing between ports, you'll find occasional lectures or demonstrations from the cruise director, the chef or a special guest. Lectures might consist of talks about German food and drink or the contemporary state of affairs in a country you're visiting. Demonstrations can include how to make traditional apple strudel or glass blowing (an expert comes onboard for that one).
Other than that the only other enrichment are the cruise director's 15-minute evening talk about the next day's activities.
Emerald Star is a quiet ship with only one lounge to speak of. Horizon is a modern space dominated by black, white and gray decor with pops of bright pink chairs and ottomans, Horizon is the place to hang out during the day and in the evening to read, socializing or play cards. It's also where all the ship's entertainment and enrichment is held, as well as the afternoon tea. At the front of Horizon is a bank of bar tables that look out over the bow of the ship, offering a great view. In front of that is an outdoor "terrace" with tables, perfect to take your light breakfast, lunch or coffee on a pleasant day.
Horizon is the place to go for 24/7 coffee, espresso, cappuccino, hot chocolate and macchiato, available via the DIY machine near the entrance. It's very popular on mornings on which excursions leave early. It's also popular in the half-hour or so before dinner is served when the cruise director gives his talk about the next day. For those who need a snack, small containers of peanuts are placed on the tables.
Near the entrance to Horizon you'll find the ship's "library," which is really just a shelf with a handful of coffee table picture books, as well as annotated copies of USA Times, Britain Today, The Canadian and Australia Today, and a daily crossword puzzle.
There is also a bar in the pool area with a smaller drink menu than what is offered in Horizon, as well as a coffee machine (also with a smaller choice than the machine in the Horizon lounge). Every time we stopped by the pool, we never saw anyone behind the bar.
Emerald Star has one pool -- a beautiful indoor infinity pool -- at the back of the ship on Deck 3. It is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. There are only a handful of places to sit so it can get quite crowded. Pick a time when other passengers are still off the ship or attending a lecture and demo and you'll find it much more comfortable. Aqua aerobics are being added in 2019.
The only outdoor recreation on Emerald Star is a small putting green and a walking/jogging track -- six times around is 1 mile. There's also a life-sized tic-tac-toe board on the artificial grass.
The pool is indoors, though the roof can be opened on nice days for open-air swimming.
All of Emerald Star's services can be found on Deck 2, including the reception desk where you register upon first getting on the boat, pick up and drop off the disembarkation/boarding card needed any time you get off the boat in a port, purchase items from the shop and settle your account at the end of the sailing.
The shop is just a few display cases of jewelry and watches, though you can also purchase toiletries, an Emerald Waterways cookbook, as well as audio clips of the catchy birthday and anniversary songs played at dinnertime for celebrations.
Also tucked away on Deck 2 is the cruise director's desk. Here you'll find printouts of recommended attractions in different ports, information about the boat or the rivers traversed and phrase sheets in the local language. The cruise director can also help arrange other experiences in ports if the included excursions don't tickle your fancy. On the sailing one week prior to ours, the cruise director arranged tee times for a couple of men on a golf course near Vienna.
There are not DIY launderettes on Emerald Star, but the ship will launder and iron items for a by-piece fee or an all-you-can-fit-in-the-bag price of 24 euros (without ironing, its 19 euros).
Emerald Star has a small gym with three pieces of equipment (a stationary bike, rowing machine and bench press) as well as a handful of free weights and some mats for stretching or yoga -- though there's little room for either.
The top-deck track is good for walking and jogging (when it's open); it's six laps for 1 mile. The track doesn't open before 7 a.m. and closes by 10 p.m. The top deck is also closed on any river on which there are low bridges (the Main, for instance).
Though Star doesn't have a spa, the ship does offer hair styling, manicures, facials (a rarity for riverboats!) and massages. Prices are mostly reasonable: a wash, set or blow dry for women with short to medium hair is 34 euros (39 for long hair); a beard trim is 10 euros; a 10-minute head and neck massage is 13 euros; a manicure is 36 euros; facials are 39, 73 and 99 euros for 30-, 60- and 90-minute treatments; and massages are 42 to 79 euros for 30 to 60 minutes (two styles available).
Appointments can be made at the reception desk, though you'll want to consult with the cruise director to find out when tours are scheduled so you can pick a time that doesn't conflict with your land schedule.
Anyone who purchases a spa or salon treatment is entered into a raffle; one lucky winner gets their treatment for free.
Emerald Star is not set up to accommodate families. There is no special programming, the only family-appropriate cabins are the Owner's Suites and very little for children of any age to do. The cruise director on our sailing said it is exceedingly rare for families to come onboard.