Emerald Waterways – Cruise Review & Daily Diary 2019

I was invited by Emerald Waterways to join them on a cruise from Arles to Lyon onboard the Emerald Liberté. This was my first river cruise and I was completely blown away by the entire experience. It is without a doubt one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on and I definitely have been converted to river cruising! 

Below you will find the diary that I kept onboard which details everything we did and everywhere we went. If you are considering a cruise with Emerald Waterways this post should provide you with a good insight into life onboard.

Emerald Waterways Liberte Life Ring

The Itinerary: Sensations of Lyon and Provence

Romance, spectacular historic landmarks & Roman influence, celebrate France’s past & present on this sensory journey through renowned vineyards & world-class restaurants along the Saône & Rhône rivers – Emerald Waterways. SOURCE. 

Cruising on the Rhone River

Emerald Waterways Day 1: Gatwick (UK) – Arles (FR)

I got up at 4.30am today to catch my early morning flight to Marseille. We were met by a transfer which took us to Arles where we boarded the ship. The Emerald Waterways cruise fare includes things like the tips of people who ‘porter’ your bags so you don’t have to worry about anything like that which is awesome. The bags were taken from the coach to the ship for us and arrived in our cabin, taadaa! 

The document holders below and booklets are sent to all Emerald Waterways guests a few weeks before the cruise. You’ll also get an Emerald Waterways backpack. I met a lady onboard who said she had 6!

Emerald Waterways Booklet, Passport and Document Holder

Orientation Tour of Arles

When we arrived we had a little bit of time to unpack (not long) before we headed out on an orientation tour with the activities manager Drazen. It was great to get an overview of Arles which we will be exploring more tomorrow. There is quite a busy schedule of things going on during this cruise but of course, everything is optional!

Emerald Waterways Arles Tour amphitheatre girl in sunglasses on steps

Welcome Presentation

Before dinner, there was a welcome talk which told us all about river cruise life and about the excursions that will be happening. As a river cruise newbie, this was SO helpful. It went on for 50 minutes!!

Dinner

What I loved about dinner is that there is no set seating, you show up and sit wherever you’d like. Easy peasy! The food looks like it should be in a really really high-end restaurant. It’s all yummy and the presentation of it is incredible. The speed of service is really impressive too, they’ve clearly perfected this art!

I was really happy to find out that there are no formal nights on Emerald Waterways river cruises. I have another post about the dress codes onboard, the post takes you through what to wear during the day, on excursions and to dinner. Emerald Waterways Dress Code – What To Wear.

My overall impressions is that I could get used to this… all of the other guests and crew are really really friendly and the ship is SO cool.

Top deck of the Emerald Liberte river cruise ship
Emerald Liberté Sun Deck

Go on a river cruise they said, you just sit around all day, THEY SAID. 19500 steps later, I disagree! 

Emerald Waterways Day 2: Arles (FR)

Breakfast 

There is a lot more flexibility with breakfast than I thought there would be. I thought that because the ship was so small there would only be one option but that isn’t the case at all. There is an ‘early riser’ breakfast from 6.30-7.30, the main breakfast from 7.30-9 and the late riser breakfast from 9-10. I’m normally a late riser but I want to make the most of this trip so I’m trying not to sleep in too much! 
 
We went to the main breakfast today which was really great. It was a buffet in the main dining room with all the usual hot foods, fruits, pastries etc. Most importantly… they have doughnuts! For breakfast! I had one, for research purposes of course. 
Breakfast doughnut emerald waterways
Me trying to work out how I can eat all of the doughnuts onboard the Emerald Liberté!

Included Excursion 

Every day there is an included walking tour with a local guide. You use a little receiver and an earpiece to hear your guide. We walked around Arles for about an hour and a half and visited the amphitheatre! I will be writing blog posts in more detail about the places we visit so make sure you’ve signed up to the newsletter here so you don’t miss anything. 
Emerald Waterways Quietvox Excursions Speaker Headphones
The ‘QuiteVox’ used on excursions to hear the local guide.

Lunch 

There are two options for lunch, one in the main dining room and another ‘lighter’ lunch in the lounge. In the main dining room, the starters/desserts are buffet style and you order your main from the waiter so it can be freshly cooked. Jono and I both decided to have a steak and fries! The waiters here are really lovely, they genuinely seem like they’d do anything for you.

Afternoon Sunshine

We spent the afternoon on the sun deck enjoying the sunshine, the drinks just kept appearing! We chatted to other guests and watched the golf tournament which seemed to be very popular. I think this is my favourite part of the ship so far, the sound of the river and birds is so so relaxing.
Emerald Liberte sun deck noughts and crosses
Emerald Waterways Drink Coke paper straws

On Emerald Waterways cruises beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals. There are also drinks packages which you can buy. I have put together a guide to Emerald Waterways drinks packages here: Emerald Waterways Drinks Menu & Packages. The post includes menu prices from my cruise so you can decide if it would make sense for you to buy a package.

Evening Walk
Jono and I have just got back from a two-hour walk around Arles! It is a place with LOADS of history and lots to do. I’d definitely recommend a visit. I’m currently watching the sunset over the Rhone and it is glorious.
We walked over 18,000 steps on this day. Thankfully Emerald Waterways provide slippers to wear on my achy feet.
Emerald Waterways Slippers in balcony cabin

Emerald Waterways Day 3: Avignon (FR)

When we woke up today, we were sailing! This is the first time the ship has actually moved and I was AMAZED about how smooth it is. There is none of that ‘ocean ship vibrate/hum’ that I’m used to when cruising. You DEFINITELY won’t get seasick on a river ship, you can’t tell it’s moving at all. 

Included Walking Excursion

We took part in the walking tour of Avignon today. I am loving these tours. They’re included in the cruise fare and having a local guide means you get a unique insight into the place you’re visiting. The walk lasted about 1.5 hours. Jono and I decided to stay in Avignon for a little after. We went to a sweet shop and I bought a really long Marshmallow… We also took photos near Avignon bridge but it turns out you have to pay to go on the bridge. No thanks!

Avignon Bridge Emerald Waterways

Fancy Marshmallows

Main Dining Room Lunch

Our waiter suggested that we should have the pot roasted beef which we did. It was REALLY yummy. There is no set tables or forced table sharing on the ship. I’s first come first serve, sit where you’d like! This means you can sit alone or with your new friends which is perfect for me.

Emerald Waterways Main Dining Room Lunch beef pot roast
Beef Pot Roast

Movies in the Cabins

The TV’s in the cabins have lots of movies on them (all free) so we decided to watch Saving Mr Banks. Today we were docked with other ships which means that our ship was literally right beside another ship. In situations like this, you have to walk over the other ships to get to land. More about this another time because it deserves a full post. It was a little strange laying in bed watching a movie and having another ship come up alongside! There was a man on his balcony having a smoke, wearing only his pants.

Afternoon Trivia

We decided to have a go at trivia today. It was 20 multiple choice questions and the prize was ‘liquid and shareable’! The trivia was really popular and Drazen (activities manager) was a fabulous host. We scored 8 which I thought was quite respectable! The winning team only scored 12.

Emerald Waterways Trivia Gameshow Onboard Activities

Main Dining Room Dinner

We sailed away before dinner today so we had the view passing by the dining room as we ate. We went through a couple of locks which was REALLY cool. The dining room would go dark as we entered the lock and get lighter as we emerged.

Emerald Waterways Day 4: Viviers (FR)

I have to admit when I booked this river cruise I didn’t think I would be hiking up mountains! I honestly thought river cruising would be a lot of sitting around but I haven’t done that AT ALL. Of course, I could if I wanted to, but where’s the fun in that?

Included Walking Tour

Today started with a walking tour of Viviers. We had a brilliant local guide called Pierre who was so funny and informative. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place with so much history. We were treated to an organ concert in the cathedral which was really cool, the concert was put on just for us so thank you Emerald Waterways. One thing I love about this cruise is that Emerald Waterways have already pre-tipped the guides/anybody who we might usually tip. This makes things SO much easier.

Emerald Waterways Viviers Walking Tour

Emerald Waterways Viviers France Tour

Top Deck Barbeque

There was the most amazing barbecue on the top deck for lunch. I’ve never seen the sun deck so busy. That said there were more than enough seats and loads of waiters walking around handing out wine/beer/water. There was so much choice. I’m used to barbecues where the options are a burger or hot dog. Not here! The options included: Pork, Fish, Rump Steak and Sausages plus about 15 different sides.

Emerald Waterways Barbecue BBQ Top Deck

Guided Hike

This afternoon we took a guided hike up a mountain (as you do). The hike was run by Drazen, the activities manager onboard and we managed to complete the walk in about 2.5 hours. The view was well worth the walk! It wasn’t too strenuous but the heat made it a bit more of a challenge. It was also a really good opportunity to chat with the other passengers on the tour. Everybody talks to everybody on river cruises, something I’m not used to on ocean cruises.

Viviers Walking Tour Mountain Hike Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways Viviers Guided Hike Emerald Active
Jono and me at the top of the mountain

Drinks/Learning

When returning from the walk we needed a drink, we sat with our new friends in the lounge and the waiters bought us drink after drink. I even managed to order me and Jono a drink just with a look, because there are so few guests onboard the waiters can really get to know you. There was a talk about France in the lounge by the cruise director Jana! I learnt a lot.

Ship Tour

I have started filming my ship tour, hooray! Make sure you’re subscribed to ‘Emma Cruises’ on YouTube so you don’t miss it. This ship really is so gorgeous, I hope my tour does it justice.

Emerald Waterways Star Ships Liberte Swimming Pool

Dinner

For dinner, most people seemed to order ‘pointrine de poulet au mais’ – Roasted corn-fed chicken supreme. I decided against this because it has dairy in it, kindly pointed out to me by the menu they put in my room each day with dairy highlighted in red… So I had a steak and chips instead. It was super! Emerald are BRILLIANT with food intolerances, they even made a cake for a man onboard that can’t eat gluten or sugar. That’s pretty impressive.

Emerald Waterways Menu Dinner Main Dining Room
Main Dining Room Dinner Menu

We sailed away a little before dinner and we’ve had amazing views for hours and hours. We’ve been through a couple of locks too which I find really fun. I’ll be sat in my cabin and all of a sudden it’ll go dark, we will face a concrete wall and then shoot upwards and out!

I haven’t heard a single guest complain about ANYTHING. AT ALL. I’ve certainly never been on a cruise like this before, normally people are complaining before they even board.

Emerald Waterways Day 5: Tournon (FR)

This morning started the way that every morning should start, with a doughnut! (I did also have a ‘normal’ breakfast). We sat with some friends that we have made. I think we have chatted with a good 50% of guests on this cruise, everybody is so so friendly. It’s lovely! There is no pressure to table share but the option is always there.

Included Guided Hike in Tournon

We took a guided hike today through a vineyard. I learnt a lot about wines which are so expensive that I probably will never be able to afford to taste one. Our tour ended at a chocolate shop and we were able to eat as many of the tasters as we wanted. Most of the other guests bought some chocolates but we didn’t, I found a ‘sample’ pack which featured 8 of the most popular chocolate bars… It cost 35 euros!!

Emerald Waterways Tournon Vineyard Excursion

Emerald Waterways Tournon Vineyard Excursion

Drinks

When we got back from the hike we needed a drink! We sat with our new friends and had a few drinks. Beer/wine and soft drinks are included with meals, outside of meal times you have to pay for drinks or buy a package. Jono and I have the premium package which means we can drink anything, anytime. The premium package is only €23 a day which is much cheaper than on ocean ships. (The basic river cruise fare is generally more expensive than ocean though!)

Drinks Emerald Waterways Package Mia Tui Bag
Jono’s Whiskey Sour, my Bellini and my Mia Tui bag. I bought this bag specifically for the cruise and it is great! I have previously reviewed Mia Tui bags and you can find that review here (including a discount code).

Light lunch

We decided to sample the ‘light lunch’ today in the main lounge. The light lunch is always available as an alternative to the main dining room. The food consisted of pasta/rice and hot sandwiches. Oh and desserts and fruit.

Swimming!

After dinner, I decided to have a little swim in the pool at the back of the ship. I was the only one there the entire time I was swimming, well apart from Jono. The pool is the most amazing place to sit or swim, they have towels there for you and tea/coffee and cookies!!

Emerald Waterways Swimming Pool Women in Bikini on stairs

We headed out for another walk afterwards and explored a little more of Tournon. It was 29c at 4 pm. I don’t think I’d want it to be any hotter…

Emerald Waterways Tournon Bridge Excursion

Main Dining Room Dinner

For dinner, I had roast pork which was great. We sat with a few friends that we already knew and a couple which we didn’t. One man told the waiter his food was just ‘fine’ and it looked as though the waiter’s heart had broken! The man was only joking though, the food was good and he later reassured the waiter. I’ve never been on a ship with crew that seem so genuinely happy to help, I don’t think anything is too much trouble for them.

Call My Bluff Gameshow

I spent my evening drinking Aperol Spritz while playing ‘call my bluff’ a very very funny Gameshow with members of the crew. The game is similar to the tv show ‘would I lie to you’ where a word appeared on the screen in another language. Each crew member had to try and explain what the word meant and we had to guess which was telling the truth. One man on my team was laughing so much he was literally crying for almost an hour. It was so so funny.

Let it never be said that river cruises are boring! The entertainment on here has been brilliant, I’ve had so much fun. (Other river cruise lines might be boring but Emerald Waterways certainly aren’t).

Emerald Waterways Drinks Aperol Spitz Lounge

Emerald Waterways Day 6: Lyon (FR)

Included Excursion

This morning we did something we haven’t done on this trip yet, get on a coach! This mornings included excursion was mostly by coach and more of a ‘traditional’ excursion that I am used to from ocean cruising. The tour took us around the main sites of Lyon, we then had a walking tour portion with a local guide and had some free time to explore. The local guides are definitely one of my favourite things about these excursions, they know EVERYTHING. 

Emerald Waterways Lyon Excursion

Lunch

We were back just in time for lunch (phew). On Emerald Waterways the lunch in the main dining operates slightly differently from a normal restaurant. The appetisers and desserts are buffet style and the main you order from the menu. I love this because it means I can create my own desserts. Today I had cake, with marshmallows and a wafter stuck in the top. It was brilliant!

Emerald Waterways Lunch Cake Dessert

Walking Tour

There was lots going on this afternoon. We decided to walk with the activity manager Drazen to the Musee des Confluence. The walk took us about 1.5 hours in total and we stopped in the middle to climb up to a viewing platform. The platform is free to visit and well worth climbing the stairs to get there. It’s things like this that make me glad that Emerald put on walking tours like this, we never would have found it by our selves!

Emerald Waterways Lyon Tour

We also took photos in front of the LYON sign and I managed to climb up onto the lion.

Emerald Waterways Lyon Walking Tour

Trivia

We decided to give trivia another go. It turns out we somehow managed to get worse and only scored 6 this time! Good fun regardless. In my defence, the questions were REALLY TRICKY!

Cabin Tour

I filmed my cabin tour this afternoon! A special mention needs to go to the amazing window that transforms my whole cabin into a balcony. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting here getting a tan. It’s the perfect mix of inside and outside, a very clever invention.

Emerald Waterways Balcony Panorama Suite Tour TV Hairdryer Water

Live Music

We’ve spent the evening listening to live music by a band called Krystal. They were fantastic and the dance floor was completely full the entire time. Before coming on this cruise I thought river cruise entertainment couldn’t live up to the entertainment on ocean ship but it absolutely does (on Emerald Waterways anyway!). The ships might not be able to accommodate things like Broadway theatre shows but there is still a LOT going on. Everybody is genuinely so happy and friendly too which makes a massive difference. Most of the crew were up and dancing which was brilliant.

Emerald Waterways Ship Liberte

THEY DO THE BAKED ALASKA PARADE ON RIVER CRUISES TOO!? Who knew!

Emerald Waterways Day 6: Chalon-sur-Saone  (FR)

Included Walking Tour

There were two options this morning, an included tour of Beaune which involved a bus and a walking tour, or a walking tour of Chalon-sur-Saone with activity manager Drazen. We decided on the walking tour and I’m glad we did. I’m not a big fan of coaches if they can be avoided and it’s always nice to be outside catching the last of the sunshine.

Emerald Waterways Liberte Star Ship

We even stopped to have a beer in one of the market squares which was brilliant! 

Emerald Waterways

Lunch

We decided on a light lunch in the main lounge and I had the most amazing giant vegetable spring rolls. Mmmm!

Emerald Waterways Light Lunch Lounge

Museum

After lunch, we went to a photography museum. Jono loves his photography and I think it’s interesting too. The museum was free to enter and took you through from the first camera right up until the disposable cameras of the 90s. The staff were lovely and spoke to us despite my very very limited French. I really admire people who can speak multiple languages, I learnt French from age 11-14 and that is about it.

Photography Museum Disposable Cameras

Galley Tour

In the afternoon we were able to visit the galley which was really cool. To join the galley tour all you had to do was pick up a ticket from reception which gave you a tour time. The galley is far too small to have everybody in it at once. I was amazed to learn that they only have 6 people actually cooking onboard and 2 people doing the washing up. We’ve had really really amazing food onboard it’s hard to believe it all came from such a small galley. I will be sharing more information about the food so watch this space.

Emerald Waterways Liberte Galley Tour

Cheese Tasting

It might be considered a bit weird that I would go to cheese tasting given that I’m intolerant to dairy… but hey, you could say I went for research purposes.. or you could say I was already in the lounge drinking a cosmopolitan when the cheese tasting began…. Anyway, I enjoyed listening to our cruise director Jana talk about the cheeses! I learnt a little about France and a lot about cheese.

Emerald Waterways Cheese Tasting

Emerald Waterways Cheese Tasting

Farewell Dinner

We had a ‘gala’ dinner tonight in order to say goodbye. (Not formal dress code although most men in shirts and ladies in dresses). We sat with friends we have made during the cruise and it was really sad to think about going home. They did the ‘parade of the baked Alaska’ similar to on ocean cruises and we were able to clap and cheer for all of the staff members onboard who have made this cruise so special. I can’t believe how fast this cruise has gone, it is without a doubt one of the best cruises I have ever been on and I’ll definitely never forget it, or the people that I have met.

Parting Thoughts

I have had the most amazing cruise onboard Emerald Liberté. I certainly could get used to this! The service and food onboard is second to none. The ship itself is gorgeous and the places that we visited were all so interesting. I cannot recommend Emerald Waterways enough.

Emerald Waterways french river cruises itineraries can be found on their website here. 

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community.

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