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Exploring Eastern Europe on an Emerald Danube Cruise

When I was looking for a cruise ship vacation that would both educate and delight, I knew Emerald Cruises Enchantment of Eastern Europe itinerary would fit the bill. The 9-day cruise started in Bucharest, Romania, and traveled through Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia, ending in Budapest Hungary. I thought this would be the perfect chance to explore destinations off the beaten path, and I was right. This journey on an Emerald Danube Cruise was one we won’t soon forget.

SAILING BUCHAREST TO BUDAPEST With Emerald Cruises - Kids Are A Tripi

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**We were guests of Emerald Cruises for the purpose of this review. As always, opinions are 100% our own.

Exploring Eastern Europe on an Emerald Danube Cruise

My middle son and I traveled to Bucharest to meet up with our Emerald Cruise ship, the Emerald Sun. As it turns out, the ship is not in Bucharest, but nearby, in the city of Giurgiu.

Bucharest Enchantment of Europe river cruise
Bucharest used to be known as the “Paris of the East”

On the first day of our itinerary, we explored Bucharest before we even boarded the ship. We learned about Romanian history and life under a dictatorship while exploring the city by bus and on foot. Bucharest is a fascinating city, but it was only the beginning of a fabulous adventure.

About the Emerald Sun

Emerald Sun can accommodate 180 guests in 91 different cabins. On our cruise, there were about 150 guests which never felt crowded. It was the right amount for our week on board the ship.

There are several amenities we made use of during our trip, including the workout room (small, but efficient), indoor swimming pool (which converts to a movie theater at night), and a spa with a variety of massage and facial services.

Emerald Sun swimming pool
The swimming pool converts to a movie theater at night.

On the top level of the three-level ship, there’s a sun deck with lounge chairs and tables (some are shaded), a putting green, a giant tic-tac-toe board, and a walking track. Every morning there is a stretching class on the top deck if you want to wake up early and join in.

Emerald Sun rooftop deck
Nothing beats a sunset view from the water

Accommodations on Emerald Cruises

There are five different room types available on Emerald Sun – Panorama Balcony, Grand Balcony, One-Bedroom Owners Suites, Emerald Stateroom, and Emerald SINGLE Stateroom (which is a guaranteed single, so solo travels don’t have to pay a supplement. There are two on the ship).

There are four Emerald Owner’s One-Bedroom Suites that have an outdoor private balcony, separate living room and bedroom, complimentary mini bar, walk-in closet, and an invitation to dine at the Captain’s Table.

We stayed in a Panorama Balcony Suite which featured two twin beds (they can be pushed together to make a queen), a closet, drawers, flat screen TV, a desk, and a small refrigerator (with snacks and beverages for purchase). Laundry is available on the ship, so if you want to pack less and save room in your suitcase for souvenirs, this is always an option.

Bedroom Emerald Sun river cruise ship

Water was provided daily in a glass carafe and each of us had a reusable water bottle at our disposal. This is such a thoughtful way to eliminate plastic usage on the ship.

The bathroom was quite spacious with a full walk-in shower, sink, and toilet. This was ample space for the two of us.

Emerald Sun panoramic window

There are two chairs and a small table in front of the floor-to-ceiling panorama window. The window replaces a traditional balcony, as it drops down halfway at the push of a button so guests can enjoy river views. 

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**Note: If you are going to use the window during the summer months, be sure to turn off all lights in your room to prevent bugs from flying inside.

Destinations and Excursions on the Enchantment of Eastern Europe River Cruise

The destinations offered on Emerald’s Enchantment of Eastern Europe are certainly unique. Having traveled through most of Europe, this cruise gave me a chance to visit 3 countries that were new to me, and 5 countries that were new to my son. An opportunity to explore from Bucharest to Budapest was one we couldn’t pass up.

We started in Bucharest, Romania where we spent the day exploring before heading to the port in Giurgiu. From there we sailed along the Danube to Bulgaria for two days. 

On our way to Serbia, we traveled through the Iron Gates, a gorge dividing Serbia and Romania, and went through a massive lock. The scenery was stunning and the process of going through the lock was fascinating.

Iron Gates river gorge

After this, we spent the day in Belgrade, before heading on to Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia. The next day brought us to Kalocsa, Hungary (the paprika capital of the world) before sailing into Budapest on the final evening and enjoying a spectacular view of the city at night.

Budapest at Night - Kirsten Maxwell

Don’t miss our favorite excursions on this Eastern Europe itinerary or find more of our highlights on Instagram.

Emerald Excursions

Emerald Cruises offers four different types of excursions on their sailings – included excursions, EmeraldACTIVE, EmeraldPLUS, and DiscoverMORE. Some days multiple tours are offered and other days there might just be one to choose from. 

Walking tour Osijek fortress
We had a fascinating tour of Osijek Fortress in Croatia.

Included Excursions

  • Guided driving tour through Bucharest with a visit to the Spring Palace (former home of Nicolae Ceaușescu, former president/dictator of Romania)
  • Guided walking tour of Osijek Fortress 
  • Guided walking tour of Belgrade
  • Visit to Lepenski Vir archaeological site and museum
  • Visit a local vineyard with wine tasting and a visit to Baba Vida Fortress
  • Tour of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi
Arbanasi Nativity Church Bulgaria
The Arbanasi Nativity Church dates to the 15th century and the mural work is impressive!

EmeraldACTIVE Excursions

EmeraldACTIVE excursions are exactly what they sound like, active tours for individuals who want a bit more than the regular activity level. On our Enchantment of Eastern Europe trip, these were the options:

  • A guided bike tour in Belgrade
  • Visit Ivanovo and Bassarbovo Rock Monastery Hiking
  • Guided hike to Belogradchick Fortress and rock formations

EmeraldPLUS excursions

EmeraldPLUS options allow cruise guests to get up close and personal in the destinations, interacting with locals and learning about their customs. On our ship, we had the following opportunities available –

Pustza Horse show hungary
  • Puszta horse show – a unique equestrian performance by traditional Hungarian riders
  • Home-hosted lunch with a Croatian family – highly recommend this as it provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about the war in Croatia and how families survived
  • Serbian dancers on board – quite a memorable evening with performers showcasing their traditional costumes and dances
  • Choir concert in Arbanasi – a small choir group performing in one of the oldest Christian churches in Bulgaria

DiscoverMORE Excursions

DiscoverMORE tours are upgraded excursions with an additional fee. The tours below are the ones we could choose from on our Emerald Danube cruise. Note – Excursions may be canceled if there aren’t enough participants.

  • Traditional Bulgarian pastry making – this was one of our favorite excursions on the trip. We went to the home of a local family and learned how to make traditional Bulgarian banitsa. Highly recommend!
  • Routes of Nikola Tesla– this tour in Belgrade features a museum dedicated to the life and work of Nikola Tesla.
  • Paint & Wine – guests can create their own masterpieces in this painting workshop with a young Bulgarian artist as they enjoy a glass of wine. 
Making traditional Bulgarian banitsa
Learning how to make Bulgarian Banitsa

Dining on Our Emerald Danube Cruise

First, and foremost, we never had a bad meal on the ship. There were two options for breakfast every morning, early risers or buffet. The early riser breakfast was very simple, a pastry served in the lounge. There was also tea and coffee available 24 hours a day in the Horizon Bar and Lounge.

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Each day there was a lunch in the dining room. There was a main dish, usually themed to the region we were visiting and wine pairings. There was always a sandwich or wrap available if you were hungry for something lighter. Between lunch and dinner is an afternoon tea.

Meal on Emerald Cruises
Every meal was fantastic!

In the evening, Chef Wolfgang served up some delicious meals. There was always a Chef’s Menu, or you could choose a la carte which included fish, meat, and vegetarian options. Some memorable dishes were the Serbian Ćevapčići with ajvar and Bulgarian spinach banitsa. The service at dinner was always impeccable and the recommended wines wonderfully complemented the dishes.

Drink packages on Emerald Cruises

Tea, coffee, soft drinks, bottled water, beer, and wine by the glass at lunch and dinner, are complimentary. If you are looking for cocktails or premium beverages, there are several add-on packages available to upgrade your sailing.

  • Non-Alcoholic Package – Unlimited soft drinks, bottled juices, and cocktails.
  • Extended Package – A daily selection of wine, draft beer, and soft drinks available throughout the day.
  • Platinum Package – Whatever you want to drink, any time of day, including cocktails, wine, prosecco, and long drinks.

These packages have some rules and conditions, so be sure to read the fine print when adding one to your reservation.

Entertainment on Emerald Sun

Every evening after dinner there was some form of entertainment in the lounge. We enjoyed the “Name that Tune” game night, and there was also a movie night, disco party, Serbian dancers, and other fun performances organized by the staff. 

Serbian dancers on Emerald Danube cruise
Serbian dancers were quite talented!

If you choose to skip the evening entertainment, there were plenty of shows and movies on the television in the room to choose from. 

Our Emerald Danube Cruise Staff

I have to give a shout-out to the amazing staff on the ship. Everyone was terrific, but we had some that deserve special recognition.

Codi was our dining room server for almost every lunch and dinner. He was personable and always did a stellar job. Jasmina in the bar/lounge was another one of our favorites. She was always engaging and hard-working. Agus was our room attendant and he knew our names by the first day! He worked hard to clean up after my teenager (not an easy task), and always greeted us with a smile. Emerald does a great job of finding excellent staff members to represent their brand.

This Emerald Danube Cruise is All-Inclusive

One of the things I always appreciate is an all-inclusive ship. This makes the journey easier and allows us to give a little something “extra” to those who go above and beyond.

All of Emerald Cruises include the following:

  • gratuities (both onboard and on-shore excursions/tours)
  • port taxes
  • all transfers to and from the boat
  • all shore excursions
  • beverages (including tea, coffee, and soft drinks) and alcohol (beer and wine by the glass at lunch and dinner)
  • Wi-Fi Internet access.

This is only a quick overview of the ship and the itinerary, but hopefully, it gives you some of the answers you’re looking for about the Enchantment of Eastern Europe itinerary. We thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a unique region of Europe, and we were right. Emerald Cruises did not disappoint!