I was invited by Emerald to join them on a river cruise from Arles to Lyon onboard the Emerald Liberté.
This was my first ever river cruise and I was completely blown away by the entire experience.
It was without a doubt one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on and I was definitely 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 this post should provide you with a good insight into life onboard.
When we arrived we had a little bit of time to unpack before we headed out on an Orientation Tour with the activities manager, Drazen.
It was great to get an overview of Arles, which we would explore more the following day.
There was quite a busy schedule of things going on during this river cruise but of course, everything is optional!
Before dinner, there was a welcome talk which told us all about river cruise life and about the excursions that would be happening.
As a river cruise newbie talk, this was SO helpful. It went on for 50 minutes!!
What I loved about dinner was that there was no set seating, you show up and sit wherever you’d like.
The food looked like it should be in a really really high-end restaurant.
The presentation of it was incredible. The speed of service was really impressive too, they’d clearly perfected this to a fine art!
“Go on a river cruise they said, you just sit around all day, they said. 19500 steps later, I disagree!”
Emerald Liberté, Day 2: Arles (France)
There was 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 wasn’t the case at all.
There was an ‘early riser’ breakfast from 6.30-7.30 am, the main breakfast from 7.30-9am and the late riser breakfast from 9-10 am
I’m normally a late riser but I wanted to make the most of this trip so I tried not to sleep in too much!
It was a buffet in the main dining room with all the usual hot foods, fruits, pastries etc. Most importantly, they had doughnuts! For breakfast! I had one, for research purposes of course…
Every day there was an included walking tour with a local guide.
You used 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!
There were 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 were really lovely, they genuinely seemed like they’d do anything for you.
We spent the afternoon on the sun deck enjoying the sunshine, and the drinks just kept appearing!
We chatted to other guests and watched the golf tournament which seemed to be very popular.
I think this was my favourite part of the ship. The sound of the river and birds was so relaxing.
On Emerald Waterways cruises beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals.
There are also additional drinks packages you can buy.
I have put together a guide to Emerald Waterways drinks packages here:
Jono and I returned 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 then watched the sunset over the Rhone, and it was glorious!
Emerald Liberté, Day 3: Avignon (France)
When we woke up, we were sailing!
This was the first time the ship had actually moved and I was AMAZED about how smooth it was.
There is none of that ‘Ocean ship vibrate/hum’ that I’m used to when ocean cruising.
You are unlikely to 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.
I loved these walking tours. They were 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 while longer.
We also took photos near Avignon Bridge – but it turns out you have to pay to go on the bridge. Needless to say, I didn’t bother…
Main Dining Room Lunch
Our waiter suggested that we should have the Pot Roasted Beef – which we did. It was lovely.
There were no set tables or forced table sharing on the ship.
It’s first come first served, sit where you’d like! This means you can sit alone or with your new friends which is perfect for me.
Movies in the Cabin
The TVs in the cabins had lots of movies on them (all free) so we decided to watch Saving Mr Banks.
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 river ships to get to land.
It was a little strange laying in bed watching a movie and having another ship come up alongside us! There was a man on his balcony having a smoke, wearing only his pants…
We decided to have a go at trivia. 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.
Main Dining Room Dinner
We sailed away before dinner 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 Liberté, Day 4: Viviers (France)
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 didn’t do that at all.
Of course, I could if I wanted to, but where’s the fun in that?
Included Walking Tour
This day 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 great, the concert was put on just for us so thank you, Emerald.
One thing I love about this cruise is that Emerald had already pre-tipped the guides and anybody who we might usually tip. This makes things SO much easier.
Top Deck BBQ
There was the most amazing barbecue on the top deck for lunch.
I’d 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.
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 else on river cruises – something I’m not used to on ocean cruises.
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 us a drink just with a look. 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.
We took a tour of the ship. This ship really was so gorgeous, I hope my tour does it justice. Watch it here:
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 and I am slightly dairy intolerant.
This was 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 is brilliant with food intolerances, they even made a cake for a man onboard who couldn’t eat gluten or sugar. That’s pretty impressive.
We sailed away a little before dinner and we had amazing views for hours and hours.
We went through a couple of locks too which I found really fun. I’ll be sitting in my cabin and all of a sudden it’ll go dark, we would face a concrete wall – and then shoot upwards and out!
I hadn’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 Liberté, Day 5: Tournon (France)
The 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 had made. I think we have chatted with a good 50% of the guests on this cruise, everybody was so friendly.
There was no pressure to table share but the option is always there.
Included Guided Hike in Tournon
We took a guided hike through a vineyard. I learnt a lot about wines – which are so expensive that I probably will never be able to afford to buy a bottle!
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!!
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 had the premium package which means we can drink anything, anytime.
The premium package was only €23 a day which is much cheaper than on ocean ships. (The basic River Cruise fare is generally more expensive than an Ocean Cruise though!)
We decided to sample the ‘light lunch’ 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 followed by desserts and fruit.
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.
The pool is the most amazing place to sit or swim, they have towels there for you and tea/coffee and cookies!!
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…
Main Dining Room Dinner
For dinner, we 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’d never been on a ship with crew that seems 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 was brilliant.
Emerald Liberté, Day 6: Lyon (France)
In the morning we did something we hadn’t done on this trip yet, get on a coach!
The mornings included excursion, mostly by coach was more of a ‘traditional’ excursion that I am used taking on ocean cruises.
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 were definitely one of my favourite things about the excursions, they seemed to know everything!
We were back just in time for lunch (phew). On Emerald, 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.
I had cake, with marshmallows and a wafter stuck in the top. It was brilliant!
There was a lot going on in the 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 ourselves!
We also took photos in front of the Lyon sign, and I managed to climb up onto the lion.
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…
I filmed a cabin tour in the afternoon! A special mention needs to go to the amazing window that transformed 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.
Find the tour video here:
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 River cruises 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 Liberté, Day 6: Chalon-sur-Saone (France)
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.
We even stopped to have a beer in one of the market squares which was lovely.
We decided on a light lunch in the main lounge and I had the most amazing giant vegetable spring rolls. Mmmm!
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 limited French.
I really admire people who can speak multiple languages, I learnt French from age 11-14 and that is about it.
In the afternoon we were able to visit the galley which was really interesting.
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.
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.
We had a ‘Gala’ Dinner tonight in order to say goodbye. There was no formal dress code, but most men wore shirts and ladies wore dresses.)
We sat with friends we had 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. We were able to clap and cheer for all of the staff members onboard who made the cruise so special.
I can’t believe how fast this cruise had gone, it is without a doubt one of the most memorable cruises I have ever been on. I’ll definitely never forget it, or the people that I have met.
I have had the most amazing cruise onboard Emerald Liberté. I certainly could get used to this!
The service and food onboard are second to none. The ship itself was gorgeous and the places that we visited were all so interesting. I cannot recommend Emerald River Cruises enough.
Before You Go
I took a more budget river cruise on the Tui Skyla. Find out how it compared, and whether i got value for money here:
I was lucky enough to be invited on a “Barge and Bike” river cruise from Germany. I cycled over 140 miles during my cruise, something i would never have believed possible before i started! Find out about that unusual river cruise here:
Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources
Book a Cruise
Get Travel Insurance
Shop Cruise Gifts and Merchandise
Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide
Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.
This free email course will show you everything you need to know to find, book and enjoy your perfect cruise.