The argument over whether the ocean’s hue leans closer to emerald or sapphire has simmered at sea for centuries. From cutlass-wielding pirates at each other’s throats to rowdy merchant sailors fresh from shore leave, the color conundrum has confounded all manner of seafarers and is still without a definitive answer.
The truth depends on many things, but Emerald Cruises’ twin ocean cruising luxury superyachts are content to have it both ways. Whether deep green or azure blue, the Emerald Azzurra cuts across the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Adriatic and the Red Sea in style and comfort well above its peers.
Elsewhere, the Emerald Sakara prepares to traverse the gulf between the Caribbean and Central America, offering a similar level of opulence and luxuriance to its passengers.
"We’re always on the lookout for the next big thing, or trying to create it ourselves." – Angus Crichton
The advent of these gleaming 100-passenger vessels marked the beginning of a new phase for Emerald Cruises. A part of Scenic Group alongside Scenic Cruises, Emerald Cruises began life on land more than two decades ago and has grown and evolved with the times and tastes of global travelers.
Originally, the company was known as Evergreen Tours, a coach tour company that catered to the value segment of the market. In 1999, Evergreen was purchased by Scenic, which could see the tourism tide beginning to turn.
"It was all about coach touring in those days," Angus Crichton, Director of Sales, Marketing and Product for Emerald Cruises Australia & New Zealand, tells The CEO Magazine.
From road to river
After trying his hand at a few different jobs, Crichton was running a ski lodge in Thredbo, Australia, when he sought to improve his travel credentials.
"I was a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none," he says. "I’d done nursing, been a TV cameraman and was even a PA [personal assistant] to the king of Australian TV, Graham Kennedy. I’d been at Thredbo for four years and was looking for a more professional role in travel."
At that time, Scenic was known for coach tours.
"In fact, it was one of the strongest growing coach touring operators in Australia," Crichton recalls.
In the young yet experienced Crichton, Scenic Founder Glen Moroney saw someone willing to learn and to work hard. Immediately, Scenic put Crichton in a position to live up to this promise as the company began to change tack.
"We don’t do anything by ones at Scenic Group." – Angus Crichton
"By the mid-2000s, cruising – especially river cruising – was becoming the best way to experience Europe," he says.
Under Scenic’s ownership, Evergreen began chartering river cruise ships across Europe. By 2013, these charters were regularly selling out. Moroney knew Scenic could bring a new level of innovation to European river cruising, and put his existing resources to the task.
"During all this time Scenic was building and operating its own ships, so we had the experience and the volume to build our own ships and start Emerald Waterways, as Evergreen was renamed," Crichton says.
The first Emerald Cruises vessel was the Star-Ship Emerald Sky, which launched in 2014 and catered to a mere 180 guests with an impressive crew-to-guest ratio. With style icon Twiggy as its godmother, Emerald Sky was a confident announcement of the company’s intentions for the industry.
"We don’t do anything by ones at Scenic Group," Crichton says.
Diamonds and pearls
Today, Emerald Cruises is an award-winning travel operator specializing in deluxe river cruises and luxury yacht cruising. Crichton’s role is a combination of leader, facilitator and sales, a mix he says he’s used to.
"Due to my long-time experience, I oversee many different aspects of the business and I try to bring them all together," he says. "From the product to marketing to sales and then delivery, all within the Emerald Cruises brand persona."
That brand is relatively new. In 2021, Scenic Group merged Emerald Waterways with Emerald Yacht Cruises to form Emerald Cruises. The move coincided with the launch of superyacht Emerald Azzurra and the announcement of Emerald Sakara.
"Emerald Waterways, the original brand, was about river cruising, but as soon as we started warm water coastal cruising, we needed to make the brand about all cruising," Crichton says.
"The Emerald Cruises lifestyle gives you the choice of how you want to enjoy your small ship cruising." – Angus Crichton
Despite its experience in the field and that of its parent Scenic Group, Crichton says Emerald Cruises is a young brand with much to offer.
"Emerald Cruises now has great cruising experiences on the rivers of the world and luxury yacht cruising in the warm waters of the world."
It’s even possible to get the best of both worlds.
"Our unique European cruising allows guests to river cruise for a week through, say, the south of France, then jump on a luxury yacht the next week and cruise down the Italian Riviera."
Living the life
No matter how you choose to cruise, Crichton says the Emerald Cruises lifestyle is the brand’s greatest strength. Small ships, which make up the majority of Emerald Cruises’ river fleet, offer the kind of relaxed way of life many imagine when thinking of river cruising. For those that want a more active adventure, those options are possible as well.
"The Emerald Cruises lifestyle gives you the choice of how you want to enjoy your small ship cruising," he says. "We’ll give you exclusive experiences with our EmeraldPLUS program.
"If you want to be active – hiking, canoeing or cycling – you can join our EmeraldACTIVE program. You might want to just relax by our indoor and outdoor pools on our river ships or at the marina on our luxury yachts. It’s your lifestyle choice."
Guided tours, culinary journeys, exclusive excursions and even scenic drives are possible in some of the most spectacular destinations in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
The EmeraldACTIVE program also encompasses the wellness centers, spas, saunas and gyms found on board Emerald Cruises’ luxury yachts, while most of its vessels come equipped with Gocycle electric bicycles for a smooth and comfortable way to explore ports along the journey.
Meanwhile, EmeraldPLUS helps passengers get the most out of their destinations. Guided tours, culinary journeys, exclusive excursions and even scenic drives are possible in some of the most spectacular destinations in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
As incredible as the ports are, it’s the ships that are the real stars of the Emerald Cruises’ show – so much so that the fleet of river cruise vessels have been named Star-Ships.
A total of nine custom-built Emerald Cruises Star-Ships currently traverse Europe’s rivers, including the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Danube, Rhone and Douro, as well as South-East Asia’s Mekong River. Each one is home to a host of the kind of stylish innovations for which Scenic is known for.
"Unpack once in our contemporary suites and state rooms, enjoy delicious cuisine in our elegant dining venues, relax on our spacious sun decks and enjoy the river breeze from indoor heated pools that transform into evening cinemas," Crichton says.
Emerald Cruises has ensured each vessel is tailored to its location; the Emerald Liberté, for instance, was specially commissioned to sail France’s Rhone and Saone and includes authentic local cuisine and a sun deck well suited to the Mediterranean climate.
Meanwhile, the 42-cabin Emerald Harmony was designed to sail into the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Room designs contain subtle Asian stylistic influences, highlighting and enhancing the Vietnamese locales.
Emerald Cruises turned a corner in 2020 when the construction began on Emerald Azzurra, the company’s first luxury yacht. Crichton says the move was an effort by Emerald Cruises to bring the kind of luxury leisure experience for which Scenic Group had become renowned to a wider audience.
"Our Scenic Group founder Glen Moroney saw a gap in the market for true small ship luxury leisure cruising with only a maximum of 100 guests," he says.
"Others were claiming to be small ship cruising, but those were 600-900 guest ships that had to dock and visit where the massive cruise ships visited."
Moroney realized there was much more enjoyment to be had at ports and towns along the superyacht routes by those who preferred their holidays to feel like adventures of discovery.
"Emerald Azzurra was so popular in its first cruising season that it sold out very quickly." – Angus Crichton
"Glen saw an opportunity to take our guests to places where only superyachts visited and not overrun any port with visitors," Crichton says. "And so Emerald Cruises’ luxury yachts, Azzurra and Sakara, were created for everybody to be able to superyacht."
The intimacy of the 100-guest capacity was a revelation for Emerald Cruises passengers, who set sail in Emerald Azzurra along the Red Sea and the Mediterranean for the first time in late 2021. For those emerging from COVID-19 lockdowns and seeking a return to luxurious, picturesque adventure, it was a dream come true.
"Emerald Azzurra was so popular in its first cruising season that it sold out very quickly," Crichton says. "We had many disappointed potential guests."
Those on board were anything but. Thoughtfully designed to dock in the smaller ports of the Mediterranean, Adriatic coast, Red Sea and the Caribbean, Emerald Azzurra immediately provided a standout experience among its peers.
For Emerald Azzurra’s crew, life on board the ship is also a once-in-a-career experience. Just ask Captain Jon Edwards, who took the helm of Emerald Azzurra for its maiden voyage.
"There’s so much to enjoy about working on Emerald Azzurra," he says. "The luxury design and the fantastic marina facilities are right up there. We can get all the toys out when we anchor so people can paddle board, kayak or jump off the trampoline and go for a swim."
But even a glorious day at sea is still a day in the office for Edwards, who says preparation is everything.
"Before we go anywhere, we build a passage plan. The navigation officer will put all the routing in. We’ll look at the environmental side, any dangers to the ports, and communicate with the next port of calls to confirm berthing arrangements."
"It’s important as captain to understand what the ports are and what they have to offer. When you’re engaging with guests and they ask you questions about upcoming ports, you can give them a bit of insight." – Jon Edwards
Work on board Emerald Cruises’ vessels is a constant learning experience.
"You learn a lot about the ships from a structural point of view," Edwards says. "Plus it’s important as captain to understand what the ports are and what they have to offer. When you’re engaging with guests and they ask you questions about upcoming ports, you can give them a bit of insight."
Edwards was lucky enough to have Emerald Azzurra be his first captaincy upon joining the company; luckier still, he’s now Emerald Sakara’s first skipper.
"I get all the new vessels at the moment," he says. "But that’s only part of the reason why I wanted to join the company. Scenic Group is a big organization, but it’s so different in the industry.
"There aren’t many captains that will have the owners’ numbers on WhatsApp. I communicate with Glen all the time. I was with my last cruise company for 20 years and met the CEO three times."
Dreams become reality
Glen Moroney’s vision of river cruising redefined has been made reality through the hard work and commitment to luxury evident in the Emerald Cruises way. Perhaps this is best exemplified by Emerald Azzurra, which perfectly encapsulated the Emerald Cruises approach to cruising.
In selling out so quickly, the public seemed to agree. That’s why the introduction of Emerald Azzurra’s partner cruise ship, Emerald Sakara, came so quickly in the wake of its success.
"We quickly commissioned Emerald Sakara in response to the overwhelming reception of Emerald Azzurra," Crichton says. "It just started its first Mediterranean cruising season."
"You can enjoy your drinks and meals under the warm sun or evening stars surrounded by the magical vistas of the Mediterranean." – Angus Crichton
Minor tweaks aside, Emerald Sakara offers the same 110-meter, 100-guest luxury yacht experience as Emerald Azzurra. Cabins range from 17 square meters to the Owner’s Suites with separate bedrooms and lounge rooms.
"There’s the al fresco terrace dining area and sky bar, both of which give you great views wherever you’re moored," Crichton says. "You can enjoy your drinks and meals under the warm sun or evening stars surrounded by the magical vistas of the Mediterranean."
This practice of giving the people what they want is vital in the post-pandemic era, he adds.
"After the pandemic, the travel industry became quite transactional," he says. "Across the industry, from corporate down to delivery services, we lost a little bit of the human aspect of what we do, and I think that’s a shame. Acknowledgement is human, and can be as simple as a smile or a laugh. At Emerald Cruises, that’s what we believe."
On the horizon
Like much of the travel industry, cruising was put at very real risk by the pandemic. As time has passed, it’s clear the public’s desire for drifting along beautiful waterways immersed in ultra-luxury is as strong as it ever was.
Emerald Cruises realizes the stakes have been raised post-pandemic, so Crichton and his team are working harder than ever to deliver to those higher expectations.
"We have a very solid management team that’s been in the industry for decades," he says. "We’re always on the lookout for the next big thing, or trying to create it ourselves."
"I think I have the best job in the world. Look at what we do. We give people their dreams." – Angus Crichton
That process is a magical one, he says, and full of questions that are a delight to try and answer. Where do people want to travel next? Can we build a ship that will get them there and give them the experience they want?
So far, the answers are directing Emerald Cruises’ superyachts to the Indian Ocean through the Seychelles and on to East Africa for safari experiences – new shores for the cruise company. After that, it’s a return to the Black Sea region – with itineraries encompassing Greece, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – and the evergreen Caribbean.
For Crichton, this is what the job is all about.
"The product, the people I work with and our passion are all drivers for me," he says. "I think I have the best job in the world. Look at what we do. We give people their dreams."