Having reently returned from escorting a group on another AmaWaterways cruise, this one on the Douro River, the cruise line once again lived up to its expectations. This voyage sailed from Porto along Portugal's picturesque Douro River, stopping for visits in charming towns and historic cities, including a stop in Salamanca, Spain. The Douro river is very narrow, allowing close-up views of the stunning landscapes from every location on the ship.
AmaDouro carries just 102 guests in superb comfort, with plenty of room in all of the public spaces. Some guests took advantage of a relatively large swimming pool on the sundeck, but it was never crowded. Staterooms are extremely comfortable and inviting and the marble bathrooms simply lovely. Bathroom amenities are the high end L’Occitane brand, so no need to bring your own supplies from home. Each guest was provided with their own personal water bottle which could be filled at coffee/water/snack stations located on each deck.
Meals onboard were varied, fresh and nicely presented. Breakfast was a buffet, but there was also a station where guests could order fresh omelets, fried eggs or eggs benedict. Fresh fruits, juices and even champagne for mimosas were all available. Lunches and dinners included wonderful wines from the region and made every meal a special event. Our friendly, accommodating Portuguese waiters were a pleasure to spend meal times with and it was interesting to hear stories of their lives and families.
A nice twist, not always offered on cruises, were a lunch and dinner at two “Quinta’s” or country estates with vineyards where we enjoyed delicious typical Portuguese cuisine and had opportunities to spend a bit of time wandering the beautiful grounds on our own. At Jardim da Quinta da Aveleda, guests could reserve a blanket among the gardens, to have a private picnic. Each blanket came with comfy pillows and when the guests arrived at their blanket, staff delivered a wonderful lunch box filled with a fresh lunch, cutlery and refreshments for a delightful lunch.
For shore excursions, each guest was provided with a Quiet Vox headset. The personal headsets were ready in our cabins when we first boarded the ship. It was ours for the duration of the cruise, which was very handy. The Quiet Vox system ensures that each guest hears the guides every word very clearly, even in noisy spaces.
On two evenings, local talent was brought onboard to entertain. On one, a delightful fado group performed traditional song and dance. I learned that fado music is not comprised of only intense songs of broken romances and sad times, as I have always thought. This group performed lively, happy songs and made for a very entertaining evening.
A group of male university students wearing traditional university dress (all black with capes) called “tuna,” performed one evening, playing traditional instruments and singing serenades and boisterous tunes. This particular group was made up of medical students studying in varying areas of the medical profession. The purpose of these “tuna” groups is to raise money for their education. These unique, local opportunities to experience the flavor of a culture up close, became highlights of our shipboard experience.
The AmaDouro docks each night and cruises during the day so we did not miss any of the spectacular landscapes or points of interest along the river. Following dinner on our first evening in Vila Nova de Gaia, the ship sailed along the length of the city centre where the buildings were lit with beautiful golden lights. It’s called an Illumination Cruise and the view from the sundeck was magical and romantic and we were mesmerized by the beauty of it all.
There five locks along our itinerary’s narrow stretch of the Douro. One of them, the Carrapatelo lock is the tallest on the river at 115 feet high! It is one of the highest dams in the world. Quite a thrill to sit on the spacious sundeck and watch as AmaDouro rises to the top.
There were green terraced hillsides with cascading rows of grape vines destined for one delicious bottle of wine after another, and silvery-leafed olive orchards and almond trees vying for some of the attention. Small villages and large towns welcomed us as we disembarked for visits to delightful palaces like the Mateus Palace and Gardens. Who would have thought that the very inexpensive wine I purchased in my early years so that I could use the bottle for a candle holder, would be a place I would visit in all its glory so many years later!
I had never been a fan of port wine, thinking it too sweet, or vino verde…who wants to drink green wine? Numerous visits to stunning vineyards followed by tastings changed my past limited experiences with both of these. There are excellent and delicious varieties of both and with the green terraced vineyards as a backdrop, how could one not enjoy!
As with my past AmaWaterways voyages, this sailing was a fabulous, magical way to experience another destination up close on yet another European river!