Julie’s Guide to Douro River Cruising

group shot on deck

Retail Director, Julie Pinkney travelled the Douro River, Portugal with Avalon Waterways in April 2024.  Whether you’re planning your own river cruise or simply dreaming of one, Julie’s insights promise to guide and inspire your next adventure.

Onboard Avalon Alegria

“Avalon’s newest addition, Suite Ship, Avalon Alegria, has two decks of large Panorama suites featuring floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall sliding doors. These transform to provide unobstructed views of the river from your in-room open-air balcony. A third floor of Deluxe Staterooms is the same size and layout, but with higher-level windows, as these are below the waterline.

bedroom window

All Avalon ships’ beds face the window so you can admire the view as the entire wall is glass. Our room was beautiful, spacious yet cosy and light, with great décor. There are many small touches, such as dual-coloured towels in the bathroom, that help you remember which is yours, personal blankets that you can take up on deck, a pillow menu, and a choice of Comfort Collection mattress firmness – very soft, soft, firm, or very firm!

Alegria means happiness in Portuguese. Avalon’s president, Pam Hoffee, was closely involved in the design process. Overseeing every little detail, from the fragrance diffusers in the staterooms to the books available to borrow from the onboard library. The ship is designed to maximize the view from any location. A lounge area with an extension outdoor area integrates into the bow/front, while a quiet lounge area is also at the stern/back.

Avalon Alegria ship
bedroom bed

Built specially for Portugal’s River Douro, the Alegria is smaller than the usual river cruise ship, allowing it to fit in the Douro’s locks. Maximum capacity is just 102 passengers, meaning there’s plenty of space in all areas. Up on the Sky Deck, there’s a heated swimming pool, lounge chairs, and a shaded area, where you can sit and watch the ship squeeze into the locks. It’s a fascinating process. We watched the captain’s bridge and top railings being lowered to pass under the river bridges safely.

Facilities on board include the Panorama Lounge, with 180° windows, plus an outdoor observation lounge at the front of the ship, the Panorama restaurant. A Club Lounge at the rear has views from the back of the ship, books, board, and card games, and a small fitness centre. An Adventure centre includes onboard yoga, complimentary active gear, and an Active Host for active excursions and on-board fitness classes. There’s also complimentary Starlink Wi-Fi throughout.

deck & pool

A Taste of Luxury

Flexible dining options include complimentary all-day tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and still and sparkling water refill stations. You can eat in the Panorama restaurant, more Bistro style in the lounge, or weather permitting, dine alfresco on the Sky Grill up on deck. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, with dinner being à la carte with three or four courses. Besides the usual mealtimes, the ship serves afternoon tea, late-night snacks, cookies and cakes in the Club Lounge, and fruit in the Panorama Lounge. Or enjoy room service! 

The food was amazing, top quality restaurant standard with plenty of choice. On day one, the chef meets with anyone with special dietary requirements. Servers remember your dietary needs and have already adapted the menu accordingly. Friendly bar staff remember your drink of choice, which makes it feel very personal.

dining area:lounge

Adventures Ashore

Excursions fall into three categories: Classic, Discovery and Active, depending on your preference. Some of the group went kayaking on the Douro, whilst others visited the historical home of Portugal and heard about its history and relationship with Spain. An excellent guide escorts each excursion, with personal in-ear headphones, so you don’t miss any important information!

Each evening, the cruise staff holds a port talk before dinner to update guests on the following day’s activities and timings. Valentin, the Cruise Director held court each day and had an excellent sense of humour! All the team were friendly and engaging, nothing was too much trouble and you only had to ask once for something to be done.

Digital screens around the ship and in each of the staterooms keep you up to date with the schedule for the day and the AvalonGo app provides detailed information on the schedule, maps and menus at your fingertips.This stunning ship is designed specifically to take in the views and uniqueness of the Douro River. Wherever on board – in your stateroom, in the lounge, restaurant or on deck, you have a perfect view of your surroundings.

lemon tree
l'occitane products
guimarães tile

Environmental Excellence

Sustainability is evident across the Alegria, as they have cut out single-use plastic. L’Occitane toiletry dispensers, recycling of in-room rubbish, paper waste bags instead of plastic and the use of LED lighting and shore power instead of generators. In addition, Avalon Waterways work with, and contributes to The Lighthouse project, The Ocean Cleanup and Trees4Travel.

Discovering the Douro

We flew to Porto and transferred with a driver who pointed out local sights on route. Joining the ship in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city. The Douro, one of the largest rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, known as ‘The River of Gold’ stretches 897 km in length. Originating in Picos de Urbión in Spain, it flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.

We sailed through vineyard-clad slopes and two locks, including Europe’s deepest lock – the Carrapatelo at 57 metres deep, stopping at Peso de Régua, Entre Os Rios Guimarães and Leverinho, before returning to Porto. The vineyards are unique in Portugal and we loved sailing past the unique layered landscape which looks like steps.

The Douro has a 2000-year history of wine making dating back to Roman days. It is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, so all vineyards must be licensed to operate in the region. This region has produced Portugal’s famous Vinho Verde, red and white wine, and port. Famous brand names such as Grahams, Sandeman, Taylors and Dow are all based in the Douro Valley.

pousada mosteiro de guimarães

Tranquil Travels

I loved everything about the trip, and it reminded me what I love about river cruising. It’s so relaxing as you literally can’t rush around. Even in inclement weather, you can just sit in a room with the doors open and watch the world go by. It’s great for people who enjoy a city break and a relaxing holiday, the perfect mix of relaxation and seeing local cultures with curated experiences for insights into local living.

We had a beautiful spacious and elegant room; the staff were fantastic, and it really was a lovely break. Happiness is a relaxing river cruise!”

Julie Pinkney, Retail Director.

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