We have now sailed with Viking four times and were not disappointed, despite very hot weather throughout the trip! The entire crew was fantastic, especially Tatiana and Marcio in the lounge. They were as entertaining as they were efficient. The Viking Douro is a rental from Uniworld as Viking enters the Portuguese market for the first time in 2013. We did not like the lower level dining room, which really killed the view and atmosphere during meals. In 2014 Viking will have their own two-ship fleet with their more passenger friendly design.
There was a bit of a learning curve too with the meal quality compared to Viking's normally high standards. Chef Richard was saut'ing on his first trip and did a great job, but the menu was a bit limited compared to our past cruises. Surprisingly, there was very little seafood served aboard. Meals on the excursions were also a bit plain. Local restaurants were great when we could get away. We highly recommend the Cervejaria Ribadouro on the Avenida da Liberdade near the Hotel Tivoli. They offer a great selection of quality fresh meats and shellfish and are frequented by many of the locals. The Tivoli itself has a nice restaurant on the ground floor and a rooftop lounge that features great views of the city. Our room featured a nice balcony.
We would strongly recommend avoiding Portugal and Spain in August! It was very hot with temps reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in both Lisbon and on the river up north. We spotted several forest fires not far from the river. The ship's climate was perfect and the sun deck was cooler and very enjoyable at night. Even though local regulations prohibit river travel at night east of Porto, our captain gave us a nice night tour of Porto bridges and traveled to the mouth of the Douro near the Atlantic following our first dinner on board. A very nice trip highlight! Grab a seat on the sundeck with a glass of port, or whatever, and enjoy this show.
Other river traffic was almost nonexistent east of Porto and the locks were few and not crowded throughout the journey. The truly unique aspect of this trip versus river cruising in France, Germany, Austria, and even Russia, was the unusual topography along the Douro. The river displays 'big shoulders' along its entire route. The Douro carves its way through mile after mile of beautiful ravines with sculptured, rhythmic terraces dotted by the occasional tile-roofed quinta or whitewashed cylindrical pigeon tower.
The excursions included very comfortable buses (new Mercedes and Volvo) with nice climate control. Virtually every excursion travels by bus due to the fact that most worthwhile sites are miles from the Douro River. Skip the first port wine tour because the Sandeman tour is superior and you can only hear so much about port. We arrived in Lisbon a day ahead of the planned tour and took a side tour to Sintra. It's a nice 40-minute train ride from Lisbon to this quaint, charming village. We hiked up the steep path for two hours to the Pena National Palace and it was a highlight of the trip. We also enjoyed the Alfama walking tour (see my website below for a view).
Salamanca, Spain, was terrific (even though the program director touted the great shopping and the market but most shops were closed due to a national holiday when we arrived Feast of the Ascension, 8/15). We had a great hike through town to the old Roman Bridge (89 AD) and thoroughly enjoyed the cafes in the shade of the Plaza Mayor. We even enjoyed the two-hour bus ride with a chance to peek at the farms and pastures of rural northwest Spain.
We flew from Porto back to Lisbon to return and would change that to another European capital on the next trip. We had seen plenty of the capital and its oppressive August heat. An overnight at a Porto hotel would be another good choice; it's a very scenic and interesting town. Prices in general on board and in Portugal were well below other major European cities. A nice glass of red wine on board (included with lunch and dinner) was priced at '3.50 after hours. Many local cafes charged '1.00 for a cold 10-ounce draft beer.
The Portuguese people were incredibly friendly and helpful everywhere we traveled. A man ran a half block to return a pair of sunglasses I had left sitting on a plaza bench. The entire crew was from Portugal which was a genuine plus. Each person would share their personal story about their family and help explain the unique Portuguese culture.
If you wish to see a glimpse of the sights along this journey (and other Viking trips), visit my photo website at: