Queen Isabel Cruise Review by Duosprings: Beware of chartered boats!
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Beware of chartered boats!
We just got back from Portugal after a trip on Uniworld's Queen Isabel Duoro River cruise. Since several of our fellow travelers had sailed with Uniworld many times before and raved about the experience, we had great expectations. So here are my downsides and upsides comments.
The downsides: While the boat is relatively new, it certainly lacks the style of the other Uniworld boats, based on the glossy photos in the brochures and reports from our friends. And while the crew was generally friendly, the service was very uneven, especially at dinner, suggesting insufficient training and supervision. Waiters would come once and then disappear and have to be hunted down for refills of the water glasses. It was the food, however, that was the big disappointment. The first evening I had a pasta and vegetable dish (being a vegetarian) and I was dismayed to realize that the veggies were frozen and the pasta cooked well into mush territory. Yikes. This is not a complicated dish to More prepare well!
Subsequent meals were similar, ranging from the kind of grub you generally get at a business convention to slightly better than standard fare. Breakfast was generally much more interesting and varied. The wines served at the meals were basic plonk which is kind of inexcusable since there are some very good Portuguese wines that are quite inexpensive (I drink them at home).
The upsides: The Duoro River is achingly beautiful, underdeveloped and with little boat traffic. The excursions were well thought-out and organized and led by the incomparable Kirsten (who turned out to be the only Uniworld employee on board). We embarked and disembarked at Porto which has gone to the top of my list of European cities to photograph - visually rich and exciting.
Conclusion: 3 days into the trip, we learned that the Isabelle is chartered from Duoro Azul which also owns the boats used by Viking and AMA and essentially has the monopoly on this route. So, what we had was an Azul experience, not a Uniworld experience and I was told by many fellow passengers to please not judge Uniworld by this particular cruise.
Bottom line: if you want to sail the Duoro, be aware of the charter situation and price shop; no need to pay Uniworld prices since Azul services them all. Note also that I am taking all of the comments about Uniworld's other cruises seriously and booking a trip on the Danube to celebrate my 60th birthday. Second time a charm? Let's hope so! Less
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