By Gabriella Le Breton, Cruise Critic contributor
Queen Isabel launched in spring 2013 as the newest and one of the most luxurious ships on Portugal's Douro River. The ship is owned by DouroAzul, one of Portugal's leading river cruise companies, with an impressive portfolio of riverboats and ships (including the Spirit of Chartwell), as well as extremely smart new coaches, which coordinate with the ships for shore excursions. Queen Isabel is currently chartered by boutique cruise line Uniworld Cruises for all its cruises along the Douro.
Built in Portugal, furnished with locally crafted furniture and staffed by Portuguese crew (with the exception of the Dutch chef), the ship is reassuringly authentic. It's relatively small when compared with other European ships. At just 260 feet long by 37 feet wide, Queen Isabel's dimensions are dictated by the relatively short and narrow locks that pepper the Douro. As a result, the ship's 59 cabins are fairly small, particularly in comparison with those found on Uniworld ships on, say, the Rhine and Danube. However, cabins on the lower deck have large windows, and all the cabins and suites on the upper two decks offer balconies that are beautifully appointed. There are also good bathrooms and adequate storage space.
Queen Isabel further boasts an excellent restaurant, with a small, separate, alfresco dining area; a spacious lounge with an open-air bar, where light lunches are served and can be enjoyed out on deck; and a large sun deck with elegant furniture and a small (thigh-deep) heated swimming pool. There's a shop stocked with tasteful local merchandise, a tiny yet functional spa and gym, and broadband Internet that's both fast and reliable, accessed via numerous public Wi-Fi hotspots and in cabins.
Passengers familiar with Uniworld's ships will find the decor reassuringly familiar: Beatrice Tollman, the president and founder of The Travel Corporation, parent company of Uniworld, and winner of the Hotelier of the Year Award 2012, played a leading role in the creation of Queen Isabel's interiors. Expect lavish fabrics in muted colors, moderately ornate furnishings and high-tech in-cabin facilities.
Finally, Queen Isabel features a 1,679-square-foot area equipped with solar panels on the sun deck, which generate a significant proportion of the energy used by the ship.
Queen Isabel Fellow Passengers
Passengers aboard Queen Isabel are typically well traveled, fairly experienced cruisers and range in age from 40s to 70s. The majority tend to hail from North America with a smattering of Britons, Europeans, South Americans and South Africans. Given that exploration of the port wine growing area and vineyards is a major focus of voyages on the Douro, many passengers already possess significant knowledge of wine and are eager to learn more.
Queen Isabel Dress Code
The dress code for the duration of the cruise is casual, bar two evenings deemed smart casual. The captain's welcome dinner has been replaced with a less formal evening with a smart casual dress code.
Queen Isabel Gratuity
The onboard currency is the euro. Gratuities are not included in Uniworld cruise fares. The cruise line does offer suggestions of what to leave for the crew, cruise manager, shore excursion guides and drivers, but it is stressed that gratuities are left entirely to the discretion of each passenger. The recommended tip per cruiser, per day, is two to three euros for the local guide and one to two euros for the driver. The suggested onboard gratuities are three euros for the tour manager and 10 euros for the crew, per passenger, per day. Gratuities can be billed to onboard accounts and paid with a credit card or paid in cash using euros or U.S. dollars.