You start in the Tivoli in Lisbon: Astheticlly a nice hotel. It is missing many high level hotel details. What drove many in our group crazy was that there is no shelf or place to put the soap/shampoo in the shower, leading to a more ... Read More
You start in the Tivoli in Lisbon: Astheticlly a nice hotel. It is missing many high level hotel details. What drove many in our group crazy was that there is no shelf or place to put the soap/shampoo in the shower, leading to a more difficult shower. After a long day of touring, I like to tune into TV, but there were only 2 English speaking channels and they left little to be desired. What was most troubling is that the headboards are not fixed properly, so we heard several different hotel rooms “quickly slamming their headboards to the wall” (if you get what I mean). The soundproofing in this hotel is horrific and if you are not listening to screaming people on the street, you are listening to your neighbors getting busy in their rooms or doors slamming out in the hallways. Viking provided breakfast included at their restaurant and it was a great spread and the service was good. From a service perspective, the hotel staff rarely answers the phone, so you are forced to go downstairs and wait in line for even the most minor of things.
We went one day ahead of the cruise and book a private tour of Sinstra, which was our very best day on this vacation! Pena Palace and the Moore Castle was amazing and we paid about $140/pp and had a private car and driver on our own (same price as the ship charges to go on a bus with 30 people and do the cattle call).
Day in Lisbon:
Viking’s included tour in Lisbon was good, but not great. It hit the high points, but our guide failed to have interesting details or stories that we have had with other wonderful guides during travel. Lisbon is a fun city with much to do. We enjoyed our time there.
Off to Porto:
We spent the extra money for the Fatima/Monastery tour. I would say it was not worth it. We were in Fatima on a Sunday and it was crowded with a service, so seeing anything was pretty impossible. The Monastery was beautiful, but I am not sure I would have paid the money to see it, had I known about Fatima. We drove a total of 4 hours or so, in between the sites we saw, getting out 3 times. We had lunch at a restaurant on the beach with a wonderful view, though the food itself was just OK (and beware, if you don't like fish that was the only thing they offered us, though, after complaints they did bring something else).
Viking ship: Know this, other than a young blind woman and her guide, we were the only people under the age of 60. The average age is around 70, with many close to or over 80 on this cruise. What this means is that (among other issues this creates) the tours are geared at people that cannot handle much. A 15 minute walk is advertised highly, to encourage all to attend and know it is not too much. What this means is that tours tend to be dry and boring. The pace of walking is more than sluggish and the amount you see is minimum outside of the coach. The guides are not at all interesting and, being an extensive traveler, I have never been so bored in my lifetime. Each day means 2-4 hours on the bus, as there is nothing close by. You MUST go on their tours and deal with extremely uncomfortable long bus rides. There is no private tour booking availability and the "program director" never even responded to our request to book such. There is literally nothing to do on this ship, so staying back behind is not a option and there are no towns at the “ports”. The “pool” is about 10 feet long and 2-3 feet deep. There are 3 steps to get to the bottom of it, if it tells you anything. What a total waste. There is no gym (Viking does tell you this) and, further, you may not run along the top, as the people can hear you in their rooms. You must concede to no exercise at all on their cruise and you won’t make it up in walking, as you see much of what you do from the bus. The scenery you sail is very beautiful, but there really is not much to do except visit wineries. If you do not like port, which is a very sweet wine, that makes for a very boring vacation. Your ship moves as your bus does, so you get little of the sailing time through the valley since you are on the bus much of the time the boat is sailing and it cannot sail at night either. TV: Warning, you lose satellite at times during the trip. Since there is nothing to do on the ship, this is problematic. Their list of movies is garbage, which was also a bummer. We also had some issues with our TV, as it would sometimes not work and they were constantly trying to fix it. They had the opportunity to at least have some current features, which were not available, to pass the time when you are trapped on ship with nothing else to do. This also goes to wireless availability and cellular service. They all drop off for long periods during the sailing. Do not book extra excursions prior to boarding. They have plenty of spaces to add when you are on the ship and cannot do a refund on the ship, which causes issues. They told us to get a refund on line and the on line system didn’t allow it either. We had to fight with Viking, who eventually did give us a credit.
Staff: Many are wonderful. Our guide (bus 1C from the June 4th sailing in 2017, however, seemed impatient and with attitude. The reception staff were requested of things and would just force us to follow up over and over again, never following through on their own. The program director said she would try and set up somethings for my husband and I , tired of the bus. We heard nothing from her again. The matra de was wonderful and the wait staff was very accommodating. The chef was very friendly and with a sense of humor
Food: . I was told by many that had been on other Viking cruises that this cruise did not match the normal Viking river dining experience, which was a bummer for us. Mediocre at best. Good fruits like berries are not present and they make their own yogurt, which is watery and gross. Not sure why they don’t just buy local yogurt like most do. Night one, we had steak as the special, but it was slightly overcooked. The dessert special was amazing. We were told the steak would come medium rare and it did not. Night two was the lamb chops. They were OK, but not great and there was little to the dish. Dessert was a marscapone and it was terrible. Night 3 was a peppered chicken. It had way too much in pepper on the skins and it was not pleasant to eat. The waiter also did not understand the dish, as I asked about the potatoes served with it and he said a thick pieces of potato and it was actually more like a hash brown. I am not certain how they cannot know what is being served. Dessert that night was a banana split, which was a banana cut in half with one scoop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, whipped cream and almonds on it. It was OK, but certainly not worth the calories. The next night was a pork tenderloin special, which was not good. The dessert was a sort of custard advertised with berries. It came with 2 small blueberries for each person on the ship and when we all asked for more, we were told they ran out. How can you have a dessert based on blueberries and run out? Breakfast too, was mediocre. They have the waiters making eggs and they tried twice to get me eggs over lightly and both times they broke them. Even the chef made eggs one morning and needed 2 hands to crack them (awkwardly) and broke one! Salmanaca night the menu was horrible and almost 100% of our table ordered the rib eye from the base menu instead, which was good. The mashed potatoes came out ice cold (not warm, truly cold). The dessert again was subpar. They seem to do a lot of custard type desserts and not one was good, so they need to figure something out. The next night’s menu was good and I ordered the filet mignon, which was cooked perfectly. Dessert, again, we a disappointment. Lunches have been a struggle for most of the cruisers. They just don’t have the basic menu they need and try to be too fancy…..and cannot seem to handle that either. I would recommend they come up with a basic menu for lunch that is always available, full of “normal” eating, which they lack right now. They did have Gluten free pasta and options, which was nice. I will give the chef kudos for the last night’s meal, a veal dish. It, along with the starters, were excellent the last day. Had the food been this good throughout, we would have been more than satisfied!
Day 1 in Porto: This tour was a “panoramic” tour, meaning you see little up close. You do go into the train station and get a full (LOL) 40 minutes to walk around, but that is the end of it.
Guirames: What they do not tell you is that every tour is a long bus ride. This one is an hour there and an hour back with less than 2 hours at the place. As with most Viking tours, there is little time on your own. After buying it, we skipped it.
Mateus Palace and Gardens Tour. There was a 45 minute ride to a “palace”. The tour was done by a university student with terrible English. Many could barely understand him and when you could, his information was dry and boring. What a shame, as this seemed like an interesting place. Then we went to another Sandelman’s winery. The tour was interesting, but frankly a repeat of the other day’s tour at Sandelmans in Porto and the “tasting” was of a mixed drink with port in it.
Pinhao: Another hour ride to Castelo Rodrigo. It is a cute, ancient town, but you only spend an hour or so there, as there really is not much to see and do. The tour was a total of 10-15 minutes. There is a very cute church there, but the guide didn’t even go over the interesting things about that church, which was the usual way of these very boring guides. You have around an hour on your own. The guides told us to wait to by cork at this stop and there were literally 3 shops, with very little in them. While the price of cork was better than other places, there was little to choose from. As with other days, we were in the bus for 2 hours for just over an hour spent at the destination. PS, there is someone that comes onto the ship with good cork prices and handmade items (purses, wallets and jewelry mostly) on the last night that is worth the visit and her presentation on cork was good too.
Salmanaca: 2 hours each way by bus. There is around a 45 minute tour, done by Spanish guides, who were far better than our Portuguese ones and then 3 ½ hours on your own. Salmanaca was a very interesting stop, with a lot to see and enjoyable shopping and food. Finally, we had a day where we spent a good deal of time away from the boat. This was a long bus ride, but definitely worth it when comparing to other days.
Favios: This town has very little to offer….not even a shop! It was interesting to see how she made the bread and it was hot and tasty. Then we were off to the bread and wine museum, which seems to have been created for these Douro river tours. There is not much of interest, but they have done their best to create something that goes with the cruise. We then had a tour of a Muscaret winery and a tasting. Again, way too sweet for us. We then went for a long traditional Portuguese lunch at a winery and this was done very well. The owner is funny and interesting to listen to. The food was good and dessert very good. The bus ride is just over an hour each way. There is no free time or shopping on this excursion. You go back to your ship in Pinhao. You can walk around but there isn’t much to see or even much in shopping, just really the train station and a casual stroll.
Lamego: 30-40 minute bus ride to Lamego. It has a cool staircase that you can walk down and is worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to do so. The town itself has several pretty churches, but that is about it. It does have nice cafes and a couple of decent shops. It isn’t really a quaint town, but it seems they are looking for places to bus their cruisers, so this is it. Had we stayed on the boat, it takes you to another port in a city that has a few shops to offer. Then you leave on your ship again., off to Porto. Thank God, we are looking forward to the end of this cruise for sure.
Back to Porto: We had one night left in this pretty town. We enjoyed a tuk tuk tour on our own, had another éclair and enjoyed the spa at Hotel Flor Village (where we stayed). It’s located in a great square and we had a lovely evening with tapas! Read Less