My husband chose this cruise to celebrate his 70th birthday. We have done many ocean cruises on various cruise lines and one river cruise - the Mekong. I had done a considerable amount of research into all the cruise companies who offered cruises on the River Douro and chose Riviera Travel because of its reputation in the UK and the fact that the Douro Elegance was a new ship. The lauded five star experience was also a big draw. The cruise is a return trip from Porto on the Portuguese coast as far as the Spanish border where the Douro is no longer navigable by large river cruise ships..
There were good and bad points to this cruise and overall we had an enjoyable time but our main disappointment was with the food which we regard as an important part of any cruise holiday. I completely agree with raymond4868's comments about the food and the service associated with the dining experience. It is by no means a five star experience. Food was mostly luke warm, no thought seems to have been given to the accompanying sauces with the meat although we did like the fish. Soups were tasteless and often cabbage based, salads were unimaginative. No ice cream was ever available, desserts were a joke and every day radioactive looking jelly was an option for dessert at lunch. I like to have fresh fruit at breakfast and on our cruise the selection wasn't bad but it was sliced so thinly you could see through it. Cook to order service at breakfast was very slow. We did talk to the Maitre D of our concerns about food and service early on in the cruise but it didn't improve. Our best meals by far were lunch on our day trip to Salamanca and the evening meal at Quinta de Pancheca (thank goodness, this was on my husband's birthday!).
The ship certainly had the wow factor on boarding. It looks very modern and stylish. The sun deck is lovely and all the furnishings and bed linen were excellent quality. However, after a while we came to realise that something didn't seem quite right and made it seem a bit dowdy. The colour scheme is centred on brown and there are very few other colours injected into the decor. Portugal has some wonderful colourful ceramics but the ceramics on display in the dining room are brown mounted on a brown wall. The 'net' curtains in the lounge area are also light brown.
Our cabin, whilst fairly compact, was adequate for a 7 night cruise but the bathroom definitely needs more shelving. I was concerned that our cabin entry cards had the cabin number on them which meant that if you did mislay your card, anyone would have access to your cabin. I did point this out to the deputy hotel manager and hopefully this matter will be addressed. We were encouraged to use the safe in the room but it has been placed high up in the wardrobe and I needed to stand on a chair to access it.
Apart from the waiters in the dining room, the staff provided excellent service. Douro Azul is the managing company for all the cruise ships on the Douro and it is their policy to charge for water ordered in the bar despite the fact that bottled water is freely available in the cabins. We found this out when we returned after a long day sightseeing and went to the bar to order a pre-dinner drink and my husband was refused a glass of tap water whilst we waited for our drinks to arrive.
The organisation of the holiday was very good from the time we were picked up at the airport and transported to the ship to our journey home. All the tours off the ship were in brand new air-conditioned coaches (thanks to Pedro, our brilliant tour guide) and the maps and information provided were good. Vox boxes are used on the tours. At present, the itinerary includes a trip by coach to Salamanca (a two hour drive) which is a beautiful university city in Spain but unfortunately it is on a Monday when all the museums are closed which was disappointing. The scenery along the Douro is wonderful and the lovely weather showed it off well. We thoroughly enjoyed going through the locks which was an amazing experience and certainly required a good deal of precision from the Captain manoeuvring the ship into position.
In our opinion, the scenery travelling along the majestic Douro and the included excursions made this holiday. Riviera Travel has taken note of my feedback and has promised to pass on our comments about the dining experience to Douro Azul. I only hope that there is a definite improvement in the food and service because this would then truly make this holiday a Five Star experience.
Our cabin did not have a balcony but had a glass window which could be lowered electronically for the 'outside' experience. The bed takes up a large part of the cabin space and there was little room for the two chairs near the window. Soft furnishings were excellent as was the decor. There was no mirror above the narrow desk so using the hairdryer was a bit of a challenge if you need a mirror. I sat sideways on the bed to look in the mirror above the bed which was uncomfortable. Large TV which we hardly used. Safe too high for short people. Storage space was OK for a week. In hindsight, I should have asked for the spare pillows to be removed from the wardrobe for more space. Adequate sockets for charging devices.
The bathroom was small but beautifully tiled; the shower was very good with plenty of pressure and hot water. There was hardly any shelving so we resorted to leaving our things in our wash bags which was very inconvenient as these had to be kept in the cabin. Toiletries are provided in large bottles which took up all the shelf space in the shower cubicle. Towels did not dry easily and we therefore had to use fresh towels more often than we would would have liked. The mirror also steams up very easily and we wondered why a new ship did not have demisting mirrors.