We sailed on the Serenity in April, 2018. We cruised with Vantage. The trip began with two nights in Madrid. Then we were bused Salamanca for lunch and a walking tour before proceeding to Vega du Terron, Spain where we embarked. As soon as everyone was on the ship, we took a short ~10 minute cruise to Barca d Alva, Portugal. It turns out that it’s a lot easer to load luggage at Vega du Terron.
While most Douro cruises run from Porto to Porto, Vantages cruises are one-way, from Vega du Terron to Porto or vice versa. Most Douro cruises do the same excursions: Castelo Rodrigo, Mateus Manor, Avessada Winery, Lamego, etc. So I won’t dwell on these, but focus on the ship.
The Douro Serenity was launched in 2017, and is a beautiful ship. Like most ships on the Douro it is owned and staffed by Douro Azul. Both Vantage and Riviera lease the ship, and Douro Azul operates the ship for Portuguese cruisers. It has a steel-gray exterior rather than the traditional white, and has a very sleek look. The public areas are nice and comfortable. We stayed in a Junior Suite. The 237 sq. ft. cabin was comfortable and quiet. It had a balcony, but we didn’t use it that much. Despite being a large cabin, it seemed a little tight at times.
We were a little frustrated that Vantage discriminated with the soaps and toiletries. Only President’s Club members (at least 3 previous Vantage trips) got the L’ Occitane toiletries.
We’re not foodies. We found the food to be good, but not great. It’s on a par with food we’ve had with other river cruises. Service in the restaurant and bar was always excellent
Douro cruises differ from typical European river cruises in that they don’t tie up to a town where one might take a walking tour. The ship docks, and cruisers board buses to be taken to sites of interest—typically bus rides are 1 hour or less. The same Douro Azul guides conducted tours at every stop. They lived in Porto and would either commute to and from the ship or stay in accommodations along the way. All of the excursions were interesting, although we encountered some harsh weather in early April. Of course, the Douro can be unbearably hot in the summer. You’ll pass some spectacular scenery on the bus going to or from the excursion destinations, so if you’re a photographer, you should take a polarizing filter to avoid glare from the glass bus windows.
The only extra-cost optional tour we took was the Toledo excursion from Madrid. We highly recommend a visit to Toledo.
Post Cruise Lisbon
Disembarkation from Porto was staggered in 30 minute intervals. This allowed the buses to make rest stops and town visits without overwhelming facilities. We stopped for lunch at Nazaré. Unfortunately, the first bus arrived before the restaurants opened, so they either ate very quickly or not at all. We also stopped at the old town of Obidos and had time to stroll around the old town.
Vantage chose the Pestana Palace as their Lisbon hotel. While the hotel is not close to the downtown area, it is a gorgeous facility. The main building (restaurants and common spaces) is an old mansion. Vantage offered a bus tour on the first full day in Lisbon with the normal stops. We were treated to the delicious pasteis de Belém pasteries at the monasteries. For those who wanted to spend the afternoon downtown, they were dropped off with a couple of pickups scheduled later in the afternoon. The second day was free for cruisers. The third day cruisers were transported to the airport to head home or participate in the optional extension to the island of Madeira.
On our first day in Madrid I noticed blood in my urine, and we decided to cut the trip short. Vantage CD Eleuterio worked with us to reschedule flights and had a taxi ready to take us to the airport the next morning. So we missed our last day in Madrid and the Madeira extension. Long story short I had a softball-sized tumor on my right kidney. The tumor and kidney were removed two weeks after we left Lisbon, and I’m now cancer-free with a promising prognosis. Vantage really performed well in helping us deal with the situation.
The 237 sq. ft. cabin was comfortable and quiet. It had a balcony, but we didn’t use it that much. Despite being a large cabin, it seemed a little tight at times. We were a little frustrated that Vantage discriminated with the soaps and toiletries. Only President’s Club members (at least 3 previous Vantage trips) got the L’ Occitane toiletries. Balcony had a glass window that could be raised and lowered. Balcony tip: If the window is open, the air conditioner won't turn on!