Have just returned from our first river cruise, The Douro in Portugal with Emerald Waterways. What an absolutely wonderful experience from start to finish from the Initial booking procedure and the administration behind it to the cruise itself. Everything you could think of was taken care of. A couple of weeks before we left and quite unexpectedly, two good quality haversacks with logo arrived with a similar design document holder.
Even at full capacity there were only 112 passengers so you could easily get to know everybody on board.
The cruise itself passed through wonderful countryside and 5 awe inspiring locks, two of which are the two deepest in Europe. Captain Alfonso steered the ship confidently into and out of the locks with precision and when you consider there is less than 1 foot either side this takes some considerable skill.
The first dinner and all breakfasts and lunches were buffet. For all the other dinners we had waiter service and our waiter Joao was splendid. As soon as your wine glass was empty it was filled again. The varied excellent food choices incorporated many Portuguese specialties. Midweek there was a superb barbecue on the sun deck. One of our party was celebrating his 65th birthday and the crew presented him with a birthday cake, sang happy birthday (in Portuguese) before starting a huge conga around the deck.
There were plenty of tours off ship which included trips to vineyards for wine and port tastings, guided visits to Pinhao, Lamego and Porto plus Salamanca in Spain. On most of our trips our guide was Maria who was a fountain of knowledge and none of it scripted. You also had your own time to explore these places. The Coa Museum of Rock Art was also visited.
There was also on-board activities such as tile painting, a talk about cork and making a keyring or bracelet, various quizzes, yoga, Zumba, cards etc. The whole experience was taken at a leisurely pace and there was no compulsion to join in any trip or activity if you did not want to. In fact you could, if you wished, stay on the ship all the time but that would have defeated the object of immersing yourself in Portuguese culture. A book and map on the Douro was provided with plenty of other information sheets and maps plus daily programme notes about the following day’s activities and schedule.
Whilst onshore the ‘bedroom elves’ kept our cabin spotless with changes of towels and flannels almost every day. In the evening whilst having dinner the elves were back turning down the beds and pulling the blinds down. A special thank you to our elf, Francienne.
The whole experience was brilliant and we cannot wait to book another in a few years’ time. Well done all the staff on the Emerald Radiance.
Spotless, plenty of space and great views from the wide picture windows