Daily shore excursions are included in the fare. There are only two days when passengers can choose between two options (Mateus Palace or the town of Lamego; Guimaraes tour or wine-tasting at Quinta da Aveleda). Most morning tours run from around 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Additional afternoon options are also complimentary and can be reserved ahead of time. A trip to Salamanca, Spain, is an all-day affair involving a two-hour coach drive each way.
Aside from walking tours in riverside towns, the only active options are canoeing on the Sabor River (limited to 25 people) and hiking in the vineyards at Quinta do Bonfim. Other excursions explore Douro Museum, Coa Valley, St John of Tarouca monastery, Afurada fishing village, Crystal Gardens, Provesende, a cork factory, sweet almond workshop and tastings of port wine.
Passengers are divided into smaller groups but not according to mobility level so all walking tours are a very slow stroll, which may frustrate some people. We'd like to see dedicated slow and medium-pace groups, instead of random assignments based on what bus you got on.
Scenic's two tour escorts, who accompany each excursion, are Portuguese, knowledgeable and fluent in English. The two escorts and a hotel director (but no cruise director) also remain on the ship throughout the whole cruise.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Yoga and stretching classes are offered on the sun deck at 7 a.m. When in port, one of the wellness staff leads a morning walk. Before and after dinner, the resident pianist plays pop and rock music in the lounge. On one night, a local band comes aboard to perform traditional music. Other nights include a show by the crew and a music trivia quiz, which involves (voluntary) audience participation on the dance floor for bonus points. On one day, a lunch barbecue is held on the sun deck, weather permitting.
The daily afternoon program includes one session on most days: a port talk by the hotel director, a Portuguese culture or language lesson by the tour escorts, a cooking demonstration by the chef and a cork jewelry and handbag presentation by a local designer (who also sells her products for reasonable prices). No fees or advance registration are required.
There's only one place to get a drink and not enough staff to cope with demand (after all, this is a ship with free drinks that attracts a largely Australian crowd!). Few people drink alcohol earlier than 5 p.m.; after-dinner action depends on how exhausting the day's activities were.
Panorama Lounge & Bar (Diamond Deck): Used for quiet relaxation by day, the bar is busiest just before dinner for the daily port talk. It can be hard to find a seat at this time so arrive a good half-hour early if you want to sit with friends. Most people drink beer, wine and cocktails, and many like to experiment with the local sweet spirits and port tonics (a refreshing mix of port wine, tonic water and lime). The decor is modern, with comfy couches, chairs and tables. At the furthest end from the entrance (actually the front of the ship) is a quieter terrace overlooking the bow.
The top deck, lined with artificial grass, is the best spot for a 360-degree view of the surroundings. The pool is naturally heated by the Portuguese sunshine but remains cool enough to provide some relief from the region's hot weather, even if just to soak your feet in the water while enjoying the view. Deck chairs surround the pool and the front section of the deck; the mid-section is shaded and has 15 tables, each with four chairs. For serious sunbathers, four loungers are positioned at the back, adjacent to a roped-off crew area.
The ship has a reception/guest services desk that is staffed 24 hours. There is no library, shops or self-serve laundry.
There is a small spa offering facials, massages and hairdressing. Prices are higher than you'd pay on land but are relatively good value for a cruise. Book early as the limited slots are quickly filled, especially on sailing days.
The fitness center is a small room with just enough space for a (brand new) treadmill, stepper and rowing machine. At 7 a.m. most mornings, you can join a yoga or stretch class on the sun deck or take a walk in port led by one of the wellness staff. A walking track stretches around the edge of the sun deck and can be used after 8 a.m. so as not to disturb sleeping passengers in the cabins below.
Children are not encouraged and so far none has sailed on Scenic Azure. The ship has no family cabins, kids programs or facilities, and few of the excursions would enthrall under 18s.