Six dining options are available for no extra charge, which is impressive for such a small ship. We found the food quality to be excellent, with a good selection of Portuguese specialties using local ingredients as well as meals that you would be used to eating at home. Breakfast was the same every day, but there's a wider variety at lunch and dinner and little repetition over 10 days. Room service and snacks in the lounge are available 24 hours. The chef also happily obliged when we went off menu and asked for peri peri chicken (a spicy Portuguese/African dish) to be delivered to our cabin at 10 p.m.
In addition, the Douro River itinerary includes a top-notch barbecue on the sun deck (once per cruise, weather permitting), dinner at an atmospheric cellar restaurant in Porto and a terrible "tapas lunch" in a hotel in Salamanca, with flamenco dancers.
Crystal Dining (Sapphire Deck): This is the main restaurant where most meal services are served (it's closed in between these times). The entrance is lined with wine bottles and the walls have rows of colorful porcelain sardines, a cute touch. It's a bit tight moving between some tables but all passengers can be comfortably seated in one sitting.
Breakfast and lunch are buffets, but waiters are always on hand to fetch drinks or other special requests. They will remember your name, your preferred coffee or cocktail, and any dietary needs.
At breakfast (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) you can also ask your waiter for freshly cooked poached eggs or the special of the day; or order an omelet from the chef at the buffet counter.
At lunch (generally from midday to 1:30 p.m.) there are several types of meat, seafood, pasta, vegetables, salads, soups and desserts. One of the chefs is stationed at a carvery to cut slices of pork, veal or beef; next to him (in the right corner of the counter as you walk in) is always a local dish to sample the region's cuisine. Keep an eye out for Portuguese favorites such as grilled sardines, Bacalao Pil Pil (cod fish confit in olive oil and vegetables), rojos (pork stew), and bifamos (bread with sliced pork).
Dinner (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) is a la carte, meaning passengers sit down and order from a menu that changes daily. Dishes made with locally grown ingredients are marked with an (L), vegetarian is (V) and a healthy choice selection is listed at the end. Inform your waiter if you have any allergies or intolerances.
Table D'Or (Sapphire Deck): At the back of Crystal Dining is a table for 12, where the dozen diners get treated to a degustation dinner of five courses and six fine Portuguese wines. It's like the Captain's Table, but without the Captain. One of the butlers introduces the food while the other explains the wines. Foie gras terrine, slow-roasted beef tenderloin and a dessert trio are among the dishes. This option is only offered once per cruise to passengers staying on the Diamond Deck or in a Junior Balcony Suite on the Sapphire Deck. Highly recommended; reservations are essential. (Table D'Or is known as Table La Rive on other Scenic ships. D'Or is derived from Douro, meaning "gold.")
Portobellos (Diamond Deck): Located at the front of the ship within the Panorama Lounge, this intimate space is reserved for dinner each night. Every table (for two, four or six people) is near a window and within view of the chefs so you can watch the preparation of your meal or admire the passing scenery. All passengers are entitled to try this "more premium" experience once per cruise. Bookings are essential.
Unlike the Portobellos Italian restaurants on other Scenic ships, Azure's version serves Portuguese cuisine -- but it's not the traditional dishes you might expect. The appetizer is a zucchini soup; the three mains are salmon (from Norway), beef (from the United States) or a mushroom and asparagus bulhao pato (clams in a garlicky broth); and the two desserts are chocolate cake or banana yogurt with nuts and cream. But the banana is from Madeira, the amuse-bouche melon cocktail is soaked in local port and the Atlantic bay scallops come with market greens, herb olive oil and red beet "air." The food and service were superb and servings were sensibly sized.
River Cafe (Diamond Deck): Also in the Panorama Lounge, this is a pop-up station of soup, toasted sandwiches and other snacks. It's open from 6:30 a.m. for early risers (sweet pastries and fruit) until late afternoon. As opposed to other Scenic ships, there is no ice cream station in this venue but you can ask the bartender to bring you a bowl from the kitchen or make a milkshake.
Panorama Lounge (Diamond Deck): Behind the bar is a selection of cakes, tarts and sandwiches, available 24 hours. A self-service coffee machine, tea bags, milk, sugar and jars of cookies are located near the entrance. Complimentary drinks (except for some top-shelf liquor and fine wines) are served all day. Most people don't start on the alcohol until pre-dinner drinks, but there's an interesting menu of Portuguese cocktails and port tonics, plus the usual beer, wine, spirits and liqueurs. The bartenders and waiters do a great job under pressure but they need double the crew at peak times, as it can take up to 15 minutes to get served just before or after dinner.
Room Service (24 hours): A nice treat on your balcony or in bed, room service provides simple food in privacy. Choose from soup of the day, club sandwich, caprese sandwich, BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich), minute steak with fries and coleslaw, hamburger or cheeseburger with fries, garden salad, fruit platter, cheese platter or chocolate brownie. Service is quick (we never waited longer than 15 minutes) and there is no cost or delivery fee.