One shore excursion is included each day on your river cruise, and we felt they were well organized, for the most part. Many of the Douro Valley's ports are small, meaning a bus ride is usually required to get to the town with the noteworthy museum or cathedral. However, Emerald owns and operates its own buses, which follow the ship along the entire cruise, and they are the most comfortable tour buses we've ever been on. Plenty of legroom and forgiving leather cushions meant taking a quick nap during the ride was never a problem. There are even USB ports between the seats so you can charge your phone after all your picture-taking. The two tour escorts onboard your ship, along with your cruise director, also serve as your guides on excursions, except when a special guide from a museum or attraction hosts a tour of that location. Tours are usually divided into three buses, but they're never assigned -- go with the guide you choose each day. A "lollipop" is passed around and you tap your QuietVox device on it to connect to your guide's audio. We found the devices to work well, except if you fall behind and out of range.
Despite a focus on ancient history, the walking tours and museums you will visit are not dry and are often surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the Douro Valley or Portugal's blue-and-white tiled facades. There is always a small amount of free time built in, but it's just enough to have a look around or grab a quick cup of coffee. Even with a two-hour bus ride each way, a trip to Salamanca while docked along the border with Spain was a highlight for many passengers.
* May require additional fees
Another treat was an evening excursion for all passengers to Quinta Pacheca wine estate in Lamego for dinner. The cellar is warm in the summertime, but the ambiance is special, the food is home-cooked and best of all, one of the winemaker's wines is paired with each course.
DiscoverMore tours let you see something beyond the included excursion, for an added charge. There were two of these tours offered on our sailing and they do sell out, so voice interest early. A visit to Mateus Palace replaced a day in Regua, but an excursion to the medieval castle in Guimaraes was offered in the late afternoon, allowing participants to also join the included morning walking tour and have lunch onboard before heading back out.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
We had one onboard musician and he played keyboards and sang in the lounge in the afternoons, during cocktail hour and at night after dinner. The evening entertainment could be themed -- like Latin night -- or just general hits for dancing. We enjoyed when an accordion-player friend from off the ship joined him on guitar and they played "hits around the world." The first night onboard he accompanied the tour escorts for a game of music trivia, and participation -- singing and dancing -- was encouraged for extra points. Only one other game of trivia was held during our entire cruise.
During the day, if you're sailing, it's a slow-paced way of life on Radiance. Apart from watching the landscape envelop you, or observing the mechanics of one of the many locks you'll pass through, there's not a lot of competition for your free time. A counter in the lounge offers a small array of books, a custom print-up of that day's news, a daily crossword and sudoku puzzle and a few table games like dominoes. About one activity per day is scheduled, and we felt the sessions presented were cultural and meaningful. Daily port talks were held about 15 minutes before dinner, giving a preview of the following day's itinerary. These chats were informative, entertaining (compliments of the animated cruise director) and well-attended.
The enrichment is strong onboard Radiance, given what feels like short spans of time onboard between meals. You will find informational talks, lessons and crafting workshops, like the art of filigree jewelry-making, from visiting artisans during your sailing days. On our sailing, for example, we learned how to speak some basic Portuguese with our tour escort Elisabete, as well as an entertaining cooking demo of Portugal's famous custard tarts pasteis de nata, with our executive chef, pastry chef and cruise director. After receiving a recipe, we got to taste a tart for "quality control" and a glass of port was poured for a toast, which we felt was a nice touch. Another day a bartender quickly explained the easy steps to a port and tonic cocktail before trays of the refreshing drink were passed around.
Visiting guests might include "cork lady" Paula Guimaraes who explained the art of designing with cork with a talk and a demo, and had bags, bracelets and wallets available for purchase. Another popular visitor was Maria Kokas, who restores the gorgeous blue-and-white tiles of Portugal, and also does original work. While she had gifts for purchase as well, the demos never felt like a ploy to make a sale. Passengers have a chance to paint their own tiles -- freehand or using stencils -- and Maria is available to help. What's impressive is that there are only two places in the country that bake tiles and our artwork was whisked off the ship and glazed before the last night onboard, so we had a true keepsake to bring home.
There is one bar and lounge onboard Emerald Radiance, and it is the hub of ship activities, as well as the meeting place for all shore tours.
Horizon Bar & Lounge (Deck 3): The Horizon Lounge is located at the topmost inside deck and is the place to read and relax out of the sun during the day, enjoy teatime, have a drink, watch the evening entertainment or participate in any of the demos or activities. It's a chic space, mostly done in black with touches of lavender and cream in seat cushions and sofas; a rectangular bar is in the center. The entire lounge is surrounded by windows for watching the river go by, and at the front is the open-air terrace, accessible by sliding doors. A variety of wine by the glass is offered (recommended as you are sailing through one of the top wine regions in the world), in addition to sparkling wine and cocktails. A local beer is on draught, and there is a decent selection of bottled beer and a cider. Another highlight is a port wine menu with 11 different types of port and six Portuguese cocktail specialties, like white port with passion fruit and cherry juices. Drinks are around 5 euro each, and a tall beer is 4. Even though you could walk up to the espresso machine and make your own drink, we found bartenders had no problem taking coffee or tea orders and serving them.
The Sun Deck is Deck 4, and that is where you will find sun loungers and the pool. It's also where the bridge is located, and passengers are encouraged to speak to the captain or crew about any questions.
Tan lounge chairs are centered around the front of the ship and offer some amazing views while you sunbathe. The pool on Radiance is in the middle of this deck, and is shallow -- just deep enough to sit or wade -- consisting of a square and a rectangle joined. The pool does warm up, employing jets that bubble, but we found it was not quite warm enough after dark, and nowhere near a hot tub. Towels are provided on loungers or in a small stack by the pool.
Toward the back of this deck are awnings providing shade, with slingback loungers and tables and chairs out of the sun. Chairs along the perimeter of this area could be used to get a tan, with interspersed bright green AstroTurf encouraging you to break out the bare feet.
There is no putting green or other outdoor recreation onboard Radiance. However, crossing through the Douro, there are multiple locks in each direction; to watch the ship pass through these feats of engineering is a unique diversion. Occasionally, passengers will be asked to leave the sun deck for safety reasons due to a low overhead bridge, but this is the exception. For most of your sailing, you will be able to spend it on the top of the ship in the open air.
The front desk is located on Horizon Deck (Deck 3) in the middle of the ship. The desk is typically staffed at all hours of the day to answer any questions or to accommodate requests. You may also dial 400 on your in-room telephone.
The cruise director and tour escorts' desk is on Vista Deck (Deck 2) just outside of the restaurant. Here is where you can inquire about tours and pick up information on recommendations in port or the daily fact sheet about an aspect of Portuguese culture like types of port wine or the history behind those decorative roosters.
There is no proper boutique, but two display cases with items like local jewelry, accessories and statuettes is located on Riviera Deck, just outside the spa treatment room. To purchase, go to the front desk.
Laundry services are offered onboard, for a fee. To wash and press a pair of pants is about 7.50 euro; to wash a T-shirt without pressing is 3 euro. The ship will run specials -- usually on the first day and again halfway through your sailing -- that might offer washing and pressing for however much you can fit inside the small laundry bag for 24 euro.
There is a small section available for smoking on the Sun Deck, but nowhere else.
An elevator is available for use onboard.
On Emerald Radiance there is a designated well-being coach who performs all spa and beauty treatments, as well as hosting morning activities like an hourlong stretch or walking a mile around town.
On Riviera Deck (the first floor) there is a spa treatment room with one table and a chair for hair services to the right, and a small fitness facility to the left, just as you walk down the stairs.
Spa treatments range from a 30-minute chair massage for 25 euro to a 110-minute massage and facial treatment with cherry blossom oil for 130 euro. We found the 90-minute deep tissue massage to be straightforward and no-frills but thoroughly therapeutic for 95 euro. Gratuity is additional but at your discretion for all treatments.
A blow-out for women starts at 34 euro; it's 10 euro for a men's beard trim and just 13 euro for a deep conditioning treatment.
Despite the ship being small, the fitness facility is respectable, with two treadmills and an elliptical that has been sunken in to accommodate taller passengers. Yoga mats and cushions are available for self-stretching. Round open tubes on the wall artistically present towels and water bottles.
A walking track is designated around the top deck, made of AstroTurf material. It's a dizzying 20 times around to make a mile.
There are no bicycles onboard Emerald Radiance, unlike other ships in the Emerald Waterways fleet.
There aren't any services or programming onboard to accommodate children on Emerald Radiance. Teens who don't mind a slow-paced trip might make due spending time by the pool, but otherwise, this isn't a ship best suited for young families.