This was our 3rd river cruise with AmaWaterways (prior: Danube and Seine.) We have done a bit of traveling in Europe, a mix of ocean cruises, scheduled tours, and some “do it yourself” and driving. We’re an active couple, still working to support our travel habit. We chose this itinerary because we had never seen Portugal and wanted to see more of Spain. We do enjoy wine, and visiting the wineries was of interest, but not the primary reason.
Air travel: Booked our flights about 4 months in advance, with Air France. Los Angeles to Lisbon, with a short layover in Paris. Smooth, no problems.
Transportation from Lisbon Airport to hotel: We went right out the doors at the airport and got in the queue for a taxi. I think it was under 15 euros to the hotel.
Pre-cruise extension Lisbon and post-cruise Madrid with AmaWaterways:
We opted to do the pre and post cruise extensions with AmaWaterways. We had never done this before, we typically DIY before and after a cruise. The extensions are expensive, but I am pleased with what we experienced and quality of the hotels and excursions.
We arranged with the hotel that AmaWaterways used in Lisbon, The InterContinental, for an additional night because we wanted to arrive a day before to have a full day (Friday) on our own. The hotel was very lovely, rooms were large and comfortable, and the restaurant was good. However, it is located away from the city center. So we chose to utilize a taxi. Taxis are very cheap and reliable, typically under 7euros for just about anywhere we wanted to go.
We’ve learned that it is good to arrive at least a day ahead to get acclimated and minimize the effects of jet lag. We like to begin our trip feeling rested.
(Friday: we had to ourselves, we met up with a friend who happened to be in Lisbon, did a walking food tour and a Tuk-Tuk city tour. We ate dinner at Mercado Time Out… highly recommend.)
Welcome Cocktail with the Cruise Manager and fellow passengers
There was a scheduled meeting on Saturday evening at 6pm at the hotel for us to meet our Cruise Manager, Christian Abker, and fellow passengers who were also doing the pre-cruise excursions. Everyone was friendly and a group of us decided to walk together to a restaurant suggested by Christian.
Dinner in Portugal and Spain is typically served around 9 or 10pm. So, when our group of about 15 entered the restaurant at around 7:30pm, we were considered very early.
Breakfast included at hotel:
The buffet had the typical European breakfast offerings, scrambled eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, pastries, cereal, etc. Special orders for breakfast was also available. The food was average, espresso was very good.
Lisbon City Tour (Sunday): I won’t go into detail about the tours, only to say they were well organized, and travel by coach was very comfortable, we enjoyed them. The rest of the day and evening were on our own. We shared a cab and went to dinner with some of our fellow passengers.
Sintra (Monday): Great excursion, we visited Pena Palace, great views. The other excursion in the afternoon was a wine tasting. We decided to skip that and went (on our own) to Quinta da Regaleira an estate classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
We were glad we skipped the wine tasting to see the amazing Quinta da Regaleira. I was actually surprised it wasn’t part of the AmaWaterways tour because it is so beautiful, with lovely gardens, waterfalls and a forest-like atmosphere.
Note: That is one of the great things about the excursions with AmaWaterways… as long as you tell your guide that you want to do something else, and meet back up at the designated time, it works out well.
Train to Porto to embark the AmaVida (Tuesday):
We had to put our luggage outside our hotel room door by 9am, for them to collect and put on a truck. (The luggage truck would drive to Porto while we were on the train.) Cruise Manager, Christian, was great about explaining all the details for our transportation, having us identify our luggage before it was put on the truck, etc.
Christian and a tour guide escorted our group and rode with us on a bus to the Santa Apolonia train station, where we had an assigned train-car for our ride to Porto. Very smoothe and another chance to get to chat with fellow passengers.
When we arrived in Porto, a bus was waiting at the train station to take us to the dock to board the AmaVida. We checked in, smooth and quick, and went directly to our stateroom. Our luggage was already inside our stateroom.
The AmaVida is a little smaller, with a capacity for 106 passengers. Our cruise was not full, with only 71 passengers on board!
Side bar: I don’t know why the ship wasn’t full, because just 2 weeks prior to the cruise, our adult daughter said she would like to go. When I called to inquire about availability, I was told there were only 2 rooms left, and they would not offer the solo discount. Another passenger we met on the cruise told us a similar story. It seems to me that it would be better to offer a discount to a solo traveler than have empty rooms.
Our stateroom was on the Porto Deck, room 315. It was small but we found plenty of space for our belongings. We had a tiny balcony, but really did not use it while in port. In fact, we were tied up to another ship several times, so we were unable to use it.
This is my only complaint about the ship: When we were tied up to other ships while in port, our stateroom would have a very strong odor from the diesel exhaust and sewer gas. We noticed it as soon as we entered the room. I went to the desk that evening and told them, but they said it would get better. It didn’t. The next day, we were still tied up, and again, the room really smelled bad. Again, I went to the front desk. This time I asked the attendant to come with me and see for himself. He admitted that the smell was strong, and all he could do is apologize. I wondered why they didn’t offer us another room, as we knew the ship wasn’t full.
I asked our fellow passengers if their staterooms had the odor, and some did, others did not.
We spent 2 nights on the boat in Porto, tied up to 2 other boats. Once we left Porto, and set sail, we didn’t notice the odor anymore.
One night we enjoyed listening to a “tuna.” A tuna is a group of university students in traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades. They were funny and entertaining.
Another evening, there was a flamenco show. It was good, but it didn’t compare to the show we saw in Madrid.
Crew and service:
The crew were friendly and work very hard. The captain, Bernardino Pereira, was visible throughout the cruise. It seemed to us that the waitstaff in the dining room was short-handed compared to other cruises we have done with Ama.
AmaWaterways Tour guides:
Our tour guide for Portugal, Laura, was outstanding. She was very knowledgeable and interesting. She was a former teacher, and it was easy to listen to her while on the bus and at the different sites. Truly one of the best guides we have ever had.
Food and wine:
I know food is subjective… we were quite happy with the food offered at all meals. We found variety and choices on the menu to be very good. The wine was good and flowed generously at meals.
One evening at dinner, I didn’t care for the red wine being served, and when I told the server, he replied that was the only red they were serving. Later, in the lounge bar, I mentioned that to the bartender. He frowned and said the server should have found a different wine for me! I thought so, too!
Side bar: Everyone has an opinion on food. In a conversation with other passengers, I said I thought the food was very good. One lady adamantly announced that it was the worst food she has ever had on a cruise. I was a bit surprised. Throughout the cruise, I did notice that she complained about everything.
The itinerary / ports:
I won’t describe each port and excursion because the descriptions can be found on the website. We enjoyed every port and excursion that we went on. The wineries with lunches were super good! The scenic cruising on the Douro river is simply beautiful and so relaxing.
Some quick highlights:
Sunset in Porto is stunning! The beautiful tiles in the train station in Porto, not to be missed.
Entre-os-Rios/ Regua, Portugal - leisurely sailing the Douro River, then a visit to Mateus Palace, built in the 18th century. The gardens are stunning.
Lamego. Incredibly beautiful! It's one of the major points of pilgrimage, with 600 steps up to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies.
Guimaraes, Portugal- One of the most historic towns in Portugal, and a UNESCO world heritage site. We went to Quinta da Aveleda with it's beautiful gardens and where they're known for green wine.
Pinhao, Portugal - a tiny and beautiful port, with spectacular views of the steep terraced Douro valley vineyards. We went to Quinta da Avessada for a fantastic Portuguese lunch in the vineyard and later, to Sandeman estate, known for it's Port wines.
We disembarked in Vega Terron and those of us who were going to do the post extension, took a bus to Salamanca before going to Madrid.
Wow! Salamanca, Spain, is beautiful! A UNESCO site, it is one of the most important university cities in Spain. The University of Salamanca, was founded in 1218, and is the oldest university in Spain.
From Salamanca, we took a bus to our hotel in Madrid:
The Westin Palace in Madrid was beautiful! Location was perfect for walking to many of the sites, situated across from the Prado. Great restaurants in walking distance.
After being in our tiny stateroom for a week, our room at the Westin felt like a mansion.
Breakfast buffet in a gorgeous setting included. Very good variety, with the option of having omelettes and other items cooked to order.
Post cruise extension in Madrid
AmaWaterways Tour guides in Spain:
We were not impressed with the guides we had in Spain.
We did a Madrid city tour and had free time later. We went with fellow passengers to a wonderful place for dinner.
AmaWaterways arranged an optional excursion in Madrid. Dinner and a Flamenco show. It was outstanding. The food was excellent, Michelin chef. The flamenco was incredible. They allowed us to take photos and videos only for the first dance, which was very kind of them.
The excursion to Toledo was one of my favorites. What a beautiful place!
We arranged with the hotel, The Westin Palace, for an additional night because we wanted to stay a day longer to have a day (Friday) on our own. We went to the Prado, the Royal Palace, Buen Retiro Park, Plaza Mayor, Cristal Palace and the bullfighting ring.
Our fellow passengers:
We had the best time with the people we met on this cruise. I strongly believe that meeting people on the pre-cruise extension bonded us together. There were about 10 of us that really hit it off and we palled around together on excursions, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, met on deck to watch the scenery, etc. We’ve exchanged emails and friended each other on social media, and perhaps someday our paths will cross again on another cruise.
Our room was small, but there is ample storage. We had a balcony that we really could not use while in port because often, we were tied up to other boats.