The Douro river was one of the ones on our "to do" list we had yet to experience so we chose this one by Viking. My wife and I had travelled with Viking 5 times before so we knew their strengths - and their weaknesses.
Their organisation is usually brilliant and this trip was no exception. We were all asked to wear stick-on Viking badges on exiting Lisbon airport arrivals so we were spotted immediately and directed towards two more Viking reps. Our luggage was taken from us and we were whisked to the Tivoli hotel, probably one of the best in Lisbon, where we were due to spend two nights. There was an included coach tour in Lisbon and we were given plenty of free time to ourselves. No meals were included apart from breakfast and this was superb.
After our second night we were taken with our luggage to Porto, where we were to embark our ship. I really must say this was one of the best coaches in which I have travelled, with on board wifi and masses of legroom. The driver, in fact every driver of every coach we used, was so considerate for our comfort. There was a stop in Coimbra en route where we had a splendid lunch with entertainment. Unfortunately, as we were to discover, it was probably the best meal we were going to get for the next week - on the ship at any rate.
On arrival at Porto we joined our ship. First great surprise - we were given a cabin upgrade. Details about the cabin follow. One slight downside about an upgrade is that your cases are fitted with the original labels so there was a small delay before they arrived but it gave us a chance to explore the ship. First impressions were very good although it was obvious that there wasn't much to do on board. There was a small putting green and a pool measuring five metres by three and 0.7 metres deep. That might sound useless but it was equipped with a powerful pump and I found you could swim against the pump indefinitely - or at least until your stamina ran out. The temperature was 32°C.
After settling in we had dinner - the first of many disappointing ones. There was nothing on the menu I particularly fancied so I settled for the available everyday steak. It was only partly edible, containing far too much fat and gristle. That happened all too often throughout the cruise and I think I saw only one person who managed to eat the whole of his. Breakfast next day was also disappointing when I saw the poor choice of cereals. Muesli was available but only as the Bircher variety. A very nice banana pancake was on the menu but if you ask for it be prepared to wait for anything up to 20 minutes for it. Oh, and if you are kept waiting don't mention it to the staff - they don't like it one bit.
Throughout the cruise we had a number of included tours but I found most of them boring. The saving grace was the scenery. I've travelled a fair bit and I found the Portuguese countryside amongst the most spectacular I've seen. One particular trip was over 9 hours long which was just too much. The trips are optional, of course, even though you've effectively paid to go on them, and a few people decided to stay on the ship. I wish I'd done so once or twice.
There were a few lectures and demonstrations on board during the cruise. How much you would like these would depend on your interests but I enjoyed the one given by the head chef on how to make Pastel de Nata. Evening entertainment was pretty dire. I just had to walk out on one (claimed) musical group. There was one quiz evening run, not particularly well, by cruise director Matthew.
At the end of the cruise you are asked to complete questionnaires. These are written so badly that I refused to fill mine in. So many of the options were not applicable. We were asked to comment on our Cruise Director. The problem was that there was more than one so how are you supposed to answer that? The one who accompanied us on all our tours, Henry, was superb. Another one, Matthew, probably the senior one, I found uninformative and not nearly as amusing as he seemed to think he was.
The one thing he was good at was touting for tips and this if one of the worst features of every Viking cruise I've been on. In Russia the recommended rate was an obscene $25 per person per day. Even in the Grill Suites on Cunard's Queens the rate is only $13 per day. Here there was a more or less compulsory 15 euros per day added to every guest's bill and Matthew was still suggesting we give more. Tipping is the subject of many conversations at the end of any Viking cruise and most guests seem to dislike the current situation.
I have a suggestion for Viking. I used to go to a restaurant and the following was written on the menu: "Our staff are adequately remunerated and no additional gratuity is expected or should be given. Your simple thanks are enough." If Viking would do this I would be delighted, even if it added £100 to £200 to the upfront cost of the cruise. It would cut out all the uncertainly and the constant fishing for change at the end of every excursion.
Overall, though, I'm glad I took the cruise. I liked the ship and I loved the scenery and you couldn't fault most of the staff. The food seemed to disappoint nearly everyone and I can't remember any cruise I've been on, river or sea, where it has been so dull. I suggest you research the places you are going to visit on the excursions and see if they are really for you. There are plenty of Douro cruises to choose from so it might be prudent to shop around if you are thinking of doing one especially if the food is important to you
We were lucky enough to get an upgrade to a balcony cabin on the middle deck. I didn't realise how fortunate we were until I saw that the lower deck cabins are partially below the waterline and the only (unopenable) window was too high to look out from for some people.
The cabin was really well equipped. Welcome extras included a fridge and quad USB outlet points. Only one stool to sit on apart from the bed or the balcony chairs. Why so large a table on the balcony? You almost had to be a gymnast to get round it to the second chair. The bathroom was vastly superior to the Cunard QE and QV ones, with top class shower cubicle fittings and decent pressure as well. The heated mirror was useful - you could see to shave after a shower.