My husband and I spent a couple of days in Lisbon a few years ago, and were eager to see more of the country. This was our third AMA Cruise, and it did not disappoint. We included the pre and post extensions in Lisbon and Madrid.
Ship and Cabin
Due to the lock sizes on the Douro, the ship is smaller than those on the Rhine and Danube, carrying 96 passengers on this cruise—but all was scaled down appropriately, and we did not feel pinched in the public spaces. The cabin was efficient, the beds high enough to store away the large suitcases of chronic over-packers, the balcony small but enjoyable (Category B, Lisbon deck). We left a note for our cabin attendant asking for an extra layer of cushion on the bed, and it was taken care of by the time we returned from dinner. TIP: I had read on a previous review that even numbered cabins were less likely to dock right next to another ship, and we found that to be the case (happened in only one docking location). We booked this cruise along with friends we met in our first AMA Cruise, and enjoyed making more friends along the way. The sense of community on river cruises is a big plus for us.
The food on this ship was excellent. Lots of variety, including local dishes, and incredible Portuguese breads, pastries, and cheeses. We discovered a love for Portuguese wines, and enjoyed the included glass of port at the end of each dinner. The cruise included three meals off-ship:
- Dinner at Quinta de Aveleda—beautiful gardens and dinner venue overlooking the vineyard. Thoroughly enjoyed this event, food, and wine.
- Lunch at Quinta da Avessada—fun excursion, food good but not great.
- Lunch at a hotel in Salamanca on disembarkation day—excellent buffet, including both a seafood and vegetarian paella.
One ship dinner was advertised as a “barbecue.” That word set an expectation for many of us that turned into disappointment. Perhaps this would have been more appropriately described as simply a “buffet.”
To a person, every AMA staff person was warm, friendly, helpful, and smiling. Shout out to Filipa, who helped us arrange a port tasting in the lounge during the US Open telecast, and to Machado, who took excellent care of ten of us who managed to grab the private dining room on the last night onboard. My husband mentioned to the Hotel Manager, Ricardo, that we enjoyed the wine selections, and he presented us with a list and description of each offering. Outstanding! We also witnessed special care and attention given to passengers with mobility issues—on the ship, during excursions, and during land extensions.
Portugal is a beautiful country. We fell in love with Porto, and really enjoyed the illumination cruise on the first night. Remaining docked overnight gave us ample time to explore this beautiful city, along with Vila Nova de Gaia, on our own. What we discovered along the Douro was incredible landscapes—hills and vineyard terraces unlike others we’ve seen in Europe. The 30-45 minute bus rides from docks to excursion venues were actually enjoyable, as we were winding our way high into the mountains with breathtaking views along the way. We were on the same bus with the same guide and driver most days. Diogo, tour guide on the “yellow submarine” was awesome!
Local entertainment was enjoyable, especially the Tuna band, and local dancers. The weather was great the entire trip, so made good us of top deck for daytime cruising on river and through locks, and evening wine sipping with friends.
Ports and Excursions - During Cruise
Porto - just beautiful with a unique charm. Really enjoyed docking there overnight.
The Douro is small and navigable only during the day. This resulted in some leisurely mornings or afternoons sailing from port to port, where the docking locations were small, and the excursion the treat. We particularly enjoyed:
- previously mentioned Quinta de Aveleda
- the Lamego Museum (surprising collection for this small city)
- Mateus gardens and palace
- walking around Pinhao
- charm of Castelo Rodrigo
- beauty of Salamanca
- topography/landscape along the river and roads of the Douro and valley
Pre and Post
Our Lisbon hotel, the Sofitel Liberdade, was perfectly located—close to restaurants, shopping, the Baixa and Alfama districts. Of the tours, we especially enjoyed the Monastery (and Pastis de Belem tasting) and Pena Palace. Our local guide, Christina, was excellent. The Madrid Westin Palace was also well located—a 15 minute walk to Plaza Mayor, and near the museums and Botanical Garden. We added the optional Flamenco show and dinner, and were very glad we did. One of Spain’s best dancers was performing while we were there. It was well worth the price, although the food was a bit disappointing.Toledo is a must see, and Madrid is a beautiful city. Our local guide, Mercedes, was terrific. Both locations offer affordable, excellent dining opportunities, and getting around on your own is easy.
As always, AMA takes great care of you—from the first greeting at the airport, to the attention and care of the Cruise Manager (Christian!) throughout the entire journey, to the AmaVida officers and staff, to the AMA representative waiting for us at our departure airport. We feel valued and cared for with AMA, and are already researching options for our next AMA adventure! We recommend this trip to anyone who is looking for something a bit different from other Central Europe river cruises.
Small but efficient. Met all of our needs. We’re fortunate that we faced away from adjacent ships in most ports.