I just returned from a 7-day cruise aboard AMA Waterways’ MS Amadouro sailing through the Douro River Valley, roundtrip from Porto, Portugal.
The MS Amadouro has 65 double occupancy staterooms on 2 decks and a crew of 30. The staterooms are 135 square feet and bathrooms have showers. Beds are twins that can be made up as large double bed. Cabins have good closet space and offer flat screen TV, individually controlled air conditioning and heating, hairdryer, full length mirror and vanity area.
This ship is not owned by AMA, it is leased. It does not have some of the distinctive amenities of other AMA ships yet (phones, bath robes and slippers, complimentary internet, massage services), but by the '09 season there will be improvements in this area. There is not a beauty salon or fitness room. It is a modern and comfortable ship, built in 2005 and the newest ship currently sailing the Douro River. There is an elevator to service all decks but the sundeck.
Service aboard the Amadouro was efficient and friendly. English is the language spoken on board and the staff spoke and understood English quite well. The dining staff was professional and the dining experience was very good. Breakfast and lunch is buffet with plenty of choices. Dinner is table service although one night was buffet on the Sun Deck and two nights offered dinner off the ship - one at a former Monastery, now a hotel, perched high atop the hillsides of the Douro River and another at a small hotel and Port Wine center along the river. Local wines are poured complimentary at dinner each night and there is a small bar in the lounge which provides cocktail service, although limited to whiskeys, vodka, gin and mainstream bar drinks.
Cruise Experience – The Douro River Valley offers impressive, pristine scenery with miles of amazingly terraced vineyards and olive and almond groves on hillsides that rise almost straight up from the river. Some terraces are hundreds of years old begging the question "how did they do that"? The vineyards are producing the grapes for the world famous Port wine of Portugal. There are some yummy tastings and port wine education held in lovely inns and charming villages during the trip. There are also sightings of old rabelos, unique flat bottomed boats that once carried the wine down river to Porto and some of which are now used for sightseeing excursions. There are bends and curves in the river that keep you wondering what you will see around the next corner. There are several locks along the river and some of them are combined with huge hydro electric plants that provide power to local towns. They are astounding masterpieces of architecture and technology built in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.
Shore Excursions – Included in the cruise fare are daily excursions to interesting and historical sites along the way. Transportation is provided by state of the art buses with English commentary provided along the way and local hosts and guides at some sites. All spoke very good English. Excursions do involve walking on uneven, cobblestone streets and walkways of very old villages, towns and historic places. The staff was very helpful to those with physical limitations. The drop off and pick up areas of the buses were convenient. If people had difficulty they could stay on the bus, or the staff would find them nice places to sit comfortably and view their surroundings.
Lisbon extension – I opted for the 3 night Lisbon pre cruise extension. The hotel (Tiara Park Atlantic) was well located and very comfortable - a 4-Star. The beds are terrific. Excursions are included in the package. There is one ½ day city tour of Lisbon which takes in the most important monuments and sites. Another full day excursion takes guests to Sintra and Caiscais and passes through Estoril. The excursions do give guests a nice introduction to Lisbon and the nearby coastal areas. On the third day guests are transported by bus to Porto, about a 3 hour trip, with a stop in the town of Coimbra with time for exploring and lunch. Coimbra is home to one of Europe's oldest universities, by the same name and is worthy of a longer visit.
Porto post cruise stay - There is not currently a post cruise offer with AMA. I stayed one extra night and day and glad I did. AMA does a city tour in Porto after the cruise but it is an interesting city, as is Vila Nova de Gaia across the river. Vila Nova de Gaia is home to the wine caves for the Port Wine and tasting rooms abound. There is a nice waterfront with restaurants and shops. I happened to be there during the Red Bull Air Races which are staged over the river between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia so access to the riversides was somewhat limited. From a nice little restaurant on the Porto side, however, I watched a mind-blowing display of flying by both the racing pilots and precision flying jet pilots. And what a setting!
Additional Comments - The Douro River cruise offers beautiful scenery and relaxation. The excursions are very good, but for people who tire easily of bus rides and prefer to explore on their own, this is not the trip for that. Unlike other European river cruises one must take the excursions to see places of interest. There are no cities along the river to explore. On the other hand, the excursions visit some wonderful places, but clients need to be aware. The longest bus trip was about 1 ½ hours each way from the river into Salamanca, Spain - a beautiful university city and well worth the ride.
I was somewhat disappointed in the scanty opportunities for wine tastings and visits to vineyards and wineries along the way. I wanted to see some of those terraced vineyards up close and learn more about the varieties being grown and the farms growing the grapes and making the wine. This is something AMA Waterways hopes to improve upon for next year and beyond. A portion of the Douro River Valley, after all, is a UNESCO World Heritage site for wine grape growing and among the first areas in the world to grow grapes.