Andorinha - Douro plus Lisbon & Madrid 06-14-2022
This was a lovely tour on a fantastic ship. What I did and did not like… I realize others may disagree as we are unique and diverse in our preferences.
The coach museum in Lisbon did not interest me. It was very repetitive. One coach after another. I reported in my Tauck survey that a visit to the maritime museum on my small ship cruise was far more interesting and provided more variety.
Welcome Dinner at the Queluz presidential palace was just ok but cocktails in the beautiful gardens were a treat… relaxing opportunity to mingle and meet other guests.
I enjoyed the tours in Coimbra and Porto and through the Douro Valley. Local guides throughout the entire tour were exceptional.
Compared to other river cruises and small ship cruises, this one felt more rushed. The Douro does not allow for night cruising so daytime is when the ship moves to the next port. This causes for some early morning bus departures for tours and early returns to the ship to sail to the next port and dock for the night. Every company sailing the Douro is having to manage this requirement and get to the appointed reservation times for the locks. I recall going through locks on the Rhône at night, allowing for more daytime touring off the ship.
There were several surprise additions to the itinerary. Each was an unexpected bonus/experience.
The weather was cooler than anticipated. I saw just one guest try the sun deck pool. Many of us commented that we did not pack appropriate clothes. Some purchased jackets with the Andorinha embroidered on them.
Arthurs lunch is sit down, off a very limited menu and requires reservations. We tried it once and were disappointed. There is no kitchen but there is an all hours self-serve coffee & tea station with snacks. Arthurs is also open for an authentic Portuguese dinner. This requires reservations as well. The chef has set the menu. It was fantastic… not to be missed. Quite an experience.
Because the sun deck provides a sky light down through the open atrium of the lounge, both the lounge and the Compass Rose below are much brighter. The atrium design does take up space from the lounge but we had only 66 guests and did not feel cramped.
Many staff on board were Portuguese and eager to tell us about their beautiful country. Some got off the ship to visit with family members at various ports. They are very proud of Portugal and eager to share interesting stories and information.
Because of the upcoming NATO meeting in Madrid, the presidential palace visit was cancelled. Instead we had a guided small group tour of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum just across the street from the Westin Palace Hotel. Wow! And Wow! Our guide was so excited to share the progression of the art through time. Carlos related information about the subjects in the portraits and what was happening historically. Best guide and best tour of an art museum. I feel fortunate that the NATO meeting caused this change to the itinerary!
The bicycle excursion through the Vinho Verde was not a challenge for me. It was completely paved. The hike through Provesende vineyards was difficult. Mostly downhill but on rocky surfaces so you had to be careful about each step placement. There was an opportunity to stop half way through to return by bus for those who wanted.
The Madrid tapas tour included 2 stops within walking distance from the Westin. The contracted company was Devour. Our group was just 8 so a very intimate opportunity to ask questions of our guide, Jackie, from central Kansas. She teaches English at American School. We were warned earlier in the day that the tapas tour would not be sufficient to replace dinner. At the first stop our group was served four different types of small sandwiches with a glass of vermouth (appx. 10 oz.) There was an option to select a different drink. I can't recall the second serving. At the second stop we had peppers quick fried in olive oil with a sprinkling of sea salt. There was a mix of mild to hot but mine were all mild. I do not like spicy-hot food. Drink orders were taken, ranging from beer to wine to soft dinks. The second serving was shrimp served in a bubbling hot crock of garlic & hot pepper-infused olive oil. A crock shared between each couple. So hot that we had to wait a while for the oil to stop bubbling. This was our only non-portuguese guide during the trip. Jackie was great. Very knowledgeable. We did not go to dinner on our own afterward as the tapas were sufficient for us.
The Douro is worth a cruise despite having to dock overnight. It is a very unique and worthwhile experience.