Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Douro River Cruise, Part 1

Ben and I have fallen in love with river cruising--a great way to see Europe without lugging suitcases from one hotel to the next. The Douro River is narrower and much less busy than the Rhine and Danube, with pastoral landscapes and smaller villages and towns along the way. But even though there may not be as many big tourist attractions en route, we have enjoyed every stop.

AMA Waterways leases the ms Amadouro from a Portuguese company, so it was not purpose-built like AMA ships sailing the Rhine and and Danube. It‘s still a very nice ship with a wonderful crew and staff, but it‘s not as new and beautiful as the others. Cabins are a decent size, although storage space is limited. We do like our little balcony that actually holds two chairs and small table. The new ships feature French balconies large enough only to step out for a view. The public lounge and restaurant are well-designed and the top deck holds ample chairs, lounges, and tables for watching the world go by.

Without exception, food has been excellent. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style; dinner is sit-down, of course, with a choice of two entrees. As on all AMA ships, wine and beer are unlimited at dinner; make that free-flowing. We‘ve come to appreciate the regional wines of the region, both white and red. Port, however, is an aquired taste...and we‘re not there yet. We do like the white port, which is a little drier and not as sweet, but the red is a bit strong for us.

Our particular itinerary was affected by two events beyond anyone‘s control. I've already mentioned that flights cancelled because of the Iceland volcanic ash prevented some of the Brits from making the cruise. (Actually, one couple drove 1100 miles to catch up with the ship in Pinhao!) The other issue, however, has to do with the river itself. Abundant spring rains resulted in strong water currents that make cruising as far east as Salamanca, Spain impossible. So, our revised itinerary takes us back to Porto earlier than planned, and we‘ll board buses for a day trip to Santiago de Campostello--our only stop in Spain.

First, though, I‘ll go back to the begining of our cruise. After a delicious first dinner onboard Saturday, we cruised Sunday to the the town of Bitetos. The highlight of this visit was dinner at the Alpendurada Monastery, which was in possession of the Benedictine monks until 1834, but has served in recent years as a hotel and restaurant. Dinner was actually prepared and served by the AMA kitchen staff, but what a venue! Elaborate furnishings and artwork in an event planners dream location, not to mention an amazing meal. Could it get any better? Read my next post!

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