Douro River with Uniworld

This item appears on page 29 of the November 2011 issue.

My friend Sue and I, both in our eighties, are always looking for a destination to which neither of us has been. Therefore, we were delighted when our travel agent recommended a cruise on the Douro River, which originates in northern Spain and flows west across the northern part of Portugal into the Atlantic at the city of Porto.

We booked the cruise through Uniworld (Los Angeles, CA; 800/733-7820) and on May 26 flew to Lisbon. We spent three nights in that charming city, then were bused north to Porto, where we boarded the Douro Spirit, our home for the next seven days, May 29-June 5, 2011.

We paid $4,460 per person, which did not include airfare but did include our hotel in Lisbon, with breakfasts, and a lunch on the way to Porto. Aboard the ship, all meals, complimentary wine with dinner and all sightseeing tours were included.

The Douro Spirit is an extremely nice ship, very modern. Its décor is a bit sparse but very well done in black, white, gray and some browns as well as much chrome.

Our cabin was spacious, for one on a river ship, with sliding glass doors opening to a railing affording fresh air and beautiful views of the countryside. Each cabin had a laptop computer with WiFi available, a large flat-screen TV, a cordless phone and many other features a bit too high tech for us. The bathroom had one of the best showers I have ever used, on land or sea.

The food was good, and the crew was very agreeable. Two features of the cruise we especially liked — all the side trips were included in the price, and we cruised only during the day, spending each night in a port, so we were able to see the entire river.

The 130 passengers were from many countries and all English speaking, with only a handful of Americans.

The Douro is a lovely river flowing through small mountains, the sides of which are covered with endless rows of terraces cultivated with vineyards. During the cruise, we went through six locks in each direction, going as far upriver as Vega de Terrón, just across the border in Spain. There we went on a day trip to Salamanca, a beautiful, historic city full of honey-colored stone buildings.

Other excursions were to small, very interesting towns, wineries, castles, cathedrals and palaces. The highlight, for us, was Castelo Rodrigo, a walled, medieval town dating to 1209, on top of a mountain with only 50 current residents.

We ate, one night, in a 14th-century former Benedictine monastery, with food catered by the ship, and another night in a magnificent 18th-century converted wine villa.

My one criticism of the cruise is the custom of doling out cash tips to crew and cruise directors at the end. I wish tips could be included in the total price. It’s difficult to always have enough local currency on hand to do this. I know it’s a common practice with most cruises, but I hope, if enough people speak up, perhaps they’ll change their policies.

I would recommend this trip to anyone looking for a lovely, relaxing and safe cruise in a less-traveled area. It is certainly off the beaten path of most tourists.

Orangeburg, NY