Portugal’s Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, unfolds before you on a luxurious Douro River cruise. Wake up to mesmerizing views of the river of gold, marvel and the terraced vineyards, savor delicious Portuguese cuisine and wine, and explore charming towns, while you relax on Avalon Waterways’ new Alegria. It’s a “suite” way to explore the home of world-famous Port wine.

We are unapologetically cruise lovers. Big ships, small ships, and ships in between. Oceans, rivers, canals. We enjoy them all for different reasons, different occasions, and different experiences. We believe there’s a cruise that’s right for most every kind of traveler. It’s just a matter of considering your interests and preferences and matching them up with a cruise line and cruise itinerary that meets those preferences.

Knowing where to start, and the questions to ask may seem overwhelming. That’s why we continue to write about different types of cruising, different ships, different cruise lines, and different itineraries. And we go indepth, all in one story, so you don’t have to hop around looking for everything. You’ll find everything you need to know right here – cabins, food and beverage, pricing (which is always subject to change), itineraries, what we did, any mistakes we made, and all of our recommendations. Our goal is to help you make an informed cruise choice.

Cruising on the Douro River in Portugal is different than cruising other European rivers. The Douro has a series of locks that are narrower than those on the Rhine or Danube, so ships are smaller in scale; they are typically shorter and carry fewer passengers. With a smaller passenger count, Douro cruises offer a more intimate experience, with a cozy, friendly atmosphere and personalized service. 

Smaller doesn’t mean you miss out on all the amenities of river cruising. You’ll still find comfortable cabins, delicious food, and relaxing public spaces. So let’s get to it – here’s what I discovered sailing on Alegria.

(Note: I received a complimentary cruise as media covering the ship’s inaugural sailing.)

The Ship: Alegria

Avalon Waterways, established in 2004, is a river cruise company owned by Group Voyagers, Inc. also known as the “Globus family of brands”. They offer cruises on iconic rivers like the Danube, Rhine, and Seine in Europe, the Mekong in Southeast Asia, the Yangtze in China, the Ganges in India, and the Amazon in South America. 

avalon alegria on douro river

Alegria is Avalon Waterway’s newest addition to their award winning “Suite Ships” fleet, and features an elegant, contemporary design and decor, The Suite Ships are known for their roomy staterooms, with nearly all cabins featuring their trademarked open-air balcony. Alegria’s indoor spaces provide a window to the world, with panoramic windows throughout the 262-foot ship. Carrying only 102 passengers, Alegria is smaller thn other river ships sailing on the Douro.

The cruise ship also offers complimentary wi-fi access (Starlink) throughout the ship, so your relaxed luxury doesn’t mean a disconnect from the rest of the world and responsibilities at home.

Sky Deck

The Sky Deck is the topmost deck on  Avalon Alegria (pronounced a-le-gri-uh)  and serves as the ship’s primary outdoor relaxation area. This open air deck is perfect for soaking up the sun or enjoying al fresco dining at the Sky Grill while enjoying the Douro Valley’s scenic vistas.

The centerpiece of the Sky Deck is the rectangular, heated swimming pool, a notable feature which is typically missing on most river cruise ships. Alegria is the first in Avalon’s fleet to boast a pool instead of a hot tub. While our cruise date was too early in the season for me to check out the pool, there were a couple of guest braving the rain to give it a go. Surrounding the pool is a generous space with lounge chairs – enough for all guests, so no worrying about chair-savers. On sunny day, there’s shade awnings, and you can order up your favorite cocktail sipper to relax. . 

In addition to panoramic views, the Sky Deck also serves as a venue for an energizing morning workout. The Adventure Host leads classes here so you can start your day with yoga, Pilates, or stretching exercises.

Also in the warmer weather, there’s a barbecue grill for al fresco dining.

Royal Deck

The Royal Deck, or Deck 3, is one of three passenger decks on Alegria, this one home to the Panorama Suites.

Midship on the Royal Deck is your embarkation point, and is home to Guest Services and the Adventure Center for excursions and port information. It makes a great first impression! It’s light and airy, and at the time of our sailing still had that “new ship smell.” Seriously, it was just like riding in a new car.

Located aft on the deck is the Club Lounge with 270 degree views of the surrounding valleys. There is a beverage station here with a variety of coffees, teas, water (plain, fizzy, flavored), and hot chocolate. Since my cabin was just down the hall, it was easy to grab a morning latte, but don’t overlook the hot chocolate – it’s really good. Snacks are put out at various times throughout the day. 

The Club Lounge also has a modest library, a few decks of cards and some puzzles and board games for entertainment. It’s the perfect spot to meet up with friends, enjoy some quiet time, or take in the view from a different perspective. It would be easy to think it was all cabins on the aft part of the ship and miss this additional public space. Be sure to check it out – it easily became one of my favorite spots.

The Panorama Lounge is forward on the Royal Deck. With seating aplenty, it can accommodate all passengers onboard on couches, chairs, and table set ups. There is another coffee station here, along with a full bar.

This is where port excursion talks are held, demonstrations, and evening entertainment. Forward of the Panorama Lounge is an outdoor observation area. It’s a prime spot for watching as the ship transits the many locks on the Douro, and had the weather been warmer, I think this may have become my favorite spot for an evening cocktail.

Sapphire Deck

At the front of the deck is the Dining Room, an elegant, glass walled restaurant which is the main dining area aboard the Alegria. There are a mix of Panorama Suites midship and aft. 

Indigo Deck

The Indigo Deck is the lower deck on the Alegria. It features a few categories of Deluxe Staterooms midship. A small fitness center is also located on this deck, with basic exercise equipment like a treadmill, abike, yoga mats and blocks, and resistance bands.

Restaurants and Dining

While I like to fancy myself a foodie, I probably have a hard stop on too many ingredients to fully fall into that category. I am, however, in a “season of yes” and I’m saying yes to new foods and dishes that I might otherwise have avoided. My expectations for food are reasonably straight forward – fresh, flavorful, and satisfying. Extra points for creativity. While I won’t pass up a Michelin-star meal, it’s not something I’m looking for every night.

Avalon is a perfect fit for my foodie style, prioritizing fresh local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. On our Douro cruise, the menu featured local Portuguese dishes and seasonings, accompanied by Douro Valley wines. It helped to create the ambiance of being fully immersed in Portugal, not a dichotomy of a land to ship experiences. 

The Avalon concept of FlexDining provides an easy blend of structure and flexibility. Instead of fixed seating meal times, guests can choose to dine anytime they’d like within a meal service window. Generally speaking, breakfast hours are 7-9 am; lunch starting at 12:30 pm, and dinner starting at 7 pm. Meal times may vary slightly based on itinerary and times in port. Many times I was hungry at 7 pm and couldn’t wait to dig in. Other times, I wanted to finish my pre-diner cocktail and conversation, before heading to the dining room. Both are just fine.

Dining Room

At dinner time, The Dining Room, located on the Sapphire Deck, is where passengers are likely to have a majority of their meals. The Dining Room serves all three meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are a mix of buffet and table service, dinners are table dining. 

Meals are structured with four courses – appetizer, soups and salad, entree, and dessert. There is are chef recommendations, various dining themes, and traditional favorites, allowing guests can pick and choose from among the menu choices. Not real hungry? Have an appetizer as your entree. Curious about local spices? Choose a soup that incorporates them. Whatever you do, though, leave room for the dessert!

Panorama Bistro & Lounge

The Panorama Lounge is a perfect for a light snack or quenching beverage. The Bar offers a good selection of premium spirits, as well as a lively dance floor in the evenings. There is a Happy Hour every evening on selected items like house beer, specialty cocktails, wines and the daily changing “drink of the day”.

On most nights, the Panorama Lounge morphs into the Panorama Bistro, creating a casual vibe and relaxed buffet dining setting. There is a tasting menu or tapas style buffet of similar dishes served in the Dining Room.

Sky Grill

On days with favorable weather, the Sky Grill on the Sky Deck transforms into an al fresco dining venue, allowing passengers to enjoy meals beneath the open sky while taking in the sights. They serve light fare like burgers, hot dogs and the likes.

It was too chilly when we sailed and the Sky Grill wasn’t operational. In the warm weather, I think this could be my favorite dining spot.

Cabins on Alegria

Alegria boasts luxurious accommodations, with 51 cabins designed with cream and beige touches and appointed with upscale amenities. They offer the Comfort Collection Beds that come with an option to choose your mattress firmness, Egyptian fine combed cotton linens, and L’Occitane bath products. 

There are only two room categories on the Algeria: 14 Deluxe Staterooms and 37 Panorama Suites. Ranging from 172 to 200 square feet, these are spacious by industry standards.

Deluxe Staterooms are the entry level cabin in Alegria. They are located on the Indigo Deck, and feature above the waterline, high up windows. All the upscale amenities are available in these cabins.

Alegria’s Panorama Suites are found on the Royal and Sapphire Decks. These feature wall to wall and floor to ceiling windows that convert into 7 feet wide open air balconies, bringing the outside in. These suites are 30% larger than the industry standard, making for a truly roomy experience. I love Avalon’s Beds With a View concept, with all the beds facing the window. I started most days with my latte and looking out at the world goiing. Also, enjoying a glass of wine as we transited the locks. I was traveling with my (adult) niece, and we stayed in Suite 312, a Panorama Suite.

Think beds facing the window isn’t a big deal? To demonstrate this to media on this sailing, housekeeping switched up the cabin layout one afternoon. Walking back into the room to find beds facing a wall was disconcerting. We bumbled around trying to enjoy the new layout, but it rapidly became clear that window-facing is far superior to wall-facing.

Itinerary: 7 Night Vida Portugal: Vineyards and Villages Along the Douro

Our itinerary was the inaugural sailing on the Alegria, and was modified from the regularly offered 7-night Vida Portugal: Vineyard and Villages Along the Douro itinerary. We didn’t get to all of the stops on the itinerary, but I will hit the highlights of what we did experience.

Excursions are included in your cruise price, and are divided into categories of Classic, Discovery, and Active excursions. You are free to mix and match the activity level and interest according to your interests at each stop.

You’ll find the full itinerary here.

Porto (Embarkation)

Porto is a coastal city in northwest Portugal. It is well known for its historical center Ribeira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring narrow cobbled streets lined with merchants’ houses and cafes. Porto is also famous for its port wine production, a fortified wine produced from grapes grown in the Douro Valley upstream from the city. The city’s name itself, Porto, is where the name Portugal originates from.

I always recommend arriving at least one day early for a cruise. Delays happen, and that can be cancelled flights, late arrivals and missed connections, and jetlag. Porto flights from Seattle were limited, i would never take the risk of missing a cruise. And what’s not to like about an extra day in Porto?!

We stayed at the Hilton Porto Gaia (more info here), located in the Port wine city of Gaia, and housed in a refurbished wine warehouse. The hotel is a short walk from the Douro River, lots of restaurants and bars, and several Port wine cellars. it is on the opposite side of the river from where the Alegria births.

Learn more about the Hilton, as well as other Porto hotel options here.

Entres Os Rios, Porto Antigo

Braga is situated northeast of Porto and is known for its religious heritage. Nicknamed “Rome of Portugal” due to its numerous churches, Braga boasts the oldest cathedral in the country, the Sé Cathedral, built in the 12th century. The city also features the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, a pilgrimage site known for its elaborate Baroque staircase that winds up a hill.

Guimaraes is located north of Porto and is considered the birthplace of Portugal. Afonso Henriques, the nation’s first king, was born here in 1109. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts well preserved medieval architecture like the Guimarães Castle and Palace of the Dukes of Bragança.

We opted for a Discovery excursion: Guimaraes – Birthplace of Portuguese Nationality. The excursion took us to a castle and The Church of Sao Miguel do Castelo, key spots in founding event of the country. We walked around the cobblestone streets, and enjoyed people-watching in the plazas. We saw Portuguese azulejos tiles, and learned how they were a reflection of history. It was a combination of history, culture, and sightseeing that gave me a new appreciation for Portugal. It was a good choice for us, and a wonderful introduction to the country. 

Peso da Régua, Pinhao

Peso da Régua, also called Régua, is a town in northern Portugal, on the banks of the Douro River. Régua is an important center for Port wine production in the country and has a rich winemaking heritage. 

We opted for a Discovery excursion, a visit to a Historical Wine Farm. This included a visit to Casa dos viscondes da Varzea, and a tour conducted by the Countess who owns the estate. The aristocratic country estate dates back to the 16th century, and includes a beautiful manor house, gardens, along with wine and olive oil production facilities. Following the tour, we enjoyed a lunch at Quinta do Bomfim, a family-owned vineyard with estate tours, impressive wine cellar and tasting on a terrace overlooking the Douro.

A cruise on Portugal’s Douro River has to include an excursion to learn about and taste local wine, and this excursion delivered. The Countess was charming, and was a wonderful host for a tour and tasting.

Lunch at Bonfim was an amazing culinary experience. With lunch prepared by a Michelin chef, expertly paired wines for each course, and a view of the Douro, it was a lovely afternoon. Highly recommend this Discovery excursion.


Pocinho is a village situated within the municipality of Vila Nova de Foz Coa, on the left bank of the Douro River. The Pocinho Dam is located nearby, and the Douro Line, a scenic railway route following the Douro Valley, terminates at Pocinho station. 

This is a stop on the full 7-day sailing, but our abbreviated itinerary didn’t stop here.

Salamanca and Barca d’Alva

Salamanca is a historical city located in western Spain’s Castile and Leon region. Founded in the Celtic era, Salamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its sandstone architecture, particularly the ornate Plateresque style. The city has cathedrals built in Romanesque architecture and the Renaissance style.

Barca d’Alva is a village in northeastern Portugal, resting on the left bank of the Douro River near the Spanish border. It is part of the Douro International Natural Park, offering a glimpse into rural Portuguese life and serving as a base for exploring the surrounding wine region and the natural beauty of the Douro Valley.

While we didn’t get up to Spain on our sailing, I’ve been to Salamanca previously, and loved it. There’s lots to see here – cathedrals, the University of Salamanca, and flamenco. Be sure to leave time for a churro and hot chocolate.

Amarante, Ferradosa and Leverinho

Amarante is a city in northern Portugal. The Tamega River flows through the city, with the iconic Sao Goncalo Bridge spanning its waters and the Serra do Marao mountain in the backdrop. Amarante has also been designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Music since 2017.

Leverinho is a small village in the countryside of northern Portugal. Situated in the Minho region, in the Gondomar municipality of Portugal’s Porto District, the village is dotted with traditional stone houses and agricultural fields, where locals cultivate grapes, olives, and corn.

While we technically skipped this port, an Amarante excursion was included as part of a previous stop on our modified itinerary. If you’re sailing on this itinerary, I think you’ll love this stop.


Back to Porto, where we started, with excursions into the city and in preparation for the next day’s disembarkation. The ship overnights here.

Beyond its historical center and Port wine production, Porto boasts a vibrant modern scene.  The city’s Ribeira district undergoes a transformation at night, with its many bars and restaurants attracting crowds. For contemporary art enthusiasts, Serralves Museum and Gardens showcase 20th and 21st century art housed within an art deco mansion.

Our excursion choice in Porto was Portugal’s Wine Experience. This morning tour explored the histyoric heart of Vila Nova de Gaia and the WOW cultural district. WOW honors the culture and history of local creatorsw and innovators.

We toured the Cork Museum and learned bout the process of cork harvesting and production. While the self-guided tour covered some of the basic uses of cork (wine stoppers), I was impressed with the various practical uses of cork in fashion and design, and was WOWed by some of the art projects on display.

After learning about cork, we headed to Fonseca, a centuries old port cellar, to learn about more about this delicious nectar in a bottle. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of legends that accompany the history of Port, along with stories of the Fonseca family who founded the cellar. I’m convinced the backstory of these cellars add to the enjoyment of their wine.

We watch a fire-opening of a vintage bottle of Port, the usual cork removal process can damage a vintage bottle, then had a chance to taste the various types of Port – Tawny, Ruby, and White. I’m very early in my appreciation of Port, and still have a lot of studying and tasting to do. I’ll share more as I learn more.

In the afternoon, Avalon had a shuttle bus running to and from the ship and downtown Porto. We returned to do a little last-minute shopping and get a final look at the city.

Porto (Disembarkation)

Because the ship docks in Porto overnight, it was easy to get an early morning flight back home. If you didn’t add on days at the front end of the cruise, you’ll want to stay on after leaving the ship.

The Price

Cruise pricing is full of special offers. You’ll find lots of bundling, two-for-ones, and special discounts. Keeping up with cruise pricing can be a full-time job!

You’ll need to do your own personal research to evaluate what’s important to you on any cruise, and the price point that is comfortable for you.  Armed with that information and knowledge, you can book directly with a cruise line or use travel agents with good cruise knowledge.

A quick look at pricing for 2024-25 Douro sailings shows fares starting around $3,509 per person, double occupancy. This includes cruise taxes and port charges (as of July 1, 2024 all cruise pricing must include these fees). This price includes your cabin and meals, regional wine and beer with lunch and dinner, onbaord cultural and educational presentations, local entertainment, and excursions with local guides. You can take a look at rates and dates here. Be sure to look for special promotions, too.

A few words about gratuities. 

I believe that people should be well paid for providing good service. It is a cost of doing business for a company and a cost of travel for the cruiser. I wish that gratuities were included in Avalon pricing (and every cruise line pricing) because it lets prospective passengers see the full price right up front. Transparency is important to me. (Creating artificially low prices that don’t really exist makes me crazy.) 

Suggested gratuities are 15 Euros per person per day (which is broken down as 3 euros for the cruise director and 12 euros for the rest of the crew members). We always like to give a little extra, handed directly to the crew member, for attentive service.

Is an Avalon Cruise on the Douro Right for You?

We believe that there’s a cruise for everyone, it’s just a matter of matching up your preferences for size and type of ship, onboard features and amenities, and itineraries. I love all types of cruises, having some favorites of course, and I love discovering new cruise lines, new ships, and new itineraries.

I probably wouldn’t suggest a Douro cruise for first time river cruisers. Most first-timers want the castles and big history attractions. If that’s what you’re looking for, Avalon Waterways offers cruises on those rivers, too. You can take a look at all the Avalon ships and itinearies here.

The Douro is perfect, however, for cruisers looking for a relaxed itinerary that emphasizes wine, gastronomy, and the appeal of small rural villages. You’ll see lush, terraced vineyards out of your floor-to-ceiling windows. You’ll find unexpected discoveries in the places you go and the people you meet. It’s a slower pace that on other European rivers, and the slow pace may just be the right pace for you. And if you are a wine affocianado, you’ll want to put this on your travel bucket list.

The Alegria is the smallest ship currently cruising the Douro, which makes for a more intimate and personalized sailing experience.

Learn More about Porto and the Douro Valley

I love learning about destinations before I visit, and while I have been to Portugal a few times, I still dig into books and movies to get me in a travel frame of mind. Here are some suggestions based on what I discovered.

Book set in Porto or the Douro Valley

  • Cork Boat by John Pollack (2004): A hilarious and heartwarming memoir about an American’s quest to build a boat out of cork and sail it down the Douro. I read this book while we were sailing. It also checked off one of the prompts for my annual reading challenge (get the details about that here): A book about a quest.
  • A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson (2000): A captivating mystery that weaves between 1941 Lisbon and 1999 Porto.
  • Death on the Douro by Tony Aspler (2000): A crime novel featuring a port farm in the Douro Valley. This is the third book in a series that features a wine writer as the central character. I’ll be taking a look at these.

Movies set in Porto or the Douro Valley

  • Night Train to Lisbon (2013): A Swiss-German mystery film inspired by a book found in Porto. While not filmed in Portugal, the narrative revolves around a professor unraveling a past connected to the city. You also read the book the movie was based on
  • Nothing Like the Holidays (2008): This American holiday comedy features a large Portuguese family. Though not extensively shown, establishing shots hint at the charming streets of Porto.
  • Porto (2016): A Portuguese drama that explores a past connection between two strangers who meet in Porto. The film delves into themes of love, loss, and the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
  • A Year in Port (2016):  A journey into Portugal’s spectacular Douro Valley to explore the mystery and complexity of the world of Port. I have this documentary saved to watch as part of my education on Port.

Disclosure: This content was created as part of a paid partnership with Avalon Waterways. Avalon understands and respects the integrity of independent storytelling and reporting, and has not exerted influence about coverage or this review. The content of this post reflect my experiences and opinions.This post contains affiliate links.

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