Into the Douro Valley with Avalon Alegria

Into the Douro Valley with Avalon Alegria

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If you had asked me 10 years ago if I enjoyed a river cruise, my answer would have been a hard no. But a decade later, river cruises have come a long way, baby! We recently boarded the Avalon Alegria in Porto, Portugal, for a cruise into the Douro Valley. This European River cruise felt more like the small ship expeditions we’ve taken in the past than the old standard river cruises that stopped at packed ports and spent more time on the bus than exploring the destination.

What’s it Like on a Douro Valley River Cruise

Avalon Alegria Douro Valley CruiseAvalon Alegria Douro Valley Cruise

We boarded our all-suites ship in Porto, where we began our journey into the stunning hills of the Douro Valley. The Avalon Alegria was designed to utilize the most space while creating the ultimate relaxing and luxurious experience.

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The Ship – Avalon Alegria

The Avalon Alegria ShipThe Avalon Alegria Ship

The Avalon Alegria is the newest of Avalon’s ships. It is an all-suites ship with 14 deluxe staterooms or 37 Panorama Suites. We toured all of the rooms, and no matter which room you choose, you will be happy. All Panorama Suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows that open to turn your room into one huge balcony, and all beds face the water.

Avalon Alegria Top Deck PoolAvalon Alegria Top Deck Pool

Onboard amenities include a bar and dance floor, nightly entertainment, a dining room, a club lounge, and a gym. The Sky Deck has a swimming pool, outdoor grill and bar, and plenty of lounge chairs and tables. If the weather is good, this is the place to be to take in the gorgeous vistas of the Douro Valley.

Avalon Alegria Suites

Avalon Alegria SuitesAvalon Alegria Suites

Let’s begin with the suites. With a maximum capacity of 102 people, every room is spacious and luxurious. We stayed in one of the fourteen 200-square-foot panorama suites, which was perfect for our trip.

While other cruise lines we’ve taken line their beds up against a wall with a view of the other wall, the Avalon Alegria ship sets each bed facing the floor-to-ceiling windows for views of the river. We enjoyed afternoon siestas in our room while watching the Douro River views go by.

Avalon Alegria StateroomAvalon Alegria Stateroom

But that’s not all. Most people want a balcony when river cruising, but it’s difficult to give everyone one due to the size limitations of the river and the locks. Avalon has fixed this problem by creating floor-to-ceiling windows that open wide, transforming your suite into an open-air balcony. By taking away the outdoor balcony, they have created 30% more living space.

Breakfast in our room on the Avalon Alegria in the Douro ValleyBreakfast in our room on the Avalon Alegria in the Douro Valley

We enjoyed breakfast in our room each morning with our windows open to see the hills of the Douro River. With plush robes, slippers, and stunning views, we never wanted to leave our room! Oh and did I tell you that they not only have a pillow menu, but also a bed menu? There are four different settings for the bed. Just let the crew know how you like your bed, and they’ll set it up for you.

Club Lounge

the Club Lounge on the Avalon Alegria shipthe Club Lounge on the Avalon Alegria ship

Next to our room, the Club Lounge was our second favorite space on the Avalon Alegria. Before breakfast, we walked to the lounge in our robes and slippers to grab a cappuccino, freshly baked cookies, and vitamin water.

I loved filling my refillable water bottle with my choice of water for the day. Would it be Vitamin B water? Sparkling grapefruit or ginger. The choices were awesome.

Normally, cruise ships reserve this space for upgraded suites, but Avalon makes this coveted space at the stern of the boat open for everyone. You can sit back and relax, have tea, or send an email on the fast Star Link Wi-Fi that is included in the trip.

Avalon, the Greenest Ship on the Douro

Green initiatives on the Avalon AlegriaGreen initiatives on the Avalon Alegria

We know the rap cruise ships get, but Avalon works hard to travel sustainably. Avalon has partnered with destinations to generate sustainable electricity while docked. They use shore power whenever they can and have installed LED lighting throughout their ships.

You will notice that I mentioned a water station above and Avalon has zero plastic onboard. There are glasses that you can refill, but we recommend packing your own water bottle to take on excursions. We weren’t offered bottled water on our tours (which I was grateful for), so we filled up our bottles before leaving the ship.

They have reduced paper by 80%. Unlike other cruise ships, you won’t see your daily schedule and loads of paper on your beds. Avalon has an app for guests to use with schedules on the TVs.

Be well water stations on the Avalon AlegriaBe well water stations on the Avalon Alegria

They have also partnered with The Ocean Cleanup to aid in their mission of removing 90% of ocean plastic. This is a daunting task, and I have no idea how it will happen, but with companies investing and partnering, good things can happen.

Honestly, in today’s world, we are all contributing to the destruction of the planet, so the only thing companies can do is give back. Avalon plants two trees for every passenger on a cruise, has state-of-the-art oil filters to keep oil changes to a minimum, and is looking to switch to electric ships in the near future.

What’s Included – Avalon is About Choice

Since we mentioned premium coffees and free internet, I thought we’d touch on what is included in your Douro River Cruise with Avalon Waterways. The phrase we kept hearing was the Avalon is about choice. Passengers have flexibility regarding dining, excursions, and things to do onboard.

Meals

Meals included on the Avalon Alegria Douro Valley PortugalMeals included on the Avalon Alegria Douro Valley Portugal

All meals, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are included. Breakfast can be enjoyed in your stateroom or in the dining room. Lunch is a buffet in the dining room or light snacks in the bar. You can also always order certain foods, like burgers and sandwiches, off the menu.

Dinner is a delicious multicourse meal of local and international dishes paired with fine local wine. Portugal has fantastic wines, and I love that Avalon serves only local wines. When I am in Portugal, I don’t want to be drinking a California Chardonnay; I want a rich Douro Valley red, and that is exactly what they delivered.

Unlike other cruises, passengers are offered flex dining and can eat anytime within the dining window. Seating is flexible, with tables for two, or you can join large groups.

Drinks

Happy hour drinks on the Avalon alegria Douro Valley PortugalHappy hour drinks on the Avalon alegria Douro Valley Portugal

Speaking of wine, beer and wine are included at lunch and dinner. All specialty coffees, soft drinks, and water are also included. And, unlike other cruises, the Douro Valley River cruise offers free cocktail hour drinks. And let me tell you, they make delicious cocktails.

Tours

Tour to Amarante from the Alegria by Avalon WaterwaysTour to Amarante from the Alegria by Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways really stands out with its tours and shore excursions. They have broken down tours to suit different needs. You can choose from Classic, Discovery, or Active Excursion options. Each day you can do something different from active adventures that include kayaking and hiking to cultural experiences that take you to historic districts and food and wine excursions to enjoy the Douro Valley Wines and Ports of Porto.

There is something for everyone, depending on your mobility and activity level. Plus, there is an onboard adventure host that leads yoga in the mornings.

Entertainment

Nightly entertainment onboard the Avalon AlegriaNightly entertainment onboard the Avalon Alegria

Each evening after dinner, there is local entertainment. We enjoyed a Fado Show of talented local guitarists sharing their culture, stories and music.

The next night was an outstanding quartet of strings putting their own spin on modern rock and pop music.

We also enjoyed being serenaded by a finalist from The Voice and had nightly dancing. This is one of those trips that brings the local culture to you.

The Crew

The amazing crew on the Avalon AlegriaThe amazing crew on the Avalon Alegria

Something that really stands out on the Avalon Alegria cruise through the Douro Valley is the staff. Your hosts can make or break a trip and the Alegria staff goes above and beyond. Within the moment we stepped onboard, they felt like old friends.

At cocktail hour, they knew exactly what type of cocktail I’d be in the mood for and even created specialties not on the menu.

Dave has a Gluten allergy, and the waitstaff paid careful attention to offering him alternatives and informing him of what we could eat and must avoid.

They were always smiling, and you could tell that they really enjoyed their jobs. It wasn’t an act; the crew loved what they were doing. From the guys grinning from ear to ear as they tied the lines to the front desk, answering our every need.

Ports of Call

Ports of call on the Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro itinerary by AvalonPorts of call on the Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro itinerary by Avalon

Don’t worry, you are encouraged to get off the ship and enjoy the local ports of call. Avalon docks downtown or close to the urban centers where a short (and cheap) Uber ride can take you to where you want to be.

8-Day Itinerary – Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro

The cruise starts in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Porto. We suggest arriving early to really soak in this beautiful destination. Avalon offers a guided tour of Braga and Guimaraes, which we highly recommend seeing. But you should also spend at least two days in Porto to enjoy the Historical Center, the Gaia District, and the stunning waterfront.

The cruise then leaves in the evening to stop at different locations along the Douro Valley. The 8-day itinerary includes these stops and then returns to Porto for another day of touring. We chose the option of wine tasting in Gaia with a tour of the Cork Museum, which was fascinating and delicious!

Porto Embarkation
Porto day tour to Braga and Guimaraes.
Peso da Regua – a visit to one of the oldest farms in the Douro Valley 
Poncinho – Douro Valley Vineyards
Barca d’Alva – Salamanca, Spain – This is where you can add another country to your itinerary.
Ferradosa-Leverhino – Day tour of Amarante

Can Solo Travelers Join Avalon?

Can Solo Travelers join the Avalon alegriaCan Solo Travelers join the Avalon alegria

We always travel as a couple, but I know many people wonder about solo travel on cruises. Avalon waives the solo supplement. On Avalon, you never feel alone. From my observations, a river cruise is a great option for solo travelers.

Avalon is About Choice

The Avalon Waterways river cruises are all about choiceThe Avalon Waterways river cruises are all about choice

Most people choose the Danube or Rhine Rivers for their first river cruise. We did 10 years ago, and it turned us off river cruising for a decade. When Avalon invited us to sample their Douro Valley route, we were intrigued to give it another try. I’m glad we did. This river cruise was exactly the type of travel we love—small ships with fewer passengers and plenty of options for shore excursions.

Fewer ships are on the river, and the stops feel intimate and untouched. With only 102 passengers on the Avalon choosing from different excursions, we had small group tours that felt tailored to our needs.

The Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful places to cruise in Europe, with rolling hills and terraced vineyards. It is truly a bucket list cruise where immersing in culture and experiencing the local cuisine is at the heart of the itinerary.

Deb standing next to the Avalon Alegria in the Douro ValleyDeb standing next to the Avalon Alegria in the Douro Valley

These are the most popular routes filled with other river cruises and crowds at ports of call. I’m not saying to never do one, but I think the Douro Valley is the perfect introduction to river cruising.

So there you have it—our Douror Valley River Cruise—the first European River Cruise we’ve taken in 10 years. Will we do another one? You bet! As we age, we love the idea of unpacking once and sailing through Europe’s most beautiful countryside.

When you get to ports, you don’t have to follow the guides; everyone is free to do as they please. Remember, Avalon is about choice, and our choice is to return soon.

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