We took advantage of a great discount and ticked off a bucket list trip! As food and wine lovers this trip along the Douro seemed perfect! This was our second river cruise, the one we did before was Xmas markets along the Danube,
We spent a week onboard SS Sao Gabriel, operated by Uniworld ‘the most awarded luxury cruise line’. We boarded in Porto ( we had stayed the night before, others had stayed longer and some flew in on the day of sailing)
The ship was built in Portugal and the decor was distinctly Portugese with tiles and marble/granite fixtures.
All drinks are included, there was a good choice of wines and spirits including cocktails and the waiters soon remembered our drink of choice! Water was provided in the cabins and whilst there was no tea/coffee makers there was one just along the corridor with a wide range of teas/coffee/hot chocolate and water. We were also provided with refillable water bottles to take on excursions, Uniworld are trying to be more sustainable; menus are on QR codes rather than wasting paper (although paper versions were available if you needed one) excursion details are online, as are travel documents.
We opted for the best value grade cabin- on the lower deck with a window (there are 3 decks). All cabins on this ship are quite small- the ship is restricted on size to get through the narrow locks. and to be honest we didn’t spend much time inside. The bed was extremely comfortable, and our cabin was made up twice a day. The bathroom was big enough with a powerful shower and luxury toiletries. The TV system included deck cams, maps and weather forecasts along with movies and tv channels. Our new friends had a suite and allowed us to have a look around, their windows retracted to form a sort of balcony and they had the luxury of a butler! There was a separate seating area and the room was bigger, they also had a coffee maker and larger bathroom. Cabins can be noisy, particularly when going through locks with engine thrusts but when normal sailing you dont hear or feel anything (apart from the odd splosh of water on the window)
There is one main restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There was no alternative , which would have been nice, I think the bistro seating area may provide buffet service in ‘normal’ times however with the COVID restrictions everything was waiter served. The food was good quality and delicious, several choices with prompt service.
Every single member of the 32 crew was friendly and polite, nothing was too much trouble.
There was a choice of excursions included daily, we were all given Quiet Vox devices and divided into small groups, a much better way if exploring. As we were in the Douro valley naturally our excursions included wine estates and vineyards, one day we all had a spectacular lunch in a port cellar! There were tours to suit various levels of fitness, even a bike tour in one of the stops! Getting on and off the ship will prove tricky sometimes for less mobile passengers, sometimes we had to go through other ships to get to the quayside, other times the gangplank was quite steep. Whilst there is a lift it doesn’t go to the sundeck and that is the deck used to disembark sometimes. WIFI and tips were also included.
There is a small gym onboard and I think they had yoga classes (although that’s not my thing so I have no first hand knowledge!) There is also a small spa area where the resident beautician provides massages etc. There is a small heated pool on the sundeck where towels and sunloungers are provided.
I think the average age of passenger was around 60/65 with a mix of nationalities including Brits, Canadian. American and various other European. With only 98 passengers onboard it was easy to make friends if you wanted to ( we made friends with a few couples and I’m sure we will be friends for life)
The cruise host, Mateus was excellent, very knowledgeable, he provided lots of information on the area we visited daily. He joined us on the excursions and I saw him with his arm out helping a lady who was a little unsteady walking, Entertainment after dinner was low key, with local musicians coming aboard to entertain us including a Fargo and a Flamenco show. The resident DJ played music until around midnight, this gave us chance to dance the night away with our new friends.
We were asked to wear masks whilst we were moving around the ship but once seated these could be removed, they weren’t needed on the sundeck either. We were provided with hand gel in the cabin and there was plenty located around the ship.
Dresscode- daytime was casual/smart casual. Evening was smart casual with two evenings where we could ‘dress up’ these weren’t ball gowns but maybe a suit for the gents and dress for the ladies.
The scenery along the Douro valley was spectacular, the autumn colours highlighted by the brilliant sunshine. We never expected it to be as stunning as it was. The locks are always fun, how on earth they manage to fit through without bashing the ship is beyond me! The beauty of a river cruise is the ability to get off and wonder around the town/city you visit. Our ports on this trip were rural so to be hinest we only got off to go on our escorted trips.
At the end of the cruise we were transferred to the airport, and some passengers took an extension to Lisbon.
Would I recommend this ship- yes without hesitation, we couldn’t fault it (although I couldn’t imagine children enjoying it)
There are some videos on my YouTube Channel
My top tips for a river cruise- research your ports of call, check the weather and ensure you dr ess accordingly – comfy footwear on cobbled streets is a must! Get dressed before you open your curtains- ships dock alongside each other and you can see straight through! Check what’s included on your cruise- some include all excursions, WIFI, tips and drinks whilst others charge.