There are few journeys that intertwine the realms of tranquility, history, and breathtaking beauty as effortlessly as a Douro river cruise.
Flowing through the heart of Portugal and Spain, the Douro River has long been a lifeline of culture and civilization, nurturing vineyards and picturesque villages.
This article is an in depth Saga Douro river cruise review. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this wonderful cruise holiday.
Douro River Cruise
Is the Douro Valley Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! The Douro Valley is awash with stunning scenery. From picturesque Porto to wonderful wine valleys, there is always a great view. Cruising the Douro Valley is a great way to enjoy it.
Author Bio – Melanie Newdick, Coach Holiday Expert
I am a coach holiday expert because;
- I have worked as a Tour Manager taking coach holidays for +30 years
- I have taken coach holidays to over 30 different countries, many multiple times
- I have taken over 8,000 guests on holiday all over the world
- I have trained other Tour Managers on behalf of holiday companies
- Taken private group tours, special event tours, alumni trips, first departure tours
- I was leading coach holidays to Europe before there were cheap flights!
- Check out my top money saving resources
This review is designed to help you understand more about this Douro River Cruise and to help you think about any areas where you might need more information before you book.
I do not work for the holiday company that operates this cruise.
I am merely sharing my experience of this cruise to help you understand a bit more what it is actually like.
Apart from the first one, the pictures and videos are my own that I took on this trip.
Douro River Cruise – Where is the Douro Valley?
- The River Douro actually starts in Spain. It flows West where it meets the Atlantic Ocean at the gorgeous city of Porto.
- It is 557 miles long.
- There are 15 dams along the river of which 5 are commonly passed through during a Douro river cruise.
- Scroll across the map below to see where the Douro River flows.
What is the Douro Valley Famous For?
The Douro Valley is UNESCO-listed because of its wine-making history and heritage. Not only is port wine made in the area (don’t miss a chance to visit a Port Wine Cellar in Porto), but Vinho Verde is produced here too. This wine is generally not exported as it doesn’t travel well. It has a very fresh and clean taste because it is classed as a ‘young wine’, although the name means green wine.
It is definitely worth trying!
So now we know a bit more about the Douro Valley area let’s jump into my in-depth review of this lovely cruise.
Douro River Cruise: Cruise Headlines
- 7-night cruise
- Door-to-door transport to departure point from anywhere in the UK and the same when returning home
- Travel insurance included (can be removed for a discount)
- 7 breakfasts
- 6 lunches
- 7 evening meals
- Saga cruise representative on board the cruise
- Return flights and transfers to the ship
- Captains dinner and drinks reception
- WIFI on board the ship
- Entertainment and activities on board
Included excursions as follows;
- Tour of Lamego
- Visit Figueira Castelo de Rodrigo
- Sightseeing in Salamanca
- Dinner at a local Quinta
- Casa de Mateus Palace
- A tour of Oporto including a port wine cellar visit
Douro River Cruise: Pricing
Departures from March 2023 to November 2023 from London Gatwick.
Departures from April 2023 to November 2023 from London Heathrow.
The cheapest departures are from London Gatwick with prices from £1559 per person (based on two sharing)
Douro River Cruise: Included VIP Transfers
- There are several options included with SAGA for getting to your UK departure for your flight to Oporto.
- You can choose a VIP transfer service with a driver which is available from your home or from that of a family or friend.
- You can also choose to travel by rail.
- If you want to make your own way free airport parking is included.
- If you choose an internal flight to get to your departure point from the UK you can also have your luggage collected from home and taken directly to your river cruise ship and returned to your home after your holiday.
Douro River Cruise: London Gatwick Departures
Flights depart Gatwick on TAP Airlines at 12.00 noon and arrive in Porto at 14.25
Return flights depart Porto at 08.55 and arrive in London Gatwick at 11.10
(Some flights depart at 21.40 and arrive in Porto at 23.55, and some flights return at 12.00 and return at 14.25. It would be worth checking this when booking.)
Douro River Cruise: London Heathrow Departures
Flights depart London Heathrow at 15.40 and arrive in Porto 18.00 on British Airways
Flights return at 18.50 Porto and arrive at London Heathrow at 21.05 on British Airways. You will have to check out from the ship in the morning before lunch so it may be worth checking what the arrangements are for the last day otherwise it could make for a long/wasted day.
Some flights depart at 17.20 from London Heathrow and arrive at 19.45 in Porto. Some flights return from Porto at 10.35 and arrive at 13.00.
Douro River Cruise: Solo Travellers
For Gatwick departures, the cost for single travellers ranges from £2586 to £6186 depending on the departure date. For the cheapest departure date, the single supplement is £1027.
Douro River Cruise: Deck Plan
- The restaurant where all meals are served in one sitting.
- This is the main entrance to the ship.
- The reception desk is located in the centre of this deck.
- Cabins starting with the number 2 are located on this deck.
- At the front of the ship is the main bar and lounge area which includes an open area at the bow of the ship for sitting outside.
- This is where most of the cabins are located – all the cabins start with the number 3.
- Access to the sun deck is from here.
- This is complete with loungers and is ideal for sitting and enjoying the passing views.
Take a look around the Douro Queen with this interactive tour and explore all the decks and some cabins for yourself!
Douro River Cruise: Cabins
There are 4 types of cabins on the Douro Queen.
Standard cabins are M and MA cabins. the MA cabins are 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, and 105. These are located at the rear of the ship. All standard cabins are on the main deck and on the same level as the reception and lounge.
UA cabins are on the Upper Deck. They are located at the rear of the ship. They are 300, 301, 302, and 303. The views from 300 and 301 are partially restricted – this is due to the design of the ship and if you look at the picture of the ship you can see the obstruction for yourself.
Upgraded cabins are on the Upper Deck and are most of the 300 numbered cabins. Most of them have a balcony.
To upgrade from a standard cabin to a UA cabin the difference is around £150 per person depending on the departure date and departure point.
Upgrading to a U cabin is around £350 per person depending on the departure date and the departure point.
Douro River Cruise: Things to Know About a River Cruise
- It may seem obvious to state but a river cruise is a very different type of cruise from an ocean cruise.
- Ships are generally much smaller. The maximum capacity on board the Douro Queen is 130 passengers with 30 crew.
- River cruises travel along rivers and rivers can be affected by water levels – the water can be too low that the ship can’t travel the designated route or it can be too high and the ship can’t get under the bridges.
- River cruises generally involve travelling through locks, which help ships deal with the changing height of the river as they travel. Locks crossings have to be booked in advance and there is often little or no spare capacity at busy times on the river.
- This can mean that if there is some sort of delay or issue somewhere along a sightseeing tour might be cut short in order for the ship to make the next lock crossing, as otherwise, it will be unable to complete the cruise. Of course, the Captain and the crew will do everything they can to avoid these sorts of problems, but at times they can be inevitable. This may mean that if you are out on the coach you may rejoin the coach at a different point for example because it may have had to move on while you were away.
- The Douro is a popular cruising river and as such there are lots of other ships travelling the route too.
- River cruise ships may moor up alongside each other. This can mean that you have to walk through several other ships to reach yours and it may also mean that your cabin window or balcony looks directly into a cabin on the adjacent ship.
- If you have paid extra for a balcony or an upper cabin to get a better view this might be an issue for you.
- River cruises don’t always cruise at night and moor during the day. Cruising can be done at any time.
Douro River Cruise: Day By Day
The cruise I am reviewing here is a SAGA Douro River Cruise. Here are a few headlines to know about the cruise itself;
The cruise travels along the Douro River from Oporto to Barca d’Alva and back again. The total distance between these two points is approximately 135 miles. As such it’s not a long cruise in terms of distance.
Most of the excursions are via coach and include a bit of travelling up and down the river. One of the trips is to Salamanca. This is approximately 2 hours each way by coach from the point where the ship will be moored.
As such it may be easier to think of this holiday as a touring holiday with some of the touring done by coach and some by the river cruise ship.
Douro River Cruise: Day 1
On the first day, you will depart from the UK and fly to Porto. Porto airport is located to the North of the city and on arrival you will be transferred to the ship which is moored at Vila Nova De Gaia.
The distance from the airport to the ship is about 14 miles.
On arrival, your luggage will be taken on board the ship and you will be checked into your cabin.
The ship will be exclusively for SAGA guests which could mean that around 130 people are arriving together. As such it can take a little time to get checked in at the airport, board the coaches and get checked in at the ship itself.
There may well be some time for you to explore Vila Nova De Gaia which is a pretty area where all the port wine cellars are located.
There will be an evening meal on board this evening and the ship will stay at Vila Nova De Gaia overnight.
Douro River Cruise: Day 2
Today the ship will cruise from Vila Nova De Gaia to Regua. The total distance travelled by ship is around 80 miles.
Not far from Vila Nova De Gaia is the first lock navigation. This is through the Crestuma Lever Dam. The height of the dam is 25 metres or around 82 feet.
Before arriving in Regua you will pass through the Carrapatelo Dam. The height of the dam is 57m or around 187 feet. This is quite an experience to travel through, and definitely, a moment to enjoy from the bar and the front area of the boat.
In the afternoon there is an included excursion to Lamego. Lamego is in the hills about 10 miles away from Regua.
The visit is to see the lovely Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. The shrine was built between the 18th and 20th centuries and it is still a very popular pilgrimage site with the most devout climbing up the nearly 700 steps on their knees. There is a beautiful baroque staircase and of course the sanctuary at the top of the hill. You have the option to walk down into the city of Lamego or to take the coach down in you prefer.
Check out this page on Lamego for a lovely view of Lamego looking back to the Sanctuary and an interactive map showing the attractions of Lamego.
Lamego is a small town with a pleasant square and some nice coffee shops and cafes to enjoy too.
After your visit to Lamego, you travel back to the ship by coach.
The ship then cruises from Regua to Pinhao. During this part of the cruise, you will pass through the Regua Dam. This dam is 41 metres or around 134 feet high.
The distance cruised from Regua to Pinhao is around 17 miles.
Douro River Cruise: Day 3
There is an early morning departure from Pinhao today and a morning sail towards Vega de Terron. The distance is only around 14 miles between the two places. During this part of the cruise, you will pass through the Valeira Dam which is 48m or around 157 feet high. You will also pass through the Pocinho Dam which is 49m or 160 feet high.
You will then arrive at Vega de Terron.
During the afternoon there is an included visit to Figueria de Castelo Rodrigo. This very pretty village sits on to of a hill. It has several pretty narrow streets with some cute cafes to enjoy while you visit too. There wll be free time to look around the village at your leisure.
The distance from Vega de Terron to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo is around 21km or 13 miles. The roads are fairly small so this will take around 30 minutes to travel.
Bear in mind that this village is on top of a hill so the streets are not flat or level and involve walking over cobbles. There are steps to get up and down around the village as well.
This evening there is a Portuguese dinner on board the ship
Vega De Terron is really a pier area for Douro cruise ships to moor. There is not really any sizeable town or village around the area where the ship is moored.
Douro River Cruise: Day 4
After breakfast, there is an included excursion to the city of Salamanca in Spain which is across the border. It is around 121 km or 75 miles between the two. The first part of the journey involves a climb up over the hills. This part of the road is quite twisty but once out of the Douro Valley the road is straighter and more level. The journey takes around two hours and there will be some commentary during the journey about Spanish history.
Previously there were not any comfort stops en route to Salamanca but there was a comfort stop on arrival in Salamanca at a local hotel. It might be worth checking this information in advance if it is important to you.
Salamanca is a Unesco listed city in Spain. The city has one of the oldest universities in Europe and two cathedrals. The city has a pedestrianised area to make exploring even more enjoyable.
Around half an hour after arrival in Salamanca there will be a walking tour with a local guide to visit Plaza Mayor. The Plaza is deemed one of the finest squares in Spain.
Lunch is included today at a local restaurant and there will be a flamenco show afterward so you can enjoy some traditional Spanish culture too.
Later in the day, you will take the 2 hour journey back to the ship which will be moored in Barca d’Alva which is a short distance downstream from Vega de Terron where the ship was moored during the morning.
The ship will stay moored at Barca d’Alva overnight.
Douro River Cruise: Day 5
This morning the ship will depart from Barca d’Alva and cruise towards Pinhao, arriving after lunch. The ship will pass through the Pocinho and Valeira dams again. The distance is around 62 miles.
After lunch, there is an included visit to Quinta do Seixo, a local winery. There will be an included tour of the estate and a chance to taste their port wines. This is a Sandemans winery with lovely views back down the Douro Valley and of the vineyards throughout the area too. It is only a few miles from Pinhao to Quinta do Seixo.
This evening there will be a dinner at a local Quinta with wine and entertainment included. This means dinner will be served away from the ship.
After dinner, you will return to Pinhao where the ship remains moored overnight.
Douro River Cruise: Day 6
There is an early morning cruise from Pinhao to Regua this morning which means another crossing through the Regua dam. The cruising distance is around 20 miles.
There is an included visit to the Mateus Palace, which will be familiar to you if you have seen the Mateus Rose wine label. The visit will be to the gardens with a chance to view the outside of the palace.
You return to the ship for an afternoon cruise between Regua and Entre-os-Rios where the ship will moor overnight. The distance is around 60 miles.
This evening there will be a Portuguese folk music show after dinner.
Douro River Cruise: Day 7
This morning the ship will cruise back to Oporto. During the cruise, you will travel through the Carrapatelo and Crestuma dams again. The distance is around 25 miles.
On arrival there is an included tour of Oporto which is famous for wine production but also served as inspiration for JK Rowling – if you see students from the University during your tour you will see why!
You will also visit a port wine cellar and learn about the production and history of this delicious drink.
Your ship will remain at Vila Nova de Gaia overnight.
Douro River Cruise Day 8
This morning after breakfast you will disembark your ship and travel to the airport for your return flight to the UK.
On arrival in the UK, you will be transferred home as per your arrangements with SAGA.
Douro River Cruise Additional Points to Consider
Discount if you don’t take the Â£20 included SAGA travel insurance.
- If you don’t take the SAGA travel insurance and use your own insurance cover bear in mind that the SAGA cruise assistant will probably not be able to help you in the event of an emergency that requires insurance assistance.
- Most insurance companies will not allow cruise or holiday representatives to talk with them unless they are the insurance company provided by the holiday company. This is because of data protection rules and regulations.
- Even if you have your own insurance it may be worth considering sticking with the SAGA insurance for this cruise given that the cruise assistant will be able to help you with claiming and making arrangements.
- A cruise assistant is not a tour manager. They do not manage the tour or the itinerary in any way. This is all done by the product team in the UK who liaise with the ship directly. On board the ship there will be a Cruise Director who is responsible for everything on the cruise.
- The Cruise Assistant is really there to ensure everything runs as it should and to assist in case of emergency. They may be able to help with some issues during the tour but they cannot change the itinerary because of a delay or problem for example i.e. a lock crossing is delayed meaning the program needs to be shortened to make the next lock crossing.
- The pay for the Cruise Assistant reflects the fact that they are not expected to do the same amount of work and instead are accompanying the cruise.
- There are no drinks included in the cruise. There may well be an option to include a drinks package. This could cover local drinks and branded drinks depending on the price and package.
- These are not included in your price.
- When thinking of gratuities please remember that your SAGA Cruise Assistant is not included in the gratuities for the ship’s crew.
Douro River Cruise: Reviews
- The reviews for this cruise by previous SAGA guests are 7.9 out of 10 overall.
- The accommodation scored lowest at 6.6 out of 10
- The quality of visits and excursions scored highest at 7.9 out of 10
- Some people have scored this cruise lower despite saying in their comments they had a good time.
(These reviews were on the website in 2022)
Douro River Cruise – Professional Traveller Summary
- This Douro River Cruise is an ideal introduction to this particular part of Portugal
- The Douro is a beautiful river and this Douro River Cruise gives you a great combination of the beautiful city of Porto, with the rural countryside of Portugal too
- The Douro Queen will be chartered exclusively for SAGA for your cruise which is great
- Be prepared to be organised in terms of activities during your cruise – there isn’t a huge amount of time to explore on your own
- There are some lovely parts of the cruise where you can sit on the sun deck and just enjoy the countryside slipping by
- Don’t miss cruising back into Porto and going under the bridges – it might be early but it’s worth it for the view
Douro River Cruise Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Do You Wear On a Douro River Cruise?
On this particular cruise, there is no formal dress code. Some guests did change for dinner but not into anything formal, just something perhaps a little smarter from clothes worn during the day for walking etc. There is a Captain’s Dinner but this was smart casual rather than anything formal like dresses and suits.
For exploring and activities good walking shoes are recommended. Portuguese kerbs and pavements leave a lot to be desired and can be very uneven and really high too.
Getting on and off boats requires good footwear too. As the river level changes this can affect the angle of the boarding ramp so sturdy and supportive footwear is advisable.
The sun get can get very hot so something to cover up with and a hat is also a good idea.
How Long is the Douro River Cruise?
Most cruises are around 8 days long. This gives time to get through all the dams and head further into the Douro river valley. This gives guests on board cruise ships a chance to explore some rural parts of Portugal as well as the lively city of Porto.
Where Do Douro River Cruises Start?
Most Douro River cruises start in Porto. That said the cruises actually start from a suburb outside Porto called Vila Nova da Gaia. This is on the opposite side of the Douro river to Porto itself. It is also where the port wine cellars are.
Check out this Portuguese Government site which gives lots more information on the navigation of the Douro River
If you have found this review of the Douro River Cruise useful then you might be interested in the following;
Detailed Review of Coach Holiday to Lake Garda – with lots of helpful tips
Australia Tours review – 2 coach holidays compared with detailed itinerary review and helpful tips and advice
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