The 142-passenger Infante Don Henrique // © 2015 CroisiEurope
Feature image (above): Guests on CroisiEurope’s From Porto to Spain cruise spend two days in Porto, Portugal. // © 2015 CroisiEurope
CroisiEurope has more than three decades of river cruise history on its namesake continent, and my eight-day cruise along Portugal’s Douro River showcased the company’s experience and value-driven nature. While sailing the From Porto to Spain itinerary, I came to understand why the family-run brand appeals to such a diverse mix of clients.
The 142-passenger Infante Don Henrique is a handsome vessel with four decks, including a sundeck with plenty of lounge chairs. My simple cabin offered adequate storage and comfortable twin beds, as well as a reasonably sized bathroom with a decent shower. All cabins onboard are identical in size, with the exception of those with spacious balconies.
During my cruise, most guests spoke French or English, though the company’s reasonable pricing draws a mixture of passengers from all over the world. In an effort to make communication easy and comfortable, passengers were divided into two languages during meals and tours. Much of the Portuguese crew spoke French as a second language, and the waitstaff spoke some English.
My fellow cruisers and I traded pleasantries and stories over meals. Lunches and dinners are three-course affairs, with cuisine leaning toward French tastes, but special requests are also catered to. An excellent breakfast buffet is served from daily from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and special evening meals included indulgences such as foie gras. During a Portuguese-themed dinner, national specialties such as cozido, a stew of meats, cabbage, sausage and potatoes; and bacalhau, or salt fish, were offered. Drinks at lunch and dinner, including a wide variety of house wines and beers, are part of the cruise price.
Nighttime on Infante Don Henrique is especially enjoyable, thanks to evening fado (Portugal’s most famous music) and flamenco performances and a folkloric show. During the day, pub quizzes — a staple of British life — are bilingual and immensely popular, with guests banding together to answer questions on all sorts of topics. I felt sorry for the moderator, who was trying to keep things in control while the rest of us excitedly shouted out answers.
For passengers eager to see more on land, shore excursions are sold a la carte for reasonable prices. I joined the four-hour Vila Real and Casa de Mateus tour, which was well-organized and even allowed guests a bit of free time. At 18th-century Manor Solar of Mateus, we explored manicured gardens and orchards before taking a tour of the house. On the excursion to Porto, guests had the opportunity to visit wine cellars and sample the various kinds of port wine for which the region is known.
Though my full-day tour to Salamanca had some organizational problems — from long lines at one stop to a low staff-to-guest ratio — our tour guides coped admirably. It helped that Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a picturesque and lively destination that made me forget about any obstacles.
Guests seemed particularly happy as they watched a Porto fireworks display, one part of the city’s centuries-old celebration of patron saint Sao Joao, or St. John the Baptist. It was a terrific opportunity to partake in a local tradition, and as I watched the dazzling lights in the sky, it occurred to me that CroisiEurope has become its own form of European tradition, as well.