One shore excursion visits the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies in Lamego. // © 2017 Dana Rebmann
Feature image (above): Onboard meals feature a variety of local specialties. // © 2017 Dana Rebmann
With just 106 passengers onboard Viking Osfrid, it was easy to get to know my fellow travelers as we sailed on Portugal’s Douro River. I may have sped up the process even more so by taking a massive tumble in front of Lisbon’s iconic tower, Torre de Belem, on our first day together in the city. My pride was more injured than my knee — as the youngest member of the group (by possibly a decade or two), I was already aware of how much I stood out.
My fellow cruisers were a mostly retired, well-traveled group. During our first daily briefing, about 40 percent raised their hands when asked if they had previously sailed with Viking River Cruises. As most folks hailed primarily from the U.S., U.K. and Canada, it didn’t take long for everyone to get to know their new neighbors.
Launched in March 2016, Osfrid has several different stateroom options, but all have river views and offer upscale amenities that include large closets and a 40-inch flat-panel television with movies on demand. (Onboard Wi-Fi access is free, but it is slow or, at times, nonexistent.) In addition, bathrooms have rainfall showerheads, and L’Occitane bath products are restocked daily.
Osfrid’s lounge is home to the ship’s only bar, and it’s where everything that might attract a crowd takes place, including Portuguese language lessons and cooking demonstrations. Floor-to-ceiling windows and comfy seating also make it a popular place to watch the Douro’s dramatic scenery go by. Fresh air and front-row seats can be had in an outdoor area on the ship’s bow, but if clients want to be outside, it’s tough to beat the top-floor sundeck.
Along with a small pool, a putting green and an herb garden, the sundeck gives passengers the chance to relax, catch some rays and enjoy the mellow pace of the cruise. It’s also home to the wheelhouse, where Captain Afonso Ribeiro commands the ship. With more than 40 years experience, he knows every inch of the Douro.
“It’s like parking your car in the garage,” he said when talking about navigating the river’s famous locks.
The ship passes through five locks as it sails along the river, often with mere inches to spare above or on either side. The one at Carrapatello Dam is notable because it’s the highest in Western Europe, moving vessels 115 feet. Since Osfrid sails both upstream and downstream during the cruise, passengers who plan their time and excursions carefully can enjoy the locks twice.
Excursions are offered on a daily basis and, with very few exceptions, are included in the cost of the cruise. At some ports, such as Regua, Porto and Pinhao, passengers can easily walk right off the ship into town, but all organized excursions include a bus ride. The outing to Salamanca, Spain, takes a bit less than two hours each way. Meanwhile, the not-to-be-missed trip to Lamego — with a 686-step double staircase that climbs to the hilltop chapel, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies — is a short drive from the dock. (The bus delivers guests to the top of the stairs, with the option of walking down.) Travelers looking for Portuguese goods will find a nice selection of stores along Lamego’s Rua Macario de Castro.
A number of meals during the cruise take place onshore in local venues, but all those served onboard Osfrid are in the ship’s restaurant. At just about every seating, regional specialties are featured, along with go-to dishes such as steak and chicken.
Viking’s 10-day River of Gold itinerary begins with a two-night hotel stay and a tour of Lisbon; it includes the option of extending the trip with a visit to Santiago, Spain.