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The Douro River in Portugal is hot, and one sign of its popularity is that two specially designed vessels were inaugurated on the same day this spring by AmaWaterways and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. Both ships were built and leased out to the two river cruise companies on a long-term basis by the Portuguese company DouroAzul.
In a very unusual christening event, both ships were named at a gala on March 22. Mario Ferreira, CEO of DouroAzul, addressed more than 300 attendees on his company’s 20th anniversary. He spoke about the Douro River Valley’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its port wine tradition, which dates to the 18th century, as well as the role of river cruising in developing tourism during the past two decades.
On hand for the inauguration ceremony were a number of celebrities, including singer Michael Bolton, performing at the event, and European and local dignitaries. The inauguration was followed by a black-tie event with fireworks, dinner, orchestral music and dancing.
Douro River vessels are smaller than those serving the rest of Europe. They typically hold 100-125 passengers compared to the 125- to 200-passenger ships sailing other parts of Europe. They are also shorter – around 260 feet – as opposed to the new breed of European vessels that can run up to 443 feet in length.
AmaWaterways’ 106-passenger AmaVida was christened by actress and philanthropist Sharon Stone, who served as godmother for the ship.
“A beautiful ship deserves a beautiful godmother,” said Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways executive vice president and co-owner. “We are so thrilled to have the lovely and gracious Sharon Stone here to bless the AmaVida on this very special day. The AmaVida is the most innovative and eco-friendly ship on the Douro River. We are extremely excited to be here with our partner DouroAzul to celebrate its christening."
AmaVida incorporates innovative design features, with staterooms and suites that measure up to 323 square feet, including 36 with full balconies. The newbuild also has a heated pool, a massage and beauty salon, a fitness center and complimentary in-room Internet access as well as on-demand video. Guests will enjoy free-flowing fine wine and beer with every dinner and a choice of dining venues.
AmaVida will cruise exclusively in Portugal’s Douro River Valley, designated one of the world’s top sustainable destinations by the National Geographic Society’s Center for Sustainable Destinations. In an effort to be as environmentally responsible as possible, the AmaVida’s technically advanced design features photovoltaic solar panels on the Sun Deck to generate energy for the ship’s operating systems.
AmaVida will sail four itineraries in 2013 and 2014: Port Wine & Flamenco; Enticing Douro; Impressions of France & Portugal; and Classic Port Wines & Charming Quintas.
Uniworld’s new Queen Isabel was christened by Hollywood actress, L’Oreal spokesmodel and philanthropist, Andie MacDowell. Uniworld senior vice president of strategic development, Wesley Bosnic, and managing director of operations, Christine Sustreanu, were in attendance.
“I am confident that the Queen Isabel is the most beautiful and luxurious ship on the Douro River, and it will provide the perfect retreat for our guests as they travel through this magnificent country along the breathtaking Douro River,” Bosnic said.
The Queen Isabel has a capacity of 118 passengers with 18 junior suites at 215 square feet and two bigger suites at 323 square feet on the top deck, all with full balconies. Staterooms on the main deck also have French balconies. Public areas include a lounge with a full-service bar, along with an outside bar; a restaurant with an outside dining area; a sun deck with a swimming pool; and a fitness and spa area. Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are served with lunch and dinner .The Queen Isabel replaces the Douro Spirit, which Uniworld inaugurated in 2011.
The ship is sailing Uniworld’s 11-day Portugal, Spain and the Douro River itinerary with three days in Lisbon, including a guided tour. Queen Isabel has a helicopter pad and has been designed with photovoltaic solar panels on the sun deck to sustainably generate energy