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~Pivoting to Portugal ~ Sailing the Douro with Emerald Waterways~

Douro river                                               

       Like many people I had plans for summer of 2021 that were derailed by the resurgence of Covid in Europe.

I had planned to do a cruise in the Netherlands followed by a few weeks in Italy.

Sadly, the Netherlands cruise was cancelled.

I am not one to be easily discouraged and decided to "pivot" the first part of my trip and looked around at my options.

     Douro river cruises were still sailing, and it so happens I had never been to Portugal, so it was a perfect solution.

Emerald Waterways had a departure that would line up with the second half of my trip so I booked the cruise and modified my flights.

One of the reasons I selected Emerald was that although they are a luxury line, they are not "stuffy".

I prefer nice accommodations and fine food, however, my husband wears a suit every day to work, he does not want to have to bring one on vacation with him if he doesn't have to.

     Traveling during Covid does take a bit more organization than under normal circumstances.

It is completely doable and the protocols certainly did not inhibit my good time in the least.

I had been to Greece the month before so I already knew what to expect, however, rules are always changing and it is important to keep up on them.

There is a great tool called "Sherpa" that you can use to see what the latest health and travel restrictions may be based on your vaccination, residency, and destination status.

I have a link to the Sherpa Covid entry rules on the main menu of my website, just enter your details and the results will populate in.

     I am fully vaccinated which does make entry much easier than for someone who is not vaccinated.

I did have some forms I needed to fill out but nothing overly challenging.

I completed a passenger locator form and health declaration and we needed to get a Covid test prior to departure.

     It is important that you carefully check what type of Covid tests your destination accepts and the window that testing must be initiated.

Some destinations want a 72 hour PCR test, others accept a 24 or 48 hour rapid antigen.

Check the fine print to make sure if timeline is based upon when you board your flight or when you arrive in the new country.

That can make a big difference with long international trips!

(Update: March 2022-Many countries, and suppliers, are still not permitting unvaccinated tourists at all, others are waiving testing requirements for those who are boosted.)

     Masks are required on airplanes which really didn't bother me very much, you do get used to it.

I don't care for the string pulling behind my ears though and found a great way to alleviate that issue.

If you pull off the bottom loop attachment you now will have one long string that you can tie together behind your head, it was so much more comfortable!

Be sure to check with your airline to see what type of masks they are permitting, many airlines no longer will accept cloth masks preferring surgical or KN95 masks.

Bring a lot with you as the strings can snap and they get dirty after a day or two.

Amazon sells boxes of 100 for very little money, I kept extras in my purse, carry on, camera bag etc.

Video on how to adjust your mask for comfort 

     We flew into Porto a day early, I always make it a point to go in at least a day early for any cruise or tour- that ship, bus or train WILL leave without you!

I never seem to sleep well on a flight and I really need that day to recuperate.

I found the most adorable hotel, the Portobay Flores, a restored palace right in the center of Porto which was in walking distance to everything and could not be happier.

The day we arrived in Porto we had lunch at the hotel on their patio.

Covid restrictions were in place if one was indoors but outside you didn't have to wear a mask and it was pretty much so business as usual.

We had the most unusual sandwich called a Francesinha.

It is like a HUGE grilled cheese stuffed with several kinds of meats, the cheese is on the outside of the sandwich, crowned with a shrimp and served with a beer sauce.                                                                            

The taste was amazing, a symphony of flavors, like nothing I had ever tried before!

Francesinha sandwhich

     The next day we headed to the ship, I had never sailed with Emerald before so I was quite excited to experience another line.

I had booked us in a panorama balcony suite.

The cabin has a very neat setup for the window, when you push a button the glass comes down opening up about half of the wall to the outside.

Another button brings down a screen which was a great idea in case you wanted to sleep with the window open at night.

One thing I do regret is that I did not book a larger cabin, this is not Emerald's fault.

I knew going in what size it was going to be, but, as I already had a two week stay in Italy booked for after the cruise I decided to go with the smaller suite.

The next time I will spend more for the larger cabin, there was nothing wrong with it, just too tight for my personal tastes. 

     They were quite innovative with the storage, you just needed to look for it.

Secret panels lift up from under the mattress, there are hidden side shelves in the bathroom on the side of the sink etc. 

What at first glance appeared to be a room without much storage for my belongings actually worked out fine.

There was even a hidden cubby inside the desk where I could keep my iPad etc.

     The bed was excellent and they were happy to bring me extra pillows, sheets were soft and obviously a high thread count.

The air conditioning was excellent, something that you don't see often on a cruise ship.

I usually travel with a small fan, not only did I not need it but I turned down the AC- that was a first!

Walkthrough of my panorama balcony suite Emerald Radiance~ video

     The Douro is a stunning itinerary, probably the most picturesque I have sailed. 

The grape vines cling to the side of the cliffs at an almost impossible angle, very similar to the Rhine gorge but even more challenging.

Dramatic mountains are covered with vineyards as far as your eye could see, it was very relaxing after the stressful year of nonstop Covid conversations.

The landscape changes constantly throughout the cruise, at the end of the river the lush mountains turn to barren stone walls.

The rocky cliffs are jagged and quite impressive reminding me of the Iron Gates gorge on the Danube as one enters Romania.

Secrets of the Douro river ~ video     

     The ship itself is laid out very nice with an enticing spa pool on the top deck and the staff could not be friendlier.

I could tell that they were a real "team".

All were from Portugal, had a true love of their country, and a fondness for each other, it was quite touching.

The food was excellent and they were very accommodating with my allergy which is a priority for those of us who have limitations.

     There is a small gym and spa downstairs, I liked how they had it set up with a water bottle and towel already set up in cubbies for guests.

I had a massage and it was quite relaxing, I kept my mask on when I was faced up but then when I turned over I removed it- it worked out fine.

Part of traveling now is being flexible and accepting that just because things are not exactly the same does not mean they still can't be excellent!

     We had several great included excursions such as a visit to a beautiful vineyard for a tasting and a dinner at another gorgeous wine estate.

On board they had some fun activities like a cocktail making lesson featuring port wine and a tile painting class.

I loved the nightly "game show" activities like trivia etc. it was fun proving yet again I know more than my husband.

The highlight for myself was an optional excursion to the Mateus Manor house, the mansion and gardens were something I will not long forget!

Mateus Manor

     This is a cruise one takes for the scenery, it is jaw dropping gorgeous, a photographer's dream. 

It is also a trip for wine lovers with many included tastings and the wines served on board are very good.

The cruise is very relaxing and a great way to de-stress, it is important to note that it is not an itinerary for shoppers though.

The towns are small, no jewelry stores etc., that didn't bother me as I wasn't looking to shop on this adventure, many husbands will be thrilled about that!

If you are looking to see some of the prettiest views in the world in a "laid back luxury" atmosphere Emerald Waterways Secrets of the Douro may be the perfect match for you.

Give me a call at 413-552-8941 we can chat about it.

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