Douro River Cruising Spain and Portugal

May 21-May 28, 2023

Itinerary | The Ship | Pricing | FAQ | Reserve

Porto cruise

In May 2018, Northwest Travel Service offered a special Washington Winemaker Cruise tour of the Douro River. The event sold out quickly and was so uniquely different than other European rivers, that it made sense to arrange another tour.

The Douro River Valley, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, has become the top European destination for many cruise lines. We’ll have two well-known Washington winemakers aboard SS Sao Gabriel. Brian Carter of Brian Carter Cellars and Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Winery will bring over 70 years of winemaking expertise to share with our guests on board.

Uniworld utilizes one of the newest and most luxurious ships in the region for this sailing which begins in Porto, cruising upstream almost to the border of Spain, before returning seven nights later at its point of origin. This tour is completely inclusive. Accommodations on board, taxes, gratuities, shore tours, meals, airport transfers, and beverages of all types are built into the cost of the cruise.

Seven nights on the river is a fantastic holiday, but I would encourage you to come early with a pre-cruise stay in in Basque country, touring Bilbao, San Sebastian, and the Rioja wine region. Porto itself and the surrounding countryside is worth a few more nights as well.

Guests will have the opportunity after the cruise to Madeira for a 3-night extension to tour that incredible island. Details for both of these options are found later in this publication.

Itinerary

Day 1: Porto, cruising the Douro River, Entre-os-Rios

People enjoying wineFEATURED EXCURSIONS: Choice of Porto city tour OR exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Porto walking tour

The epicenter of the Port wine industry, Porto is experiencing a booming cultural revival. Choose how you wish to experience the city, either with a panoramic tour or an intimate tour of the city on foot. Get a feel for this vibrant town, which is simultaneously profoundly urban and moodily romantic, on your panoramic tour. Take in the UNESCO-designated 19th-century Stock Exchange Palace, seeing its famous Moorish Revival–style Arab Room, before visiting Porto’s austere hilltop cathedral and the bustling pedestrian shopping street, Santa Catarina. For those wishing to experience the city on foot, climb 249 steps to the top of Clérigos Tower for the best view in Porto. Other views of another kind, no less spectacular, await you at the magnificent interior of the São Bento railway station.

Day 2: Cruising the Douro River, Régua, Pinhão

FEATURED EXCURSIONS: Douro Museum or Mateus Palace and Gardens, and dinner at a quinta.

Should you wish to learn more about the region’s unique winemaking history, be treated to a special lecture at the Douro Museum. If you prefer, you can visit the legendary Mateus Palace, which has one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. During the evening, enjoy a special dinner at a local quinta.

Day 3: Pinhão, cruising the Douro River, Vega de Terrón

Porto cruise photoFEATURED EXCURSIONS: Choice of Quinta do Seixo guided tour and tasting OR Quinta da Avessada

You have a choice to visit one of two quintas. Journey to Quinta do Seixo—a prestigious Port wine estate— for an enlightening tour of its state-of-the-art facility. Sample some of their famous Sandeman Port, learn more about the production and admire breathtaking views from the estate’s tasting room. Others may prefer to enjoy a scenic drive through Pinhão before visiting Quinta da Avessada, complete with an interactive museum—the first of its kind in the country, celebrating the Douro’s history and culture of wine.

Day 4: Vega de Terrón (Salamanca), Barca d’Alva

FEATURED EXCURSIONS: Choice of full day Salamanca tour OR half day scenic cruise at the Douro International Natural Park.

Join a full-day excursion to Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Called the “Golden City” for its tawny sandstone buildings, Salamanca boasts a dozen beautiful and historic churches, including two cathedrals. If you prefer a different type of experience to better understand the flora and fauna of the land, you’ll want to go on a half-day scenic cruise at the Douro International Natural Park.

Day 5: Barca d’Alva (Castelo Rodrigo), Pocinho, cruising the Douro River, Régua

Douro River ValleyFEATURED EXCURSIONS: Castelo Rodrigo and Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley

Travel through wonderfully scenic countryside to the walled village of Castelo Rodrigo. Take a tour of this fascinating site that dates back to the 12th century, and while here sample delicious local treats, such as honey, olive oil and cheeses. Later in the day, venture to the UNESCO-designated Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley, considered the world’s most important Paleolithic open-air rock art site.

Day 6: Cruising the Douro River, Porto (Guimarães)

FEATURED EXCURSIONS: Choice of Guimarães city tour OR “Soul of Porto” Ribeira district walking tour

Enjoy a panoramic city tour of historic Guimarães, Portugal’s first capital and the home to its first king. The wonderfully well-preserved Old Town, with its unique architecture and charming little plazas, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alternatively, you can explore Porto’s UNESCO-designated Ribeira district on foot. In the evening, enjoy a Gala Dinner onboard your ship.

Day 7: Porto (disembark), transfer to the airport

Disembark the ship and transfer to Porto Airport for your flight home, fly to Madeira, or extend your stay in Lisbon or Porto.

The Ship

Uniworld’s SS Sao Gabriel is a new ship of just 50 cabins and suites. Purpose-built for Douro River cruises, she entered service for the abbreviated 2020 season, making her the youngest ship operating on the Douro River. You’ll find images of the ship on this page, and many more available online.

Accommodations on board

Grand Suites (4) Azores Deck 307 sq. feet French Balcony
Suites (12) Azores Deck 220 sq. feet French Balcony
French Balcony (20) Cape Verde Deck 156 sq. feet French Balcony
Deluxe (10) Madeira Deck 156 sq. feet Window
Classic (4) Madeira Deck 135 sq. feet Window

Pricing

Cruise pricing is per person, based on double occupancy.

Accommodation Category Uniworld Rate NW Travel Pricing Check Discount*
Grand Suite $10,699 $9,730 $550 (sold out)
Suite $8,899 $8,030 $450
French Balcony $7,999 $6,730 $400
Deluxe $6,399 $5,130 $300
Classic $5,999 $3,230 $250 (sold out)

Above prices are per person, based on double occupancy. *Check Discount is per cabin, and is deducted from the final payment.   Initial deposit and balance must both be paid by check to secure this discount.

Above prices are per person, based on double occupancy. Northwest Travel Prices include port taxes of $220 per person.

Pricing includes accommodations aboard SS Sao Gabriel for seven nights, all taxes, gratuities, meals, beverages, educational events on aboard, and shore tours coordinated by Uniworld. Guests arriving in Porto by air on May 21 and departing by air on May 28 will be provided with complimentary transportation to and from the ship.   As we have done in the past, optional tours with a wine focus will be offered. These tours will be listed in early 2023.

Additional discounts available to wine club members of Brian Carter Cellars, Wilridge Winery or NW Travel past guests.  

  • Suite and Grand Suite                                     $900 per person
  • French Balcony                                                 $700 per person
  • Deluxe and Classic                                           $500 per person

Because cabin pricing is based on double occupancy, singles will pay 2x the share price, minus $210 port tax for the second guest.

To reserve your stateroom:

A deposit of $2800 per person will confirm your reservation.   Balance of payment is due by January 15, 2023.

Bilbao and San Sebastian Tour program       May 17-21

 Four-night hotel accommodation in the historic center of Bilbao*

  • Airport transportation
  • Air-Conditioned motor coach transportation
  • Welcome Cocktail
  • Breakfast each morning
  • Tapas (Pintxos) Evening
  • Services of a local guide
  • Walking tour of the historic center of Bilbao and La Ribera Market
  • Guggenheim Museum admission
  • A day touring the Rioja Wine Region
    • Three winery visits and tastings with tapas
    • A tour of the medieval walled city of LaGuardia
  • A day in San Sebastian (Donostia)
    • Visit to a cider house for tasting
    • Funicular ride to the summit of Monte Igeldo
    • Free time for lunch, the beach, shopping or exploration
    • Wine tasting of Txakoli, an effervescent white wine unique to the area

* Bilbao has so much to offer in terms of cuisine, architecture and night life, that it was decided to spend all four nights in Bilbao with a day trip to the beach resort of San Sebastian. This tour is limited to 20 guests. Cost is $2380 per person, based on double occupancy. Single supplement is $500. Deposit of $400 per person dues at time of reservation.  Balance paid with cruise balance.  Discount of $65 applies to those guests paying by check.

Island of Madeira                  May 28-31

  • Flight from Porto to Funchal, Madeira
  • Flight from Funchal to Lisbon
  • Three nights accommodation close to the water and center of Funchal
  • Breakfast each morning
  • Services of a Local Guide
  • Wine tasting tour
  • Tour of the historic town of Funchal and Market
  • Catamaran Boat cruise
  • Farewell dinner

This tour is limited to 20 guests.  Cost is $1,995 per person, based on double occupancy.  Single supplement is $400.  Deposit of $400 per person dues at time of reservation.  Balance paid with cruise balance.  Discount of $60 for guests paying by check.

The Sao Gabriel is equipped with a large deck area with a pool, fitness center, spa, wine cellar, coffee station, dining room, and bistro.

Porto cruise

Grand Suite (Azores Deck)

Beautifully appointed Suite (307 sq ft) has a French balcony, hotel beds draped in fine linens with choice of pillows, built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flat-screen television, radio, alarm clock, iPhone/iPod charger and player, bottled water daily. Bathrooms with L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, a choice of bathrobes, and slippers.

SuiteSuite (Azores Deck)

Stateroom (215 sq ft) amenities include French Balcony, built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flatscreen TV, radio, alarm clock, and bottled water.

Bathroom amenities include L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, comfy bathrobes and slippers.

SuiteFrench Balcony (Cape Verde Deck)

Stateroom (156 sq ft) amenities include French Balcony, built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flatscreen TV, radio, alarm clock, and bottled water.

Bathroom amenities include L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, comfy bathrobes and slippers.

StateroomDeluxe (Madeira Deck)

Stateroom (156 sq ft) amenities include built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flatscreen TV, radio, alarm clock, and bottled water.

Bathroom amenities include L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, comfy bathrobes and slippers.

Classic (Madeira Deck)

StateroomStateroom (135 sq ft) amenities include built-in closets, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flatscreen TV, radio, alarm clock, and bottled water.

Bathroom amenities include L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, comfy bathrobes and slippers.

Links for more information:

Porto Portugal
Castelo Rodrigo
Lisbon
Douro Valley
Salamanca, Spain
Portuguese Wine Primer
Uniworld
Bilbao
Rioja Wine Region
San Sebastian
Madeira

I have cruised most of the European rivers with a variety of different ships and cruise lines. I can say that Uniworld sets the bar extremely high with an extraordinary level of service. This is why I have chosen them to host each my cruise program the past 9 years. I hope you’re able to join us for this Douro River experience.

SS Sao Gabriel

FAQ for 2023 in Spain and Portugal

Uniworld Experience

In July 2015, Northwest Travel chartered the River Royale for seven nights in Bordeaux. My previous river cruising experience up to that time had all been with Viking River Cruises. I could not have been more pleased with my personal experience as coordinator and with the comments and reviews provided by my guests during and after the cruise.

When the time came to develop a cruise program on the Douro in 2018, Uniworld was an obvious choice. As usual, the service provided by the staff and crew on Uniworld’s Queen Isabel was unparalleled, though the Isabel was starting to show some age. Uniworld decided to build their own state-of-the-art ship (most Douro ships are owned by a local company, and not the individual cruise line), to replace the aging Isabel in 2020. It’s this new vessel, paired with Uniworld’s outstanding staff, that will host the 2023 program.

If you have enjoyed other river cruise companies, I guarantee you will love what Uniworld has elevated the experience to.

Air Transportation (updated 10/12/22)

Flight suggestions for Douro River cruise with pre-cruise and post-cruise tour options.

First of all, I would like to suggest that you come at least a day early to adjust to local time and to build in time to deal with any potential flight delays or cancellations.

The seven-night cruise on the SS Sao Gabriel will begin in Porto (OPO) on Sunday, May 21st.  You’ll be able to board as early as 1:00 PM, with cabins ready after 3:00 PM.  Early arrivals will be able to drop bags at the ship as early as 10:00 AM, then explore the town or have lunch prior to boarding.

The cruise ends in Porto on Sunday, May 28th.  The ship overnights in the port the evening before, so early departures from Porto Sunday morning will be accommodated.

If you are booking the pre-cruise or post-cruise options:  When you book your flights on Delta or Lufthansa, you’ll select Multi-City as your option.  This allows you to benefit from round trip pricing even though you are arriving and departing from different cities.

Suggested airlines from Seattle:

  • Delta offers a good schedule via Paris/CDG Airport
  • Lufthansa has good service via Frankfurt
  • British Air’s schedule arrives quite late in the evening so, unless you are coming in a day or two early, I would avoid this.

You may also consider flying into Lisbon with either a car rental or train option up the coast to Porto.  Keep in mind that transfers are included to and from the ship only for flight arrivals and departures on embarkation and disembarkation day.

Another option for lower priced air fares is Vancouver BC, which is currently showing published fares on Lufthansa 40% less than Seattle fares.

Flight suggestions for pre-trip program in Spain:

Our arrival airport is Bilbao (BIO).  This tour will begin on May 17th.  This means your departure from the US will be on May 16th.  After the 4-day tour, air transportation is provided from Bilbao to Porto to meet the cruise on the 21st.

Once again, your best options are with Delta/KLM/Air France and Lufthansa.  Any arrival (early or late) in Bilbao on the 17th will be fine since we are staying in town, fairly close to the airport.

Flight suggestions for post-cruise tour program in Madeira:

Participants will have air transportation provided from Porto-Funchal on the 28th and Funchal-Lisbon on May 31st.

You have two options departing from Funchal.  I can book you early enough to where you can make a connection from Lisbon to your home city.  Your departure from Funchal would be early, leaving the hotel at 3:00 AM to make a 6:00 AM flight, and you’ll have another connection through one of the main hubs, so this is not the path I recommend.  The better option is to fly with the group in the early afternoon of May 31st to Lisbon.  Book your overnight stay at the Melia Hotel at the airport (literally walking distance from the airport, with rates about $105 a night), then book your overseas return for June 1st.  I will make arrangements to see a Fado show that evening at a cost to be determined.  If you’ve not had an evening listening to Fado, you’re missing out.

To recap, the Lufthansa, Delta options are best.  Keep in mind that one-hour connections via Amsterdam or Paris may be scheduled, but not always viable.  I like at least 90 minutes connection time through these hubs.  Two hours is even better.

Tour Extensions

Northwest Travel Service has published a pre-cruise tour to the Basque Region, featuring the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian and a visit to the countryside to sample Rioja Wines. After the cruise, a three-night extension to Funchal on the island of Madeira is planned.   If you’re limited for time, staying a few extra nights in Porto is a great idea, and Lisbon is just a short flight south from Porto.

Aboard Ship

The order of the day is casual. There is no reason to pack any formal wear for your time aboard. The cruise line asks that you dress appropriately for dinner and evening time. There will be evening events scheduled both on and off ship.

You need not be concerned with motion during the cruise. River cruise ships are not subject to the same type of side to side motion common to ocean-going vessels.

There are three scheduled meals per day with table sizes ranging from two to ten guests. Seating is not assigned. Dine with a group of friends each evening or mix it up to enjoy your meal with friends met along the way. Wine, beer, and liquor are included with your cruise. 

Documentation

You’ll need a valid passport, which much have at least 6 months’ validity from the date of entry in France. No additional visa is needed for US or Canadian citizens.

Your stateroom

The SS Sao Gabriel, Uniworld Cruise Lines’ newest Super Ship, entered service for an abbreviated season in 2020. It’s a beautiful vessel, with every amenity you can imagine. Plenty of deck space, a large lounge with panoramic views, a fitness center, spa, guest laundry, coffee station, and a pool topside.

Keep in mind that you will spend much of your time ashore and in the public areas of the ship. River cruising is different than an ocean cruise in that the sun deck, lounge, and shore access are just steps away from your cabin.

Dining

The ship provides three meals a day, beginning with a breakfast buffet, plated lunch and dinner. Tables are not assigned. You’re free to dine with different group of friends each evening. The ship is able to accommodate a wide range of dietary restrictions and allergies. Be sure to include any dietary details when you make your booking.

Sightseeing

All shore tours offered by the cruise line are included in the cost of your tour. There will be additional wine touring options arranged by Northwest Travel at additional cost. I anticipate that additional wine visits will cost approximately $40-$55 each, mostly to cover transportation costs. Early booking guests will earn priority in selecting these tour options.

Early booking incentive

Guests who book early will have priority in stateroom selection. In addition, early booking will secure priority in selecting optional wine touring throughout the week and well as pre-cruise and post-cruise tour extensions, which will be limited to 20 guests for each tour.

Weather

Mid-May is an excellent time to visit the region. Summer tourists have not yet arrived, and the weather is fairly moderate with average temperatures ranging from 54°-72° in Porto. On average, Porto gets about 1.5 inches of rain for the month. We’ll have over 13 daylight hours per day for touring during the week.

Port or Starboard? Which side should I choose?

The ship sails round trip out of Porto. The benefit of port and starboard side is shared, so there is no particular reason to choose one side over another. Guests should understand that cruise ships on the river raft together in the evening to share the available piers.

Deposit and payment schedule

Payments made to Northwest Travel Service are non-refundable. If you need to cancel, I will do everything possible to find someone to take your place. Cancellation insurance is an option to protect your deposit. Trip cancellation will cost between 6% and 10% of the total cost of your tour. Please request details about insurance when you make your reservation. An initial deposit of $800 per person is required to hold your reservation. An additional deposit of $2000 per person is due by August 31, 2022 with the balance due by January 15, 2023.

What if I need to cancel my cruise?

Payments for this cruise are non-refundable. Because it is a chartered vessel, the flexibility exists to change names and resell cabins with late notice without penalty. I have had great success in refilling cruise cabins vacated due to cancellation. Because payments are nonrefundable, travel insurance is suggested. Both of the companies listed below have a policy rate calculator online. Enter the cost of your tour and personal data to receive a no-obligation cost estimate.

Two recommended companies are: Generali Travel Insurance and Travelex Insurance.

Cancellation insurance will range in price based on the cost of your travel and the age of the applicant. Get a quote at the websites above before making a purchase. If you have a pre-existing condition to cover, you usually must purchase your policy within 2 weeks of the initial deposit.

For the 2018 cruise program for Portugal, I had a total of 5 previously booked staterooms that had to cancel for various reasons. In each case, I was able to rebook these cabins from a waitlist and provide a refund to the original booking. I can’t guarantee those results each time, but it’s likely that I would be able to fill canceled space to refund canceling parties.

Make Your Reservation!

If you have any questions about this tour, please contact Brad Cilley at brad@nwtravel.com or by phone at 425 375 2676.

    Basque Country pre-cruise
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    Madeira post-cruise
    YesNo

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