Inaugurated in 2013, the Queen Isabel is one of Uniworld’s fleet of river cruise vessels that calls the River Douro its home. With itineraries that take in the beauty of the Douro Valley, the Queen Isabel has a fortunate spot in this beautiful area of Europe, which gives guests the opportunity to see some of Portugal’s best kept secrets. Named after Portugal’s queen, this boutique vessel exudes elegance and sophistication, and while slightly smaller than its other Europe-based sisters, it still boasts plenty of facilities and features that will satisfy even the most regal guest – including all inclusive drinks and a heated swimming pool!
Owned by Portuguese river cruise company, DouroAzul, and chartered as a boutique ship by Uniworld, passengers can expect lavish interiors, ornate details and state-of-the-art facilities. Its Sun Deck is also equipped with solar panels which generate some of the energy the vessel requires, so not only are guests going to see the Douro River and its surroundings, but they’re being green as they do it!
The maximum capacity of the ship is 118 guests, who are served by 33 staff. This high staff to passenger ratio of roughly 1 to 3.5 ensures passengers can enjoy attentive, professional staff that will go out of their way to offer a personalised service. All staff are English-speaking, too.
The Queen Isabel attracts well-travelled and mature guests, typically from the USA but also the UK, Europe and beyond. Many are experienced cruisers keen to develop their knowledge of the area, including its speciality – port wine.
The main restaurant can be found on the Main Deck, which benefits from an intimate outside dining area to the front of the ship, which has heated lights and transparent plastic curtains to protect guests from the elements while still allowing them to enjoy the idyllic views. Inside, panoramic windows offer guests views of the stunning landscape as they dine, while efficient and friendly staff ensure each and every dining experience is excellent. There is a buffet station for both breakfast and lunch, with a wide selection of regional and continental dishes, while dinners are a sit-down affair with waiter service. Open-seating applies to all meals, so guests can choose where to sit, and with whom.
If you prefer, the Main Lounge (situated on the Upper Deck) hosts early bird breakfast, light lunch and afternoon tea. It is possible to take food out into the outdoor bar area when the weather permits.
Local wines, plus beer, spirits, soft drinks, hot drinks and water are typically included in the cruise fare, and evening meals include a different port to try with dessert or the cheeseboard. There is a self-serve coffee and tea station located next to the main restaurant. Dress code is casual, but smart casual attire is often preferred during the evenings.
Evening entertainment remains low-key throughout, with piano music and local musicians and performers popping onboard. Guests can sip on expertly-prepared drinks from one of the bars, and can relax in the lounge areas socialising and mingling with fellow travellers, before slipping away to their beautifully-appointed stateroom.
A gala dinner is often the evening highlight of a cruise through the Douro Valley.
Shore excursions are included in the cruise fare, with a varied selection of expertly-led guided tours, sightseeing ventures and more. All guests are equipped with Quietvox receivers so that they don’t miss anything during the tours. The onboard Cruise Director is always available if you need help or advice. Nordic walking sticks and complimentary bicycles are also available, should guests wish to explore independently.
Back onboard, there is plenty of comfortable seating in the public areas where guests can relax, and there’s also a good selection of books available to borrow from the onboard library. Wi-Fi is available shipwide, and completely free to use. Uniworld’s Signature Lectures are also available to enrich the mind, with experts, historians and academics providing engaging presentations on art, culture, history, local customs and cuisine.
There are 20 suites (2 Queen Suites and 18 Junior Suites) available, which range in size between 323 sq. ft. and 215 sq. ft., as well as 39 staterooms that are 161 sq. ft. in size. All accommodation types boast a river view. Junior Suites and Queen Suites can be found on the Upper Deck and have full balconies, while staterooms on the Main Deck have French balconies. Rooms on the Lower Deck have fixed windows.
All rooms are beautifully decorated and fitted with the finest amenities, including hotel-style beds and a pillow menu, hairdryer, personal safe, climate control, flatscreen TV, radio, alarm clock, complimentary bottled water, L’Occitane products in the bathroom, bathrobes and slippers.
In addition, suites also have an iPhone/iPod charger, a Nespresso and tea station and daily fresh fruit. In-suite butler service is also available on European cruises from 2016.
The Lower Deck has a Serenity River Spa where guests can enjoy a variety of treatments including massages and facials. Aromatherapy, Swedish massages and the expertise of a resident physiotherapist are also available. There is also a small but perfectly formed fitness centre, which has a treadmill, exercise bikes and free weights.
Alternatively, head to the Sun Deck where you’ll find an elegant seating area and heated swimming pool – perfect for a paddle on a warm (or even a cool!) day.
The Queen Isabel currently offers a choice of two itineraries, which both focus on the River Douro in Portugal. Cruise and stay extensions are popular with travellers who want to make the most of their trip.
The 13 day ‘Jewels of Spain, Portugal and the Douro Valley’ tour travels between Lisbon and Madrid and is available as an eight day cruise only tour as well. Possible excursions include a Lisbon city tour, a guided stroll through Obidos, wine tasting in the Quinta da Aveleda, port tasting at Quinta do Seixo and a visit to Santo Tome Church in Toledo.
The 11 day ‘Portugal, Spain and Douro Valley’ tour travels from Lisbon to Porto and is also available as a standalone eight day cruise only option. Sail through the pristine Douro Valley and visit six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Choose from a variety of ‘Choice is Yours’ excursions, including a visit to Coimbra with a trip to the Joanina Library, a Castelo Rodrigo trip, a walking tour of the Ribeira District of Porto and a guided tour of Guimaraes.