Pockets of sunshine peek through the grey clouds above the Douro River in Portugal, now home to Avalon Waterways’ newest ship, Alegria.

But despite the patchy showers and cold weather, spirits are high for the brand’s newest ship. Her name in Portuguese means joy, and her arrival has evoked just that among the 100 or so travel agents and media onboard.

What’s unique about the Avalon Alegria is that it is the first from Avalon to be built in Portugal due to government requirements. Any ship to sail on the Douro must be built in the country.

There is also a great contingency of local Portuguese staff onboard like the nautical crew.

The Douro’s smaller locks narrower waterways means the Avalon Alegria is just 80 metres long catering for just 102 passengers in Portugal.

But what’s also special is that this is the first ship launched from Avalon Waterways celebrating 20 years of service.

The city Porto with buildings and bridges
The Avalon Alegria leaving Porto.

The accommodation

On decks three and two are 37 Panorama Suites that sit at 200 square feet. Like the rest of the Suite Class ships in the Avalon fleet, the famous sliding windows open out seven feet, so you feel like your room is part of the Portuguese landscape.

The sumptuous beds face the river so guests can enjoy the view while taking an afternoon sesta. Cheekily, after our first night, the staff switched our beds to run parallel with the window. Just to compare how good placing the bed to face the window is compared to Avalon’s competitors.

The suites also feature a lovely wooden desk with a wall-to-wall mirror. The wardrobe, which sits adjacent to the desk, has plenty of hanging space and cupboards for folding items.

There is also a small round table with a banquette and lounge chair next to the sliding floor to ceiling window. This is designed as a seating area to enjoy room service, which Avalon introduced during Covid, but decided to keep.

The king-sized bed can be split into two singles and Avalon offers a pillow menu with four choices. Also depending on your preference of firmness of mattress, the staff can flip the mattress and add toppers to suit your sleeping preference.

The bathrooms are well-sized with a large vanity and a well-sized shower. There are his and hers towels, one tan and white body and hand towel, thoughtfully for guests to clean their makeup off.

There are also 14 Deluxe Staterooms which are range between 172 to 180 square feet. While smaller, the Deluxe Staterooms are comfortable but don’t offer the wonderful sliding Panoramic windows.

The Panorama Suite on the Avalon Alegria
The Panorama Suite on the Avalon Alegria.

The public areas

The Panorama Lounge is the beating of the ship. Decked in light banquettes, Jute fabric chairs and suede ottomans, the area is designed to accommodate all the ships’ guests at one time.

By day, it’s an area for reading, relaxing and board games. While by night, the bar opens and becomes a place to host local musicians, art classes and dancing. The Panorama Lounge then leads out to the Observation Lounge which has been designed for guests to have a light dinner and drinks. The lounge also serves regional cuisine for lunch and dinner, for people looking for a quick bite before heading out to explore.

The Avalon Alegria also has a small unique lounge at the back of the ship while sailing in Portugal. While most other river cruise lines might utilise this space for cabins and staterooms, Avalon made the decision to leave the space available to all guests.

The ship also has a small gym with a treadmill, stationary bicycle as well as yoga mats. But there are foam rollers, exercise bands and mats for stretching. There is yoga every morning on the Sky Deck from 7 am run by Avalon’s Adventure Host. But the idea is to explore and exercise off the ship on one of the line’s Active shore excursions.

The Sky Deck at the top of the ship, during the summer will be the perfect place to have a drink and watch the scenery go by. If the weather permits, the Avalon Alegria staff will pop up the retractable bar for cocktails and drinks to be served all day. Twice during the Portugal itinerary, the staff will host barbecues at the Sky Grill and cook up burgers, steaks, sausages, and meat of the local area.

The Panorama Lounge on the Avalon Alegria
The Panorama Lounge on the Avalon Alegria.

The dining

Like all the line’s fleet, Avalon Alegria’s Portugal itineraries have a focus on regional cuisine. There are a la carte options for breakfast and lunch, but there is also buffet stations if you want to try something from the area. Bread is sourced from local bakeries while the pastries are made onboard.

For breakfast, guests can order items like eggs Florentine and omelettes or dive into the scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausages. But there is also an array of healthy options of fruit, muesli, yoghurt, and granola. Lunch is when you will start to find the regional dishes – for instance, today’s menu included a Portuguese dish of clams, potatoes, and meat. There is always an abundance of salad options, include an interesting potato and sardine mixture – also another very local option. While a carving station is set up along with sandwiches and soup for those who want to come back and dine on the ship.

Dinner is generally a four-course meal where you’ll be presented with a soup, salad, main and dessert. Portion sizes are reasonable which means you can try a little bit of everything. Remember, beer, wine and soft drinks are included during lunch and dinner, but other drinks like cocktails start from around 10.20 Euros.

The dining onboard the Avalon Alegria
The dining room onboard the Avalon Alegria.

Shore excursions

As Valentine our Cruise Director said, “It’s all about choice”. You can do as much or as little as you want. On day two, there were three typical Avalon shore excursions running – a Classic, Discovery and Active.

All of these are designed depending on whether you love history and culture, maybe you want to do something immersive, or even some active. I ventured out to kayak on the Douro River. The small group were taken to a pier nearby, where we were kitted out in wetsuits before bracing for the cold autumnal waters. We set off and paddled around, looking at the flora and fauna of the area. Following, we were treated to a picnic before finally meeting the ship further down the river.

The little things on Avalon Alegria

While we have spent a short time on the ship, it’s not hard to understand why Avalon appeals. It’s fun, youthful and completely unstuffy. There are key touches that make guests feel loved – faster WiFi, coffee and hot chocolate served all day and night in the Panorama Lounge and cookies and apple strudel available in the Club Lounge.

The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. And everyone treats you like family. Much like the ethos of the Avalon brand.