In 2020, Tauck is taking its luxury river cruise product to Portugal’s Douro River. During this week’s Seatrade Cruise Global convention in Miami Beach, FL, Katharine Bonner, Tauck’s senior vice president of river and small ship cruising, talked to the media about the new sailings.
Why is Tauck headed to the Douro? Many competitors are well-established there. The reason is simple. Guests have been asking for it, Bonner said.
“Portugal is one of the hotter, ‘in’ destinations now,” she stressed, noting that the people are "super friendly," the euro goes a long way, "the climate is terrific" and the scenery is stunning.
Tauck's new build, which will operate the Douro sailings starting in April 2020, is the 84-passenger Andorinha. The vessel's name is a tribute to little migratory birds that spend the summer in Portugal and then winter in Africa.
They are beloved in Portugal as a symbol of fidelity, love and family, said Bonner, as “when the birds comes back they go to the same nest with the same mate."
New Ship Features
Bonner says agents can expect the line’s three itineraries to have Tauck's brand hallmarks and experiences that guests expect, “but now we’re going to have a beautiful new ship that only takes 84 guests maximum,” which she said compares to 106 or so for other Douro cruise vessels.
While the Douro’s route and locks require use of a smaller vessel for navigational purposes, "we make it smaller still, by having larger cabins," said Bonner.
That said, past Tauck river cruise guests should "find it familiar,” said Bonner, because the top deck still will have 300-square-foot cabins with walk-in closets.
The middle deck will have 225-square-foot cabins, and the lower deck will offer 200-square-foot and 150-square-foot cabins. Seventy-six percent of all staterooms are 225 square feet or more.
And as with other Tauck vessels, Bonner said, Andorinha’s Category 1 accommodations will have no single supplement on every itinerary. So, the size of the accommodations and solo travel approach will be “very familiar,” said Bonner.
But Bonner also said "there are going to be some things that are not as familiar" on Andorinha.
For example, the Douro is a little slower paced, she said, as “you cannot navigate at night. You can only cruise the Douro during the day. Those are their rules, not ours. It may change in the future, but that’s the way it is now.”
That means guests will likely spend more time up top for scenic day cruising. Agents know that on the Rhine or Danube rivers, many top deck structures, awnings and even side rails at times must fold down so the vessels can sail under bridges.
But not on the Douro, and that offers more options for design. For example, Tauck will upgrade its top-deck furniture because it doesn’t need furniture pieces to fold down or collapse. It also will add covered areas to accommodate those guests who don’t want to sit in the sun.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the top deck [in terms of design],” said Bonner. “Why? Because the climate is so wonderful that we know that our guests will want to be out when we’re cruising during the day.”
Clients can expect “dining on the top deck that’s much more enhanced than the rest of the river boats that we have now,” she said, confirming there will be both lunch and dinner casual dining there for up to 40 covers (guests) at once.
In addition, “there’s going to be a certain use of hydraulics, which I will leave you to think about,” she told reporters, but didn’t provide more details.
Bonner also said the river vessel will have a plunge pool. “You’re not going to get your exercise swimming from one side to the other, but it is significantly bigger than what we have on our other vessels.” The top deck will also have water misters and other features yet to be revealed.
In designing the Douro ship, “we’ve also paid a lot of attention to air-conditioning because it is hotter in central Portugal,” she said. “This vessel will have double the air conditioning [capabilities] that any of our other ships have.”
Bonner gave reporters an update on the ship’s construction timeline. Andorinha’s steelwork construction began earlier this year in the Vahali Shipyard in Serbia, where Tauck’s other vessels were constructed.
That’s been completed and the vessel (without engines, windows or much of an interior) was pushed on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers to the Netherlands for engine and nautical work, which will be followed by interior work and outfitting.
“She will actually be finished by the middle of November,” said Bonner. The ship will arrive on the Douro following transport on an Atlantic Ocean barge.
“River boats don’t have much of a keel so you certainly don’t want to see them on the Atlantic,” she noted.
The ship will begin sailing in April through the end of October, and possibly into early November 2020, said Bonner. However, some Douro locks will be repaired later that year, though, so that impacts end-of-season timing.
Tauck and Scylla, a family-owned, veteran maritime company that owns and operates Tauck's river vessels, worked very closely together on the ship design and features. Tauck has 10-year charter contracts with Scylla on all its river boats.
How does that work during a cruise? Scylla handles the maritime and hotel operations, as it does on Tauck's other vessels, with Tauck focusing on crafting itineraries, designing the destination experiences and shore excursions. In addition to a cruise director on each Douro sailing, Tauck also will have three Tauck tour directors to ensure guests have the experience they expect.
Scylla and Tauck have also both met with the navigational authority that controls the Douro, as Scylla is building three new docks for Tauck to use, “to make sure we have the docking room needed,” said Bonner.
The line’s 11-night “Exploring the Douro Plus Lisbon and Madrid” itinerary is designed for the traditional river guest who wants a longer experience. That itinerary includes two nights in Lisbon with a seven-night cruise in the middle, followed by a motorcoach tour to Salamanca, Spain, and two nights in Madrid.
As a “special access” experience, during the Lisbon stay, Bonner said Tauck's guests will be transported to an 18th century national palace for dinner in a private part of the palace. During the cruise itself, guests will also be treated to a meal ashore at DOC, a gourmet restaurant that the vessel can cruise right up to along the Douro.
Since the line’s guests also include soon-to-be retirees or empty nesters who are still working, Tauck will also offer a new seven-night itinerary, “Villages and Vintages – Cruising the Douro River Valley,” with such active choices as cycling or hiking in vineyards. Among the shoreside experiences, Tauck will take guests ashore for an evening wine tasting and a private dinner at a family-run estate.
In the summer, the line also plans to offer four departures of its new “Douro Discovery: a Family River Cruise in Portugal” itinerary. Those Bridges journeys start with two nights at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon. Bonner cited Lisbon’s maritime history angle as a big draw for families.
That family-focused Lisbon stay is then followed by a five-night cruise with family excursions, cycling and kayaking.
When asked about water levels on the river, given the issues all lines experienced in 2018 on some other European rivers, Bonner said that typically isn’t an issue on the Douro, occurring only occasionally.
One plus for all lines’ river itineraries on the Douro? Helping guests get to Portugal quicker to begin their river itinerary is nonstop air service from New York to Porto, Portugal (avoiding an air connection in Lisbon or elsewhere in Europe).
“I think that speaks to the great appeal of this region now,” Bonner said. For example, United Airlines flies nonstop from Newark International Airport to Porto in just under seven hours.