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River cruising is back on the agenda, but what changes can clients expect on board? We get the lowdown from two European sailings with CroisiEurope and A-Rosa

Travel Weekly cruise reporter Harry Kemble sets sail on CroisiEurope’s premium-level ship Gil Eanes for a trip along the Douro

he captain cleverly manoeuvres the Gil Eanes into the vast lock, so narrow the towering walls are just a coat of paint away from the

80-metre-long ship’s hull. On the top deck, passengers who were chatting excitedly just moments ago are now quiet as they watch the drama unfold. They strain their necks to see the small patch of perfectly blue Portuguese sky above the high walls of the lock at the Carrapatelo Dam. Gallons of water from the river now pour down

into what is one of the tallest locks in Europe and the Gil Eanes is carried up 36 metres towards the warm September sun like a phoenix from the ashes. At the top of the lock, the ship’s engines roar into life and we are soon sailing again through the heart of Portugal. Almost all of the 60 passengers on our reduced-

capacity cruise take their seats on the sun deck for the ship’s next act, played out against a breathtaking backdrop of rolling, lush green hills. Many have a glass of something in their hand and their laughter rings out across a valley dotted with picturesque properties, enjoying all the things we took for granted just five months ago and can now appreciate all the more.

DOURO ADVENTURE This was the sixth voyage on the Douro for the CroisiEurope vessel after a summer devastated by Covid-19, and took place while mainland Portugal was exempt from the UK quarantine and the Foreign

Office advisory against travel. Gil Eanes, named after the 15th-century

Portuguese explorer, is one of four CroisiEurope ships currently sailing on the river. The line plans to bring a fifth vessel back into service within the next few weeks, clearly hoping to dominate the popular Portuguese waterway as Europe finds its feet in these tricky times. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to make passengers feel safe while still enjoying the sailing. The fact that crew offered to carry our luggage during the low-key embarkation shows how the line has not abandoned good service. Masks had to be worn when moving around the ship – a tangible reminder that we were enjoying a river cruise during a pandemic. If a passenger forgot, the crew gently reminded them and often made a joke of the mishap. In our cabin, we found two masks had been provided just in case we’d forgotten ours.


PICTURE: Bruno Ribeiro

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