Scenic’s Douro Journey: From Founding to Pandemic to Restart

Penni Schewe

It is really been five years since Scenic Group‘s Scenic Azure commenced sailing with guests alongside Portugal‘s Douro River in 2016 and Maria Andrada, normal manager, Portugal, Scenic Team, has been operating the procedure considering that the get started. In actuality, she joined Scenic in 2014 at a time when the firm’s concept of sailing the Duoro was just an aspiration and the line had no Portuguese ships.

All through a modern Scenic Azure sailing (roundtrip from Porto), Andrada fulfilled with us aboard the river vessel. She talked about her particular journey and that of Scenic Group, which operates two river vessels for two unique brand names in the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO Planet Heritage Site. These include the 96-passenger Scenic Azure, catering to Scenic’s luxury friends, and the 112-passenger Emerald Radiance, which has a lower value stage and commonly a little bit younger, much more energetic clientele, for Emerald Waterways.

“I was there for that to start with extend via delivery,” Andrada stated with pride. “These ships have been designed only to sail on the Douro River,” she additional, noting that they are the smallest ships on the overall Scenic fleet across the world.

She spelled out that the ships are like her household and the crew her family members, as lots of of the crew associates onboard have been with Scenic since 2016. Andrada thinks that is “a large success” as typically inside the cruise market “there’s a large amount of rotation, but listed here in Portugal, we ended up capable to retain the men and women and make variety of a family members. And we’ve been doing work with each other due to the fact 2016.” She credited crew users for the company’s good results on the Douro.  

A Distinct River Practical experience

Flowing from Spain and throughout northern Portugal’s countryside, the Douro River Valley is acknowledged for its silent tranquility, river-centric towns, which include Pinhão and Porto, viniculture, quaint villages and pleasant people today. One river differentiator is that Douro voyages sail only during the day with vessels docking at evening. So, friends have a possibility to go ashore, take pleasure in evening meal or drinks, combine and mingle with the locals, and also not skip observing impressive surroundings along the river route each individual working day.

The river is also narrower than quite a few European rivers. Cruisers search out from their balconies on Scenic Azure to near-by riverbanks and sheer granite rocks. Together the way are by no means-ending views of cascading terraces of vineyards, smaller villages, port wine production services/cellars, locks and dams

River vessels these types of as Scenic Azure that sail alongside the Douro also are shorter in length—built to take care of the two the nuances of the river and the locks along it.

The Douro River // Photograph by Susan J. Younger

This is not a calendar year-spherical river for family vacation cruising, as the five dams alongside the river shut in late November each calendar year. They develop energy in the wintertime. “So, it’s pretty hard to sail amongst November and March commonly,” Andrada told Journey Agent, adding that’s why the river strains don’t operate holiday break cruises on the Douro.

Proper now, the ships are back again on the Douro but are only crammed to about 50 to 60 per cent capability, primarily based on present-day desire and a lack of vacationers from two of Scenic’s huge markets—Australia/New Zealand and Canada. “We’ve retained the American market place and the British marketplace as the only two markets that are functioning with us ideal now,” Andrada stated. On Travel Agent’s Douro cruise on Scenic Azure there were being 41 crew customers onboard and 40 passengers.

Moving ahead, the line options to fill the boats—not limit capacity—if desire escalates, she claimed. At the moment, there are no needs established forth by Portuguese authorities about limiting river cruise vessel ability.

Navigating the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic sidelined Scenic Group’s river operations—with the previous voyages operated in November 2019. Crew users had been unemployed up until finally voyages commenced earlier this summer. Andrada explained the perform stoppage during the pandemic as “a massacre for most of the crew, because there have been no jobs in Portugal…It’s been a long quit.” From her viewpoint, currently being again on the career, sailing and welcoming guests when yet again is a single point: “It’s a joy.”

She furnished this poignant instance. On the initially cruise again, she stated: “The captain of the other ship was crying. He could not deal with the passengers on the first day…The entire crew was pretty emotional.”

In the course of the pandemic, some updates ended up manufactured to the ships, these as ordinary routine maintenance, as very well as enhancements for air conditioning, carpeting and advancements in the galley “to make confident that we really do not have cross contamination,” per COVID-19 protocols put in place to protect visitors and crew, in accordance to Andrada.

During the first voyages again, of course, there have been some challenges, she acknowledged, but additional: “Overall, the passengers gave us superb scores – 9.7 general of 10.”

Troubles continue to be, however, this kind of as continuing to safe the hottest and ideal facts from federal government or wellbeing authorities. Training, also, has been a large aspect of the restart. All crew are demanded to have on masks, so Andrada questioned reporters to visualize how difficult that can be in a cruise ship galley, wherever temperatures are significant.

But she says, it is a system and conveying it thoroughly and having comprehensive compliance from crew customers is the aim. “We ended up training for pretty much 15 times and placing in spot all that was necessary for the safe sailings, and so much, so great,” she stressed.

With the teaching of crew, by the time the initial friends arrived, Scenic wished to confidently display them, stated Andrada, that “we had been so very well-well prepared, and we are protected.”

Curiously, the buffet on Scenic Azure, just 1 of a lot of eating options, for illustration, remains self-serve “because there are no limitations in Portugal anymore,” she said. In addition, “for our visitors, the buffet … it is completely critical.”

Hand sanitizers are conveniently readily available all around the ship and at restaurant entrances. Once more, all friends and crew have to be masked, except if eating or drinking. That mask also ought to be a white N95 mask. People are freely distributed to friends onboard guests could get as quite a few as needed aboard, and they were being remaining in cabins by housekeeping staff members, way too.

On Vacation Agent’s the latest cruise, the crew were being very good about noticing any passenger strolling in a public corridor with out a mask and asking the guest to place the mask on. Alternatively, the crew would voluntarily go get a mask for the guest. That said, at times, some lounge guests—neither having nor drinking—did not put on masks. Journey Agent observed that attendees did put on masks on the Scenic motorcoaches and on excursions.

All travellers need to be absolutely vaccinated at the very least 14 days prior to arrival, and Andrada mentioned the line is “very strict” about that. Crew, as well, have been vaccinated as swiftly as attainable and examined every day. On our cruise in early August, all crew had acquired the 1st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, most the second. They were being also receiving antigen assessments every day.   

All visitors coming from airport to the river vessel are supplied a quick antigen take a look at at street level in Porto in advance of they’re cleared to board the ship. There is no cost for that check. Everyone screening optimistic is denied boarding. And the line is executing complimentary PCR checks for company and crew 1 time all through the cruise.

Reduced Occupancy in 2021

Passengers boarding Scenic Azure // Photograph by Susan J. Youthful

Most of Scenic’s attendees are partners and most 60 several years of age and more mature. On a world-wide foundation, 60 p.c of all attendees are repeaters.  

Occupancy premiums are best this yr for October and November, Andrada indicated. She said August is generally a weak thirty day period in a usual calendar year, as it is a family holiday getaway month. While occupancy is not in which the cruise organization desires as yet, Andrada believes it’s continue to vital to retain sailing. 1 reason is to deliver some new crew customers on for coaching with seasoned crew. The purpose is schooling in preparation for whole occupancy in 2022.

Though Portugal is a member country of the European Union, each individual E.U. place has a diverse policy about travel and procedures all through the pandemic “which is very challenging when you want to established up an procedure,” Andrada observed. The image can transform overnight.  

At 1 place the U.K. citizens weren’t coming at all, and then they quickly were being. Travellers also ended up scheduling, then cancelling if Portugal confirmed up on a certain record for COVID-19 status. Then, the very same friends would afterwards rebook.

It grew to become these a irritating situation for the Scenic crew that the owner made a decision that the ships would sail for sure—even with only a few passengers. “We have to have to exhibit our visitors that we are accomplishing all we can for them,” said Andrada, hoping for the ideal in the coming calendar year. “I guess some working day we will get back to typical.”

The Douro’s Charm

Presented that Andrada has been with Scenic because its to start with sailing 5 a long time in the past in Portugal, Vacation Agent asked her what helps make the Douro so exclusive? Why must guests decide on this river above an additional in Europe?

“It’s not only the river. It is the culture, landscape, the individuals,” she tells us. 

It is also achievable to sail stretches of the Douro and not see a further ship. At some factors along the Douro, “you are in immediate speak to with nature,” she emphasized. “You really do not see people today. You never see buildings…You see nature. You are there by yourself seeking at the stunning landscape.”

Continue to be tuned over the up coming number of months for a lot more protection, which includes a ship evaluation, of Scenic Azure.

Linked Tales

Tauck Christens New Riverboat ms Andorinha in Portugal

Back again to Europe: River Cruises on the Douro, Rhone and Beyond

Scenic Team Adds Regional Profits Director for Northwest U.S.

Viking Resumes River Voyages in France

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