Scenic River Cruises – Scenic Azure Review
If river cruising is your thing, then you are part of a demographic that’s getting younger, more active, more adventurous – and more demanding.
These are the big takeaways from a gathering of 400 travel agents and cruise executives at Vienna’s recent CLIA RiverView convention.
River cruising in Europe is back after the pandemic. All cruise lines are reporting surging demand, back to the levels of 2019 before the world locked down.
With such a choice of great River Cruise companies, it is sometimes difficult to determine which is the most suitable choice for you. There are so many things to consider, but we are here to help.
In this post, we review our Scenic River Cruises trip on the five-star All-Inclusive Scenic Azure on a 7-day exploration of Portugal’s Douro River.
Table of Contents
Many regular cruisers had talked to us about a river cruise on the Douro in Portugal, so it became one of our must-do cruises. Being wine lovers, being able to sample the unique Wines and Port Wines of Portugal would be a perfect fit for us.
As we prefer to cruise on an All Inclusive basis, we eventually chose to sail with Scenic River Cruises ‘Space Ship’ on a 7-day Porto round trip.
We have found the Berlitz Cruise guides a real boon and would highly recommend the River Cruising in Europe and the US book if you are serious about River Cruising.
|QUICK FACTS: Scenic Azure
|Scenic Cruise Portugal
|Passenger Space Ratio:
|Scenic - Custom Build
|Crew to Passenger Ratio:
|Douro River Cruiser
|3 Passenger Decks
Our Voyage Itinerary
We flew from London to Porto, where we joined the ship.
Our exploration of the Douro River on our Scenic River Cruise included passing through many of the enormously impressive locks on the river, which included the Crestuma and Carrapatelo locks, before arriving in Lamego. Thereafter we transited the Bagauste and Valeira locks before arriving in Vega de Terron. From here, you could take the optional coach trip to Salamanca, returning to the ship now berthed in Barca d’Alva.
From here, the ship started its return journey up the Duoro to Porto. The next port of call was Pocinho, and then on to Pinhao and Regua before arriving for an overnight in Porto.
Scenic Azure Introduction
Launched in 2016, Scenic Azure was purpose-built for Portugal’s lock-filled Douro River.
The ship is shorter and narrower than Scenic’s other vessels to navigate the winding Douro and its many locks, but it still feels spacious and easy to get around. Despite the smaller size, Scenic Azure does not lack any frills to which past passengers may have become accustomed.
It has a vitality pool on the sun deck, butler service for all cabins and five dining options.
The vessel features 48 cabins/suites carrying up to 96 guests and a crew of 38; Scenic Azure offers guests a nearly 1:2 staff-to-guest ratio.
Related: Staff to Guest Ratios explained
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Pre Cruise Experience
We booked through a travel agent specialising in River Cruises as we found that booking directly with Scenic was difficult and offered none of the savings provided by the travel agent.
It did prove almost impossible for us and our travel agent to get the final details of the cruise and flight information. Trying to contact Scenic directly proved a complete waste of time, with Emails ignored and phone calls never answered.
The other big attraction for us was the complimentary Luxury Door-to-Door chauffeur service. However, this was another letdown as our driver was late arriving at the agreed pickup time, and when he did arrive, it was a small Uber Taxi for our 100-mile journey to the airport. As this was our first experience with Scenic, we could have been more impressed.
We’re on our Way
Scenic has their own fleet of coaches for Shore Excursions
Scenic Azure Suites / Staterooms
Almost all staterooms (87%), or suites as they are known, feature Scenic’s “Sun Lounge” open-air balcony concept for better views of the wine-producing Douro River Valley. One interesting feature we loved was the king-size adjustable beds, which turn into recliners for watching TV and movies at the push of a button. Touch another button, and the cabin’s floor-to-ceiling window opens to a small private sun terrace.
The staterooms come in four separate categories:
- Standard Suites feature fixed picture window views and measure 172 square feet.
- Balcony Suites are located on Sapphire and Diamond decks. These suites measure 215 square feet. They feature a full-length outdoor balcony, an expanded living area, and bathrooms complemented by a luxury vanity, sink area, and a separate shower.
- Junior Suites are on Sapphire and Diamond decks, measuring 247 square feet.
- Royal One-Bedroom Suites are the most spacious suites on the ship at 420 square feet apiece. Situated at the vessel’s rear, they have separate sleeping and living areas, a private outdoor Scenic Sun Lounge balcony, and an enlarged bathroom featuring a separate tub and shower.
Our Balcony Suite was on the Sapphire Deck (B Grade 206) and was ideally situated close to the stairs, allowing easy access to various parts of the ship. As with all River cruises, suites are small compared to ocean cruises. We knew what to expect and were satisfied with the size.
The bed was large and very comfortable, and we had a small seating area, sufficient storage space for a seven-day cruise and a small mini-bar. The bathroom was well equipped, boasting a walk-in shower, and well-stocked with complimentary premium bathroom products from L’Occitane. It is a one-person bathroom!
Our Balcony Grade B Suite
The Balcony of our Suite
Our Bathroom on Scenic Azure
Storage and Mini- Mini-bar
Public Spaces and Bars
The ship’s decor is clean and contemporary, with lots of black, white and gold. Watch for the Portuguese sardine Wall in the main dining room. These works of art are available to purchase from the reception.
The Panorama Lounge and Bar is the ship’s social hub, where you can enjoy a drink, read a book, or participate in daily lectures and briefings from the ship’s Cruise Director.
Interior Decor along the Corridors
The Sardine Wall in the Crystal Dining Room
The Crystal Dining Room is the main restaurant for most dining but also features Scenic’s signature Table D’Or speciality dining experience. Restaurant tables are set for two, four or six, allowing couples or solo travellers to sit together or move around daily.
The food was generally OK but lacked vegetarian options. One of our party, who was vegetarian, even had to design her meals some evenings.
Positioned in the forward part of the Panorama Lounge, Portobellos provides an intimate environment and an area where you can watch the staff prepare some meals. The Portuguese-style cuisine is unique and delicious, but you must book as space is limited.
Room service is available for those who wish the chill-out and enjoy a meal in the comfort of their stateroom. The adjacent River Café is informal and offers light bites throughout the day, which you might want to take up to the expansive Sun Deck, which guests retreat to on most days to admire the scenery.
The Crystal Dining Room – The Main Restaurant
Service & Butlers
Most of the crew on the vessel are Portuguese, very friendly, passionate about their country, and willing to share information. Their friendly nature bolsters the relaxed ambience onboard, and the welcoming smiles instantly put you at ease with the crew. Service in the bars and resturants was slow at times and almost non existent when the captain hosted a table.
Included in the cruise fare is a butler which we like and has always worked well for us on Ocean cruises; we enjoy the pampering and being spoilt. Unfortunately this didn’t happen for us on this Scenic cruise, as our butler didn’t seem interested and needed help understanding what he had to do.
Others in our party had excellent butlers, so as we reflected afterwards – the butlers were a bit of a lottery.
Portugal can be hot, and passengers dress to keep cool. When we were there, temperatures were above 40 degrees C on most days. Men wear shorts and T-shirts but are asked to wear trousers at dinner; a short-sleeved shirt is OK, and jackets and ties are not required. Women dress casually during the daytime and might change into something smarter in the evening. There is definitely a casual/smart casual vibe in the evenings.
A light cardigan or shawl is recommended to cope with the chilly air conditioning. A sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are essential for tours. Take your swimwear if you plan to take a dip in the ship’s vitality pool.
The Vitality Poole on The Sun Deck
Scenic Azure also has a small Fitness Center and Wellness Area, Self Service Laundry, and a Reception Lobby, which can handle any questions about your voyage.
There is also a small selection of items for sale from the local area, which are on display on the Sapphire deck. These can be purchased from reception. The unique collection of famous Bordallo Pinheiro Porcelain Sardines is simply stunning, all of which are for sale.
What’s Included in Your Cruise Fare
- Meals at all restaurants onboard
- All beverages and Beers Wines & Spirits from the complementary list
- Shore excursion per port
- Evening Cruise Update
- Most daily activities, unless otherwise noted
- Use of the fitness centre
- Butler service
- Limited WiFi for one device
- Wetbar and minibar setup
- Self-service laundry
- 1KG Bag of laundry per day
- Door to Door Executive private transfer service
- International roundtrip flights, with business class upgrades, in selected destinations
- In-country flights (when required by the itinerary)
What’s Not Included in Your Cruise Fare
- Premium WiFi (depending on suite category)
- Premium Wines and Spirits not on the complementary list
- Spa treatments
Who Is This Cruise For?
As an Australian company, Scenic attracts a lot of Australian passengers along with Americans, British, Canadians and New Zealanders. Many are retired couples in their 60s or 70s. On the Douro itinerary, it is usually the passengers’ first time in Portugal, but they have likely taken several other river cruises.
Scenic Azure would suit couples, especially those enjoying retirement, who appreciate good food, exciting wines, views of the vineyards and a relaxing pace. This is not a ship for families, as no kids programs or facilities exist.
River Cruising is a different experience when compared to Ocean cruising. We often have to remind ourselves that the onboard facilities and facilities are limited due to the small size of the River Ships. We have completed several River Cruises, but this was our first experience with Scenic, who had been recommended to us by friends; plus, the marketing hype is quite appealing.
The reality was that this was an alright cruise, but we were disappointed with the food at times, and the onboard service could have been better. Also, our pre-cruise experience trying to deal with Scenic was very poor. To be fair to them, they had just had a major cyber attack on their systems and were trying to rebuild them, plus they were still dealing with the after effects of the pandemic. There is no excuse, though, for never returning calls or emails.
Would we travel with Scenic River Cruises again?
Yes. We will try again as we like some of their exciting itineraries, plus convincing messages that the service levels are back where they should be. We are already booked for later this year!
Last update on 2024-03-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API