Day 1: That new ship smell, Emerald Radiance

Gleaming in the midday sun at the Douro River dock in Porto, Portugal, the Emerald Radiance lived up to its name. The newest in the Emerald Waterways’ fleet of seven river vessels was about to embark on its 11th cruise and my husband Bill and I were happy to step aboard. Like a car driven off a dealer’s lot, it even smelled new and we didn’t see a smudge or scratch on it.
Arrabida Bridge in Porto

Not only was the Radiance shiny on the outside, it glowed on the inside with multiple mirrored surfaces that make the interior appear larger than it is. I caught myself bumping into its many reflecting fun-house walls, chalking up my clumsiness to jet lag and an overnight flight. We’d gotten off to a rocky start in Chicago where thunderstorms had our Lufthansa 747 sitting on the tarmac for more than an hour. Both of us were imagining an O.J. Simpson sprint through the massive Frankfort, Germany, airport for our connecting flight to Porto. Thankfully the gate was close by so only the long queue at passport control had us nervously checking our watches.

Flying into Porto
After a quick transfer by Mercedes van from the modern Porto airport we made it to the ship in time for a light lunch and a leisurely look around before our cabin was ready. With a capacity of 112 passengers, the Radiance is smaller than Emerald’s other vessels that normally hold 182. The reason is the river, or more precisely, the size of the locks on the river. We’ll be passing through five of them, from small ones to the largest in Europe with a single lift.
Over drinks before dinner, the ship’s cruise director, hotel manager and captain greeted us. It’s an all-Portuguese crew on board, we were told. Weary from our flights, we were happy to have a casual buffet dinner on our first night rather than a formal sit-down affair. The variety of dishes didn’t disappoint, and included several Portuguese entrees I’m looking forward to trying again. The sardine cocktail in a martini glass sure looked pretty, but my stomach wasn’t ready for something quite so exotic. Tomorrow maybe.
Sardine cocktail

Portugal is a popular destination now and the Douro has become a hot cruise itinerary. Our weeklong cruise will be a roundtrip, Porto east into Spain and back to Porto. We didn’t have time to see much of Porto on our arrival, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city on our return. After dinner, the captain took us on a short sunset cruise along the city’s shoreline, whetting my appetite for more. From the Radiance’s sundeck we saw church spires poking above orange tile roofs, houses and apartment buildings in a range of hues terraced into the steep banks of the river. Laundry flapped from clotheslines and residents waved as we cruised by. We passed under the massive arch of the Arrabida Bridge that carries six lanes of traffic over the river. Open in 1963 near the mouth of the Douro, it’s made of reinforced concrete and measures 1,618 feet in length and 230 feet in height. It has been designated a national monument.

Photos by Katherine Rodeghier

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