In 2016, Scenic became the first non-Portuguese company to operate on the Douro River without a European partner or chartered ships. That means the Australian line is free to uphold its high standards in crew, service, dining, touring and onboard accommodation.
The purpose-built ship is shorter and narrower than Scenic's other vessels in order to navigate Portugal's winding river and its many locks, but it still feels spacious and easy to get around. Despite the smaller size, Scenic Azure does not lack any of the frills to which past passengers have become accustomed. It has a plunge pool on the sun deck, butler service for all cabins and six dining options. Then there's the long list of inclusions, from the free drinks to a complimentary bag of laundry (same-day service in most cases).
Adding to the luxury experience is a crew-to-passenger ratio of almost 1:2. Most crew are Portuguese, disarmingly friendly and passionate about their country. Their affable nature bolsters the relaxed vibe onboard, while the department leaders keep everything running smoothly.
With a maximum of 96 passengers and only one lounge, mingling happens easily -- especially before and after dinner. Restaurant tables are set for two, four or six, allowing couples or solo travelers to sit together or move around each day.
While sailing, passengers like to watch the scenery from the sun deck, which is the best vantage point for panoramic views of the valley. However, it can be very hot, even in the shaded area, particularly in July and August when temperatures approach 104 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no bar on the sun deck so one area of improvement would be better, regular service of cold water (or beer) to thirsty passengers.
The ship's decor is clean and contemporary, with a lot of black, white and gold. Keep an eye out for the Portuguese art, such as a wall of sardines in the main dining room. Cabins are compact and have ensuite bathrooms and comfortable, adjustable beds. All but six have enclosed balconies, known as sun lounges, with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be opened halfway down with the touch of a button.
Scenic Azure would suit couples, especially those enjoying retirement, who appreciate good food, wine, mountain views and a slow pace. This is not a ship for families, as there are no kids program or facilities.