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TravelThere's a new option for a river cruise through Portugal's wine country

There’s a new option for a river cruise through Portugal’s wine country

Avalon Waterways is the latest river cruise line to launch sailings on the Douro.

The Denver-based brand on Thursday unveiled its first vessel on the vineyard-lined river in Portugal, which has been one of river cruising’s fastest-growing destinations in recent years.

Dubbed Avalon Alegria, the 102-passenger ship will sail seven-night voyages on the Douro out of Porto, Portugal, starting next week.

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Stops on the voyages will include the river towns of Regua, Pinhao and Pocinho, which serve as gateways for visits to the many wineries and historic sites that line the Douro River Valley.

Avalon executives unveiled Avalon Alegria on Thursday during a naming ceremony along the waterfront of Pinhao that included an appearance by former “Saturday Night Live” comedienne Cheri Oteri.

Oteri served as godmother of the vessel during the ceremony.

“It’s like my wedding day. I’ve never been so honored and flattered,” Oteri told nearly 100 invited guests at the start of the ceremony after being escorted into the event on the arm of an Avalon executive.

Sticking with the wedding analogy, the Primetime Emmy Award-nominated funny woman joked that “tonight, if the ship’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’.”

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Later in the ceremony, Oteri cut a white ribbon that sent a bottle of sparkling Portuguese Cava smashing against Avalon Alegria’s hull.

Avalon tapped Oteri to christen Avalon Alegria because of her work bringing happiness and joy into the world as a comedienne and actress, Avalon President Pam Hoffee said at the event.

“Alegria” means “happiness” in Portuguese, Hoffee noted.

“When we named our ship happiness … we couldn’t have thought of a better godmother than Cheri Oteri,” Hoffee said.

The ceremony mostly took place inside the ship’s main lounge due to pouring rain outside. It was followed by a reception and gala dinner on board.

Built at a shipyard in Portugal, Avalon Alegria is part of Avalon’s popular Suite Class of ships, which began debuting in 2011 and features a large number of extra-wide cabins called Panorama Suites.

Related: Why I still think Avalon Waterways has the best cabins in river cruising

Avalon Alegria has 37 Panorama Suites, which offer 200 square feet of living space. That’s about 30% more square footage than the standard river ship cabin.

Avalon has long touted the Panorama Suites as a key difference between its vessels and those of other river lines in Europe that cater to North Americans. The suites make up nearly 80% of the cabins on Avalon’s Suite Class ships and have several unusual features. Among them: floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall panoramic windows that stretch 11 feet wide and open up 7 feet wide.

Founded in 2004, 20-year-old Avalon is known for a young fleet of ships with a stylish, contemporary design, and Avalon Alegria is no exception. Public areas feature modern furniture, clean lines and lots of glass walls that flood the spaces with light.

Among the standout features of Avalon Alegria is the line’s first decktop pool.

Avalon Alegria is notably smaller than the typical Avalon ship, as it was designed specifically to fit into the locks and under the bridges that line the Douro River.

Like other river cruise lines that cater to North Americans, including AmaWaterways, Uniworld River Cruises and Viking, Avalon has grown notably over the past two decades. With the addition of Avalon Alegria, it now has 15 ships in Europe. It also operates one ship in Asia on the Mekong River.

Attendees at Thursday’s unveiling included leaders of some of North America’s biggest travel agency groups, local officials, the ship’s designers and builders, and Avalon executives.

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