Cruise Specialists Voyage Hosts Steve and Wendy recap their adventure cruising on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Their story shows what you can expect on an American Queen Voyages cruise. (Note: American Queen Steamboat Company became American Queen Voyages in 2021.)
After almost 25 years and more than 2,000 days at sea on cruise ships, we decided it was time to try cruising on a river. And so, we recently completed our first voyage on the American Empress, navigating the Columbia and Snake Rivers through Washington and Oregon. Here’s a summary of our experience.
The Ship: American Empress is part of American Queen Voyages, perhaps best known for their trips up and down the Mississippi River. American Empress is built specifically for river cruising and is small but elegant. With a maximum of 223 passengers, spread out over 4 decks, it never feels crowded. The ride is smooth, even in very windy conditions, which we did experience.
The two restaurants are comfortable and can easily accommodate everyone in two dinner seatings. The atmosphere is casual and very relaxed.
Our stateroom was very well appointed and quite comfortable. Our balcony allowed us to enjoy the views of the river at all times.
There is an extensive art collection throughout the ship and guests can take the art tour at their leisure by using the printed booklet with an explanation for each numbered piece.
The Food and Service: We’ve had the buffets for breakfast and lunch, and they were plentiful and fresh with a good variety. Dinners in the Astoria dining room included unlimited pouring of the local wines of the day and a large selection of beers and non-alcoholic beverages. Overall, the food was good and the service excellent. The Dining Room Manager, originally from the Philippines, was exceptional.
The Entertainment: A very good quartet plays nightly just for the shows. They did a pre-show set which tended to be 15 minutes of jazz. The Cruise Director and his assistant were also the main entertainers. They are both very good singers and had wonderful chemistry together. All the music was geared to our generation which was 95% of the population onboard.
Daytime activities included many lectures by the onboard Riverlorian (river historian). He was an expert in the history of the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark expeditions. There were also movies, trivia games, and a well-stocked library.
The Itinerary: Our experience started with a pre-cruise stay at the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington. We’re glad we decided to spend an extra night, because this was a terrific hotel – elegant without being stuffy, beautiful, and very well run. It is right downtown in Spokane with easy access to the lovely riverfront parks.
We were driven from Spokane to Clarkston, Washington to board the boat. And then it was overnight there before heading west. Stevenson and Richland, Washington as well as The Dalles and Astoria, Oregon were our ports. We enjoyed every port – small towns with lots of history and spectacular scenic beauty all around.
The On-Shore Experience: There were paid shore excursions in each port – we took the jet boat ride through Hells Canyon which was fun. For those who just wanted to experience the towns, we had our own hop on/hop off buses that made predetermined stops at the important sights in each port. It was very convenient and comfortable and a great way to see the sights in a short time.
Summary: We really liked this experience and would do it again. We liked the relaxed atmosphere and the small towns. We lucked out with perfect weather to explore this beautiful part of the U.S., which was new to us. It was a great way to spend our 30thWedding Anniversary, and we are happy to have had this opportunity.