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American Empress River Cruise Review
May 30-June 7, 2015
Columbia/Snake River Eastward

Sat May 30- Pre-Cruise overnight in Vancouver, Washington

Flight on Delta from ATL to Portland was smooth. Airport was easy to navigate and finding Blue Star shuttle was right outside on Island 2 as indicated on our paperwork. Our ride across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington to our Hilton Hotel only took about 10 minutes. We were checked in within minutes and ready to explore. (Ask for a room overlooking the park for the best rooms). An overnight stay is included with every sailing for the night before your trip begins. The Hilton was a great way to start our trip.

Luckily for us there was a farmers market and free family day at the Ester Short Park across the street. We spent the afternoon exploring by foot and constantly in awe of the beautiful flowers. Many vendors were making bouquets for sale. I really wanted to purchase one for our balcony, but we were not going directly to our ship, but on a city tour tomorrow and I wasn’t sure how I would be able to maintain it’s beauty until we boarded. Too bad because they were gorgeous (for $10 the bouquets were over a foot in diameter). I will be on the lookout for flowers in Astoria, our first port stop.

We chose to eat dinner in the hotel and adjust to the three hour time change. Watching a little TV we were lucky to catch the night parade for the Rose Festival which happens to begin this weekend. Lucky for us to be here during the rose blooming season. Portland is known as the Rose City and our tour tomorrow will take us into the city and allow us to see how Portland got their nickname.

 

Sunday. May 31 – Portland City Tour and Embarkation Day

Our luggage had to be ready for pickup by 8:00am inside our room. An included breakfast buffet at the hotel was delicious. Afterwards we went to check in at a conference room here in the hotel and received our boarding passes- we are official now and ready to board. You can also book reservations for the River Grill, the free Empress Specialty restaurant. You may select two nights for dinner here. (Later we learned during the cruise you may be able to eat there more times depending on other reservations.) Nice that is done here at the hotel before getting to the ship. We met the Riverlorean, Laurence, and several other crew members. Some passengers left at 7:45 this morning for a Mt St. Helens tour and will go directly to the ship upon their return and be checked in at that time. All very orderly process I'm observing so far.

An orientation meeting was held at 10:30 am with the shore excursions staff. Very good overview of life on board and shore excursions offered during the stops and how the Free hop-on-off sight-seeing process works. Again, impressed. Room was full. We are for certain among the younger in the group. But they look very mobile. The ship is sailing at capacity (200), so we will see how they manage the people. Lezlie, our shore excursion representative is full of energy and helpful. She seemed to be everywhere all week and works very hard to make sure everyone is having a good time and seeing all that’s offered at our stops. She is a wealth of information. She works on board the Empress and also on board the Queen.

At 12:30 we set off with about 50 of our fellow passengers on a tour of Portland and Vancouver. Our first stop was the old Vancouver Fort which is the original start for the Hudson Bay Company, the original fur trading company. One of our stops is at the test garden for roses. Oldest public rose garden in the nation. Since 1917. Over 35 varieties. It was in its prime. The fragrance was heavenly. Roses before 1867 were called Old Roses, those new types after 1867 are known as Modern Roses. I have never seen roses more beautiful in every color imaginable. What a treat to be here for this event. Upon leaving the Rose Park we received Portland’d famous Voodoo donuts. This venue is very popular with people standing in long lines to purchase. Their size was quite large, but I’d rather have Krispy Kreme – sorry Portland.

Our last stop was at the Lam Su Chinese Gardens within the city of Portland. What a beautiful serene place within the city. A tranquil garden unexpected to find in this area of the city.

We arrived at the American Empress a little past 4pm. We walked directly on board using our boarding card given to us at check in earlier that day at the hotel. We were greeted by crew members on each floor happy to assist with directions to staterooms. A nice treat for everyone were cookies immediately as we got on board.

Our stateroom #210 was quite charming-a queen bed with night stands on each side. Desk with chair, two other chairs, a double closet with ample hangers and three drawers. Lots of space. A shower only in our bathroom which isn't huge but adequate enough space. We have a balcony with two nice chairs and a nice size table. Will be nice for outdoor dining. Room service is available from 6am to 11 pm with the same lunch and dinner menu from the Astoria dining room available when they are open. We will certainly be having some of our evening meals in our room for convenience and to enjoy the scenery from our balcony. There is a clock radio with a docking station to charge your iPhone. Two outlets in the room and one in the bathroom. Lots of hangers. TV is local network channels out of Los Angeles ??? Surprised by that, but clear reception. WiFi is free but sometimes slow. A Keurig coffee maker with several flavor coffee choices, bottled water replenished and found everywhere on board at any time, robes, and slippers are nice amenities found in our stateroom.

The muster drill consisted of everyone taking their life jackets into the hall with our room stewards giving us directions on how to put them on, the captain ( which is female) spoke briefly about safety and it was over-10 minutes max.

We had dinner in the complimentary specialty restaurant, The River Grill, this evening. You can make reservations here two times during the week so we chose tonight and will dine there again on Friday. We chose the salmon and filet Mignon. Both were very good. Wine and beer is included with your lunch and dinner.

The weather could not be better. Walking outside is very pleasant. Some are enjoying the views sitting in the many rocking chairs scattered among the outside decks. We went to the entertainment show introducing the crew and giving a highlight of the upcoming weeks entertainment. Champagne was given to everyone attending.

Monday, June 1-on our way Astoria, Oregon

Beds were very comfortable. My body is still on east coast time, so woke earlier than I would have preferred but rested well. We docked sometime in the night and didn't even know. You can't tell if the boat is moving or not. It's very smooth.

Breakfast buffet in the River Grill was very good. It opens at 6:30 and the Astoria opens at 7 if you would like to be served. You can get made to order omelet’s in the grill and we enjoyed the Beautiful room with glass windows allowing for great views. Unfortunately it's a drizzly morning in the high 50's which isn't the pretty day we had hoped. We dressed in layers and put on our rain gear to get on the first hop on hop off bus leaving at 8:30.

Their system for complimentary tours is easy to use. Each evening before the next day's stop, different color passes with departure times are outside the guest service’s office for you to go by and select a time you would like to depart on the next days tour. You take the number of passes needed with you and pick up a map. Be at your departure time pick up spot 15 minutes before departing with your passes with your ticket and off you go. Guides are on board for the first four hours as the special wrapped American Empress motor coaches make continuous loops throughout the day. The full loop on today's Astoria Hop on Hop off takes about 50 minutes.

A Lewis and Clark Discovery Center tour including a trip to Cape Disappointment was offered in the afternoon along with a Zip line your. It's a very nice small town that feels a little like frozen in time. A most enjoyable day even with the weather not so beautiful.

Activities on board for the afternoon included Trivia, a beer tasting of the local beers, and a lecture by the on board Riverlorean on the area and what we will see over the next days of our journey.

We chose to have dinner in our cabin this evening. A nice benefit of the American Empress is they allow you to Order from the main dining rooms lunch and dinner menu and have it delivered to your cabin as well as the normal in room dining menu. It is very relaxing to have a meal on your balcony as you watch the scenery sailing by. I'm very happy to be on this trip.

Tuesday, June 2, The Dalles

A 5:45 am sail by of Multnomah Falls as we make our way into The Dalles. Our Riverlorean lectures beginning at 7am as we are sailing into this region. An interesting fact about the area is one of Google Data Centers is located here. I think it was a chosen location because of their green environment.

This morning our journey takes us between beautiful green mountains on both sides of the Columbia River. The spectacular waterfalls were on the starboard (right) side. The air is clean and quite cool at 49 degrees. The trees are tall and majestic. Such a beautiful place.

We entered our first of 8 locks this morning. The Columbia River falls two feet every mile in comparison to the Mississippi which falls 2 inches per mile. Thus the 14 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River.

Very nice to have our Riverlorean giving commentary as we sail along. Easy to hear in your stateroom or sitting in the very comfortable rocking chairs on the outside decks.

Sailing thru the Columbia River Gorge was very picturesque. Many fishing boats were fishing for salmon. As we approached The Dalles, the terrain turned from green forests with waterfalls falling from mountain cliffs to smooth top grassy hills-a quick changing stark contrast. Very, very windy as we anchored at The Dalles. The clouds are gone and sunshine is abundant at 68 degrees but the wind still makes a light jacket feel good.

Five stops on the hop on hop off tour will take about 40 minutes to do the entire loop. Nice Discovery Museum will take most of your time to explore history of the area and other Lewis and Clark info. Very well done in a beautiful scenic location. Boat docks close to an easy walk into town. Many may enjoy dinner or cocktails there tonight as we will stay docked until about 3am before making our way back down River to Stevenson. Not really sure why we come here and then back track but gives us an opportunity to see this area again tomorrow as we will continue our journey eastward.

Wednesday, June 3-Stevenson

We backtracked downriver this morning, unsure why the itinerary calls for a backtrack, but gives us a chance to see the waterfalls and lush green trees of the Gorge once more. We are 20+ miles from Portland and have been gone 4 days-LoL. This is not a fast paced journey – very relaxing and time to enjoy the beauty as you pass along. This morning the clouds are low and a little cool around 56 degrees. I'm grateful I brought some clothes to layer. It has felt good having two sleeves and my rain jacket. After today I think we will see the temperatures rise.

We are off to see the Bonneville Dam and a tour of the town on our morning Hop on Hop Off tour. Our premium excursion (extra $$) this afternoon will be to go to Multnomah Falls. A very busy day.

We enjoyed our Bonneville Dam tour and seeing how the fish ladders are provided for the salmon to make their way upstream. Fascinating viewing area below the water line to watch the fish. The falls excursion did not disappoint. Such lush forests and spectacular waterfalls, not just Multnomah, which happens to be the most photographed in Oregon, but many of the others were just as breathtaking. The trip up to Vista House is worth it to see this magnificent structure and take in the views. WOW!! A great trip. A great day!

This evening at 5pm we begin our journey again eastward as we leave Stephenson leaving the lush green forests and rugged Cascade mountains behind to a much more flat and dryer terrain. We pass thru The Dalles lock at dusk and will pass thru John Day lock in the night rising further elevation with each lock exit. Excited to see what lies ahead.

Thursday, June 4-Cruising to Richland

It was very nice to have a leisurely morning to enjoy the views from our balcony. The sun is shining and the temperature has risen considerably. We will be in the 80's today. By 8am we are passing thru our final lock on the Columbia River, McNary. Once thru the lock we stop and disembark those who are taking the day’s premium excursion on the Wild West tour. We will pick them up once docked in Richland. Our arrival time will be 1pm where we will overnight departing on Friday at 5pm.

The Riverlorian gave another talk on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, there was a Zumba class, future cruise talk and a disembarkation talk in the morning as we make our way up the river to Richland.

Today we will leave the Columbia and join the Snake River, the Columbia's largest tributary. Our views today are a starkly different to what we've enjoyed these past days. There are no trees. Brown mostly flat dry land.

Lunch on our balcony was very pleasant today. The water is as smooth as glass today. Lots of birds to watch. Arrival into the Tri-City area is more alive with trees and life.

We took the tour out to the REACH which was interesting showing how a secret mission contributing to the build of the atomic bomb for WWII was carried out here in the area, a part of the Manhattan project. Do not miss this. Very interesting history. We took a nice stroll around town and enjoyed the town's evening park festivities with a live band and food. They have this in the park every Thursday during the summer months. Fun times. We ordered room service and enjoyed Bison rib eye on our balcony. What a wonderful day!

Friday, June 5, Richland

Our side of the boat faces the river while docked in Richland, and what a beautiful view we have this morning. The water is as smooth as glass. The sun is shining brightly. It will be a leisurely day for us as we are here until 5pm. We had breakfast in the River Grill, which seems to be our favorite spot for the beautiful views it allows and the many choices from the buffet or made to order grill. We spoke to some passengers at breakfast who are going Kayaking, one couple has rented a car, and some of us will be walking downtown to the Friday morning flea market. The Hop On Hop Off tours are being offered today and a winery premium option tour in the afternoon. Not to mention the on board lectures by the Riverlorian and engine room and pilot house tours. Choices you make to be as busy as you like or just relax.

It was nice to have a relaxing day to sit and watch the river sitting on our balcony. I'm very happy we are on the port side at each port to see the water when we've docked. I've contemplated all day which route direction would be the favored. I have to say they both are good for different preferences. If you prefer to have lots of full days with many activities at the beginning of your trip, I'd choose the Portland to Clarkston route. If you'd prefer more upfront relaxing days, choose the Clarkston to Portland route. With either route you will not be disappointed.

We departed Richland at 5pm this afternoon. Phone coverage soon departed us as well. WiFi was not really present and pretty slow. We left the Columbia River and began our journey up the Snake River passing lots of farm land. Soon we were passing through our first of 4 locks we will traverse on our way to Clarkston. After passing through this lock within an hour we found the river to flow between high banked rock ledges - again such a drastic change to the topography. I look forward to seeing what the area surrounding the Clarkston/ Lewiston area will look like. I'm excited to go tomorrow on the jet boat ride through Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in America. Unfortunately tomorrow will be the last day of this wonderful trip.

Saturday, June 6 Clarkston

I understand why they told us no cellphone coverage. We continued to sail through deep rock canyons all through the night. I wished for daylight so I could see their majestic beauty. By morning the rocky sides have softened somewhat and appear to have a short greenish brown grass covering. It is very baron but has its own beauty. I could enjoy this peace forever.

Several activities are offered on board this morning while we make our way to our noon docking time. I don't want to think about how soon this wonderful trip will be ending.

We docked in Clarkston around 10am. When we docked I was confused why we were stopping so early until realizing we are here. It's certainly not as scenic as I was hoping, but it's got a serene rolling hill view from our balcony. I can see cows on the hillside and several boats with fishermen dot the water. I'm curious in which direction we will go for our Hells Canyon jet boat trip.

For our jet boat ride down Hells Canyon the boat picked us up right at the boat dock. I have to say this was certainly a great highlight to end our week with. So much beautiful scenery. Pictures do not do it justice. We saw sheep, Rams, coyotes, eagles on their nests, turkeys and deer plus one walked right to where we stopped for cookies and a drink. We traveled about two hours deep into the canyon where three state’s borders connect-Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Very happy we chose this excursion. Fun, very fun afternoon! I would recommend you definitely do not miss this. Suggest you not wear hats as it gets breezy especially if you sit in the back.

Upon returning to the boat it was sad to see our suitcase tarp spread across our bed for us to use packing our suitcases for our departure in the morning. I wish we were staying on for the return trip back westward to Portland. If we were, I would want to change rooms to the other side of the boat. Our room 210 was on the perfect side going eastward being shady in the afternoon. I would want the same thing returning Westward. Plus not sure it always works this way, but we docked with a river view in each port.

On the last night you are given a survey to complete and a letter detailing your instructions for departure. You are given luggage tags with numbers corresponding to what you are doing after you leave the ship. We purchased a transfer from the ship going directly to the airport, so our departure time is at 7:45. Gratuities are added to your account or you may do as we did and prepay them with your cruise purchase. You may also pre-purchase your shore excursions before leaving. We did this and I was happy it was done ahead of time since a couple of the excursions sold out.

Sunday, June 7 to Airport

We awoke and left our cabin by 7am. Breakfast was available beginning at 6am. Passengers are called to depart the boat by their luggage tags. We had a two hour ride to Spokane Airport. Beautiful farmland along the way. Small airport. Easy to navigate.

This has truly been a very pleasant trip. I would recommend if you are looking to see beautiful scenery with little to no hassles, this is the trip for you. The staff was always attentive and helpful and kept the Empress spotless. A few things about the trip: it is very casual; teens would likely be bored but small children might be amused by the boat and various activities but entertainment is limited, therefore be warned if you plan to bring children. I think you have to be somewhat older to appreciate how wonderful it is. I would return to this trip any time.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me:

 

Lisa Ashley
Travel Designer
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