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American Empress Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
83 Reviews

A Beautiful Week on the Columbia/Snake River

American Empress Cruise Review by K9pal

15 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Oct 2017
  • Destination: North America River

We are an active couple in our mid-late 60's, and this was our first river boat cruise in the US. We wanted to do another European river cruise, but decided to stay in the US this year and had never been to the Pacific NW. We picked October because the price dropped at that point, plus we hoped to see fall colors. Boy, did we luck out on the weather! Absolutely gorgeous the entire week, bright sunshine, mid-high 60's. Very rare to have no rain at that time of year. We were younger than most folks on board, who tended to be at least in their 70's. Most were well travelled retirees. We decided on the east to west route for several reasons, but mainly we wanted to do the 2 hour bus ride at the beginning of the week when we could enjoy it, rather than at the end when we were tired.

We flew into Spokane and had reserved the hotel shuttle to the Historic Davenport ($25/room, booked online in advance, very nice shuttle van). At check in we were told the cruise line had arranged for a 1pm checkout instead of the usual noon check out time, which was nice. We had a corner room on the 10th floor, probably the nicest hotel room we've ever had! I could have spent the entire week there! The bathroom was just gorgeous, with a soaking tub and a HUGE glassed in shower. There's a history of the Historic Davenport on one of the TV channels that was fascinating. We immediately headed to the lounge for happy hour and were disappointed to be told they had discontinued the half price happy hour appetizers (even though it was advertised on the folder we received at check in). Cruise check in was on the second floor of the hotel, and was disorganized in my opinion. First we checked in at a table in the hallway, then went into a room to finish up. Apparently they were supposed to take our photos there, issue bus transfers and get our credit card info. But the guy who did ours only took my photo and told us we were good to go. Found out the next morning from fellow passengers that we should have bus transfers, so we had to return to check in for those (of course we were on the last bus by that time). Then when we got to the boat, we were flagged to go to the Pursor's Office because hubby's photo wasn't on record, as well as our credit card info. But it was easily resolved.

Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet in a private room, nice but nothing spectacular. We got a walking map of downtown Spokane from the concierge, as well as the self-guided tour of the hotel. The hotel tour is a must-do. We also walked an easy 2 blocks to the overlook of the Spokane River Falls. Bonus: There's a short cut to the Falls through a high end, multi level shopping mall. Just one block from the hotel was a great New York style deli, Domini's, where we got a delicious sandwich for lunch. Highly recommend. The worst part of the day was having to wait about an hour in the ball room for our bus transfer. Had a great driver for the 2 hour ride to the boat, learned a lot about the region and saw some beautiful scenery.

FOOD

Overall we were impressed with the food, although there were some misses. We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches in the River Grill, which was just steps away from our cabin. The entry to the River Grill is quite awkward and I always felt like I was coming in the back door. You are allowed two dinner reservations for the River Grill, and we picked Thursday (the cruising day with no port stop) and Sunday (the last night). Booking is done in the Show Lounge as soon as you board the ship. The menu in the River Grill is the same for the entire week, but it includes lobster. Lobster was also served in the dining room on Saturday, so if you plan it right you can have 3 lobster dinners! Each night we had a choice of regional red and white wines. All were very good. Refills are included, and you can carry out a full glass to the lounge or show when you leave. We chose regular dining (7:45) so we wouldn't have to rush back from a day out to get ready for dinner, but I would choose early dining next time since it was always well after 9 before we left the dining room. The entrees varied each evening, and always included at least one vegetarian selection. Hubby couldn't decide between the sea scallops and the braised ribs one night, so our waiter brought him both! The show for regular dining was at 6:30 and always ended about 20 minutes before the dining room doors opened, so the hall outside the dining room was always clogged with people waiting for the dining room doors to open. One night we sat at a table with two other couples we had met, and we were apparently overlooked – it was a good 30 minutes before we were served any wine and had orders taken, and that was after we flagged down the Head Waiter. There is a Happy Hour each day from 2-4 when beer is $1 off, and wine/cocktails $2 off. There's a 15% gratuity automatically added to each bar bill.

ENTERTAINMENT

We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the onboard entertainment. There are two shows each evening so that everyone gets to see the show depending on their dinner time. Jordan and Isaac were quite talented as the onboard singing/dancing team. Lindy (hotel manager) and her husband Greg (cruise director) are also professional singers and put on two fantastic shows as well. They are all accompanied by a 4 piece quartet. Additionally, Frank Chase provided daily piano entertainment in the Paddlewheel Lounge. While he's great to listen to during his afternoon session, he is not to be missed in the evenings. So talented, and absolutely hilarious! Mary the Riverlorian is a wealth of knowledge about Lewis and Clark, as well as history of the area in general.

EXCURSIONS, PORTS AND ACTIVITIES

Each evening at turndown, a copy of the next day's activities as well as the Hop On Hop Off map is left in each cabin. Bus tickets are required for the first few morning buses only, and there is a kiosk next to the pursor's office where they can be printed. There were several excellent museums included during the week, all free as admission had been pre-arranged through AQSC. Lots of other interesting and historic stops as well, but we found shopping opportunities to be sparse. Astoria probably had the most shops and all were in walking distance of the boat, but it was Sunday and many were closed. If you are interested in purchasing native or local crafts, your best opportunities are the museum gift shops. We only took one premium excursion, the Wine and Spirits on Red Mountain winery tour. Our other excursion to Multnomah Falls was cancelled due to the fires in the area. I was really looking forward to seeing the Falls, at least from the boat, but then our departure was delayed due to another boat ahead of us in the lock, so we didn't pass the Falls until after dark. But the captain announced that she would try to find it and shine the ship's spotlight on it – what a treat! We also went through a number of locks, all different and interesting. While we read before leaving that bicycles were available for use in the ports, we never saw any and it was never mentioned. There are daily onboard activities as well, including zumba, bingo, trivia, crafts, etc. Wifi was very spotty and we also went through several dead zones, no cell or internet services at all. The best place to connect was the Paddlewheel Lounge, but connections were very, very slow.

Disembarkation talks begin several days before the end of the cruise. We were going straight to the Portland airport to head back home, and rather than pay the $25 each for a seat on the bus, we used Uber for less than half of that. It's a very early day, as everyone has to be out of their room by 8am, and off the boat by 9am.

Overall, this was a great cruise despite several glitches. The staff were fantastic, met lots of nice people, and saw gorgeous scenery as well as historic sites. We did feel like we had too much 'down time', and would have liked a few more activities geared towards more active lifestyles. American Queen knows its target market, and they provide a great experience.


K9pal's Full Rating Summary
Cabin
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Service
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Cabin Review

Cabin E 416

We were in cabin 416, a category E veranda stateroom on the 4th (top) deck. The balcony was semi-private, a wall between our balcony and adjoining cabins but open to the outside walking deck. Our cabin was tiny, but very well appointed. As most people have already mentioned, the walls are THIN. We could hear every word in the cabin next to us, and they were speaking in normal voices. Bed was quite comfortable. Our safe short circuited in the middle of the week with our things in it, and it took 2 crew members and an electrician to get it working and unlocked.

ROOM AMENITIES:

- Magnifying mirror in bathroom

- Hairdryer

- Night light in bathroom

- Clarins bath products (lotion,shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bar soap)

- Dorm size refrigerator

- Keurig coffee maker with a selection of coffees and tea

- Binoculars

- Small safe in one of the closet drawers, unfortunately too small for my 9” tablet

- 2 plugs plus 2 USB ports on the desk, so we were able to charge both phones as well as both tablets at the same time

- Bathrobes and slippers are provided

ROOM TIPS

- Take earplugs if you are noise sensitive

- Set the fan on the thermostat to Medium to help drown out noise


Port & Shore Excursion Reviews


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K9pal
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